Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview

68

Second inaugural Address:
CW, 8:332–333

More than 618,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died during the Civil War; more than 470,000 were wounded. No accurate accounting of civilian losses is possible, but certainly thousands upon thousands suffered proportionately. The number of Americans who died in the Civil War exceeded the total number of combat deaths in all American wars combined. No family, North or South, escaped the consequences of the nation's most costly conflict. The overwhelming sacrifice burdened Lincoln's mind as he wrote the nation's most memorable presidential address. Wind and rain greeted inauguration day on March 4, 1865, transforming Washington, D.C.'s streets into rivers of mud. The new vice president, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, gave a rambling and embarrassing speech in the Senate chambers after his swearing in. The president made sure that his running mate would not speak to the assembled throng outside. Later, as Lincoln readied himself on the platform at the front of the Capitol, the sun broke through the overcast sky. Many in the audience believed the change in weather foretold the future. “Fellow Countrymen,” Lincoln then declared. He went on to trace the national descent into conflict. “All knew,” he explained, that slavery “was, somehow, the cause of the war.” He blamed the South for destroying the Union and so many lives, but with Calvinist resignation also explained that the whole nation should bear responsibility for the war's singular cause. If God willed it, he explained, the killing would continue “until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”

-310-

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