150 Years Ago: Lincoln’s Second Inauguration (as retold in the newspapers)

Saturday, March 4, 1865:

Abraham Lincoln’s second term commenced on “a day of gloom and tempest,” ever so near to the close of the bloodiest war in American history: the Civil War. The streets were muddy from a heavy rain, “rendered almost impassable for foot passengers,” but Lincoln’s procession trudged on despite the mucky and wet conditions toward to the Capitol in the late morning, where he was to make his second inaugural speech in the afternoon.

lincolns inauguration
“Crowd at Lincoln’s second inauguration, March 4, 1865.” Photo from the Library of Congress.

By the time he made his way to the stage, the skies had apparently settled to a murky gray color, with the rain desisting.  Lincoln’s speech was brief and to the point, and characteristically his own: “In pithy brevity, sagacity and honesty of purpose, the address is Lincolnian all over” (Evening Star, Washington, D.C., March 4, 1865). Two excerpts follow that this author found particularly poignant:

“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…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, and the war came…

…With malice toward none, with charity for all, …let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wound, …to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

 Read the whole speech.

Following his speech, an account of the remaining portion of the ceremony was relayed in the Lamoille Newsdealer:

an account

The New York Tribune offered a hopeful summation of the day’s events: “May the President’s two terms of service together reflect the day of his second inauguration–so dark and angry in the morning–halcyon and radiant in the evening.”

Indeed, the Civil War was soon to end in April of that year. As Lincoln’s inauguration took place, Union troops were enclosing on Richmond, in a “coiling serpent of bayonets.”march4civilwar

Lincoln’s leadership, however, would be tragically cut short, and scarcely a week after the end of the war.

-K. Norwood