First Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln

(law.yale.edu)

61 points | by js2 34 days ago

9 comments

  • canada_dry 34 days ago

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

    Yet here we are... the US two party system continues to devolve into a bitter no-holds-barred us-against-them battle.

    There are so many other foes - both internal and external - that need addressing, yet in-fighting is weakening the nation's foundation while the real enemies are rubbing their hands in glee.

    • mensetmanusman 33 days ago

      Politicians used to attack each other with canes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caning_of_Charles_Sumner

      Bombings were part of political expression in the 60s and 70s. https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/1969-a-year-of...

      Things are quite tame now in comparison. I wonder if Twitter is absorbing the small percentage of fools that used to do these things into an endless cycle of nonsense.

      • gentleman11 33 days ago

        Not the comparison I think you intended. The caning was a precursor to the civil war, and the bombing happened at a time when the administration seriously feared another civil war. The bugaboo [sic?] movement is working to push that envelope too. Things are legitimately bad right now even in historical context

        • atomi 33 days ago

          > I wonder if Twitter is absorbing the small percentage of fools that used to do these things into an endless cycle of nonsense.

          Seriously though, Twitter and other social media does make the FBI's job of finding domestic extremists easier.

        • DanielBMarkham 33 days ago

          "...two party system continues to devolve..."

          Negative. Humans form into clans. Washington's cabinet split into two groups of bitter enemies almost immediately.

          Clanning and being bitter and ugly is nothing new, sadly. What's new is everybody stuck in one big room yelling at one another.

          To attempt to use an innocuous example, I may be a rabid Cardinals fan and you may be a rabid Yankees fan. We could be best of friends. We meet once a week, perhaps argue some viciously about the other team sucking, and then move on to families, hobbies, and the rest of our friendship. Our friendship is bigger than our passions.

          But if we were stuck in the same room together 24/7, with hundreds or maybe thousands of other Cardinals and Yankees fans, we'd probably shoot one another with bazookas. Same people, same passions and opinions, different crowd size simultaneously communicating.

          The interesting question is this: at what point does it fall apart? If I brought another Cardinals fan to our weekly meeting and you brought another Yankees fan, would it still be a workable/fun lunch? Perhaps, but I bet by the time we get to six or more people all with the same passions but different opinions it would be impossible to do anything but bitterly fight. (Note: larger crowds happen all of the time, of course! But those are crowds gathered for a specific purpose under clear rules. They're not stuck together 24/7 memeing one another. Large crowds become boring crowds; once you take out any passions and passionate opinions, there's nothing left but cardboard people using pre-programmed responses in order not to get called out.)

          Now multiply that thought experiment by 500 million and add in advertising money chasing emotionally-driven conversations, liking, RTing, sharing, etc. That's why some companies should not exist. They don't have a business model that is compatible with the current evolution of our species.

          • antipaul 34 days ago

            I sometimes wonder if today’s political divisions are substantially deeper than in the past. Infighting seems to go back to the founding fathers.

            So is today the end of democracy? Or standard operating practice?

            • vikramkr 34 days ago

              We had a civil war. I would be very interested to see an analysis try and argue that we are more divided now than when we had a civil war over whether states had the right to decide whether or not black people count as people.

              • briandear 34 days ago

                > we had a civil war over whether states had the right to decide whether or not black people count as people.

                That actually wasn’t why the civil war was started. It wasn’t until later in the war that emancipation was a goal. Slavery was legal in DC for the first year of the Civil War.

                • skybrian 33 days ago

                  This is more complicated. Southern states seceded over slavery. They put it in writing when they seceded and it was in the Confederate constitution. Although Lincoln attempted to get them not to secede with conciliatory gestures, they assumed the worst of the candidate of the Republican party, because it was the anti-slavery party.

                  Although the stated goal of Lincoln and the US government at the beginning of the war was to preserve the union, the underlying north-south conflict that turned into a war was about slavery.

                  You might argue, though, that it wasn't originally about ending slavery in states where it was established, because few people had a goal of doing that before the war. (Abolitionists did, but not as a practical, near-term goal.) The most serious political fights were about whether to expand slavery to more places, and here the South wouldn't take no for an answer - they not only wanted to preserve it, they wanted to expand it. And that was still about slavery.

                  Yes, it was all really weird and horrible.

                  • jeremysalwen 33 days ago

                    Did you read the speech? Lincoln's entire inaugural speech is about the conflict over slavery and how it could lead to secession.

                    He says explicitly:

                    >One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.

                    How much more in denial could you be?

                    • hef19898 33 days ago

                      Didn't some states explicitly state in their declarations of secession that it was about their right to keep slaves? And with secession being the cause of the civil war, it was about slavery from day one.

                      • vikramkr 33 days ago

                        The very first state to secede made it pretty clear what it was all about.

                        "The declaration stated the primary reasoning behind South Carolina's declaring of secession from the U.S., which was described as "increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery"."

                        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_the_Immediate_C...

                      • newacct583 33 days ago

                        > That actually wasn’t why the civil war was started.

                        That's misleading. The war was about slavery, period. Secession was the end result of a long train of conflict over slavery going back to the founding of the republic. A quick google pulled up this pretty well curated list (it's literally high school history material, surely you learned this stuff in school?) of "compromises" over the issues that were attempts at holding the republic together:

                        https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1286

                        Well, obviously it failed. In 1861 the slave states collectively decided to take their toys and go home.

                        Now, at this point, it's true that, for political reasons, Union rhetoric was about "preserving the union" and not "emancipating slaves". They didn't immediately announce that now that the compromise had failed that's where they were going. And that's frankly a little shameful.

                        But no one thinks this war was about anything other than the practice of slavery.

                    • RcouF1uZ4gsC 33 days ago

                      Given that we are not caning each other on the floor of the Senate[0], I think we are not as bad as we were in the past.

                      In the past, we literally had a hot Civil War with American armies marching against American cities and laying siege to them and destroying them. Our rhetoric might be inflamed, which may be more noticeable due to social media, but I don't think we are at that point yet.

                      0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caning_of_Charles_Sumner

                      • protomyth 33 days ago

                        Read up on the election of 1800. When "brothers" fight and the father figure isn't around anymore, it gets ugly.

                      • 7532yahoogmail 31 days ago

                        Wrong. Absolutely wrong. The continued divisive nature of American politics is not because of enemies or the two party system. It's incompetence and lack of backbone. Neither political party has had the conviction of enlightened reason whence backbone comes to do the right thing. Instead Washington DC ineptitude of politicization of what matters whether in practical administration, or basic fiduciary responsibility has been done. As the problems go from bad to worse DC instead aggravates it in two basic ways:

                        - plays victim in units of outrage. Knock it of NRA groupies: the Dems aren't gonna take your guns. And on the left: the political correctness of victimization isn't helping the underlying injustice where it rests. The American public has bought into this. Shame on us.

                        - DC but most especially the US Congress has no agency anymore. They gave up. Politicians do not do today but instead are constantly uttering cheap symbolism about what they will do next time.

                        • newacct583 33 days ago

                          > bitter no-holds-barred us-against-them battle

                          Both sides, amiright? Just out of curiosity, you might try drawing up lists. Make a column for each party. And in each, list out the "barred holds" that they've employed in their pursuit of victory. Be specific, list the stuff that actually matters to you, and most importantly make it a list of actions taken and not just rhetoric.

                          I think you'll find that it's not as symmetric as that framing implies.

                          • everdrive 33 days ago

                            Thanks for writing this. "Both sides" often implies a false equivalency, and I've struggled with a good way to describe why this is bad logic.

                          • briandear 34 days ago

                            You should read some history. The political battles of the day are not unique. The Constitutional Convention itself was extremely contentious. The 1850s in NYC were particularly brutal.

                            The difference now is that you don’t have social amplification of every little utterance.

                          • RcouF1uZ4gsC 34 days ago

                            In my mind, there are only two indispensable Presidents without whom there really would no be a United States of America: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had the rare traits of dogged determination, clear headed pragmatism, and a rare humility that allowed him to do the seemingly impossible and hold the Union together while still ending slavery. Truly, one of the great people of history.

                            • jariel 33 days ago

                              Yes there would be no USA without him, but as a foreigner, reading that, he seems like a brutal federalist.

                              He literally says 'we don't want bloodshed, but hey, the constitution says you cannot secede, so there will be bloodshed if you try to'.

                              We have several secessionist movements around the world: Canada, Spain, UK (Scotland/Northern Ireland), EU (Brexit) - to name just a few.

                              Literally the 'land of the free', a new country, with a lot of devolved power ... but 'if you try to leave we're going to invade you'. It seems really inconsistent with democratic principles.

                              Though histories and legalities are quite different, I was pretty shocked by his stark position.

                              His tone is not aggressive, but his position is pretty hardcore absolutist.

                              • Mediterraneo10 33 days ago

                                Secession in the case of the American South was not a clear-cut case of everyone in a region wanting to live in their own country. The owners of the large slave-based plantations wanted to secede, and since they were the wealthy political elites, they made it happen. However, poorer white farmers who owned no slaves were either ambivalent about secession or outright pro-Union, and of course the black slave population weren't enthusiastic about the Confederate elites' aims.

                                So, Lincoln was advocating for the large Southern population that did not want to divide the Union, not quashing regional democratic aspirations.

                                • jariel 33 days ago

                                  So that's a good point but - "was not a clear-cut case of everyone in a region wanting to live in their own country"

                                  Neither was the American revolution in the first place.

                                  Where was the referendum? What would have been the results? Would the secessionists even have won?

                                  Lincoln maybe didn't live in a time where he had a lot of historical examples to follow, fair enough, but the argument that 'some didn't want to separate' doesn't quite cut it fully because that's pretty much a pervasive context.

                                • mannykannot 33 days ago

                                  Public pronouncements like this are only nominally statements of the speaker's beliefs; they are intended to persuade people to support the speaker's future policies.

                                  Few abolitonists felt that secession solved anything, and many would regard it as creating a rogue state. These people were already behind Lincoln's policies. The people who he had to persuade were abolitionists who worried whether they had the right to act, those who just wanted some way to make the issue someone else's problem, and those in the North who didn't find it troubling (and if he could persuade some of those who were pro-slavery, so much the better.)

                                  • 7532yahoogmail 31 days ago

                                    You're confusing cause and effect. The goal of the south was slavery and leave if they did not get it - cause. The north was then handed a problem to which civil war. Effect. The south lost. Lincoln was trying to avoid bloodshed by arguing that the union could not be recinded unless all agreed. As such he was arguing for a third way to resolve the issue. The south didn't find third way. It got the problem it wanted and paid the price for it.

                                  • acwan93 34 days ago

                                    Franklin Roosevelt? While it's debated on whether the New Deal policies actually lifted the United States out of the Great Depression, it's undeniable that a mix of the New Deal and his leadership during World War II propelled the country to becoming a global superpower.

                                    • kitotik 34 days ago

                                      One way to measure the impact of the New Deal, whether or not it caused the end of the depression, is to look at all the time, money, and political effort that has been and continues to be spent to systemically dismantle everything it put in place.

                                      It basically defined the agenda and focus of the Republican Party from then until now.

                                      • splintercell 33 days ago

                                        Most of the New Deal has been struck down as unconstitutional. I don't think the idea that there could be a special police force by NRA which would walk around Manhattan and watch for anybody who's lights are still on after the twilight , knock at the door and tell them that they are violating the NRA policies by working past the allocated quota, is constitutional. It was the right thing to do by Supreme Court.

                                        • kitotik 33 days ago

                                          Haha. That’s a funny but minor example.

                                          I was referring more to the socialist aspects - taxing corporations and wealthy individuals, the social security program, unemployment and welfare, workers rights, financial regulations, etc.

                                          My opinion is that FDR didn’t really love any of those things, but saw a potential for widespread social unrest, and tried to mitigate that by working out a deal with the oligarchy.

                                          This lead to the terms “liberal” and “conservative” defining the 2 parties and seems to have laid the groundwork of the extreme bifurcation we experience today.

                                          • splintercell 33 days ago

                                            > My opinion is that FDR didn’t really love any of those things, but saw a potential for widespread social unrest, and tried to mitigate that by working out a deal with the oligarchy.

                                            How do you justify him fighting with Supreme Court and planning to pack it? That has to be one of the most unethical power grabs any President could go for? What you're describing above sounds like a mythology being attempted to be built around him.

                                            • kitotik 33 days ago

                                              I wasn’t intending to imply that he or the new deal were good or bad, just how I interpreted the history.

                                              I’ve yet to find a US president that I would classify as benevolent, honest, or worthy of exaltation.

                                      • RcouF1uZ4gsC 33 days ago

                                        While FDR was instrumental in the USA becoming the superpower that it became, even without FDR, the United States would still have been a world power (due to its combination large population, high degree of industrialization with lots of manufacturing, and lots of natural resources) and would still have continued to have a democratic government. Even without FDR, the USA while maybe not developing into the superpower that it did, would still have been recognizable as the USA. Without Washington or Lincoln, the USA would either not exist or been completely unrecognizable.

                                        • briandear 34 days ago

                                          His internment of the Japanese should not be forgotten. It could also be argued that he empowered the Soviet Union. FDR has a mixed record in my mind. He also maintained a segregated military that Truman ultimately integrated in 1948.

                                      • empath75 34 days ago

                                        What to a slave is the 4th of July? https://youtu.be/NBe5qbnkqoM

                                      • dr_dshiv 33 days ago

                                        "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."

                                        Damn, Lincoln! Makes me think we need those statues of Jefferson Davis (upside-down, for my taste) -- because now it seems clear that if the south hadn't seceded, emancipation would not have happened for decades if at all

                                        • 082349872349872 33 days ago

                                          The Brazilian example suggests decades: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_Brazil#The_end_of_s...

                                          (but I have to admit my knowledge of Brasil doesn't extend much past Xuxa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OxJKFEofL0 )

                                          • mpalmer 33 days ago

                                            Not defending Lincoln as an abolitionist; he definitely was not. But the statement was couched pretty heavily in what he was legally allowed to do as President. He seems extremely careful not to take a position that would inflame one side over the other - he calls attention to the process for making laws and amending the Constitution but takes care to mention he doesn't have any amendments he would put forward himself.

                                            Difficult position to be in for a president. There was no quick, legal path to the righteous thing - free all enslaved people.

                                            • hef19898 33 days ago

                                              Yeah, seems the Confederacy was the in itself the cause of tis own downfall.

                                              Edit: As a what-if question, where would the US have stood in that case during the two World Wars?

                                            • anonu 33 days ago

                                              Interesting to read that Lincoln had to state this explicitly.

                                              I often think of the Civil War being about slavery - but that became a reason later on.

                                            • anonms-coward 33 days ago

                                              To be fair, it is highly likely he was lying and was saying that just to ensure he could win the election.

                                              A modern example would be Obama saying in 2008 that he wasn't in favour of same sex marriage.

                                              Source:https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2012/may/11/barack-oba...

                                              There are many other sources. Biden was saying the same thing in 2008.

                                              • mastax 33 days ago

                                                This is the inaugural address. He'd already won the election. It's certainly possible he was still lying, but I'd think the smarter thing to do would be to not talk about it for a while so it'd be less obvious when he changed his position.

                                            • protomyth 33 days ago

                                              I've found his Second Inaugural to be his more interesting https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=38&page...

                                              The first sounds like a man trying to hold it together by word with some appeasements.

                                              • js2 33 days ago

                                                Yes, but it's well known. It's inscribed on the inside wall of the Lincoln Memorial, along with the Gettysburg address. I had never read his first inaugural address before. I'm 48.

                                              • jhbadger 33 days ago

                                                Perhaps, but the "malice towards none" part is disappointing. Many people claim that the problem we have today (with the Confederacy still having its supporters today) is a result of Lincoln's assassination stopping his work, but the Second Inaugural suggests that even had he lived he wouldn't have been interested in putting Davis, Lee, etc. on trial for treason.

                                                • protomyth 33 days ago

                                                  No, the "malice towards none" is an appeal to the better angels of humanity. Frankly, if more people lived by that last paragraph of the speech, the world would be a considerably better place. He was looking forward, not back.

                                              • 082349872349872 33 days ago
                                                • 7532yahoogmail 31 days ago

                                                  Op - thanks for finding and posting. I enjoyed reading it, and was pleased to see evidence intelligent rhetoric with heart. Now at this point Lincoln said he would not stop slavery -- that would change though.

                                                  • JoBrad 33 days ago

                                                    The last paragraph of this speech is perhaps the best appeal to our better selves a US politician has ever made, in my opinion. The way he seamlessly shifts from acknowledging the current madness to a lofty call-to-greatness gives me chills every time I read it.

                                                    > I am loath 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 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.

                                                    • audessuscest 34 days ago

                                                      Yale should change his name.

                                                      • dr_dshiv 33 days ago

                                                        That's the best idea I've heard! Rather than Yale changing its name, change Elihu Yale's name to something else, like Elihu Shitbag. Yale can get abstracted out and maybe become an acronym. Young Angry Leftwing Elitists, or something.

                                                        (Class of '03 -- I love Yale)