President Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (1865)

document info...
Citation: Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address; endorsed by Lincoln, April10, 1865, March 4, 1865; Series 3, General Correspondence, 1837-1897; The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (Washington, DC: American Memory Project, [2000-02]),
How to use citation info.

On March 4, 1865, in his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln spoke of mutual forgiveness, North and South, asserting that the true mettle of a nation lies in its capacity for charity.

print-friendly version

Lincoln presided over the nation’s most terrible crisis. The Civil War began 1 month after he took office and ended 5 days before he died. It was more bitter and protracted than anyone had predicted, costing more than 600,000 lives. In Lincoln’s second inaugural address, delivered just over a month before his death, he spoke about the war as he had come to understand it. The unspeakable savagery that had already lasted 4 years, he believed, was nothing short of God’s own punishment for the sins of human slavery. And with the war not quite over, he offered this terrible pronouncement:

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-men’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 by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

Finally, in the speech’s closing, with the immortal words of reconciliation and healing that are carved in the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capital, he set the tone for his plan for the nation’s Reconstruction.

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 peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

(Information from Stacey Bredhoff, American Originals [Seattle: The University of Washington Press, 2001], p. 52.)

top of page

previous document current document next document
The People's Vote -- The People Have Voted.  See the Results!
Find out which documents We, The People, chose in a recent vote as the most influential in U.S. History.check it out