Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, March 16, 1861

The March 16, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly featured a fascinating picture and stories on the first Inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.  We have posted the newspaper below.  Simply Newspaper Thumbnails will take you to the page of interest of the newspaper.


The Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln

The Navy-Yard at Norfolk Virginia

Abraham Lincoln Inauguration

Abraham Lincoln First Inaugural Address

Lincoln Inaugural Cont.

Texas Forts

Texas Forts

Washington Arsenal

The Washington Arsenal

Abraham Lincoln Inaugural

Winslow Homer Illustration of Abraham Lincoln Inaugural







[MARCH 16, 1861.


(Cont. From Previous Page)

Officers of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Militia, in full uniform.
Officers and Soldiers of the Revolution, of the War of 1812, and subsequent periods,
The Corporate Authorities of Washington and Georgetown.
Other Political and Military Associations from the District and other parts of the United States.
All organized Civil Societies. Professors, Schoolmasters, and Students within the District of Columbia; Citizens of the District, and of States and Territories.

The arrangements, as a rule, were bad, the throng pressing upon the Presidential carriage so as to compel it to stop frequently. But the sight was very brilliant, and the crowd enormous. A striking feature of the procession was a van labeled Constitution, upon which thirty-four young girls in white were seated. Our artist has selected for his picture the moment at which the procession passed the gate of the Capitol grounds.

Arriving at the private door leading, through a covered way, to the Capitol, the carriage stopped and the two Presidents alighted. It was about half past one when they entered the Senate arm-in-arm, as shown in our picture. A newspaper correspondent says:

"Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Lincoln entered, arm-in-arm, the former pale, sad, nervous ; the latter's face slightly flushed, with compressed lips. For a few minutes, while the oath was administered to Senator Pearce, they sat in front of the President's desk. Mr. Buchanan sighed audibly, and frequently. Mr. Lincoln was grave and impassive as an Indian martyr."

After a few moments of rest, the procession formed again and proceeded to the platform on the portico of the Capitol. There, the Supreme Court, the Senate, House of Representatives, Foreign Ministers, and a vast crowd of privileged persons quickly filled every seat : while the people—to the number of some 25,000—were gathered in a dense mass below. President Lincoln was introduced to the people by Senator Baker, of Oregon, and forth-with, in a clear, strong voice, proceeded to read his inaugural address , which was frequently interrupted by bursts of applause.

At the close of the reading the oath was administered by Chief Justice Taney ; and after receiving the congratulations of his friends, the President, leaning on the arm of President Buchanan, retired within the building, and thence drove to the White House.


A NIGHT in December on a prairie in Wisconsin. Within doors, Nettie and Martha alone, in the light of a flaming wood-fire. Without, a wild, sweeping wind driving the air full of whirling crystals. Clear ; but perhaps the keenest, coldest night of the season—of any season.

Nettie and Martha are sisters. The roof that shelters fell to their hands by inheritance only a year ago ; for when the mother died the father was lone, and being old and broken with care, laid him down to sleep by her side, as he had done for more than forty years. The house is humble, but the farm is good. A brother—from home now—gathers gray and golden grains by vexing the smooth, rich prairie—enough to keep them in food and comforts from summer to summer.

Nettie is little, playful, and waxen. Martha is older, grave, and plain. More ; as she sits in her chair—not a high-backed one—her shoulders scarcely reach to its summit ; and she seems to be little like a child. A pair of crutches stand against the corner.

Nettie, who, at seventeen, is not too old for kit-tens, and birds, and other bright and playful creatures, sits like a Turk—a very sweet little feminine Turk, to be sure—the centre of a herd of feline juveniles, in the middle of the floor. With most audacious independence of winter weather and all its suggestions, Nettie wears to-night a light summer chintz—white ground and purple spot—a pure, bright little thing of a print, which, clinging close to her perfect figure, sweeps thence upon the car-pet in billows of foam, flecked with purple verbenas. Not less than half a dozen kittens, the wildest of all imaginable sprites, in soft fur dresses of salmon and white, and coal color, are skipping about Miss Nettie in somewhat eccentric orbits, while Mistress 'Tabby sits gravely in the corner in matronly contemplation ; reveling, doubtless, in memories of those days lang sync when she, too, made great havoc of balls of yarn, and gave fruit-less chase to the tip of her tail. In the frolic Net-tie's muslin collar loses its pin and falls to the floor, whereat the coal-color kitten whisks it off to a corner, and deposits it under a chair as gravely as men do trophies of banners.

"All, you robber ! you shall have little peace with your plunder ;" and Nettie proceeds to dislodge the enemy by sundry and vigorous discharges of balls of yarn.

Martha looks up from her book and speaks. Her voice is as sweet and musical as Nettie's, though graver, and she says,

m m Have we ever known so wild a wind as this, Nettie ?"

"Never, sis. It has whistled and roared, and whirled the snow into heaps, and filled the air with feathers and broken branches of trees, and shaken the house all day," says Nettie, letting fly another ball of yarn at the redoubtable coal-color kitten, unconquered, under the chair.

" I feel anxious. Perhaps brother has been on the lake to-day."

" Oh no ! No boat would venture out in such a gale, and in winter too."

"I suppose not. But what time did this wind begin, and how, Nettie ?"

" Let me think. Why, it came in a sudden gust at about ten this morning. But brother may not have reached the lake; we only look for him this week. There is no cause for uneasiness, Martha."

And yet the apprehension, once started, checks Nettie's exuberance of spirits and changes her mood. The astonished kittens, finding no response

to their bravest sallies, retire in evident disgust, wondering much at the fickleness of young women in general; and the " coal-color" under the chair sees Nettie, with utter surprise, come coolly to its fortress and take the collar without a caress. And then Nettie lies in her favorite nook of the lounge, pensive, her head on her hand, thinking of brother ; of father and mother, under the snow; of the friend at the foot of mountains in New England whose letters, fraught with golden words, failed to come last week and even the week before. "The mails are so irregular here at the West !"

In brushing the miles upon miles of prairie through the livelong day, the icy wind had grown mad with the fury of freedom, and tossed snow into the air with its invisible antlers; so that men, could they have lived in the biting air, would have breathed ice motes. The whole atmosphere seemed powdered with diamond dust, floating crystals ; and though the sky was cloudless the horizon was destitute of outline, earth and sky meeting in mist.

Now that night has come, and the moon is marching up the arc of the heavens, the wild wind is no less ruthless in its sweep, but tosses the snow, sways the few lone trees, and drives the frost into crevices, plating the heads of nails with a coat of white, and curling mounds of snow within the threshold of closed doors.

And now a curious phenomenon is being unfold-ed. A path of light, of golden tint, streams up from the horizon, and, intersecting the moon, forms a spear-point about it. Another belts the heavens, so crossing the first that the moon stands against the sky as a clear brilliant pearl in a cross of gold. On the right and left segments of rainbows unfold in as brilliant colors as the rainbow of day puts on; and near the zenith an arc of color, bending outward, matches another which is forming below. It is one of those rare and magnificent pictures of the prairie, painted by frost-mist in the air, which a lifetime seldom finds repeated. The warmth and beauty of color in the gravity of night and the iciness of winter.

A sleigh, drawn by a pair of stout black horses, in which is a vigorous man and a fragile girl, had been winding all day among the forest trees which skirt the prairie like a broad brown fringe. The trees prevented the wind, and the cold was quite endurable. But at nightfall they shot out from under their covert upon the white bosom of the wild prairie, and the blast came down upon them with its sting. Now, while light and warmth glow within, where are Nettie and Martha, and the moon is putting on its garments of violet, crimson, green, and gold, the wild night wind has chilled and stiffened the riders in the sleigh, and the horses are floundering weakly through the snow. The man has taken one after another of his garments and wrapped them about his companion, and stands, stalwart and strong, in the sleigh, directing and urging the willing but failing horses. The wind, eddying and whirling, has piled the snow into hills. Sometimes it is quite impossible to force a passage through till the hand of the driver has broken the drift with his spade.

The keen wind bites his face and his hands, penetrates the meshes of his clothing, and would chill him but for the labor. The drifts grow deeper, the cold more intense ; the strong horses reel and move slowly on. A little while ago the girl complained bitterly of cold. She thought she was freezing. But now she is quite warm—does not suffer at all. The man hears this with a shudder. He has parted with his last coat ; he can do no more.

"Take this coat, George ; I don't need it now," she says, in a faint, cheerful voice.

"For God's sake keep it on !"

"Why, George, I do not suffer at all."

And still the horses move painfully on, and still the wind sweeps its icy fingers mercilessly over the prairie with its winding-sheets of snow.

" I am sleepy, George ; wake me up when we reach a house. You must go in and warm, or you will freeze."

The horses stop ; the snow is high before. George opens the shawl by the face and kisses the lips. She is sleeping. A few minutes more, and the sleep will have been merged in that dreamless sleep whence there is no waking. Once more, with the energy of despair, George strikes his spade into the mound of snow. The wind catches the white cubes, and they roll speedily to leeward. In the fitful energy of his exertions, perspiration starts despite the icy wind. But his strength is waning, and the drift is high. And what beyond ? Only drifts—drifts—iterations of those he has battled for so many hours. It were as easy to die here as only a little beyond. No ; he will make one other effort. The way is partially cleared ; the whip is put to the steeds ; they advance, plunge, rise, plunge again, and fall with sheer exhaustion.

And now a light glimmers in the distance. Hope springs and nerves the strong man. He grasps his companion, and hurries on to struggle with the snow and the distance as well as he may.

" Oh, Martha! come to the window," says Net-tie ; " the prettiest sight you ever saw ! A great cross of gold, and rainbows all about the moon! Beautiful ! beautiful!"

The sister reaches for her crutches; but little Nettie is lithe and strong, and before the crippled woman has moved Nettie has borne her in her arms to the window. Looking on the exceeding wonder and beauty they are silent long.

" Queen of Night !" says Martha, in audible reverie.

"Where she walks she leaves golden footprints," adds Nettie.

"Her chambers hung with crimson, and orange, and blue."

"With a canopy of purple and violet."

"And a carpet of rainbow under her feet," says Nettie. " Wonderful are thy works, 0—"

The form of a man, with a heavy burden in his arms, appears like an apparition before the window —the face terribly haggard, the step tottering. Nettie rushes to the door ; but the man has fallen, and two bodies lie lifeless before her.

It is a mystery that two such girls, one helpless, the other slight, could have brought those bodies within the door ; but it is done. Martha thinks it is brother with the bride he was to bring from the East to their prairie home. The dress is not unlike, the form is like, the hair is like. It is not he. Nettie is not deceived.

The girl is sleeping, and will not wake. It is frail little May, come to Wisconsin with brother for life, and not for this icy death.

The man wakes and lives. It is Nettie's betrothed, from the brown house by the river-side within sight of mountains in New England.

He will stay with Nettie and Martha on the prairie farm ; for brother will not come back any more. No boat could live on the lake that day.



ON Friday, March 1, in the Senate, among the preliminary business was the passage of the joint resolution allowing Commodore Paulding to accept a grant of land and a sword from Nicaragua, amended so as to strike out the grant of land. The bill to reimburse his expenses in defending himself in the suits brought against him by some of Walker's men was also passed. The report of the Select Committee on the Peace Conference proposition and the Crittenden resolutions was then taken up, when Senator Hunter, of Virginia, moved to strike out the first article of the former and insert the first article of the latter. The argument was continued at great length by Senators Mason, Crittenden, Baker, and others, Senator Mason taking the ground that the propositions of the Conference were worse than nothing for the South ; and Senator Crittenden advocating their adoption, and declaring his readiness to vote against his own proposition in their favor. No action was taken. —In the House, the first business of importance in order was the report of the Committee of Thirty-three, and the first proposition of that report to be considered was the act for the admission of New Mexico as a State. Mr. Corwin, deeming debate unnecessary, demanded the previous question. Mr. Hickman, of Pennsylvania, moved to lay the proposition on the table, which was agreed to—114 to 71. The amendment to the Fugitive Slave Law, more clearly defining the duties of judges and civil officers, was next in order. This was adopted, after ineffectual attempts to table it--92 to 82. The next and last of the series was an amendment to the act providing for the rendition of fugitives from justice, intended to prevent contradictory decisions by the Governors of States. This was rejected—126 to 47; the objection being that it was a direct interference with State Sovereignty. Pending a dispute as to precedence in business, the question being between the proceedings of the Peace Conference and Territorial matters, the House took a recess until seven o'clock. On reassembling, Mr. M`Clernand proposed that the report of the Peace Conference be referred to a Committee, but objections were made. Another proposition to admit it failed. Territorial business came up, and the bills providing for the organization of Nevada and Dacotah were passed. Nothing else of consequence was done.

On Saturday, March 2, the Senate devoted the day to the discussion of the subject of compromises, and adjourned at 1 A.M. on 3d, without effecting any thing, to meet at 7 P.M. same day.   In the House all the appropriation bills were passed. The force bills were lost. The resolution censuring Mr. Toucey, Secretary of the Navy, for accepting the resignations of those officers of the Navy who resigned for the purpose of taking service in the seceded States, was passed after considerable opposition—95 to 62. No other business of consequence was transacted. The House adjourned until 10 o'clock on 4th.

On Sunday, 3d, the Senate met at 7 P.M., and after a debate which lasted till 7 A.M. on Monday, adopted the Corwin resolution, which will be found elsewhere.

On Monday, 4th, both Houses met at 10 A.M., but no business of consequence was transacted. In the Senate, Senator Fitch, of Indiana, spoke against time to kill a gas company's charter. At noon the session terminated.


At 1.30 P.M. on 4th, Mr. Lincoln, the new President, de-ivered the following Inaugural :

FELLOW-CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES,—In Compliance with a custom as old as the Government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly, and to take in your presence the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States to be taken by the President before he enters on the execution of his office.

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 inclination to do so." Those who nominated and elected me did so with a 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 lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter under what pretext, as 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 lawgiver is the law. All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution—to this provision as much as 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 this 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 enforcement of that clause in the Constitution which guarantees that "the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States?" I take the official oath today 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 unconstitutional.


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 for precedent, I now enter upon the same task, for the brief constitutional term of four years, tinder great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted. 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 government proper never 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 forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself. Again, if the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of a 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 in 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 establishing the Constitution was to form a more perfect Union. But the destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is less than before, the Constitution 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. I shall perfectly perform it, so far as is practicable, unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisition, or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary. 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 need be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none, unless it is 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 collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may he necessary for these objects there will be no invasion—no using of force against or among the people any where.

Where hostility to the United States shall be so great and so universal as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people that object. While the strict legal right may exist of the government to enforce the exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would be so irritating and so nearly impracticable withal that I deem it better to forego for the time the uses of such offices.

The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union.

So far as possible, the people every where 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 the circumstances actually existing, and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of the national troubles and the restoration of fraternal 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 well to ascertain why we do it? Will you hazard so desperate a step while there is any portion of the ills you fly from that 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 numbers, a majority should deprive at minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution; certainly would, if such right were a vital one. But such is not the 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 question,. Shall fugitives from labor be surrendered by National or by State authority? The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Congress protect slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, 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 alternative for continuing the government but acquiescence on the one side or the other. If a minority in such a case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will ruin and divide them, for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such a minority. For instance, why 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 (Next Page)



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