The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Advanced Placement United States History Study Guide

Period 5: 1844-1877

President Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 1861

Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.On March 4, 1861, the day Abraham Lincoln was first sworn into office as President of the United States, the Chicago Tribune printed this special pamphlet of his First Inaugural Address.

In the address, the new president appealed to the “mystic chords of memory” and to “the better angels of our nature” to hold the nation together. Seeking to alleviate the “Apprehension [that] seems to exist among the Southern States,” Lincoln pledged not to interfere with slavery in the South and pleaded with the Confederate states to reconcile with the North. Twenty times he used the word “Union.” But he also sent a clear message that he would not allow the Union to be peacefully dissolved. “We cannot separate,” Lincoln declared, and “the Union . . . will constitutionally defend, and maintain itself.” Though he wished for a peaceful resolution to the conflicts between the North and the South, Lincoln made clear that the Union would not back down if provoked and would not condone secession: “There needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority.”

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Excerpt

In your hands, my dissatisfied 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 registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect and defend” it.

I am loth to close. 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 battle-field, 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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