Abraham Lincoln: Second Inaugural Address

(1865)

One of the central texts in American history, Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, delivered on March 4, 1865, defined the meaning of the Civil War and approached the task of Reconstruction with humility and compassion. By identifying slavery as the cause of war, the speech stands as testament to the transformative power of the Civil War—a war begun to defend the Union that became a war to end slavery. By focusing on God's presence and agency in the war, the speech stands as Lincoln's most definitive statement on the Civil War's meaning for the nation. Moving in its prose and striking in its clarity and brevity, the Second Inaugural Address, composed of a mere 703 words, has become, as Lincoln believed it would, one of his most important works.

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Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (National Archives and Records Administration)

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