Lectures and Speeches

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Lectures and Speeches


Judith P. Bruce


James Onderdonk


Matthew M. Mitchell


Brian Matthew Jordan


Stephen Rockenbach

Lectures and Speeches: An Overview

Before the first shot was fired on Fort Sumter, the war proved divisive within each side. Whether in drawing rooms or over factory din, Northerners and Southerners argued. They looked to two men, President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, to galvanize their armies and lead them to victory.

Jefferson Davis's Resignation from the Senate

Jefferson Davis resigned from the U.S. Senate on Monday, January 21, 1861, twelve days after Mississippi, his home state, seceded from the Union. The secession effectively ended his tenure in the Senate and cast the proud and often overbearing Davis into uncertainty (Kagan and Hyslop 2006, pp. 50–51). The noted Civil War historian Shelby Foote observed that Davis's public glory was shadowed by private tragedy and sorrow. Like his adversary, Abraham Lincoln, Davis was born in Kentucky and lived in a log cabin. Though not accomplished as a student, he was liked and admired by his classmates. He graduated from West Point in 1828 still a private, a mere twenty-third out of a class of thirty-four. He was widowed after three months of marriage when his first wife, Knox Taylor, succumbed to a fever that had stricken them both. Davis recovered from the fever but never lost the gaunt, pallid look of a survivor of a near-mortal illness (Foote 1958, vol. 1, pp. 5–8).

Though Davis considered himself more of a military leader than a statesman, he entered politics nonetheless. Contributing to the noisy antebellum rhetoric that deepened the chasm between the North and the South, a defiant Davis declared on the eve of Lincoln's election in November 1860: "I glory in Mississippi's star…. But before I would see it dishonored I would tear it from its place, to be set on the perilous ridge of battle as a sign around which her bravest and best shall meet the harvest home of death" (Foote 1958, vol. 1, p. 4). Later, when Davis heard the news of Mississippi's secession, he waited and wondered whether he would be arrested as a traitor, which he hoped would give him the opportunity to test the right of secession in the federal courts. He never doubted the right of secession, just its wisdom, as the threat of war became increasingly probable. Thus when Davis rose from his seat in the Senate to declare his resignation and confirm the secession of Mississippi from the Union, his somber demeanor lacked the bluster of his November speech (Foote 1958, vol. 1, pp. 1–2, 4). For now he realized the dangers that lay ahead.

Addressing President Lincoln and the Senate in a voice that faltered at the start but grew stronger, he declared:

We but tread in the paths of our fathers when we proclaim our independence and take the hazard… not in hostility to others, not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit, but from the high and solemn motive of defending and protecting the rights we inherited, and which it is our duty to transmit unshorn to our children. (Foote 1958, vol. 1, p. 5)

Using the lion as a metaphor for England and a bear as a symbol of the Union, Davis continued: "[W]e will invoke the God or our fathers who delivered them from the power of the lion, to protect us from the ravages of the bear: and thus putting our trust in God and in our own firm hearts and strong arms, we will vindicate the right as best we may." He concluded by stating, "Mr. President and Senators, having made the announcement which the occasion seemed to me to require, it remains only for me to bid you a final adieu" (Foote 1958, vol. 1, p. 5).

First Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln

With full understanding of the importance of his inaugural speech, Abraham Lincoln tried to avoid offending Southerners and people in slave states that had not seceded by March 1861, such as Virginia and Maryland. His strategy was not only intended to mollify Southerners but also to make the Confederacy look like the aggressor if it refused to preserve the peace. Thus the North would be more likely to blame the secessionists and then agree to war against them. Accordingly, Lincoln reminded all listeners on Inauguration Day, March 4, 1861, that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Thus changing the government established by the Constitution would require either an amendment to the Constitution or a revolution to overthrow it. Lincoln then expressed willingness to accept an amendment to uphold slavery in states where it now existed. But if states insisted on tearing apart the Union, then as President he had the authority to wage war on those in rebellion. He would take no action, however, while a chance of peace existed (Kagan and Hyslop 2006, p. 54). "[T]he government will not assail you, unless you first assail it" (McPherson 1988, p. 262). "The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government" (Faragher et al. 2002, p. 450).

Still, Lincoln sought to assuage disgruntled Southerners: "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection." Lincoln continued: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature" (McPherson 1988, p. 263).

The reaction to Lincoln's address was mixed. People heard in the speech the ideas they chose to hear. Many Northerners hailed its moderation, firmness, and effort to reach out to the South. On the other hand, many in the South deemed it a declaration of war (McPherson 1988, p. 263). Meanwhile, people across the country waited and watched day by day for the next significant act that would determine whether the country went to war. They had only to wait until the next month; the Confederates opened fire on the Union-occupied Fort Sumter in South Carolina, on April 12, 1861. When Union forces fired back, the American Civil War began.

First Inaugural Address, Jefferson Davis

While the Confederate Constitution drafted in February 1861 copied the U.S. Constitution verbatim in most areas, it permitted the Confederate President only one six-year term. Jefferson Davis appeared to be the ideal candidate—an experienced statesman as a senator and former secretary of war, and most importantly, a secessionist. Davis accepted the candidacy out of a sense of duty and honor, not because he sought it or even wanted it. The elections for the provisional government, a one-chamber congress, and a provisional president, took place in November 1861. Davis was only the provisional president until his inauguration on February 18, 1862 (McPherson 1988, pp. 257–259). Although adult Southern white males were given the right to vote for the Confederate President, it was a feeble attempt at democracy since only one candidate was proposed by the state delegations.

The newly elected Davis, when first introduced to a cheering crowd, imprudently crowed: "The time for compromise has now passed…The South is determined to maintain her position, and make all who oppose her smell Southern powder and feel Southern steel" (McPherson 1988, p. 259). The bellicose declaration affected the lives of many people—Northerners and people in the Border States and upper South, who were all easily alarmed and worried by the prospect of war. Though the election of Abraham Lincoln, a Northern Republican, had prompted several Southern states to secede, the threats of the Confederate President made Americans anxious over the possibility of bloodshed.

Not surprisingly, Davis presented a more reserved message in his inaugural address, when he stated that the Confederacy possessed peaceful intentions and welcomed any states that "may seek to unite their fortunes to ours" (McPherson 1988, p. 259). Davis never mentioned slavery in his speech, instead extolling the agrarian life of the South. He asserted, "It is joyous in the midst of perilous times to look around upon a people united in heart, where one purpose of high resolve animates and actuates the whole, where the sacrifices to be made are not weighed against honor and right and liberty and equality." Continuing, he said: "Obstacles may retard, but they cannot long prevent the progress of a movement sanctified by its justice and sustained by a virtuous people. Reverently let us invoke the God of our fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which by His blessing they were able to vindicate, establish, and transmit to their posterity." He said in closing: "With the continuance of His favor, ever gratefully acknowledged, we may hopefully look forward to success, to peace, and to prosperity" (Foote 1958, vol. 1, pp. 40–41).

The people of the Deep South reacted with pride in their new leader, thankful they had chosen well. Day after day they boasted of his trim, erect figure, his handsome features, his eloquent oration, and his charm and dignity of manner (Foote 1958, vol. 1, p. 40). And Davis worked hard to maintain a connection to the people of the South. He made a point of staying personally accessible and appealing directly to Southerners by addressing crowds in his many visits throughout the South. In the two years after his election he visited all the Confederate states, many of them twice. In contrast, Lincoln rarely left Washington, choosing instead to concentrate on directing military affairs (Foote 1958, vol. 1, p. 826).

The Emancipation Proclamation

President Lincoln harbored strong antislavery sentiments, yet he respected the constitutional rights of slave—holders. Pressure from abolitionists persuaded him to back the emancipation of slaves—if not from a moral standpoint, then as a military strategy to show that the Union stood firm against slavery (American Presidents 1992, p. 87). So Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, yet waited for a Union victory to declare it. When the Union defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland in September 1862, Lincoln found his opportunity. On September 22, 1862, he issued the proclamation that freed slaves in states still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863 (Faragher et al. 2002, p. 465). The proclamation declared that slaves "shall be then, and thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons" (Kagan and Hys-lop 2006, p. 171).

The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to Union-occupied areas of the Confederacy or to slave states outside the Confederacy. Though the proclamation affected slaves outside the reach of the Federal armies, the significance of the decree forced Europe to favor the Union for moral reasons and impelled slaves to flee their masters in Confederate states and seek refuge in the North or in Union-occupied areas (Kagan and Hyslop 2006, pp. 170–172). Although Lincoln possessed the power to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War historian Bruce Catton asserted that Lincoln knew that the document had to be ratified by "the tacit consent of the people at home and by the active endorsement of the soldiers in the field" (Catton 1960, p. 378). The Thirteenth Amendment made the act of emancipation a part of the Constitution. Although Congress endorsed the amendment, it was not until after Lincoln's death that a sufficient number of states ratified it. On December 6, 1865, Georgia became the twenty-seventh state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment.

Lincoln relied upon his army to back him. With the exception of some abolitionist regiments, however, most Union soldiers were indifferent to slavery; instead, they fought for the Union. Once the proclamation was issued, some soldiers from the border states and other areas sympathetic to the South opposed the freedom of blacks. Still, by the end of the war, 180,000 black men had fought for the Federals (Catton 1960, pp. 378–379).

The response by the Confederacy was deadly. Confederate President Jefferson Davis responded to the Emancipation Proclamation by telling the Confederate Congress that it was "the most execrable measure in the history of guilty man." Then the Confederacy began to capture black Union officers and soldiers in order to execute them (McPherson 1988, p. 566). It is no wonder that Davis was tried as a criminal after the war and sentenced to prison.

The paramount effect of the Emancipation Proclamation was not just that it freed slaves but that it also provided the North with a dual purpose for fighting—to reunite the nation and to extend human freedom—goals that changed the character of the war (Catton 1960, p. 249). And it was this proclamation that affected so many thousands of lives, none more important than those of liberated slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation also gave Northerners a moral and emotional reason to back the war. Now they knew that lives lost, injured, and absent represented freedom for others as well as preservation of the ideal of a united nation.

The proclamation also affected the South. Southerners previously accustomed to the luxury of commanding forced labor now had to do for themselves. Slaves had provided the foundation of the Southern agrarian economy; without them, the pampered and the oppressive were forced to step into their shoes and provide the lost labor of the slave. Not surprisingly, the Southern economy crashed, not to recover for two more generations. The preservation of the ideal of a Confederate nation faltered with the Emancipation Proclamation, and then died under the weight of the Union battle victories that followed.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Once a hired laborer mauling rails on a flatboat along the Mississippi River, later a shopkeeper and self-taught lawyer, Abraham Lincoln rose from a log cabin to the White House in our country's most divisive and catastrophic time—the Civil War. And amid the turmoil of bloodshed and animosity, he delivered one of the best-known speeches in U.S. history, the Gettysburg Address. The opening lines are unforgettable: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" (Kagan and Hyslop 2006, p. 244).

The national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was dedicated on November 19, 1863. The tremendous significance of the Union victory at Gettysburg in July 1863 had garnered national interest and drew crowds to the parade and cemetery site. President Lincoln, who wrote and polished the speech over several weeks, delivered his brief yet powerful message at the dedication after the famous orator Edward Everett had spoken for two hours (Catton 1960, pp. 330–331). With concise eloquence, President Lincoln honored the sacrifices of the soldiers and urged continued support for the war: "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" (Kagan and Hyslop 2006, p. 244).

Lincoln's speech made clear that the significance of the war went beyond the dispute over slavery—the war had put democracy and the underlying historical values of American society on trial. Lincoln urged renewed commitment to the task of winning the war and reuniting the nation through the sacrifices of the fallen:

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." (Catton 1960, pp. 331, 437–439)

Lincoln knew that the combined Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg (the latter having taken place on July 4, 1863) had altered the course of the war in favor of the North. Yet if Unionists failed to support the war and withstand the casualties, then the Union battle triumphs would have been in vain. If Lincoln had lost the presidential election the next year, his successor might negotiate concessions to the South. In writing the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln sought to rally the North to fight to preserve the Union (Kagan and Hyslop 2006, p. 245). Many people learned that Gettysburg was the bloodiest and mightiest battle ever waged on American soil, costing the two armies 50,000 casualties, though few understood its importance. The historian Bruce Catton maintained that the deeper significance of Gettysburg was not understood at once by those who heard the president's address; the crowd at the cemetery dedication in 1863 failed to appreciate the full significance of Lincoln's words (Catton 1960, p. 437). Most observers paid more attention to the photographer setting up his equipment than they did to the speech. When Lincoln finished he received only scant polite applause. The initial response by critics and the media was mixed, though it changed to positive in the days after the speech (Foote 1958, vol. 1, pp. 832–833). Only after some time for reflection did people of the North heed the president's words and understand the importance of sustained daily commitment to the war effort.

Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln

By early 1865, the territory of the Confederacy had been reduced to North and South Carolina and southern Virginia, with the Confederate army dead, in prison, or otherwise in disarray. President Lincoln won reelection intent on finishing the war by bringing the South to its knees. Yet in his second inaugural address he conveyed a conciliatory and visionary tone. Lincoln surmised that the four years of war could be summarized as one side trying to destroy the Union while the other side tried to hold it together (McPherson 1988, p. 859).

President Lincoln reasoned that both sides had borne the cost of war, had shared the blame for it, and should celebrate the end of it. A humane peace was due both sides—no punishment should be meted out to the South. Likewise, all must accept the fact that slavery no longer existed; by March 1865 Congress had passed the Thirteenth Amendment, which made slavery unconstitutional, and eighteen states had already ratified the amendment.

Lincoln acknowledged the mystery of the cause and the impact of the war: "Neither side," he said, "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." "Both [sides] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes" (Catton 1960, pp. 581, 584).

In the shortest inaugural speech since George Washington's second inaugural address, Lincoln, a master of the English language, stated:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive 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. (Foote 1958, vol. 3, p. 813)

As with the Gettysburg Address, initial reaction to the inaugural address was mixed but then turned positive. A Pennsylvania resident said of the address: "While the sentiments are noble, [Lincoln's address] is one of the most awkwardly expressed documents I ever read—if it be correctly printed. When he knew it would be read by millions all over the world, why under the heavens did he not make it a little more creditable to American scholarship?" (Foote 1958, vol. 3, p. 814). On the contrary, reaction in Great Britain was favorable. The Duke of Argyll wrote: "It was a noble speech, just and true, and solemn. I think it has produced a great effect in England. " Meanwhile, the London Spectator proclaimed: "No statesman ever uttered words stamped at once with the seal of so deep a wisdom and so true a simplicity" (Foote 1958, vol. 3, p. 814).

Lincoln had the awkward, if not contradictory, task of promising that the war would continue to the full extent of Southern stubbornness, yet at the same time promise future peace and unification. He must have succeeded to some extent, as many have compared his second inaugural address to the cogent eloquence of the Gettysburg address. Though Lincoln was assassinated before he could implement his plan for reconstructing the nation, he did experience the satisfaction of Confederate surrender the very next month. Many Americans, though they may have read or heard the words of the president and later rejoiced at the end of the war, were burdened with the loss of fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers. They replanted and rebuilt and recovered, or at least tried to—for the bloody acrimony had devastated the land, its traditions, and the hearts and souls of an entire generation.


The American Presidents. Danbury, CT: Grolier Incorporated, 1992.

Catton, Bruce. The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960.

Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and his Hour. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Faragher, John Mack, Mari Jo Buhle, Daniel Czitrom, and Susan H. Armitage. Out of Many: A History of the American People. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. 3 vols. New York: Random House, 1958.

Kagan, Neil, and Stephen G. Hyslop. Eyewitness to the Civil War: The Complete History from Secession to Reconstruction. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2006.

McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Oates, Stephen B. With Malice toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln. New York: Harcourt, 1982.

Judith P. Bruce

Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a short oration at the dedication ceremony at the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He had been invited to present "a few appropriate remarks" (Wills 1992, p. 25) "to perform this last solemn act to the soldiers dead on the Battle Field" and his speech was not expected to take long (Boritt 2006, p. 41). The principal oration was to be delivered by Edward Everett (1794-1865), the former president of Harvard and a well-known speaker who had gained fame in his speeches dedicating several Revolutionary War sites. Everett spoke for two hours but his speech is little noted nor remembered; Lincoln's 272 words, delivered in the space of approximately three minutes, have shone for generations across the ensuing century and have had an impact on audiences around the world.

It is difficult to reconstruct the immediate impact of Lincoln's words either upon the crowd at Gettysburg or on those who would read them in the newspapers in the weeks after the ceremony—though not for want of scholarly discussion. William E. Barton, a Lincoln scholar writing in the 1950 edition of his history, Lincoln at Gettysburg, observed:

As to the effect of its delivery, there is equally impressive proof that the address was several times interrupted by applause and that there was prolonged applause at the close; that there was applause at the close only and that it was perfunctory; that there was no applause because people who heard the address were disappointed in it; and that there was no applause because the occasion was so solemn and the address was so impressive that applause would have seemed profane. (1950, p. iii)

In an earlier biography of Lincoln, Barton described the reaction to the speech in similar fashion:

The address was received without enthusiasm and left the crowd cold and disappointed; it was received in a reverent silence too deep for applause; it was received with feeble and perfunctory applause at the end, but it was the man and not the address that was applauded; it was received with applause in several places and followed by prolonged applause. (1925, p. 218)

Positive Press Reactions

The contradictions surrounding the reactions to the speech that Barton identified persist to this day. Accounts in newspapers of the day vary according to the partisanship of the paper. Press reactions would have been of great importance to Lincoln for he realized the press's power. One acknowledgment of this recognition is that several members of the press had been invited to sit on the speakers' platform at Gettysburg (Boritt 2006, p. 57). A professor visiting from England remarked upon the reach of the press and noted that American farmers were avid readers of newspapers; nearly a third of all the newspapers in the world at that time were published in America (p. 59). People would often read papers aloud to others, guaranteeing that the reports in the press would spread to the furthest reaches of the country and even to the illiterate. Lincoln would have been aware of these realities and probably anticipated that his speech would be read or heard by thousands more than were present at Gettysburg.

The spectrum of reaction in the press was wide. The Boston Herald reported that the speech had been interrupted five times for applause and that at its conclusion the president received "long continued applause" (November 20, 1863, p. 2). This version apparently circulated in New England papers sympathetic to the president, as a nearly identical description appeared in the Farmer's Cabinet, an Amherst, New Hampshire, paper six days later (November 26, 1863, p. 2). The New Hampshire paper added that the crowd then gave three cheers for the president and governors present. This description is nearly identical to the front page story in the November 21 edition of the Chicago Tribune, which reported: "The conclusion of the President's remarks was followed by immense applause, and three cheers given for him, as also three cheers for the Governors of the States" (November 21, 1863, p.1).

Barton quotes several papers that were effusive in their praise of the president's speech and recognized its power, elegance, and impact. The Springfield (MA) Republican wrote on November 20: "….. rhetorical honors of the occasion were won by President Lincoln. His little speech is a perfect gem; deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma." Similarly, the Providence Journal asked, "But could the most elaborate and splendid oration be more beautiful, more touching, more inspiring than those thrilling words of the President?" The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin editorialized, "It is warm, earnest, unaffected and touching. Thousands who would not read the long elaborate oration of Mr. Everett will read the President's few words, and not many will do it without a moistening of the eye and a swelling of the heart" (Barton 1925, p. 222). Similarly, the Chicago Tribune's reporter wired from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, "The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man." Barton believes that this simple line is the first written acknowledgment of the power and eloquence of what would come to be known as the Gettysburg Address (p. 116).

Negative Press Reactions

Democratic and Copperhead papers, opposed to Lincoln's administration and the war, were generally bitterly critical when they reported Lincoln's remarks at all. The Harrisburg Patriot and Union reported, "We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of" (Barton 1950, p. 115). The Chicago Times, which had been suspended for one day by military order and reinstated by Lincoln, attacked the speech, and of the president's remarks on the front page stated simply, "President Lincoln made a few remarks upon the occasion." In an editorial on November 23, the paper accused the president of mocking the Union dead by misstating the cause for which they had died—the Union—and not freedom or equality for blacks. "How dared he, then, standing on their graves, misstate the cause for which they died, and libel the statesmen who founded the government? They were men possessing too much self-respect to declare that negroes were their equals, or were entitled to equal privileges" (Mit-gang 2000, p. 361).

Similarly the Register from Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln's hometown, printed only the first two lines of the speech and then attacked the president, saying,

If the above extract means anything at all, it is that this Nation was created to secure the liberty of the negro as well as of the white race, and dedicated to the proposition that all men, white and black, were placed, or to be placed, upon terms of equality. This is what Mr. Lincoln means to say, and nothing else, and when he uttered the words he knew that he was falsifying history, and enunciating an exploded political humbug (Barton 1925, p. 220).

Curiously, it seems that the Copperhead papers were the first to identify the true political importance of the speech, however vituperatively. The Chicago Times, along with the Detroit Free Press, the Indiana State Sentinel, and the New York World recognized the true impact and meaning of Lincoln's words. The speech is a war speech; in it Lincoln must comfort the bereaved, assure them that their dead have not died in vain, and give them courage to continue the struggle. Lincoln accomplishes this eloquently but he also suggests a change in the war's aims and in the true provenance of the country. The war is now undertaken not only to preserve the Union but also to continue a great experiment—to test whether a government can maintain the proposition of equality (Wills 1992, p. 37). Simply put, four score and seven years before the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg was 1776; Lincoln is clearly referring to Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence. He elevates the self-evident truths of the Declaration over the legal compromises of the Constitution and in three minutes restates the foundation of the country. It is the proposition that all men are created equal that must bind the disparate elements of the nation together. The editors of the Copperhead papers were violently opposed to this interpretation of history, but it is Lincoln's vision that will prevail and the speech marks perhaps the most concise and clearest definition of democracy extant.

Despite some favorable reaction in the press, however, coverage of Lincoln's remarks was not widespread. Most journalists present at the dedication did not offer detailed commentary on the speech, however friendly they may have been toward Lincoln. Their editors back home did the same, mostly contenting themselves with printing the text of the address. Most of the Democratic papers, however, tried to hide or ignore the President's speech (Boritt 2006, pp. 140–141).

Robert Reid, a Civil War historian, examined the files of 260 contemporary newspapers that covered the president's speech and corroborated Barton's earlier conclusion that reaction varied markedly (1967, p. 51). Reid also noted that press reactions were closely correlated to two primary variables: the political stance of the paper and its frequency of publication. According to Reid, weeklies gave little coverage to the ceremony while dailies typically covered the dedication. This difference may have simply been a matter of capacity. Weeklies in the Civil War era averaged four pages in length and half of those were given over to advertisements. It may be that the dailies, large metropolitan papers, simply had more space. In all cases where the event was reported, relatively more space was devoted to Everett's speech. Reid reports that in Republican papers 40 percent placed Lincoln's speech on the front page while 62 percent gave that placement to Everett's speech. In papers classified as anti-administration, 55 percent placed Everett's speech on the front page while only 14 percent placed Lincoln's there (Reid 1967, p. 53).

Eyewitness Accounts

Reminiscences of people who were present at Gettysburg that day mirror the newspaper reports in their variability. Anna Morris Ellis Holstein, a nurse at a hospital in Gettysburg, described her experience at the ceremony very matter-of-factly: "…we were so fortunate as to have a place directly in front and within a few feet of our martyred President, and there heard distinctly every word he uttered of that memorable speech, which will last while the Republic endures" (Holstein 1867, p. 54). John Russell Young, who had been dispatched to Gettysburg by the Philadelphia Press to report on the occasion, recounted in an 1887 letter to the editor that "very few heard what Mr. Lincoln said, and it is a curious thing that his remarkable words should have made no impression at the time." Young repeated the story of the hapless photographer who was positioning his equipment to take the president's photograph and missed his opportunity because Lincoln's speech was so short. According to Young, many on the platform were more entertained by the photographer's evident distress at his failure than were interested in the president's address (Young 1886).

Emory Sweetland, detailed by his Union Army unit to care for the wounded at a military hospital in Gettysburg, was also present for the dedication. In a talk to fellow veterans, he recalled that "I was present and I heard it. It made an impression on my mind that will never be effaced. He continued to speak in the same eloquent manner a few minutes and sat down amid silence like death" (Dunkelman 1994, pp. 48–49). Though there is little doubt that Sweetland was present at Gettysburg, in his talk he confused the dedication of the cemetery with the laying of a cornerstone there, which did not take place until after Lincoln's assassination. This confusion casts some doubt on the accuracy of his remembrance.

On the other hand, Robert Bloom related a less enthusiastic response: "A Gettysburg college student who heard [Lincoln ] and remarked to a companion, 'Well, Mr. Lincoln's speech was simple, appropriate, and right to the point, but I don't think there was anything remarkable about it"' (Bloom 1981, p. 773).

The Associated Press reporter present at the dedication, Joseph Gilbert, recalled in 1917 that the audience stood mute, listening reverently while Lincoln spoke. "It was not a demonstrative nor even an appreciative audience. Narratives of the scene have described the tumultuous outbursts of enthusiasm accompanying the President's utterances. I heard none. There was no outward manifestation of feeling. His theme did not invite holiday applause, a cemetery was not the place for it, and he did not pause to receive it" (Barton 1925, p. 214).

Colonel Clark Carr, a member of the Cemetery Commission from Illinois who was also present for the Presidents speech, remarked that the insertion of applause in newspaper transcripts of speeches was an "invariable custom of the time… Except as he concluded, I did not observe it, and at the close the applause was not especially marked. The occasion was too solemn for any kind of boisterous demonstration" (Carr 1909, p. 60).

In a letter to the editor of the Manchester (New Hampshire) Mirror, and reprinted in the New York Times on July 3, 1887, twenty-four years after the battle, a writer identified as W. C. K., who claimed to have been present at the speech as part of the "guard of honor," recounted his experience there:

The speech was not read. Mr. Lincoln held a piece of paper crumpled in his hand, but did not once refer to it while speaking… He spoke without the slightest hesitation, and with an intense earnestness such as I have never heard from any other man… The speech made a most profound impression upon the audience. Men lowered their voices in discussing it with each other. I may be permitted to add that when the President began speaking I was a Democrat, when he finished I was a Republican—a conversion as sudden as that of St. Paul, and, I trust, as permanent. (July 3, 1887, p. 11)

In his essay on the Gettysburg Address, Glenn La Fantasie concluded that those who heard Lincoln's speech reacted very differently, but emotionally, to the president's words. Some people apparently clapped wildly during the speech while others stood in silent awe of the speaker and his eloquence (1995, p. 81).

But it was perhaps Edward Everett, the occasion's featured orator, who best summarized the importance that the country and world would attach to Mr. Lincoln's words. In a note to the president the day after the ceremony at Gettysburg he commented, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours as you did in two minutes" (Boritt 2006, p. 146).


Barton, William E. The Life of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 2. Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1925.

Barton, William E. Lincoln at Gettysburg: What He Intended to Say; What He Said; What He Was Reported to Have Said; What He Wished He Had Said. New York: Peter Smith, 1950.

Bloom, Robert L. "The Gettysburg Address." Lincoln Herald 83, no. 4 (1981): 765-774.

Boritt, Gabor. The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Carr, Clark. Lincoln at Gettysburg. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1909.

"Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg." Boston Herald, November 20, 1863, p. 2.

Dunkelman, Mark H. "An Impression That Will Never Be Effaced: Emory Sweetland Remembers November 19, 1863." Lincoln Herald 96, no. 2 (1994): 44-50.

Farmer's Cabinet, November 26, 1863, p. 2.

Holstein, Anna Morris Ellis. Three Years in Field Hospitals of the Army of the Potomac. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1867.

La Fantasie, Glenn. "Lincoln and the Gettysburg Awakening." Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 16, no. 1 (1995): 73-89.

Mitgang, Herbert. Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait. New York: Fordham University Press, 2000.

Reid, Robert F. "Newspaper Response to the Gettysburg Address." Quarterly Journal of Speech 53, no. 1 (1967): 50-60.

"Special Dispatch to the Chicago Tribune." Chicago Tribune, November 21, 1863, p. 1.

W.C.K. "Lincoln at Gettysburg." Letter to the editor of the Manchester (NH) Mirror, reprinted in the New York Times, July 3, 1887, p. 11.

Wills, Gary. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Young, John Russell. "Letter to the Editor." The New Mississippian, no. 11, May 18, 1886, col. E.

James C. Onderdonk

Jefferson Davis's Speech of Resignation from the U.S. Senate

Jefferson Davis, long a staunch supporter of the Union and a beloved representative of the state of Mississippi, was the fourth and final Southern senator to announce his resignation from the U.S. Senate on January 21, 1861. As one of the most highly respected and reputable men serving in Washington, Davis received the honor of being the final Southern representative to give a farewell address to the Senate. His speech not only declared Mississippi's severance from the Union, it also specifically warned of the dangers of entering into a civil war.

At the time of his farewell address, Davis was in poor health. Suffering from several ailments, including dyspepsia and facial neuralgia, he had been bedridden for the past week. Acting against the advice of his physicians, Davis arrived at the Senate early on Monday morning to say his final farewell to his fellow senators. Only a few days before, he had received word from Governor Pettus of Mississippi to hastily return home, in order to assist in forming the Confederacy.

During the previous weekend, the city of Washington had been abuzz with anxiety and excitement over rumors of Davis's imminent farewell address. Regarded as one of the great orators of the Senate, Davis was highly respected by both Republicans and Democrats. He had a long record of serving his nation, including posts as secretary of war and as a battlefield officer in the Mexican War. When South Carolina began moving toward succession, Davis recommended that the Southern states secede before Lincoln could be inaugurated. He would not consider any compromise proposals that did not require the Republicans to abandon their elected platform and allow the further spread of slavery in the territories.

In his much-anticipated farewell address, Davis first asserted that there was "satisfactory evidence that the State of Mississippi, by a solemn ordinance of her people in convention assembled, has declared her separation from the United States." He then expressed strong hopes for "peaceful relations" between the recently seceded states and the rest of the Union (Congressional Globe 36th Congress, 2nd Session, January 21, 1861, p. 487).

The nation reacted with little surprise to Jefferson Davis's farewell speech. The states of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and his own Mississippi had all already voted in state-level conventions to secede from the Union. Representatives of those states who functioned in any capacity in the federal government were resigning their positions and returning to their home states for service (Mobile Weekly Advertiser, January 12, 1861). The main reason for excitement over Davis farewell speech was that many Washington representatives viewed Davis as the spokesman for the Southern Democrats. His farewell symbolized a crack in the sovereignty of the nation and the beginning of the Southern states' permanent dissolution from the Union.

In many places throughout the South, the act of state succession was met with public rejoicing. The Daily Morning News in Savannah, for example, reported on January 22, 1861, that there was "tremendous enthusiasm" in Montgomery over news of Georgia's succession. Yet when Davis gave his farewell address, newspapers across the country merely viewed his farewell as a footnote. For example, the January 21, 1861, New Orleans Bee reported his departure in a single sentence: "The Mississippi Senators have also retired from the Senate of the United States." With many states on the verge of seceding and news of U.S. Army garrisons being commandeered by Southern militias, Davis's speech may have not been considered as newsworthy as it would otherwise have been.

In particular, newspapers were greatly concerned with the recent skirmishes at Fort Sumter. After South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, the federal garrison at the Charleston fort was repeatedly petitioned to surrender by the Confederate militia. With Union reinforcements blocked from assisting the fort, it was only a matter of time before either surrender or conflict would occur. Many major newspapers, including the Daily National Intelligencer of Washington, DC, were focused on covering the "impressive incident" that was taking place at the fort and would soon become the staging point for the first conflict of the Civil War (Daily National Intelligencer, January 12, 1861).

Although Davis's farewell address expressed hopes for a peaceful break between nation and state, many Northerners felt he should be arrested as a traitor. The January 19, 1861, Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, for example, remarked that while the "Great Speech of Jef-fferson Davis" revealed him as "the eloquent, patriotic and gallant champion of State Sovereignty," his "mouth [was] full of treason." The New York Herald noted that Davis was named in an affidavit for the "Wholesale Charge of Treason," along with fifty-two other sympathizers of the secessionist states by a councilor to the Supreme Court (January 25, 1861). As Davis prepared to return to Mississippi, many people across the nation began to wonder if the Union would be able to firmly stand without the recently seceded states.

A few days after his farewell address, Davis left Washington to assume leadership of the Mississippi militia. Along his journey to Mississippi, he was met with both praise and protest, though praise predominated. His arrival prompted public jubilation in many locales, as he was widely viewed as the chief defender of Southern rights. In a letter to his wife Varina, Davis noted that "all along the [train] route, except in Tennessee, the people at every station manifested good-will and approbation by bonfires at night, firings by day, shouts and salutations both" (Strode 1966, p. 59). In Tennessee, Davis ran into trouble from Union sympathizers, who disapproved of his resignation. Several days after his farewell address, Davis gave a speech in Chattanooga, which called for the people of Tennessee to question their allegiance to the Union. One observer, in an uncharacteristic display of incivility, yelled to Davis that "we are not to be hoodwinked, bamboozled, and dragged into your Southern, codfish, aristocratic, tory-blooded South Carolina mobocracy" (Davis 1991, p. 293).

Only a few weeks after Davis resigned from the Senate, he was appointed to the position of president of the confederacy. Although he was not eager to become the political leader of the unified seceded states, he assumed the position nonetheless, and was inaugurated on February 18, 1861. Despite having been a loyal Unionist for many years, and having taken to heart the Jacksonian ideal of "preserving the Union,"he now found himself at the helm of a new, Confederate nation that would soon be battling the Union he had formerly cherished.


Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session, January 21, 1861.

Davis, Varina. Jefferson Davis: Ex-President of the Confederate States of America: A Memoir by His Wife. New York: Belford, 1890.

Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Dodd, William E. Jefferson Davis. Philadelphia: G. W. Jacobs, 1907. Reprint, New York: Russell & Russell, 1966.

"Important Proceedings of Congress," New York Herald, Column E, January 25, 1861.

Ross, Ishbel. First Lady of the South: The Life of Mrs. Jefferson Davis. New York: Harper, 1958.

"Rejoicing at Montgomery," Savannah (GA) Daily Morning News, Issue 18, col. D, January 22, 1861.

"South Carolina Convention," Mobile (AL) Weekly Advertiser, Issue 2, col. A, January 12, 1861.

"Southern Discontent," Bangor (MN) Daily Whig and Courier, Issue 171, col. A, January 19, 1861.

Strode, Hudson. Jefferson Davis, vol. 1: American Patriot, 1808-1861. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955.

Strode, Hudson. Jefferson Davis: Private Letters, 1823-1889. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1966.

"Succession of Alabama," New Orleans Times Picayune, col. E, January 21, 1861.

Tate, Allen. Jefferson Davis: His Rise and Fall: A Bibliographical Narrative. New York: Minton, Balch, 1929.

"Thirty-Sixth Congress, Second Session," Washington (DC) Daily National Intelligencer, Issue 15, 108, col. C, January 12, 1861.

Woodworth, Steven E. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1990.

Matthew M. Mitchell

Davis's and Lincoln's Inaugural Addresses

The inaugural ceremonies for Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, occurred at the Alabama State House in Montgomery on February 18, 1861. Before Howell Cobb, the president of the Montgomery secession convention, administered the oath of office, Davis delivered a brief speech in which he offered humble justification for the new nation. He envisaged successfully meeting the challenges of Confederate nationalism; a permanent, peaceful, and prosperous government would emerge, sustained by the ideological intervention of the Founding Fathers and the legacy of the American Revolution (Crist and Dix 1992, pp. 45–50).

Reaction to Davis's Addresses

Southerners responded with excited praise. "Your speech was telegraphed & gives general satisfaction," Texas senator Louis T. Wigfall wrote to Davis. "It has the ring of the true metal" (Crist and Dix 1992, pp. 51–52). "The Inaugural pleased everybody and the manner in which Davis took the oath of office was most impressive," the outspoken Georgia secessionist Thomas R. R. Cobb reported (Southern History Association 1907, p. 182). One woman who attended the ceremonies wrote to a friend in Montgomery that "[Davis] read a very neat little speech, not making many promises, but hoping, by God's help, to be able to fulfill all expectations." She remarked that never before had she borne witness to such a solemn, impressive scene (Harper's Weekly, March 9, 1861).

Many Southern newspapers reproduced the entire speech; some, like the Charleston Mercury, noted that the speech "needed few comments": "Brief, clear, pointed, firm, explicit. It is all that could be desired by a bold and patriotic people, resolved upon their freedom and independence, under a new and permanent form of government" (February 22, 1861). Buoyed by the arithmetic of the founders, a Nashville paper reflected that the ceremonies were "the grandest pageant ever witnessed in the South. Davis' inaugural address was chiefly based upon propositions contained in the Declaration of the American Independence" (Weekly Union and American, February 19, 1861).

Union editors, despite their opposition to secession, often offered objective commentaries. "Mr. Davis's Inaugural was a temperate and carefully studied document," Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, later commented. Still, he found Davis' expectation for peace to be less than genuine. "There was an undertone in this Inaugural… which plainly evinced that the author expected nothing of the sort" (Greeley 1866, pp. 415–416). Other Northern papers found evidence of excitement, vindictiveness, and malevolence in Davis's address. Maintaining that the Union was perpetual and secession illegal, one ridiculed the "harangue" of a "bogus President" (Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1861).

In February 1862, following outright election by his Confederate constituents, Davis delivered a second inaugural address, furthering the themes of the previous year. As a result, responses were virtually identical. Most notably, Unionist editors parodied Davis's desire for permanent government. "[It] reminds one very much of the sort of speech a desperate and hardened criminal of more than ordinary intelligence would get off while on the scaffold, and just about to swing off into a condition of 'permanent' elevation on a bottomless platform," a San Francisco paper suggested (Daily Evening Bulletin, March 29, 1862).

Reaction to Lincoln's Addresses

On March 4, 1861, just weeks after Davis's first address in Montgomery, Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, delivered his First Inaugural Address in a voice that "rang out over the acres of people before him with surprising distinctness, and was heard in the remotest parts of his audience" (Julian 1884, p. 187). Lincoln's intent, especially in regard to the states in the Upper South that had not yet left the Union, was to dispel Southern apprehension about his administration. "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists," he declared (Basler and Basler 1953, vol. 4, pp. 262–263). He appealed for careful reflection, assuring the South that "you can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors." The new president, in the language of conciliation, was determined to uphold the Fugitive Slave Law enacted with in the Compromise of 1850; he also referenced the "safeguards of liberty" in the U.S. Constitution. Yet concurrently, he maintained that the Union was perpetual and that secession was the "essence of anarchy."

Among Northern Republicans, the reaction to the speech was unsurprising. The Philadelphia North American wrote, "Its language is so direct, its tone so patriotic, its honesty so unmistakable, that all will feel the earnestness of its author and the significance of his words" (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 6, 1861). "I cannot let one day pass without expressing to you the satisfaction I have felt in reading and in considering the Inaugural address," New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan penned to Lincoln. "Kind in spirit, firm in purpose, national in the highest degree, the points are all well made, and the call is fairly stated and most honorably met. It cannot fail to command the confidence of the North, and the respect of the South" (Morgan to Lincoln, March 5, 1861). From Wall Street, H. D. Faulkner noted that his "heart responded 'amen' to every patriotic sentiment" of the speech. After discussing the speech with Republicans and supporters of both the Northern and Southern wings of the Democratic Party, he concluded, "I think the honest portion of the American people are with you, and will hold themselves subject to your direction whether it be storm or sunshine that may follow" (Faulkner to Lincoln, March 5, 1861). Indeed, after the speech, a Virginian in the audience told Lincoln, "God bless you, my dear sir; you will save us" (New York Times, March 5, 1861).

African Americans sensed no such guarantee. Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), an escaped slave, leading black newspaper editor, abolitionist, and intellectual, wrote that his race "must declare the address to be but little better than our worst fears, and vastly below what we had fondly hoped it might be" (Foner 1952, vol. 3, p. 72). Citing Lincoln's commitment to courting both the South and the slavecatcher, Douglass expressed disapproval; however, he also found "the presence or something like a heart as well as a head" in Lincoln's suggestions for safeguarding liberty and humane jurisprudence (Foner 1952, vol. 3, p. 75). As an African American advocating a cleansing, apocalyptic civil war to purge the national sin of slavery, Lincoln's address was certainly deemed inadequate by Douglass; however, the contours of an advance by the Lincoln administration to higher, more liberal ground could be vaguely distinguished. Ultimately, for Douglass, Lincoln's First Inaugural was "a double-tongued document, capable of two constructions …. No man reading it could say whether Mr. Lincoln was for peace or war…." (Foner 1952, vol. 3, p. 72).

Similarly, many Democratic mouthpieces were confused by a double-tongued document; these partisans dismissed Lincoln's pledge to slavery noninterference, for again, it was coupled with clear condemnation of secession. "If the President selected his words with the view of making clear his views, he was, partially at least, unsuccessful," the Providence Daily Post noted (Perkins 1942, vol. 2, p. 645). The Baltimore Sun called Lincoln's argumentation "puerile…a shaky specimen of pleading" (March 5, 1861). The Philadelphia Evening Journal, perhaps hinting that Lincoln's rural boyhood had not prepared him for the presidency, noted that the speech was, "one of the most awkwardly constructed official documents" it had ever examined (New York Tribune, March 7, 1861). Some Radical Republicans even espoused these arguments, arguing in the vein of Frederick Douglass that the speech did not accomplish enough. "Lincoln's message good…but not conclusive; it is not positive; it discusses questions, but avoids to assert. May his mind not be altogether of the same kind," reflected Polish immigrant Adam Gurowski (Gurowski 1968, p. 13).

Despite the president's rhetoric averring that the sections were "not enemies, but friends," a line that the Indianapolis Daily Journal lauded as "singularly and almost poetically beautiful," some editors predicted that Lincoln's words would lead to war (New York Tribune, March 7, 1861). "Blood will stain the soil and color the waters of the entire continent," an Ohio paper editorialized (Perkins 1942, vol. 2, p. 634). Edward Everett, the Massachusetts orator and Constitutional Unionist who would join Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863, expected bloodshed, despite the president's message being "as conciliatory as possible" (Frothingham 1925, pp. 415). Gurowski was sure that a "great drama will be played" (1968, pp. 13–14).

Southern newspapers were readying themselves for the drama; naturally, sharp censure was leveled at a speech they considered at best inconclusive and at worst provocative. "It is not a war message. It is not, strictly speaking, a Black Republican message," noted a Raleigh newspaper, inviting its readership to make individual assessments (North Carolina Standard, March 9, 1861). But many Southern editors offered no such invitation. "The Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln inaugurates civil war… The sword is drawn and the scabbard thrown away," the Richmond Dispatch declared (March 5, 1861). According to the Richmond Enquirer, the lines of the message constituted the language of a fanatic (March 5, 1861).

Editors and diarists would again consider an inaugural address on March 4, 1865, when Lincoln began his second term. In this considerably shorter address, Lincoln tendered an account of the war that refused to ascribe blame. The war to end slavery—slavery was "somehow the cause of the war"—had persisted because God willed it to continue. Calling for "malice toward none" and "charity for all," Lincoln endorsed a binding up of the nation's wounds.

Despite Lincoln's admonishment, Southern newspapers responded sharply. A Petersburg, Virginia, newspaper charged Lincoln with "wholesale murder, robbery and arson" (Petersburg Daily Express, March 4, 1865). Even so, after four years of conflict, most Northerners were ready to "strive on and finish the work" they were in. Although some Democratic papers, such as the Chicago Times, deprecated the "slip shod" effort, most proffered favorable reviews (Mitgang 1989, pp. 440–441). The Washington National Intelligencer noted that the words of Lincoln's final sentence were "equally distinguished for patriotism, statesmanship, and benevolence, and deserve to be printed in gold" (March 6, 1865). The monumental diarist George Templeton Strong accurately predicted the speech's historical acclaim. "It is certainly most unlike the inaugurals of Pierce, Polk, Buchanan, or any of their predecessors; unlike any American state paper of this century," he wrote. "I would give a good deal to know what estimate will be put on it in ten or fifty years hence" (Strong 1952, vol. 3, pp. 560–561).

Perhaps the most emblematic response to the speech emanated from Frederick Douglass. "The whole proceeding was wonderfully quiet, earnest, and solemn.… The address sounded more like a sermon than a state paper" (Douglass 1882, p. 801). Although substantial tests remained ahead, the Emancipation Proclamation and the enlistment of African American troops had instructed Douglass which construction of Lincoln's first inaugural had been the most readable.


Baltimore Sun, March 5, 1861.

Basler, Roy P. and Christian O. Basler, eds. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. 9 vols. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953.

Charleston Mercury, Charleston, SC, February 22, 1861.

Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1861.

Cobb, Thomas Reade Rootes. The Correspondence of Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb, 1860-1862. Washington, DC: Southern History Association, 1907.

Crist, Lynda Lasswell, and Mary Seaton Dix, eds. The Papers of Jefferson Davis, vol. 7. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.

Daily Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, March 29, 1862.

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882, written by himself, 1882.

Faulkner, H. D. Letter to Abraham Lincoln. March 5, 1861. In Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

Foner, Philip S., ed. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass. 4 vols. New York: International Publishers, 1952.

Frothingham, Paul Revere. Edward Everett, Orator and Statesman. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1925.

Greeley, Horace. The American Conflict: A History of theGreat Rebellion in the United States of America. Chicago: George and C. W. Sherwood, 1866.

Gurowski, Adam. Diary from March 4 1861 to November 12 1862. Reprint. New York: Burt Franklin, 1968.

Harper's Weekly, March 9, 1861.

Julian, George W. Political Recollections, 1840 to 1872. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg, 1884.

Mitgang, Herbert, ed. Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.

Morgan, Edwin D. Letter to Abraham Lincoln. March 5, 1861. In Papers of Abraham Lincoln. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

New York Times, March 5, 1861.

New York Tribune, March 7, 1861.

North Carolina Standard, Raleigh, NC, March 9, 1861.

Perkins, Howard Cecil, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1942.

Petersburg Daily Express, Petersburg, VA, March 4, 1865.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 7, 1861.

Richmond Dispatch, Richmond, VA, March 5, 1861.

Richmond Enquirer, Richmond, VA, March 5, 1861.

Southern History Association. Publications of the Southern History Association, vol. 11. Washington, DC: The Association, 1907.

Strong, George Templeton. The Diary of George Templeton Strong, ed., Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas. 4 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1952.

Washington National Intelligencer, Washington, DC, March 6, 1865.

Weekly Union and American, Nashville, TN, February 19, 1861.

Brian M. Jordan

The Emancipation Proclamation

One of the most noted accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the sixteenth president of the United States, was his Emancipation Proclamation, which led to the end of slavery and earned Lincoln the nickname "The Great Emancipator." While federal forces initially fought the American Civil War as a means to preserve the Union, the Emancipation Proclamation, a part of Lincoln's evolving wartime antislavery policy, redefined the war's objective as ending slavery in order to defeat the Confederacy. The proclamation was a carefully phrased legal document recognizing the fact that attacking slavery would weaken the Confederate war effort. As slaves escaped from plantations and farms in the direction of Union lines, Lincoln's policy offered a last chance for the Confederate states to rejoin the Union and keep the institution of slavery intact.

The preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, announced on September 22, 1862, outlined the Union policy that would take effect on January 1, 1863. The proclamation freed slaves in Confederate-held territory after that date—although from a practical standpoint, the Union armies actually had to advance into Confederate areas before the terms of the proclamation could be enforced. The Emancipation Proclamation accelerated the debate over slavery among Northerners, strengthened slaves' hopes for freedom, and raised the stakes of the war for Southerners.

Northern Reactions

The preliminary announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation drew public attention from both Lincoln's supporters and his detractors. Citizens in the North pondered the significance and possible consequences of the proposed proclamation. Some citizens believed that the proclamation would simplify the issues of the war. In reference to conservative Northerners, the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel declared on September 26, 1862, that "the proclamation calls upon them to choose between the government and slavery, and the choice cannot be delayed."

Many citizens approved of emancipation as a war measure that would bring the conflict to a resolution but were not truly committed to racial equality. These reluctant proponents of freedom were willing to support any policy that would hurt the Southern slaveholders, whom many Unionists considered traitors. Northern abolitionists, however, supported the proclamation on moral grounds, and welcomed the president's announcement. A Northern minister stated that it was the white race "whose emancipation this great act of the president announces," Northerners would no longer be forced to tolerate the existence of slavery (Furness 1862, p. 9).

Black Unionists were also encouraged by the prospect of emancipation. The Daily Evening Bulletin reported on September 27, 1862, that the black citizens of San Francisco, California, were hopeful that all Unionists would embrace the policy. A black newspaper editor remarked of the preliminary Proclamation that "to our race it is the harbinger of so much gratifying." He expressed the hope that it would "help immensely in crushing the rebellion, and saving the Union, and put the nation immeasurable forward of its former self" (Daily Evening Bulletin, September 27, 1862). Black communities throughout the North celebrated the news of the proclamation. The final version of the Emancipation Proclamation included a provision for enlisting black men into the Union Army, and black Unionists in turn showed their support by enlisting in large numbers.

Some Unionists were not as enthusiastic about the president's proposal. In the October 3, 1862, issue of the Newark Advocate, the editor proclaimed that "the vital interests of the country demand that the proclamation shall be revoked, the sooner the better, and, until it is revoked, every loyal man should unite in vigorously working for its revocation." Protests about the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation often resulted from racist attitudes and the acceptance of stereotypes about blacks. Once the proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, opponents to emancipation continued to object to the measure. The Cincinnati Enquirer reacted to the official version of the proclamation on January 4, 1863, by claiming that the act encouraged slaves to "massacre white women and children." Those who objected to the proclamation often resurrected the racist claim that African Americans were not able to function independently and would not be able to provide for themselves if freed.

Southern Reactions

The news of the Emancipation Proclamation was met with scorn and resentment in the Confederacy. In Jackson, Mississippi, the Daily Southern Crisis remarked on January 24, 1863, that the proclamation "will be an enduring monument of the stupendous wickedness and folly of our enemies." Southerners believed that the proclamation was an effort to incite violent insurrection in the Confederacy. In spite of slaveholders' assertions that loyal slaves would not leave their masters, Southerners took measures to move slaves away from the paths of Union armies. Confederate troops took violent action against slaves who were caught trying to reach the Union lines. In Mississippi, a Confederate officer wrote to his superiors on January 8, 1863, regarding former slaves who had been captured while traveling from Union lines to spread news of the Emancipation Proclamation. The officer asked what to do with the captives, noting that "yesterday a negro was caught armed and killed two dogs in the attempt to catch him." The officer was informed that any armed black men found coming from the Union camps should be hanged (Berlin 1997, pp. 96–97).

Slaves outside the Confederacy also responded tothe proclamation. In the border slave state of Maryland, slaves believed that they would be freed by the proclamation on January 1 and refused to work. The Lowell Daily Citizen and News, a Massachusetts newspaper, reported on the situation in Maryland on January 12, 1863, by stating that "some of the slaveholders, in order to settle matters amicably and preserve peace in the family, have agreed to pay their slaves wages." The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to slave states that had not seceded from the Union (such as Kentucky and Maryland), but these border states were affected nonetheless. In spite of their owners' attempts to prevent it, Kentucky slaves began enlisting in the Union Army in 1864, wishing to take up arms and assist in securing their own freedom.

Emancipation and the Union Army

Union soldiers had a variety of reactions to the Emancipation Proclamation. Some Union soldiers objected to emancipation because they believed that the war was about restoring the Union and maintaining the Constitution, not freeing slaves. An army surgeon from New York opposed the proclamation because in his opinion, "The negro, for whose emancipation this war is avowedly carried on, has proved itself but a poor auxiliary in its prosecution" (Ellis 1863, p. 11). Other soldiers were relieved that they would not have to return slaves to their disloyal masters. The proclamation promised to hasten the end of the war because it denied the Confederacy the use of slave labor, while allowing former slaves to be employed by the Union Army. A corporal in the Forty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia outlined the political opinions within his company of ninety-seven men. He remarked that out of the sixty-one Republicans in Company D, "sixty-one sustained the Emancipation Proclamation" (Corporal 1863, p. 26). While Lincoln's proclamation was political in nature and controversial in its implications of freedom and citizenship for black Americans, it was indeed successful in aiding Union victory and redefining the Civil War as a crusade for freedom.


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Stephen Rockenbach