Charles Francis Adams was one of many Americans who stood in front of the Capitol 150 years ago to hear Lincoln deliver his second inaugural address. “That railsplitting lawyer is one of the wonders of the day,” Adams wrote a few days later. “Once at Gettysburg and now again on a greater occasion he has shown a capacity for rising to the demands of the hour.” He believed the speech would be “for all time the historical keynote of this war.”
Lincoln himself expected his speech to “wear as well as —perhaps better than—any thing I have produced,” even though it was “not immediately popular.”
Here are a few links to help you commemorate the sesquicentennial of what historian Ronald C. White has called Lincoln’s greatest speech:
Library of Congress
The U.S. Capitol will host a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s second inaugural on March 4. Stephen Lang will deliver the same speech Lincoln wrote for his 1865 swearing-in, and the event will also feature remarks from Congressman Ray LaHood, historian Edna Greene Medford, and prominent Lincoln authority Frank J. Williams.
Researchers working on the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project have found two new Lincoln letters at the University of Alabama:
The first is a letter to Lincoln’s former secretary of war, Simon Cameron, concerning treason cases against prominent Baltimore officials in 1863. The second concerns the use of several thousand Enfield muskets captured from British ships trying to run blockades into the Confederacy in 1862.
“It is amazing that in the 21st century, new Lincoln materials are still being found,” Professor Charles Summersell of the University of Illinois Springfield said in a statement. “Once again, the relentlessly diligent researchers for the Invaluable Papers of Abraham Lincoln have discovered previously unknown material on our sixteenth president.”
From Lincoln’s remarks delivered at Independence Hall on Feb. 22, 1861:
I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here in the place where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live.…[A]ll the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated, and were given to the world from this hall in which we stand. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here and adopted that Declaration of Independence—I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army, who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.
On this date in 1849, Lincoln wrote to Secretary of the Navy William B. Preston to complain about an impending political appointment:
Last night I received letters from different persons at Washington assuring me it was not improbable that Justin Butterfield, of Chicago, Ills, would be appointed Commissioner of the Genl. Land-Office.…Mr. Butterfield is my friend, is well qualified, and, I suppose, would be faithful in the office. So far, good. But now for the objections. In 1840 we fought a fierce and laborious battle in Illinois, many of us spending almost the entire year in the contest. The general victory came, and with it, the appointment of a set of drones, including this same Butterfield, who had never spent a dollar or lifted a finger in the fight. The place he got was that of District Attorney. The defection of Tyler came, and then B. played off and on, and kept the office till after Polk’s election. Again, winter and spring before the last, when you and I were almost sweating blood to have Genl. Taylor nominated, this same man was ridiculing the idea, and going for Mr. Clay; and when Gen: T. was nominated, if he went out of the city of Chicago to aid in his election, it is more than I ever heard, or believe. Yet, when the election is secured, by other men’s labor, and even against his effort, why, he is the first man on hand for the best office that our state lays any claim to. Shall this thing be? Our whigs will throw down their arms, and fight no more, if the fruit of their labor is thus disposed of.
Lincoln’s opposition to Butterfield was rooted in his desire to strengthen the Whigs in his home state of Illinois by assuring loyal members that their efforts on the party’s behalf would be rewarded. Historian Thomas Schwartz examined this episode in a 1986 article for the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, which you can read here.
In his latest project, The Address, the acclaimed filmmaker focuses on Lincoln’s most famous speech and the efforts of a group of young students to memorize and recite it. Burns recently talked to National Geographic about the documentary, which premieres April 15 on PBS.
A manuscript dealer asked the Papers of Abraham Lincoln staff to make sense of a mysterious Lincoln letter with an unidentified recipient and subject:
Researchers at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project concluded Lincoln was writing to an ally to ask him to maintain a secret relationship with a political insider during the 1860 election campaign.
Lincoln asked his cohort to “keep up a correspondence” with the person, a phrase that gave researchers their best clue. They ran it through a searchable database of Lincoln’s papers and found several matches.
One was in a letter to Lincoln from fellow attorney and Republican Leonard Swett of Bloomington, Ill.
The two men, it turns out, were conspiring to keep tabs on a New York political figure. The mystery note was Lincoln’s response to Swett’s letter, the researchers surmised.
The subject of the letter was probably Thurlow Weed, a newspaper publisher and politician who ultimately opposed the president’s emancipation policy.