Friday, March 4, 2011

Our Nation Divided: Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

By March 4, 1861 the Confederate States of America had been formed for nearly a month with a leader, Jefferson Davis, in place and a clear establishment of two countries. Then in steps Abraham Lincoln to give his first inaugural address as President of the United States of America. Immediately Lincoln tries to remind the people of our history and our Constitution, as well as the significance of its history to the American people. Then Lincoln jumps right into addressing the issue of the secession of Southern states.
Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that—I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
We talk all the time about how Lincoln was the champion of abolitionists and how he emancipated the slaves. We can not discount Lincoln’s past speeches and writing that describe his distaste for slavery, however the reality is as President he was not planning on emancipating the slaves the very day he took office. In fact most of speech tries to reassure the South that slavery will be enforced by his administration because it is supported by the Constitution. He speaks directly to the seceded states of the South saying that the President and all members of Congress are sworn to protect the rights of all States per the Constitution. Lincoln was attempting to build a trust with the South that he is their President as much as he is the President of the North.

Lincoln then justifies his position of authority to protect the Union in the event of a break which was happening in the South. He looks to the Constitution and his position as an enforcer of laws. A secession of a state is a violation of the Constitution and as he points out the “more perfect Union” that the founders created must be protected. Without question Lincoln’s only objective was to maintain the Union and avoid conflict. He wanted the people of the South to realize that they have a place in United States of America as citizens protected by the Constitution and laws, not lost among a tidal wave of majority rule. Lincoln believed that conflicts could be resolved and war could be avoided but it was not up to him, it was up to the South.
“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it. I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Lincoln’s first inaugural establishes the direction that the North was going to take when it came to dealing with the South and their secession, their newly formed government. They wanted to maintain and preserve the Union through diplomatic and amicable means, however if it came down to it they would go to war to keep it together. 

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