In front of a monochromatic sea of citizens, Abraham Lincoln recited his second speech that marked the beginning of his second term of presidency, his Second Inaugural Address. Considered to be one of his greatest speeches, his Second Inaugural Address is evaluated by many. Ronald White, Joseph Williams, and George Anastalpo critique the speech for different audiences, resulting in different approaches toward the speech that contain many similarities. Ronald White gave the most in-depth analysis of the Second Inaugural Address.
His fifteen-page essay encompasses the history behind the content of Lincoln’s speech, the grammar and style of Lincoln’s writing, and even the diction that he chose. White analyzes Lincoln’s speech chronologically, starting from the day before the Second Inauguration when a mass amount of wounded soldiers were being shipped to hospitals. He recalls the whole event in a third person omniscient point of view. The audience reacted with much happiness as Lincoln walks upon the stage to give his speech. Lincoln came prepared for this, unlike with the Gettysburg Address.
He had the speech written out, ready for recitation to the eager audience. Not only does White recall the incident well, but he also cites the audience members’ reactions to the events. He points that a lot of the Second Inaugural Address reflects the same style and wording of Lincoln’s other works: House Divided, Meditation on the Divine Will, and Letter to Albert G. Hodges. White also mentions that Lincoln used a lot of personal pronouns or inclusive words. Whereas White has an extensive description of the speech, Joseph Williams provides a very shallow view on its grammar and writing style.
Williams deems the speech to have a very impersonal style, as if Lincoln was too afraid to admit his passion against slavery. Ironic, seeing that Williams’ speech is a bit impersonal as well. There is no mention of the emotions of any of the participants of the event. Williams’ intent of his essay is to educate the readers about how to write a good ethical essay. He literally dissects almost every phrase or word to discuss why it fits perfectly into Lincoln’s speech. Williams then analyzes the different style of the diction he chooses and why Lincoln put these particular phrases into the speech.
The whole essay is a different attempt in analyzing the Second Inaugural Address, with a more textbook approach. George Anastalpo’s approach to the Second Inaugural Address is similar to that of a history textbook. It provides stories of the historical events that happened before the Address and during it. He includes the important historical facts that relate to the content of the Address, like the Secessionist Act and how it emphasizes the nation’s shift towards the abolishment of slavery.
He really analyzes how Lincoln was feeling when he wrote the different parts of his speech. Lincoln, feeling judged by those who deemed him as a nonbeliever of God, clarified himself by vaguely saying that “subversion of religion can injure morals of the community. ” Anastalpo talks a lot about how antislavery Lincoln was, but could not express this passion fully because he did not want to start any controversy. Lincoln, however, ambiguously hinted that his thought of the cause of the Civil War was the Southern need of slavery.
Anastalpo describes Lincoln thoroughly in his essay. The three themes prevalent in all three essays are the mention of religion and slavery. White’s essay mentions that God and religion was used as the uniting factor of the North and the South. Both prayed to the same God. Most of the soldiers from both sides persevered because of faith. Lincoln mentions that God has a fate for everyone and the reason why the war ended this way was that God chose it to. Do not blame either side for what happened. God ordained for all of this to happen.
The word “war” is mentioned a lot in the speech, showing its significance. Lincoln, however, did not characterize who made me up the war, but only mentioned war with all the soldiers being one entity. White also mentions that Lincoln’s past in the abolitionist movement. Williams mentions that the words Lincoln uses are to reconcile the South and North since Northern victory seemed imminent. At first, Lincoln starts with an impersonal style, trying not to be too touchy with the slavery issue. Trying not to start more controversy, he refers to slavery only indirectly.
Then, he starts very passively about God as well saying that he “fulfills prayers and requests. ” He slowly flows into mentioning that God has the ability to do certain things. Finally, he makes it more direct by saying that God ordained everything from the war to the end of slavery to happen. However, he does not want to slide into the area of dilemma by explicitly mentioning whether God caused slavery to happen. Williams makes it seem that Lincoln only mentioned religion in this speech to ease up some tensions occurring between the North and South.
Anastalpo mentions that Lincoln had to deal with a challenging issue because it seemed as if he were defying the status quo. When accused of infidelity, Lincoln rebuts by mentioning that no man will ever scoff religion. Men should only criticize religion when its practices are harmful to the morals of the community. However, Lincoln is less vague about this views on slavery. He believes that opinions about extending slavery are wrong. Even biblical references justifying it are considered wrong.
The situation of slavery should not be softened; it should be shown to its full awfulness. Even though he feels that Southern slavery has caused the Civil War, he still wants the North and South to be one nation. Through these three essays, one can truly find the meaning of Lincoln’s Address. He wanted to clarify his opinions, while trying to unite the very torn apart nation. Yes, the North had defeated the South. Yes, it is normal to feel bitter after such a devastating loss. However, Lincoln wants both to be a united nation with God being its glue.