During President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he delivers one of the shortest and yet most powerful speeches in United States history. Fresh off the end of the Civil War, which killed countless Americans, as well as pitted brother against brother, literally in some senses, Lincoln’s powerful words serve a few main purposes: first, to reunite the nation with his relatable metaphor, second, to ensure the same problem never arises again, and third to ensure the continuity of the Union.
During his speech to the nation, he takes special care to describe the Civil War in the most diplomatic way possible, obviously trying to appeal to both sides. Known as one of the best orators of all time, Lincoln uses Christian analogies, obviously the main religion of the country at the time, to make the implications of another war known to all. He described the practice of slavery, which he directly calls the problem leading to War, as attributed more to the will of God than anything. Lincoln directly states:
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?
This is effective in many different ways. First, the Biblical allusion serves to reunite the North and the South right from the onset of the quotation. It then calls into question the practice of slaver under the God that Northerners and Southerners both pray to. This now has solidified the inherent links between opposite thinking Americans, and did all it could to bridge the gap in the absolutely polarized thinking regarding slavery. Overall, this is all integral to how Lincoln actually characterized the entire war.
Calling the entire War God’s way of abolishing slavery, Lincoln was able to appeal to both Abolitionists who knew the Presidents’ own history regarding slaves, as well as the more conservative, Bible-stringent Southerners, still stinging from the War. The use of God was perhaps the only way Lincoln could have appealed to the entire nation as whole.
The President’s main desire for the nation was to be able to reconcile differences, and unite under the Union with a smooth transition. The last sentence of the speech illustrates this more so than anywhere else, where Lincoln states:
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 lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
This is very clearly an appeal to everyone in the nation to place further importance on moving towards “binding wounds” opened up during the War. This is meant literally, but more as a metaphor for the whole country. Everyone was exposed to the violence and horrors of the War, which is why Lincoln chooses words that will evoke those images when speaking of the metaphorical unification of the Union.
Though our country has really not achieved any sense of unification, the lines before the first quote rings true to this day on a larger scale; applying especially to the current hatred toward Muslim-Americans:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.”