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A Bit of History
Abraham Lincoln began his first term as president of a country that was quickly coming apart. On the day he gave his inauguration speech, seven states of the deep South had already passed ordinances of secession. The remaining four border states (Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee) were ready to secede, but wanted to hear what the new president would say. Lincoln's speech did not sway those states, even though Lincoln urged restraint and reconciliation and argued that secession was illogical, unconstitutional and against the best interests of both the North and South.
Abraham Lincoln's first inauguration speech focuses closely on the Unionist view of secession and begs the South to reconsider tearing apart a country rich in common traditions and history. Lincoln's passion for the Union and his lawyer's precise reasoning are apparent throughout the speech. He states his case clearly and warns that the blame for civil war will fall on the South should war come. Southerners were not swayed and four years of bloody civil war followed.
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♦ permanent and perpetual;
♦ implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all nations "No government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination";
♦ in the vital and continuing interests of both North and South.
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Download the Speech and Answer Key
Download a Word file of the speech, followed by an answer key to the questions at "Excerpts from President Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Speech" posted on the public media gallery.
Spark Your Students' Enthusiasm With the First Inauguration Speech of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln's speeches passionately articulated why he believed that secession and the resulting Civil War were both a test of our republic and somehow part of a "divine plan" that involved penance for slavery. This series introduces students to Lincoln's most famous speeches.