As the day for Lincoln's second inauguration drew near, Americans
wondered what their sixteenth president would say about the Civil
War. Would Lincoln guide the nation toward "Reconstruction"? What
about the slaves? They had been emancipated, but what about the
matter of suffrage? When Lincoln finally stood before his fellow
countrymen on March 4, 1865, and had only 703 words to share, the
American public was stunned. The President had not offered the
North a victory speech, nor did he excoriate the South for the sin
of slavery. Instead, he called the whole country guilty of the sin
and pleaded for reconciliation and unity.
In this compelling account, noted historian Ronald C. White Jr.
shows how Lincoln's speech was initially greeted with confusion and
hostility by many in the Union; commended by the legions of African
Americans in attendance, abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass
among them; and ultimately appropriated by his assassin John Wilkes
Booth forty-one days later.
Filled with all the facts and factors surrounding the Second
Inaugural, "Lincoln's Greatest Speech" is both an important
historical document and a thoughtful analysis of Lincoln's moral
and rhetorical genius.
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