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Reports, Speeches, and Declarations

REPORTS, SPEECHES, AND DECLARATIONS

Unanimous Declaration of Independence by Texans (1836)


Commentary

In 1820 Moses Austin, acting as a private U.S. citizen, negotiated an agreement with Spain that granted him a large tract of land in northern Mexico where he was to settle three hundred families. The families were to practice the Catholic religion and in time become properly Mexicanized. The settlers, born and raised in the United States, resented the restrictions imposed by a "foreign" government as well as the presence of Mexican soldiers. Furthermore, free from Spain by 1830, Mexico abolished slavery and prohibited the importation of slaves, but the majority of Texans hailed from southern states and continued the practice.

With roughly 30,000 Texas-Americans inhabiting the region, relations between Texas and Mexico deteriorated. When Stephen Austin, Moses's son, attempted to negotiate their differences, the Mexican leader Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna imprisoned him for eight months. In 1835, Santa Anna eliminated all local rights and began to organize a military reprisal. Later that year, Texans issued a preliminary declaration of independence. In March of 1836, a Mexican army under Santa Anna crossed the border and wiped out a band of Texans at the Alamo in San Antonio. That same month a Texas convention wrote a formal declaration of independence and also a constitution modeled closely on that of the United States. The following month, Santa Anna was defeated at San Jacinto. Texas gained its independence, and remained an independent republic until joining the United States in 1845.


When a government has ceased to protect the lives liberty and property of its people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression: When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states to a consolidated central military despotism in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood—both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the ever-ready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants:

When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms, themselves, of the constitution discontinued; and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons; and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet: When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication, on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and Civil Society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation—the inherent and unalienable right of the people to appeal to first principles and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases enjoins it as a right towards themselves and a sacred obligation to their posterity to abolish such government and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.

Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. Statement of a part of our grievance is, therefore, submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth.

The Mexican government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America. In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed, in as much as the Mexican nation has acquiesced in the late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who, having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers as the cruel alternative either to abandon our homes, acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood.

It has sacrificed our welfare to the State of Coahuila, by which our interests have been continually depressed through a jealous and partial course of legislation carried on at a far distant seat of government by a hostile majority, in an unknown tongue; and this too, notwithstanding we have petitioned in the humblest terms, for the establishment of a separate state government, and have, in accordance with the provisions of the national constitution presented to the General Congress a republican constitution which was, without just cause, contemptuously rejected.

It incarcerated in a dungeon, for a long time, one of our citizens, for no other cause but a zealous endeavor to procure the acceptance of our constitution and the establishment of a state government.

It has failed and refused to secure on a firm basis, the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty and property of the citizen.

It has failed to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources (the public domain) and although it is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self-government.

It has suffered the military commandants stationed among us to exercise arbitrary acts of oppression and tyranny; thus trampling upon the most sacred rights of the citizen and rendering the military superior to the civil power.

It has dissolved by force of arms, the State Congress of Cohuila and Texas, and obliged our representatives to fly for their lives from the seat of government; thus depriving us of the fundamental political right of representation.

It has demanded the surrender of a number of our citizens and ordered military detachments to seize and carry them into the Interior for trial; in contempt of the civil authorities, and in defiance of the laws and the constitution.

It has made piratical attacks upon our commerce, by commissioning foreign desperadoes, and authorizing them to seize our vessels, and convey the property of our citizens to far distant ports for confiscation.

It denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a national religion calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries rather than the glory of the true and living God.

It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyranical governments.

It has invaded our country by sea and by land, with intent to lay waste our territory and drive us from our homes, and has now a large mercenary army advancing to carry on against us a war of extermination.

It has, through its emisaries, incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenceless frontiers.

It hath been, during the whole time of our connection with it, the contemptible sport and victim of successive military revolutions, and hath continually exhibited every characteristic of a weak, corrupt, and tyrannical government.

These, and other grievances, were patiently borne by the people of Texas untill they reached that point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We then took up arms in defence of the national constitution. We appealed to our Mexican brethren for assistance. Our appeal has been made in vain. Though months have elapsed, no sympathetic response has yet been heard from the Interior. We are, therefore, forced to the melancholy conclusion that the Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty and the substitution therefore of a Military Government—that they are unfit to be free and incapable of self-government.

The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation.

We therefore, the delegates with plenary powers, of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare that our political connection with the Mexican Nation has forever ended; and that the people of Texas do now constitute a free sovereign and independent republic, and are fully invested with all the rights and attributes which properly belong to independent nations; and conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme Arbiter of the destinies of Nations.

Richard Ellis, President.
Test:
H. S. Kimble, Secretary.

Seneca Falls Declaration of Rights and Sentiments (1848)


Source: Anthony, Susan B.; Stanton, Elizabeth Cady; and Gage, Matilda Joslyn, eds. The History of Woman Suffrage. Rochester, NY: S. Anthony, 1889.

Commentary

In drafting The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments the day before the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York (July 19 and 20, 1848) Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Ann McClintock, Martha Wright, Lucretia Mott, and Jane Hunt read aloud the Declaration of Independence. Instantly they decided to pattern their Declaration of Rights and Sentiments on the historic document of 1776. First, they changed the dictatorial "King George" to "all men." Then, seeing that the Declaration listed 18 grievances, they also listed 18 injuries felt by women. Demanding that the rights in the Declaration of Independence apply to women as well as men, they reworded this document to include women: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal … " became "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal … " The Declaration of Sentimentswas followed by a list of resolutions demanding that women be allowed to speak in public, be accorded equal treatment under the law, receive equal education, equal access to trades and professions, equality in marriage, the right to sue and be sued, to testify in court, to have guardianship over children and, at the insistence of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, be granted the vote. Stanton's husband, Henry, was so upset over the demand for the vote that he left town the day of the convention.

On July 19, "crowds in carriages and on foot, wended their way to the Wesleyan church." Elizabeth Cady Stanton, terrified, gave her first speech. And quite a speech it was, holding the attention of everyone in the chapel. Then followed the resolutions and discussions. All resolutions passed unanimously except resolution nine, calling for the vote. This one squeaked by, with Cady Stanton and famed African-American speaker and editor Frederick Douglass persisting until it was approved.


When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners.

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master—the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in the case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women—the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.

After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.

He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.

He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.

He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation—in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.

In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.

[RESOLUTIONS]

Whereas, The great precept of nature is conceded to be, that "man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness." Blackstone in his Commentaries remarks, that this law of Nature being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this, and such of them as are valid, derive all their force, and all their validity, and all their authority, mediately and immediately, from this original; therefore,

Resolved, That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature and of no validity, for this is "superior in obligation to any other."

Resolved, That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.

Resolved, That woman is man's equal—was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.

Resolved, That the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.

Resolved, That inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is pre-eminently his duty to encourage her to speak and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.

Resolved, That the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.

Resolved, That the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very illgrace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the state, in the concert, or in feats of the circus.

Resolved, That woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.

Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.

Resolved, That the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.

Resolved, therefore, That, being invested by the Creator with the same capabilities, and the same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause by every righteous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self-evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self-evident truth growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as a self-evident falsehood, and at war with mankind.

At the last session Lucretia Mott offered and spoke to the following resolution:

Resolved, That the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.

Excerpt of Report of the New York City Draft Riots (1863)


Commentary

In the summer of 1863 there was ample reason for tension in New York City. Having failed to meet their federally prescribed enlistment quotas, most city wards faced forced conscription. Meanwhile, the issuance of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation back in January—and the subsequent decision to arm black troops—had introduced a new element into the conflict. Now the war was about slavery as well as about the Union. New York had a powerful Democratic party as well as a sizable population of working-class immigrants who objected to conscription, disliked emancipation, and worried about their own economic futures if they were going to have to compete with black laborers.

The draft typically occurred over the course of several days, with names announced at public drawings. Those who were selected were to come forward and either furnish a substitute, claim an exemption, or prepare for service. Following a calm first day, New York City erupted in three days of rioting after a mob attacked one of the draft offices. More than a hundred people, mostly rioters, died in the draft riot. One of the most tragic—and revealing—aspects of the riot was the vicious treatment of African-Americans. This probably reflected both hostility to federal policies and longstanding racial tensions in the city.

This newspaper story provides an assortment of information to help explain what happened and how it was interpreted by local citizens. The author blames "a few wire-pullers" for the actions of the mob, implying that the rioters were (figuratively) controlled by unseen elite puppeteers. And although he attributes the violence to men, he notes that they were urged on by crowds of women and children. Other accounts found women among the rioters; they made up nearly ten percent of those arrested.

Order was finally restored in New York when Union troops arrived, fresh from the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Other towns and cities watched the violence in horror and were spurred on to more rigorous recruiting so that they would be spared a potentially disastrous draft day.


The initiation of the draft on Saturday in the Ninth Congressional District was characterized by so much order and good feeling as to well nigh dispel the foreboding of tumult and violence which many entertained in connection with the enforcement of the conscription in this City. Very few, then, were prepared for the riotous demonstrations which yesterday, from 10 in the morning until late at night, prevailed almost unchecked in our streets. The authorities had counted upon more or less resistance to this measure of the Government after the draft was completed and the conscripts were required to take their place in the ranks, and at that time they would have been fully prepared to meet it; but no one anticipated resistance at so early a stage in the execution of the law, and consequently, both the City and National authorities were totally unprepared to meet it. The abettors of the riot knew this, and in it they saw their opportunity. We say abettors of the riot, for it is abundantly manifest that the whole affair was concocted on Sunday last by a few wirepullers, who, after they saw the ball fairly in motion yesterday morning prudently kept in the background. Proof of this is found in the fact that as early as 9 o'clock, some laborers employed by two or three railroad companies, and in the iron foundries on the eastern side of the City, formed in procession in the Twenty-second Ward, and visited the different workshops in the upper wards, where large numbers were employed, and compelled them, by threats in some instances, to cease their work. As the crowd augmented, their shouts and disorderly demonstrations became more formidable. The number of men who thus started out in their career of violence and blood, did not probably at first exceed three-score. Scarcely had two dozen names been called, when a crowd, numbering perhaps 500, suddenly made an irruption in front of the building (corner of Third Avenue and Forty-sixth street,) attacking it with clubs, stones, brickbats and other missiles…. Following these missiles, the mob rushed furi ously into the office on the first floor, where the draft was going on, seizing the books, papers, records, lists, &c., all of which they destroyed, except those contained in a large iron safe. The drafting officers were set upon with stones and clubs, and, with the reporters for the Press and others, had to make a hasty exit through the rear.

At 11 a.m. word reached the Park Barracks of the disturbance, and Lieut. Ried and a detachment of the Invalid corps immediately repaired to the scene of the riot. They went by the Third avenue route, the party occupying one car. On the way up, crowds of men, women and children gathered at the street corners, hissed and jeered them, and some even went so far as to pick up stones, which they defiantly threatened to throw at the car. When near the scene of the disturbance, Lieut. Ried and command alighted, and formed in company line, in which order they marched up to the mob. Facing the rioters the men were ordered to fire, which many of them did, the shots being blank cartridges, but the smoke had scarce cleared away when the company (which did not number more than fifty men, if as many) were attacked and completely demoralized by the mob, who were armed with clubs, sticks, swords and other implements. The soldiers had their bayonets taken away, and they themselves were compelled [to] seek refuge in the side streets, but in attempting to flee thither, several, it is said, were killed, while those that escaped, did so only to be hunted like dogs, but in a more inhuman and brutal manner. They were chased by the mob, who divided themselves into squads, and frequently a single soldier would be caught in a side street, with each end blocked up by the rioters. The houses and stores were all closed (excepting a few liquor shops, which had their shutters up, but kept the back door open,) no retreat was, therefore, open for him, and the poor fellow would be beaten almost to death….

Elated with success, the mob, which by this time had been largely reinforced, next formed themselves into marauding parties, and paraded through the neighboring streets, looking more like so many infuriated demons, the men being more or less intoxicated, dirty and half clothed…. The streets were thronged with women and children, many of whom instigated the men to further work of blood.

As soon as the Provost-Marshal's office has been gutted of its contents, and the adjoining building—a wheelwright's shop, in which there was much combustible material—had been fired, the telegraph wires were cut. Parties and bands of men and boys then visited the various workshops in the vicinity, and compelled the men to leave their work and join….

By this time the Fire Department of the District arrived on the ground, and were preparing to work on the fire; but were prevented from doing so by the mob, who threatened them with instant death if their orders were disobeyed. The cars were stopped from running either way; the horses in several instances were killed, and the cars broken to pieces….

The fire, which had now consumed the wheel-wright's shop, had extended to the Provost-Marshal's office, which was soon enveloped in flames, from which issued a large and dark volume of smoke.

The rioters meantime danced with fiendish delight before the burning building, … sent showers of stones against the office, smashing in the doors and windows…. The murky atmosphere and the heavy black clouds which lined the horizon, formed a strange, weird spectacle, which was made the more complete by the demoniac yells of the mobs.

The Orphan Asylum for Colored Children was visited by the mob about 4 o'clock. This Institution is situated on Fifth-avenue, and the building, with the grounds and gardens adjoining, extended from Forty-third to Forty-fourth street. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands of the rioters, the majority of whom were women and children, entered the premises, and in the most excited and violent manner they ransacked and plundered the building from cellar to garret. The building was located in the most pleasant and healthy portion of the City. It was purely a charitable institution. In it there are on an average 600 or 800 homeless colored orphans. The building was a large four-story one, with two wings of three stories each.

After the entire building had been ransacked, and every article deemed worth carrying away had been taken—and this included even the little garments for the orphans, which were contributed by the benevolent ladies of this City—the premises were fired on the first floor….

… The institution was destined to be burned, and after an hour and a half of labor on the part of the mob, it was in flames in all parts…. There is now scarcely one brick left upon another of the Orphan Asylum.

Among the most cowardly features of the riot, and one which indicated its political animus … was the causeless and inhuman treatment of the negroes of the City. It seemed to be an understood thing throughout the City that the negroes should be attacked wherever found, whether then [sic] offered any provocation or not. As son as one of these unfortunate people was spied, whether on a cart, a railroad car, or in the street, he was immediately set upon by a crowd of men and boys, and unless some man of pluck came to his rescue, or he was fortunate enough to escape into a building, he was inhumanly beaten and perhaps killed. There were probably not less than a dozen negroes beaten to death in different parts of the City during the day. Among the most diabolical of these outrages … is that of a negro cartman living in Carmine street. About 8 o'clock in the evening as he was coming out of the stable, after having put up his horses, he was attacked by a crowd of about 400 men and boys, who beat him with clubs and pavingstones till he was lifeless, and then hung him to a tree opposite the burying-ground. Not being yet satisfied with their devilish work, they set fire to his clothes and danced and yelled and swore their horrid oaths around his burning corpse. The charred body of the poor victim was still hanging upon the tree at a late hour last evening.

Early in the afternoon the proprietors of such saloons and other places of business as had negroes in their employ, were obliged to close up for fear that the rioters would destroy their premises. In most of them the negroes were compelled to remain over night, not daring to go home lest they be mobbed on the way….

Gettysburg Address (1865)


Commentary

President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) attended the dedication of the military cemetery at the Gettysburg battlefield on November 19, 1863. Following an oration of several hours by former Secretary of State Edward Everett, Lincoln rose and delivered a speech of less than 300 words. This brief statement, because of its exceptional eloquence, became one of Lincoln's most famous speeches.

Lincoln stressed the same themes that he had made in numerous other speeches about the war—namely, that the nation was historically a single entity and it would remain a single nation for the future. Echoing his 1860 speeches in New York and New Haven, he reminded his listeners that eighty-seven years earlier, the nation's founders had established one nation, dedicated to the idea that all men were created equal.

Standing on the field where thousands of men had lost their lives just a few months earlier, Lincoln urged the nation to rededicate itself to the Union cause. Speaking nearly a year after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln called for "a new birth of freedom" throughout the country. In a now famous statement, Lincoln closed his speech with a reaffirmation of his commitment to a government of, by, and for the people.


Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that the nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Second Inaugural Address, by Abraham Lincoln (1865)


Commentary

On March 4, 1865, only a few weeks before Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) delivered his second inaugural address. As in the election of 1860, the votes of Northerners alone had elected Lincoln to the highest office in the land. Nevertheless, Lincoln directed his remarks to the nation as a whole, as he had four years earlier in his first inaugural address. In the address, notable for its brevity, Lincoln reflected on the war and its origins. He identified slavery as a cause of the armed conflict and reminded his audience that his initial policy had been to restrict the growth of slavery, not to abolish it entirely. The speech is also notable in that Lincoln expressed no enmity toward the South, but rather set a tone of reconciliation and peace.

Historians have long debated the impact of religion of Lincoln's ideas, and one of the most striking aspects of this address is Lincoln's use of theological concepts and biblical paraphrases. Although Lincoln was not a member of any church, in this speech, Lincoln used religious language to stress the nation's common bonds. He observed that both North and South read from the same Bible and turned to the same God for help.

The address's last paragraph is perhaps one of the most famous statements by any American president. After four years of bloody war, Lincoln asked the country to move on, with "malice toward none" and "charity for all." Lincoln was killed just over a month later and so did not live to see the process of Reconstruction—and era during which the country would often recall the president's plea.


Fellow-Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and 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. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Address from the Committee on Education (1866)


Commentary

Reconstruction raised hopes and expectations for Northern blacks as well former slaves in the South. In this excerpt, from the Committee on Education address at the Illinois State Convention of Colored Men condemns their state's exclusion of blacks from the public schools. In extending educational privileges to "a persecuted race," it concludes, the state would uphold the loftiest of American ideals.

While in some areas blacks accepted segregated schooling, many insisted on going to school with whites. Everywhere African Americans placed great hope in the ability of public education to bring them into the mainstream of American life, as this address demonstrates. In 1870, a new Illinois constitution replaced the earlier stipulations that public education be limited to whites with a new commitment to the education of "all children." After several local communities failed to open their schools to black residents or attempted to construct separate facilities, the state legislature took stronger action. In 1874, it passed a law that barred racial discrimination in schools and fined school officials who attempted to intimidate black children.


Fellow Citizens of the State of Illinois,—Among the great questions which claim our special consideration, is that of education. The past and present history of our native country, as well as of all other countries which have attained to any degree of greatness, has proven that, without education, they are lost to virtue, intelligence, and to that usefulness which have made a people great, good, happy, and contented.

If a nation, republican in form, loses her virtue, she can no longer claim prestige with her sister republics. The same is with communities and individuals.

What is it that makes a nation, a people, a community, or even an individual, great, good, and happy? It is a pure, unsullied love of virtue! And how shall this virtue be obtained, so as to become beneficial to all, irrespective of color or condition?

Judging from the past and looking at the present, we can see, through the dim vista, the future of a race of people, who are giants in intellect, whose energies have been crushed by the power of might—a people claiming the admiration of men and angels, still entreating you, by all that is patriotic in government and sacred in religion, to be the witness of what they will do to establish their claim to be recognized as men worthy of a chance in this your noble State, to earn their bread, to educate themselves and their children—a people full of love and humanity, ever ready to yield to those christian impulses and feelings which characterize those whom God has chosen for his elect from all eternity. Such characteristics must eventually have their reward; such virtues must ever live. And, as a part of that race, living in your midst, tilling your soil, loading your ships, and by our labor enriching you—willing to forget that you have oppressed, trampled us under foot, shot us down like dogs, treated us as beasts of burden, having watered the soil of our fair country with the blood of our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters—still, we feel it to be our duty to show, not only to the people of the State of Illinois, but to the nation, that we are men and American citizens; that we desire to acquire all your virtues, shunning every evil calculated to retard our moral, physical, and social condition. To do this, we ask you, in the name of twenty-two thousand colored citizens of the State, to open wide your doors, and admit our children into your public schools and colleges. We appeal to you, in behalf of eight thousand colored boys and girls, with expansive minds, ready and willing to drink from the fountain of literature and learning.

Slaves, many of us have been; but if you give us those advantages which the Constitution guarantees to all citizens, we shall soon rise in the scale of being so high that it will blush the cheek of many who have spent their golden moments at the shrine of vice and infamy.

Looking at the educational statistics of our State, we find less than one hundred of our colored children in public schools, or less than one in every eighty. How long shall such a state of things exist; how long will you encourage pauperism, and charge us with having minds not susceptible of culture. Your legislature, less than two years ago, wiped from the escutcheon of our great and noble State, a part of her black code.

Three years ago, you took from your midst twenty-five hundred true and loyal blacks, to help fill up your quota, and your generals led them to a scene of carnage and death. As men and soldiers of Illinois they fought; as American citizens they died, defending the honor of the State and the government. Believing that the State, the government, and the entire people, irrespective of all political differences, would honor their memory by doing justice in the education of their children, the protection of their widows and orphans, and proving to the world that the genius of the American people is liberty unproscribed to all. How can you hope for success in the establishment of the government on the eternal foundation on which your fathers built, if you persist in denying an education to a persecuted race. This is a world of compensations, and he who would himself be great through the means of education, must not enslave the mind of his fellow-being. Then, fellow citizens, accept the aphorism, and enlarge upon it: say that, as the colored man is now free, he may live a better patriot, a better man and a better christian.

Joseph Stanley, Chairman of Com. on Education. Geo. T. Fountain, Adams Co. Walter Coleman, Will C. S. Jacobs, Mercer H. Hicklin, Sangamon

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