Today marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration in 1861. Prior to the event, the new president-elect wrote his speech while still in Illinois. A copy of the first draft leaked to a local newspaper. Because of threats to his life, Lincoln was smuggled into Washington via a secret route. Once there, he allowed a few to see the draft and offer suggestions. William H. Seward, the new secretary of state, suggested that Lincoln soften the message and include the famous ending. Kinder words proved to be futile: a month later, the Confederate army fired upon Fort Sumter.
Lincoln seemed to defy danger during his presidency, and his inauguration was no exception. He rode in an open carriage to the Capitol Building with President Buchanan. Chief Justice Taney, who ruled on the Dred Scott Case, administered the oath of office. Lincoln was the first president to be elected under the newly-formed Republican party, and the first to be elected on an anti-slavery platform.
“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,” he stated. Interestingly, this wasn’t the truth. There were several factors that entered in besides the issue of slavery, but Lincoln, as well as many of his cronies, chose to use it as a primary reason for war.
In another interesting statement, Lincoln said, “In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.” Unfortunately, he failed to uphold this promise.
The final words of his speech are hauntingly memorable, yet ominous in their warning, and a last plea to refrain from hostility went unheeded.
” In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend i t. 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.”