March 4, 1861: Abraham Lincoln becomes president

Under extremely heavy security that included roof-top sharpshooters and two artillery batteries on the flanks of the US Capitol, Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office 150 years ago today as the 16th President of the United States. In some ways, Lincoln’s ascension to the office was anti-climatic: it was after Lincoln’s November 1860 election that South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas had seceded. Bun President Buchanan had been largely passive in the face of the disintegration of the Union and so it fell to Lincoln to reunite the country, even if that took a Civil War.

When he left Springfield, Illinois several weeks earlier, Lincoln carried with him a draft inaugural address that was direct and unequivocal: In it, he pledged to use “all the power at my disposal . . . to reclaim the public property and places belonging to the government” promising that “there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless forced upon the national authority.” Incoming Secretary of State William Seward, who still thought he and not Lincoln should be president, prevailed upon Lincoln to soften his rhetoric. Concerned that a tone of harshness might prompt states in the upper south such as Virginia to secede, Lincoln relented. His relatively ambiguous address was predictably praised by his supporters and condemned by his opponents.

Here’s an excerpt from his address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies . . . 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.

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