Great inaugural speeches: Abraham Lincoln

National Constitution Center

Constitution Daily looks back at some of the most noteworthy presidential inauguration speeches. Abraham Lincoln’s two speeches were both historic and prophetic.

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Lincoln's first inauguration. Source: Library of Congress

Lincoln became president in 1861 as the southern states were leaving the Union. Four years later, Lincoln was preparing to unify the nation after the Civil War, but he would be killed within a month.

Highlights from 1861 inaugural address

In March 1861, seven states had left the Union and Lincoln addressed his remarks to the South.

Considered one of America’s great speeches, its conclusion is one of Lincoln’s most-quoted passages.

“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,” Lincoln said.

Link: Full text of 1861 inaugural address

In March 1865, Lincoln was already planning the difficult process of reunification. Thousands showed up to hear Lincoln speak, including John Wilkes Booth. His second inauguration speech is now part of the Lincoln Memorial.

Highlights from 1865 inaugural address

Containing just 698 words, the speech is one of the best-known in American history, including its conclusion:

“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.”

Link: Full text of 1865 inaugural address

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