Freedom, Union, and Power: Lincoln and His Party during the Civil War

By Michael S. Green | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION: SUCCESSES
AND FAILURES OF
REPUBLICAN IDEOLOGY

ON 4 March 1865, Abraham Lincoln delivered a second inaugural address that has become known for its tone of conciliation and rationalization. The conciliation lay in its conclusion, which began, "With malice toward none; with charity for all"—an effort to find room for all to agree on how to restore the Union. As Phillip Paludan wrote, while Lincoln used the occasion to blame the South for the war, he noted "the responsibilities that Northerners shared and that he and Congress and the wider polity must assume." By contrast, Lincoln's leading biographer, David Herbert Donald, described him as absolving himself of responsibility for the war by saying, "The Almighty has His own purposes." Faulting the North and South, Lincoln said, "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged." Then came what Donald called "one of the most terrible statements ever made by an American public official": "Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray— that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it 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, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'"1

However terrible—and majestically poetic—the statement, the speech not only illuminates Lincoln's views on Reconstruction, but is a classic exposition of the party's ideology. In no way did Lincoln absolve the South of its sins. Few scholars distinguish between his softer approach to the South in 1861 and his threat to annihilate it

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