Essay On Lincoln And The Civil War
The Civil War and Abraham Lincoln will be forever linked in history. Due to Lincoln’s election, the South succeeded and Lincoln was faced with a choice on how to preserve the Union. Lincoln is known for delivering a number of memorable speeches in relation to his thoughts on the Civil War. Lincoln’s first and second inaugural addresses both bring to light his feelings on why the Civil War was fought and what it meant in terms of the Union. The Gettysburg Address was also another one of Lincoln’s famous speeches which show his emotions about the war. All three of these speeches speak to what Lincoln saw as the cause and significance of the war. While slavery was in the background to virtually every issue concerning the causes of the Civil War, Lincoln’s three speeches show a different focus. For Lincoln, the cause of the Civil War was the fact the South succeeded, disregarding the constitution, and this forced to Lincoln to take a somber outlook on the war, promising few reparations should the South return.
The first inaugural address of Abraham Lincoln took place on March 4, 1861. At this point several states in the South had left the Union, so this address was aimed at the South, which Lincoln pleading his case for unity. It also highlighted the action Lincoln would take should the South not cease their illegal actions. Because Lincoln’s main goal was speaking directly to the South, Lincoln did not take an anti-slavery approach. Slavery was at the root of the Civil War, and Lincoln may have recognized that. However, the speech portrays a different picture of the reasons behind the Civil War. Lincoln says, “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 (Lincoln 1861).”
Lincoln clearly states that his goal is not to end slavery, and does not want to interfere on this matter. This is most likely an attempt to appeal to South and get them to rejoin the Union. Lincoln was elected as a Republican, who were an anti-slavery party, which is a primary reason the South left immediately after the election of Lincoln. However, Lincoln is trying to negate this message and show he is a moderate on slavery. In fact, he even mentions that he will enforce the Fugitive Slave laws, which would have appealed to the South. What caused Lincoln to declare war on the South was not slavery, but the South succeeding from the Union.
Throughout the speech Lincoln emphasizes that it is his role to uphold the laws of the constitution. He refers to oath he took to, “preserve, protect, and defend the United States Constitution (Lincoln 1861)” and believes succession to be an illegal act. Lincoln frequently refers to the constitution to show the legal argument against succession and why he will have to take action should the South get in his way of upholding the laws. Lincoln promises he would not use force against the South. Lincoln said, “In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violencethere will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere (Lincoln 1861).” Lincoln still sees the South as part of United States, and they will be the one responsible for war, should it come to that. Lincoln just wants unity, and the First Inaugural Address speaks to this point.
However, this speech did not have the effect Lincoln was looking for. The South ended up succeeding and Lincoln did use force, as he warned he would if the South were to unlawfully leave. The Civil War was the bloodiest war in American history and had millions of causalities. Ultimately, this wore down Lincoln, and he became more pessimistic and sad as the years went on. Lincoln only wanted to keep the Union united and suffering all this bloodshed made it hard at times to justify. Because Lincoln still saw the South as part of the Union, this deeply saddened him to see the extreme loss of life. This attitude is very prevalent in the Gettysburg Address.
Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 after the bloodiest battle on American soil. Thousands of people lost their lives, and Lincoln took this opportunity to recognize their efforts and call for a united nation. As in his inaugural address, this speech shows how Lincoln saw the only cause of the war being that of a nation divided. The South illegally left and Lincoln is trying to preserve the Union. Lincoln said, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advancedthat this nation shall not perish from the earth (Lincoln 1963).” Lincoln again reinforced his desire to see a nation united. Of course, the price is heavy, as Lincoln frequently references the tremendous sacrifice of those on the Gettysburg battlefield, and tries to remind everyone why they are still fighting. Due to the tremendous loss of life, Lincoln is searching for justifications for the sacrifice and tries to remind the nation of why they need a united country.
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address was one of the last speeches he ever gave, and did so in the context of the war coming to an end. It was clear on March 4, 1865 that the Union would win, and the South would again become part of the United States. This would have thought to be a great achievement, and should excite Lincoln. However, his words prove different. The Second Inaugural Address is a somber speech, showing great remorse over the loss of life. Lincoln makes many Biblical references throughout the speech, appearing to ask why God had let such a calamity happen. Lincoln uses language describing the war as “dreaded” and “terrible.” However, this speech also points towards reconciliation. He says, “let us judge not, that we be not judged,” and “With malice towards none, with charity for all let us strive on to finish the work (Lincoln 1865).” Lincoln is calling for the South to be treated well upon re-entering the nation, and not for harsh reparations that would further cripple them.
These three speeches of Lincoln show his determination to keep the United States together. The fact of the South illegally succeeding made Lincoln go to war, nothing else. These speeches speak to how hard Lincoln felt the effects of the loss of life in war, and is likely why he wanted to welcome back the South with dignity. There had already been too much loss of American life, as Lincoln always viewed the South as Americans. Lincoln’s view of the Civil War was the pragmatic approach to uniting the nation. He did attempt to underplay slavery, especially at the beginning of his presidency. It is certainly justifiable for Lincoln to want to welcome the South back given the extreme loss of life, and this shows why Lincoln is remembered as a great president. Lincoln’s overall interpretation of the war, that being one of illegal activities by the South, is justified given the laws of the US constitution, and speaks to why Lincoln was willing to accept such losses in order to preserve the United States.
Lincoln, Abraham. "Second Inaugural Address." Bartleby.com, 4 Mar. 1865. Web. 28 Feb. 2015. <http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html>.
Lincoln, Abraham. "Lincoln's Gettysburg Addres." Bartleby.com, 19 Nov. 1863. Web. 28 Feb. 2015. <http://www.bartleby.com/43/36.html>.
Lincoln, Abraham. "First Inaugural Address. U.S. Inaugural Addresses." Bartleby.com, 4 Mar. 1861. Web. 28 Feb. 2015. <http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html>.