Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, March 4, 1865

Unidentified artist

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

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"Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds . . ”


When Lincoln took the oath of office in 1865, the South was near collapse. Lincoln’s second inaugural address was his greatest speech, after the Gettysburg Address. In five brief paragraphs, he gave a summary of the Civil War’s origins, dealt with the unintended consequences of the war—emancipation—and then concluded with a powerful exegesis on God’s purpose in bringing on the war and then allowing it to continue so long and so bloodily.


In his final paragraph, he urged his countrymen to restore the Union, “with malice toward none; with charity for all.” Lincoln hinted here that he would take a moderate policy in readmitting the southern states and a lenient attitude toward individuals. What he would have done is, of course, unknowable.


John Wilkes Booth can be seen standing on the balcony above Lincoln, wearing a tall black hat.

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