Lincoln’s second inaugural speech is one of the most remarkable documents in the history of the United States of America and much importance is attached to it due to its content or the massage it contains. The then president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, gave his second inaugural speech to the citizens on the fourth day of March the year 1865 as he entered his second term of presidency.
It was just before the end of the civil war and slavery that had existed for the past four years and hence the nation was filled with a feeling of sadness as they suffered from the effects of war and slavery. The audience had many expectations as they wanted to know the way forward in regard to the nations’ state.
Lincoln had previously also not spoken of reconstruction and hopes for the future which he did in the speech by bringing into light the bad deeds of both the people from the North and the South and sought peace between them. Lincoln’s speech was very brief and straight to the point as he made it known to the audience what he had felt about the situation that prevailed in the nation.
He used his religious beliefs to explain the situation stating that the results attained had been out of the will of God. He urged people to change their ways and not to judge others of their past deeds and that God’s will could be quite different from that of either party in the civil war but rather unite in doing good in order to heal the nation’s wounds. This amazed the crowd as it was unusual of him to behave in that manner (White and White JR: 17).
Reconstruction and Its Effects
In Lincoln’s second inaugural speech, he stated clearly that all the citizens should join hands in doing well and promoting the welfare of one another with an aim of ensuring that peace and harmony exist within the nation and also among the nation and the other nations. Reconstruction period was marked by the years that followed the civil war.
Reconstruction was a very critical and sensitive process that entailed restoration of the split states to the Union. Major aspects of concern were how to handle the states, the treatment of the southern whites and the freed slaves.
Although both the presidential and congressional reconstruction sought to bring about peace and harmony among the citizens with an aim of healing the nation’s wounds, they opposed one another in the way they approached the issue and the recommendations they advocated for.
For instance, Abraham’s Lincoln’s approach to reconstruction worked on the principle that the states in question were never completely separated from the union and thus they should be treated fairly. He stated that the people from the south who were involved in the civil war had the right to be pardoned after taking an oath of loyalty to the United States of America.
He also advocated for the acceptance of any state where ten percent of its citizens have taken the oath of loyalty to the United States of America and had a government that worked forward towards the end of slavery. Although Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, was pleased with his plan and adopted it, the congress opposed his actions and came up with its reconstruction plan.
The Congress’ reconstruction plan had the following provisions; establishment of a freedmen’s bureau that was supposed to handle the freed slaves, enactment of reconstruction Acts which would make re-admission to the Union not easy, passage of the Civil Right Act that was aimed at protecting the freed slaves from various laws which were being enacted in most southern states for example the Black Codes and the enactment of the fourteenth amendment that would guarantee that no legislatures could make any changes to the passed Civil Rights Act. After Andrew Johnson’s period of presidency, the Congress reconstruction plan was adopted.
Although the reconstruction helped in some ways to bind up the nation’s wounds, the affected people like most southerners and also other concerned people like historians view the process as not being successful as it caused more destruction than the civil war itself due to the consequences that was associated with it. If Lincoln’s reconstruction plan and policy was adopted and implemented, it would have helped a great deal in enhancing the healing process of the wounds caused by the civil war as it involved moderate and effective actions.
The adoption of the policy that tried to force the southern people into moves they did not appreciate slowed the healing process as they did not feel well represented in the process since the need to preserve the north leaving the south behind was explicit. Lack of systematic organization of the reconstruction process and the hurry to accomplish the expected change increased the racial problem in the south making it impossible to attain peace (Klose and Lader 19).
Klose, Nelson and Lader Curt. United States History, since 1865, 6th Ed. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2001.
White, C. Ronald and White, C. Ronald Jr. Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural. USA: Simon and Schuster, 2002.