Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address


At the peak of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made his second inaugural speech, including a bold choice to address the North and South. Lincoln does so in a sincere attempt to unify the North and the South as one country, not two, his purpose. He achieves this purpose by strategically drawing similarities between the North and South while appealing to god. 

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Lincoln’s diction calls for unity. Using words such as “ we, us, our, neither” calls for unity. Lincoln addresses both sides, with language that implies an already united country. His group-based diction already makes the South feel invited to join the union again. The diction builds pathos around the value of community.  The emotional appeal convinces the South they should unify since they feel unified and addressed by the leader. Starting with diction that alludes to unity and builds pathos creates a foundation for the remaining strategies Lincoln applies. 

Lincoln’s comparison between the North and South is the ultimate appeal to unity and logos. Between lines 12-19, Lincoln compares the North and South, posing similarities between both, such as intent to prevent war and hatred for war. He continues the comparison at lines 23-31. He discusses both sides’ goals of the Civil War and religious similarities. Pointing out similarities leads the audience to believe they are not different from their chief adversaries, and war did not change that fact. These similarities, combined with the diction that addresses the sides as a group, convince the South that they are alike from the North, besides slavery. The appeal to logos serves as the base for their unity. 

Lincoln further explores two forms of comparison. He employs personification to make the war the common enemy. He cites “ the war came,” and “ the war as already attained,” and may speedily pass away.” These personifications point to the grievances the war cause and describing the Civil War as a person gives the North and South a tangible enemy they can work together to defeat: unity. Lincoln describes war as the chief cause of damage, not either side, distancing both sides away from the war and closer together. Doing so, he creates a shared value between the North and South, appealing to ethos. The personification from ethos brings the North and South to the realization that they are similar.

Lincoln’s appeal to ethos does not end quickly. He makes various allusions to god in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs. He orates, “both read the same Bible and pray to the same god.” Lincoln forms the allusion as a comparison. The comparison serves as a base to continue the shared identity the North and South have, religiously. He appeals to the shared Christian value of forgiveness. Lincoln resurges religious morals in the North and South. The appeal to character serves to bring the North and South together through religion. Powerful, religion was an integral aspect of American lives at the time. The religious front brings the North and South to the conclusion they should forgive and become the United States again. 

Lincoln’s speech was captivating at the time, but the implication of his strategies are still present in the 21st Century. The country, polarized around guns, abortions, and LGBTQ rights.  Lincoln managed to make a powerful appeal to unity, even when there was a literal succession. The speech should send a message to today’s politicians that they need to bring the county together. 

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