Thursday, January 20, 2005


The Second Inaugural Address

Today President Bush will deliver his second inaugural address. It's questionable how appropriate the possessive pronoun is, since he probably wrote little or none of the speech himself.

The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, did write his own second inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1865, little more than a month before his death. The only photograph we have of Lincoln giving a speech is at his second inauguration. Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, is also visible in the same photograph. A recent book on the speech, by Ronald C. White Jr., is entitled Lincoln's Greatest Speech (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002). While the Gettysburg Address perhaps better deserves that superlative, Lincoln's second inaugural address is indeed a remarkable document. Here are some excerpts:
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.


The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.


With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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