When Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in 1860 the Union was divided. He accepted his presidential duties knowing that he was working with a nation that no longer remained united. Seven of the southern states had already seceded from the Union and were beginning to refer to themselves as the Confederates. What he had now were free states and slave states. When Lincoln gave his Inaugural Address he attempted to do so in a way that would not dissuade his chances of gaining support in the southern states, especially when it involved the institution of slavery.
However, he also made it clear in his address that he believed a secure and united nation was of utmost importance and he rejected the ideas of secession and minority rule, and he did not endorse the separation of his nation. Abraham Lincoln was elected without the support of a single southern state. The states in the south were fearful that Lincoln, who openly discouraged slavery, would establish anti-slavery laws and equality for all citizens, including blacks.
However, in his address Lincoln did the opposite.
Lincoln knew the southern states were apprehensive of him being the man in charge and assumed their rights may be endangered and he wanted to ease their mind. He let those in the South know that he had no purpose to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states it currently exists, and that he had no lawful right to do so (669). Lincoln had said this repeatedly in many speeches he made before this address, and he never intended to change his position on this. He believed each state had the right to control their domestic affairs, and the federal government will do its best not to interfere with state sovereignty.
That balance of power is what makes the political system in the United States so successful and Lincoln really attempts to respect that. Lincoln then addresses the controversy about the delivering up of slaves after they have escaped. He refers directly to a passage in the Constitution that says any person who is held to a service or labor in one State and escapes to another cannot by law by pardoned from said job, but must be returned to whoever the service or labor is due (670).
Lincoln does question if this was only put in the Constitution by those who hoped to reclaim fugitive slaves who have escaped, but he does acknowledge the fact that because it is in the Constitution himself and members of Congress support it. Although it is not clear who will enforce this policy, the national or State authorities, Lincoln suggests that it is in all States best interest to abide by the laws in the Constitution that have yet to be repealed. Although Lincoln was very tolerant of the institution of slavery in the Southern States even though he did not fully support it, he did not stand for a nation divided.
As the southern states continued to remove themselves from the Union, Lincoln feared they were attempting to disrupt the order of things in the nation. The Union of States is considered to be perpetual. It is the fundamental law of all national governments; no government would allow provisions in its constitution that would allow for it to be terminated. He states that since the beginning of the Union there has been progression only towards strengthening the Union and the establishment of the Constitution was to “form a more perfect Union” (671).
As States continue to secede the nation is becoming less perfect because the vital element of perpetuity is lost. States are legally bound to remain a part of the Union, and those who attempt to work against the national authority are insurrectionary (671). As the president of the United States Lincoln believes he has an important duty in taking whatever means necessary to keep the Union in place. He makes it very clear though, that in his attempt to defend and maintain the Union he plans to do so without bloodshed or the use of violence unless he is forced to do so. Lincoln strives to resolve these national issues in a peaceful manner.
Abraham Lincoln stands firm in his belief that the separation of the Union will have definite consequences. He believes that before the southern states carry out a matter as great as the destruction of the Union they are a part of they consider the gravity of their decision. Lincoln states that there is not any time when any right plainly written in the Constitution has been denied. If there was a time when the majority deprived a minority of his constitutional rights then there may be cause or justification for a revolution, but this is not the case in this situation (673).
The Constitution ensures that all of the fundamental rights of individuals are covered so there should never be and questions concerning them. However, the Constitution cannot possibly cover all questions and issues brought before it, and this is where the division between the minority and majority derive. If a minority chooses to secede from the majority rather than attempt to comply they are setting themselves up for disaster. A minority of their own will secede from them after the majority refuses to be controlled by them, and there a destructive pattern begins (673).
Lincoln expresses in his Address how important it is that the nation does not separate. All of the States must share the same nation, the same land, and that is not going to change. A wall cannot just be built and all problems and issues forgot. All States must work together to solve the issues and remain a united nation. Lincoln is aware that when individuals or States are unhappy with the existing government they the ability to exercise their rights of amending the Constitution or attempting to overthrow it (675).
He believes that if the citizens of his nation want a change or hope to make amendments to the Constitution they do so in a more proper and convention manner than to rebel against the national government or to separate from the Union, very extreme and destructive measures. The most pressing issue is that of slavery, that is the only substantial dispute between the States. One half of the nation is against it, the other half believe it is right and want to extend their right to keep slaves.
The provisions in the Constitution involving slavery, the fugitive-slave clause and the suppression of the foreign slave trade are well enforced and in some ways work to please both sides of the dispute (673). This is not an issue that can be easily solved but the separation of the Union will make things much worse off than they were before. The foreign slave trade would be revived, angering the anti-slave states, and those states would ultimately refuse to return slaves who escape (673). Lincoln believes that the fate of the Union lies in the hands of his fellow-countrymen.
The issue of civil war is prevalent and will be the greatest consequence of secession. He assures his citizens that the government will not be the assailant and there will be no conflict unless they are the aggressors. Lincoln makes it very clear in his address how important he believes the unity of the nation is. No problems will be solved by separating and he wants the citizens of his nation to know where he stands on the issue. It was known that Abraham Lincoln supported the Northern, anti-slave states but in this Address he focuses on trying to persuade them that secession is not the answer, and ttempts to do so without further alienating them.
Any president beginning their first term wants to clearly state his position on the most pressing issues at the time of their election, and how he plans to tackle them. Although, Lincoln does not specifically list the ways in which he plans to reunite his nation he does warn them of the eventual consequences if the problem is not addresses and solved. Lincoln knew what was to come if the two sides could not reach an agreement, and he was right.