Abraham Lincoln.

...First and second inaugural addresses, message, July 5, 1861 (Volume 1) online

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No. 439


First and Second Inaugural Addresses
Message, July 5, 1861
Proclamation, January 1, 1863
Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863


MARCH 19, 1912. — Ordered to be printed

MARCH 25, 1912. — Ordered reprinted with corrections


MARCH, 1861 ^ ¥f ¥f ¥f ^

Senate— Ex. Doc. No. 1, Special Session, March 8, 1861


In compliance with a custom as old as the Government itself, I
appear before you to address you briefly, and to take in your pres-
ence the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States
to be taken by the President "before he enters on the execution of his

I do not consider it necessary at present for me to discuss those matters
of administration about which there is no special anxiety or excitement.
Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States
that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property
and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There
has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed,
the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and
been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published
speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of
those speeches when I declare that "I have no purpose, directly or
indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where
it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no incli-
nation to do so." Those who nominated and elected me did so with
full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations, and
had never recanted them. And, more than this, they placed in the
platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me,
the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read :

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially
the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according
to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the
perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend, and we denounce the law-
less invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter under
what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

I now reiterate these sentiments; and, in doing so, I only press upon
the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is
susceptible, that the property, peace, and security of no section are to
be in anywise endangered by the now incoming Administration. I add,
too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and
the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the States when
lawfully demanded, for whatever cause — as cheerfully to one section as
to another.


There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from
service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the
Constitution as any other of its provisions :

No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping
into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged
from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom
such service or labor may be due.

It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those
who made it for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the
intention of the law-giver is the law. All members of Congress swear
their support to the whole Constitution — to this provision as much as
to any other. To the proposition, then, that slaves, whose cases come
within the terms of this clause, "shall be delivered up," their oaths are
unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good temper, could
they not, with nearly equal unanimity, frame and pass a law by means
of which to keep good that unanimous oath ?

There is some difference of opinion whether this clause should be
enforced by national or by State authority; but surely that difference
is not a very material one. If the slave is to be surrendered, it can be of
but little consequence to him, or to others, by which authority it is done.
And should any one, in any case, be content that his oath shall go unkept,
on a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how it shall be kept?

Again, in any law upon this subject, ought not all the safeguards of
liberty known in civilized and humane jurisprudence to be introduced,
so that a free man be not, in any case, surrendered as a slave? And
might it not be well at the same time to provide by law for the enforce-
ment of that clause in the Constitution which guarantees that "the citi-
zen of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of
citizens in the several States ? "

I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations, and with
no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by any hypercritical
rules. And while I do not choose now to specify particular acts of
Congress as proper to be enforced, I do suggest that it will be much
safer for all, both in official and private stations, to conform to and
abide by all those acts which stand unrepealed, than to violate any of
them, trusting to find impunity in having them held to be unconsti-

It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President
under our National Constitution. During that period fifteen different
and greatly-distinguished citizens have, in succession, administered the
Executive branch of the Government. They have conducted it through
many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope
of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional
term of four years under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of
the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably

I hold that, in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution,
the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not
expressed, in the fundamental law of all National Governments. It is
safe to assert that no Government proper ever had a provision in its
organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express
provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure for-
ever — it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not pro-
vided for in the instrument itself.

Again, if the United States be not a Government proper, but an asso-
ciation of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract,
be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One
party to a contract may violate it — break it, so to speak; but does it
not require all to lawfully rescind it ?

Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that,
in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history
of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution.
It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was
matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States
expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles
of Confederation in 1778. And, finally, in 1787, one of the declared
objects for ordaining and estabUshing the Constitution was "to form a
more perfect union."

But if destruction of the Union by one, or by a part only, of the States,
be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitu-
tion, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.

It follows, from these views, that no State, upon its own mere motion,
can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that
effect are legally void; and that acts of violence, within any State or
States, against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or
revolutionary, according to circumstances.

I, therefore, consider that, in view of the Constitution and the laws,
the Union is unbroken, and, to the extent of my ability, I shall take care,
as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the
Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be
only a simple duty on my part; and I shall perform it, so far as practi-
cable, unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold
the requisite means, or, in some authoritative manner, direct the con-
trary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the
declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and
maintain itself.

In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there
shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority. The
power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the
property and places belonging to the Government, and to collect the

duties and imposts; but, beyond what may be necessary for these objects,
there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people
anywhere. Where hostility to the United States, in any interior locality,
shall be so great and universal as to prevent competent resident citizens
from holding the federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnox-
ious strangers among the people for that object. While the strict legal
right may exist in the Government to enforce the exercise of these offices,
the attempt to do so w^ould be so irritating, and so nearly impracticable
withal, that I deem it better to forego, for the time, the uses of such

The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts
of the Union. So far as possible, the people everywhere shall have that
sense of perfect security which is most favorable to calm thought and
reflection. The course here indicated will be followed, unless current
events and experience shall show a modification or change to be proper,
and in every case and exigency my best discretion will be exercised,
according to circumstances actually existing, and with a view and a hope
of a peaceful solution of the national troubles, and the restoration of fra-
ternal sympathies and affections.

That there are persons in one section or another who seek to destroy
the Union at all events, and are glad of any pretext to do it, I will
neither affirm nor deny; but if there be such, I need address no word to
them. To those, however, who really love the Union, may I not speak ?

Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our
national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories, and its hopes, would it
not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it? Will you hazard so
desperate a step while there is any possibility that any portion of the ills
you fly from have no real existence? Will you, while the certain ills
you fly to are greater than all the real ones you fly from — will you risk
the commission of so fearful a mistake ?

All profess to be content in the Union, if all constitutional rights can
be maintained. Is it true, then, that any right, plainly written in the
Constitution, has been denied? I think not. Happily the human mind
is so constituted that no party can reach to the audacity of doing this.
Think, if you can, of a single instance in which a plainly written provision
of the Constitution has ever been denied. If, by the mere force of num-
bers, a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written con-
stitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution —
certainly would, if such right were a vital one. But such is not our case.
All the vital rights of minorities and of individuals are so plainly assured
to them by affirmations and negations, guarantees and prohibitions, in
the Constitution, that controversies never arise concerning them. But
no organic law can ever be framed with a provision specifically applicable
to every question which may occur in practical administration. No
foresight can anticipate, nor any document of reasonable length contain,

express provisions for all possible questions. Shall fugitives from labor
be surrendered by national or by State authority? The Constitution
does not expressly say. May Congress prohibit slavery in the Terri-
tories ? The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Congress protect
slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say.

Vrom questions of this class spring all our constitutional controver-
sies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the
minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must
cease. There is no other alternative; for continuing the Government is
acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority in such case will
secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will
divide and ruin them ; for a minority of their own wnll secede from them
whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For
instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy, a year or two
hence, arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union
now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments are
now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to com-
pose a new Union as to produce harmony only and prevent renewed
secession ?

Plainly, the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A
majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and
always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and
sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects
it does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is
impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is
wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy
or despotism in some form is all that is left.

I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional
questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that
such decisions must be binding, in any case, upon the parties to a suit,
as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high
respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments
of the Government. And while it is obviously possible that such deci-
sion may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it,
being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be
overruled, and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be
borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time,
the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government
upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably
fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in
ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions, the people will
have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically
resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. Nor
is there in this view any assault upon the Court or the Judges. It is a


duty from which they may not shrink to decide cases properly brought
before them, and it is no fault of theirs if others seek to turn their deci-
sions to political purposes.

One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be
extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be
extended. This is the only substantial dispute. The fugitive slave
clause of the Constitution, and the law for the suppression of the foreign
slave trade, are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be
in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports
the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obli-
gation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This, I think, cannot
be perfectly cured ; and it would be worse in both cases after the separa-
tion of the sections than before. The foreign slave trade, now imperfectly
suppressed, would be ultimately revived without restriction in one sec-
tion; while fugitive slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be
surrendered at all, by the other.

Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our
respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between
them. A husband and wife may be divorced, and go out of the presence
and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country
cannot do this. They cannot but remain face to face; and intercourse,
either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible,
then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory
after separation than before ? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends
can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens
than laws can among friends ? Suppose you go to war, you cannot fight
always; and when, after .much loss on both sides, and no gain on either,
you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse
are again upon you.

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it.
Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government they can
exercise their comtitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary
right to dismember or overthrow it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact that
many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National
Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amend-
ments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the
whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the
instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor
rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act
upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems
preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people
themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions
originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which
might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse.
I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution— which amend-


ment however, I have not seen-has passed Congress, to the effeet that
te Fetoa! Government shall never interfere with the domesttc msftu-
ttarofTh States, including that of persons held to serv.ce. To avo d
r^kconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to
rpeTof particular amendments so far as to say that, holdmg such a p o-
Xbn to'now be implied constitutional law, I have no objecfon to .ts
hping made express and irrevocable. ^ „„a

The Chief Ma^trate derives all his authority from the people, and
they have confa-red none upon him to fix terms for the separation o he
Stales The people themselves can do this also if they choose ; but the
Ixecutive asLch, has nothing to do with it. His duty .s to admm.ster
fhe pre^nt Government, as it came to his hands, and to transm.t .t,
iitiimnaired bv him, to his successor. .

Thy hould ther'e not be a patient confidence in the ulfmate just.ce
of the people? Is there any better or equal hope m the world ? In our
nresent d°fferences is either party without faith of bemg ur the right?

?f the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice
If the Almignty ^^ ^^^ ^^^^^ ^^^^ j^^h ^nd

Ir^sZtnita ;-i> >^y t^e judgment of this great tribunal

°' ^'AtTrarofthfGovernment under which we live, this same people
have Wsely given their public servants but little power oj "jisehief
and hive, IL equal wisdom, provided for the return of tha httle to
their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain the.
■ir ue and vigilance, no Administration, by any extreme of wickedness or
fX, can ve'ry seriously injure the Government m the short space of

'°MyTountrymen, one and all, think calmly and «« "P°" ^ - ^h-f^
subjLt. Nothing valuable can be .0=. ^^:Z:y^:^^^^
r^hipp^- to hurrv any of you, m hot haste, to a siep win».ii y
tCIdM, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no
eood Ob ect can be frustrated by it. Such of you as are now dissatisfied,
Sn have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the ^-si ive point
h law^of your own framing under it; while the "-' Adminis raUon
will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either. If it were
ZIm that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute,
tSltn^ Single .-—/ - •-— X ^^^^
SrHffrrdtnd t: sanUlpetent to adjust, in the best way,

'^^r:^ha"ndt mv"'dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in .»., is
th momentous ssue of civil war. The Government will not assail you
Youein have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You
ha°" no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the Government while /
shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it.


I am loth to close. 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
battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearth-stone, 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.


Senate — Ex. Doc. No. 1, 37th Congress, 1st session, July 5, 1861


Having been convened on an extraordinary occasion, as au-
thorized by the Constitution, your attention is not called to any
ordinary subject of legislation.

At the beginning of the present presidential term, four months ago,
the functions of the federal government were found to be generally
suspended within the several States of South Carolina, Georgia, Ala-
bama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida, excepting only those of the
Post Ofifice Department.

Within these States all the forts, arsenals, dock-yards, custom-houses,
and the like, including the movable and stationary property in and
about them, had been seized, and were held in open hostility to this
government, excepting only Forts Pickens, Taylor, and Jefferson, on
and near the Florida coast, and Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor,
South Carolina. The forts thus seized had been put in itnproved condi-
tion; new ones had been built, and armed forces had been organized,
and were organizing, all avowedly with the same hostile purpose.

The forts remaining in the possession of the federal government in
and near these States were either besieged or menaced by warlike prepa-
rations, and especially Fort Sumter was nearly surrounded by well-
protected hostile batteries, with guns equal in quality to the best of
its own, and outnumbering the latter as perhaps ten to one. A dis-
proportionate share of the federal muskets and rifles had somehow found
their way into these vStates, and had been seized to be used against the
government. Accumulations of the public revenue, lying within them,
had been seized for the same object. The navy was scattered in distant
seas, leaving but a very small part of it within the immediate reach of
the government. Officers of the federal army and navy had resigned
in great numbers; and of those resigning, a large proportion had taken
up arms against the government. Simultaneously, and in connexion
with all this, the purpose to sever the Federal Union was openly avowed.
In accordance with this purpose, an ordinance had been adopted in
each of these vStates, declaring the States, respectively, to be separated
from the National Union. A formula for instituting a combined govern-
ment of these States had been promulgated; and this illegal organiza-
tion, in the character of confederate States, was already invoking recog-
nition, aid, and intervention, from foreign Powers.



Finding this condition of things, and believing it to be an imperative
duty upon the incoming Executive to prevent, if possible, the consum-
mation of such attempt to destroy the Federal Union, a choice of means
to that end became indispensable. This choice was made, and was
declared in the inaugural address. The policy chosen looked to the
exhaustion of all peaceful measures, before a resort to any stronger

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Online LibraryAbraham Lincoln...First and second inaugural addresses, message, July 5, 1861 (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 3)