Lincoln’s Second Inaugural is both an apology and a plea for forgiveness after full admission of national guilt for the institution of slavery. Building on these sentiments, Lincoln also appealed to northerners and southerners to reconcile when the conflict ended, urging forgiveness on the part of both victors and defeated, and a willingness on the part all Americans to abide by God’s justice as made manifest by the war’s outcome. After delivering this address, Lincoln saw Frederick Douglass in a crowd outside the White House and asked him what he thought of the speech. Shaking the President’s hand, Douglass described it as “a sacred effort.” The brevity and somber tone of his Second Inaugural Address reveals the effects of four years of devastating war on America’s soul and Lincoln’s heart. Never prone to condemn the Southern states for causing the Civil War, Lincoln offered instead reflections on the judgment God had handed down upon both the North and the South for the American sin of slavery.
Documents in Detail is TAH.org’s newest webinar series, offering a close read and in-depth discussion of a single document in each episode. Scholars will discuss the ideas, historical context, purpose, speaker, audience, and use of language in each document, in order to help teachers gain a deeper understanding of one core document from American History. All teachers who take part in a live episode will be emailed a downloadable certificate for continuing education hours and, as always, TAH.org’s webinars are free to all.