Civil War 150: Lincoln’s First Inaugural

On this day – March 4, 1861 – Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th President of the United States. The Inaugural Address given that day was long-awaited, historic, eloquent and far-reaching. Would Lincoln threaten slavery in the states? Would he enforce  federal law? Seek returned of seized federal properties? How would he handle the issue of secession? Would he offer a compromise to the  South and the Confederacy? Would the nation  be satisfied or enflamed by his words? Would there be war?

The New York Times asked four Lincoln scholars to reflect on the speech and give their thoughts.  See the full article here in today’s NYTimes. What follows is an exerpt from Lincoln’s speech:

“In your hand, my fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend” it…We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Six weeks later – the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina – the Civil War began. Look for more articles as the commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War continues.