Bonds of Affection: Civic Charity and the Making of America--Winthrop, Jefferson, and Lincoln

By Matthew S. Holland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
“Hail Fall of
Fury! Reign of Reason, All
Hail!”

Abraham Lincoln remains the best wordsmith who ever occupied the White House. Among the most quoted and lyrical presidential lines he ever composed are the last of his First Inaugural. Speaking to those who still “love the Union” even if wary of the direction they think he will take the country on the charged issue of slavery, he pleads,

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.1

It has rarely been observed, but this is a distinct echo of Jefferson's First Inaugural call for the “affection” he, too, felt was critical to preserving a well-ordered union. In fact, the outline of Lincoln's closing paragraph, including the precise phrase “bonds of affection,” was supplied by William Seward, incoming secretary of state, who advised Lincoln in a lengthy pre-inaugural memo that his first address should include a few “words of affection”; Seward explicitly pointed to Jefferson's First Inaugural as a model.2

This was not hard advice for Lincoln to follow. As early as his first prominent exchanges with Stephen Douglas—those of 1854 not 1858— Lincoln argued that the Constitution was “conceived” in a “spirit of fraternal affection,” cemented a “social bond of Union,” and is dependent upon a “national feeling of brotherhood.”3 Even before this, in the two

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