The Final Struggles: September 1864 to April 1865

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

How was the second inaugural address received?

Like those who heard the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s listeners at the Capitol would have benefited from a second reading. Lincoln’s rhetorical style was so spare, so straight to the point, that it could not all be taken in one listening. The numerous references to the Almighty were so different from earlier Lincoln speeches that they would have to be examined in detail. But the tone was unmistakable. Lincoln saw mutual forgiveness as the only way for the nation to move forward.

Not everyone in Washington or the nation as a whole desired forgiveness. The Radical Republicans, who were soon to become even more “radical,” disliked talk of mercy and forgiveness. To them, it was obvious that the Confederacy had broken all the rules of conduct and that its leaders, at the very least, would have to suffer retribution.


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