At the time of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which was delivered in March 1865, the country had (long) been looking forward to the end of the Civil War. Lincoln’s second address is shorter than the first one, because according to him there was no need for a long address because of the union’s current political situation. Compared to the first address, Lincoln is using many different kinds of rhetorical strategies like religious allusions, parallel structure, as well as diction in order to reunite a broken nation and make them feel united again, which I’m going to focus on in the following.
Lincoln starts with the words “Fellow countrymen”, which shows that he sees himself on the same level as the other citizens, and not only their president. He also wants to emphasize that he pursues the same interests as everyone should: to stop the war. Lincoln often uses the rhetorical method of allusion, focusing on God and the Bible to reunite the country, the North and the South, by stating that they all have the same faith. In his second inaugural speech Lincoln says, “Each looks for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.” In this paragraph Lincoln is quoting the Bible, which is very smart and effective of Lincoln to use religious allusions like the ones stated above; Therefore, a lot of people can relate. He also wanted to point out that they should all be on the same side and not fight against each other.
The main reason why the Civil War started was that the North and the South had two different opinions on slavery. When Lincoln delivered his second address, this issue (was put in the background) but the two parties were still fighting. Lincoln also states, “…Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” This statement is also an allusion to the Bible, which he is using to impact the people to help bring the nation back together. Lincoln is mentioning the pronouns “us” and “we”, to point out that it is about time to reunite the country, combining the North and the South. The word “work” implies Lincoln’s recognition of the sheer diligence, effort, and commitment needed to finish the war, but it also implies that he does not glorify the war. Neither does he speak of magnificent triumphs nor does he threat the South with punishment. Instead, he speaks with moderation and modesty. Lincoln also expresses his compassion, his special concern for the soldiers and his thoughtfulness, as well as condolences towards the suffering families. This shows that he is a man of peace who is also a man committed to justice.
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