At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less
occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat
in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of
four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every
point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the
energies [sic] of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our
arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself;
and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the
future, no prediction in regard to it so ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously
directed to an impending civil-war. All dreaded it--all sought to avert it. While the
inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the
Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without
war--seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties
deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and
others would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over
the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar
and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow, the cause of the war. To
strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents
would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than
to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the
magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the
cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease.
Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read
the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It
may seem strange that any men should dare ask a just God s assistance in wringing their
bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we will be not
judged. (1) The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered
fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it
must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh! (2) If
we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence
of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now
wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe
due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those
divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we
hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet,
if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man s two hundred
and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with
the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years
ago, so still it must be said the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives
us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation
s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his
orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting piece, among
ourselves, and with all nations.
This text is part of the Internet
Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and
copy-permitted texts for introductary level classes in modern European and World history.
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© Paul Halsall, July 1998