1865 March 11: Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address — “With malice toward none, with charity for all”
Unlike today, in the 1860s the president took office in early March. President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration was on March 4, 1865, and he gave his inaugural address from the steps of the nearly-completed U.S. Capitol building. His address appeared in The Polk County Press of March 11, 1865. Editor Sam Fifield wrote a short editorial about the speech, which we transcribe first as an introduction. As usual, the speech as printed in the Press has small differences from what as become the standard version—extra punctuation and paragraph breaks, plus a very few words missing or changed.
Lincoln’s inaugural speech also appeared in The Prescott Journal, one week later in its March 18, 1865, issue. The Journal added a paragraph before and after the speech, which we put here at the end.
The Inaugural Message.
President LINCOLN’s second inaugural message will be found in our columns to-day. It will be recognized by the people of to-day, and by history forever, as the wise and thoughtful utterance of an eminently conscientious ruler.
The nation has a conscience, residing wherever among the people, love to God and man, and hatred of oppression and wrong, reside. To the sentiments of the message, this uncorrupted national conscience will respond heartily, amen ! Those whose hearts rankle with malignity at the prospects of the elevation and enfranshisement of an oppressed and suffering race, will denounce the large hearted philanthropy of the message as “abolition twaddle.”
Those who, being of a christian people, and living in the moral atmosphere of christendom, yet regard christianity as a humbug, useful for amusing the masses, but especially out of place in State relations, will characterize the religious expressions of the message as “pious cant” ill becoming the office and the occasion. But the people, the honest God-fearing ones, will see in this document, that the honest God-fearing heart of the man of their choice, and will say spontaneously “may God bless ABRAHAM LINCOLN !”
Chief Justice Chase [Salmon P. Chase] administered the oath of office on the eastern portico, where the President delivered his inaugural address.
The inaugural ceremonies were grand, notwithstanding the rain, and mud that prevailed.
WASHINGTON, March 4,—the following is the President’s message :
FELLOW COUNTRYMEN :—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 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 is 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 avoid 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 the effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war ; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. So 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, 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 to 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 be not judged.’
The prayers of both should not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully.
The Almighty has His own purpose—“woe unto the world because of offences, for it must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.”
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences 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 offence came,” shall we discern there is any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always attribute 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 bondsmen’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood “drawn with the lash shall be by another drawn with the sword,” as was said three thousand years ago,—so still it must be said “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, and care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
From The Prescott Journal:
The inauguration took place at noon to-day. There was a large concourse of people to witness the ceremony, though rain was falling and the streets almost impassable from mud. The procession escorting the President elect reached the Capitol at about 11:45 A. M. Chief Justice Chase administered the oath of office on the eastern portico of the Capitol, where the President delivered his address. There was a very large attendance, and the scene was one of marked interest.
After the Inauguration of the President that of the Vice President [Andrew Johnson] took place in the Senate chamber, where he delivered an eloquent address. The floor of the Senate chamber was crowded to its utmost by Senators, Members elect and Ex-members of Congress, Justices of the Supreme Court, army and naval officers, foreign ministers in full dress, governors of states and territories, all the members of the cabinet and other distinguished personages. The President entered the Senate Chamber after the Vice President had delivered his address, and while the retiring Vice President was administering to him the oath to support and defend the Constitution, and also the oath of allegiance. The galleries were densely filled. Thousands of strangers came hither to-day to witness the ceremonies. To-night the Executive Mansion was thrown open for a public reception. The pressure was immense.
1. “[Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C.],” Alexander Gardner, photographer. A digital copy is available from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. LC-DIG-ppmsca-23718 (digital file from original) LC-USZ62-1676 (b&w film copy neg.) LC-USZ6-83 (b&w film copy neg.)