Lincoln’s Election, Southern Secession: 1860 to April 1861

Lincoln’s Journey, Davis’ Speech

What did Lincoln say during his inaugural address?

It was a lengthy inaugural address, delivered in a slow but effective fashion. Lincoln began by stating the obvious, that the republic was in the greatest peril it had ever seen. Then he transited to the past, marveling at how the nation had met and overcome all sorts of obstacles. Lincoln then turned to the advent of secession.

It was wrong in all sorts of ways, he said. Secession was a betrayal of the principles of the founding fathers, but it also was completely mistaken on a geographical basis. If things had been otherwise, if the Mississippi ran from west to east instead of from north to south, then some sort of division of the real estate might be possible. “Physically speaking, we cannot separate,” Lincoln declared. “A husband and wife may divorce, and go out of each other’s presence, but this the different sections of our country cannot do.” In five short, clean words, Lincoln put his stamp on the heart of the matter. The United States was an all-or-nothing proposition.

The Rotunda at the Capitol was still being built at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address.


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