Lincoln’s First Inaugural, Washington, D.C., March 4, 1861

Unidentified artist
Salted-paper print

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

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“The better angels of our nature”


Lincoln took the oath of office in March 4, 1861, in an atmosphere of crisis and almost indescribable tension about the fate of the United States. Seven states had already seceded from the Union, and more, including border states like Maryland, were threatening to follow. The crisis, so long deferred, had come to a head. Summoning up all his eloquence and logic, Lincoln made his final appeal to the South:

Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, 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 they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Yet, as Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, “the war came.”

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