Abraham Lincoln: First Inaugural Address

(1861)

In his First Inaugural Address, delivered on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln reiterated his promise not to interfere with the institution of slavery in the United States and affirmed the rights of states to order and determine their own institutions. To do otherwise, he noted, would violate the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, he vowed to enforce the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which stipulated that slaves escaping from southern masters be returned to their owners.

Lincoln's main purpose in his First Inaugural Address was to allay the anxieties of the southern states that their property, peace, and personal security were endangered because a Republican administration was taking office. At the same time, Lincoln argued that the U.S. Constitution was “perpetual,” or indissoluble. In effect, he was denying such states as South Carolina the right to secede. The Constitution could be amended, but the Union could not be broken. Thus he tempered his message of...

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The final printed version of Lincoln's first inaugural address is shown here with an earlier draft by him (Library of Congress)

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