President Lincoln's Inaugural

Boston Daily Atlas and Bee, March 5, 1861

That period of time so long, apparently, and anxiously looked for, has been reached, and the President elect, now the actual President, has spoken, authoritatively. There is now no longer any doubt as to what policy he proposes to pursue, if there has been any hitherto. He has spoken in accordance with his former convictions and utterances, and they who trusted that he had changed them in consequence of threatened dangers, or that the principles upon which the government was founded, and has always been administered, would be yielded simply through fright, have now found themselves mistaken. In the language used, there is no equivocation or hesitation—all he says and means is plain and clear—and he avows that in taking the oath he does so "with no mental reservations, and with no purpose to construe the constitution or laws by any hypercritical rules." The plainness and frankness with which he speaks must commend him to every mind, as desiring to be clearly understood, and as seeking to administer the constitution in the spirit in which it has always been understood, free from any passion or prejudice.

The spirit in which he speaks, having been admitted to be unobjectionable, let us see whether exceptions can be taken to the principles advanced. The first question upon which he remarks is upon the apprehension which seems to exist among the people of the South that by the accession of a Republican administration their property and their permanent peace were to be endangered. His past sentiments and that of the party by which he was nominated and elected are referred to as evidence that these apprehensions were unfounded, and these sentiments he reiterates. Confidence between man and man, without which no community or nation can be held together harmoniously, should have been sufficient to have long since settled the question, and nothing but the grossest misrepresentations and perversion of language on the one side, for political effect, and the determination on the other by unscrupulous demagogues to overthrow the government, would have ever given such a prominence to a false statement or misunderstanding as to endanger the stability of the government.

In the delivering up of fugitive slaves, he acknowledges the constitutional obligation, while there is a difference of opinion upon which government, State or national, the obligation rests, but that he deems immaterial. Connected with this, he suggests that there should be all such safeguards of liberty as are known in civilized and human jurisprudence, so that a free man may not be in any case surrendered as a slave, and also that provisions be made for the enforcement of that clause of the constitution which guarantees that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States. It cannot be said there is anything unconstitutional or unreasonable in this.

The peculiar difficulties with which his administration is surrounded are referred to, in the formidable attempt at the disruption of the Union. In the contemplation of universal law and of the constitution, he holds that the Union of these States is perpetual. On this point his reasoning should be conclusive, else it would have been in vain that the government was founded, and worse than folly that the people should submit to taxation for public expenditures, and incur obligations which might any day be worse than wasted, by the action of one or more of the parties, in leaving the others with these obligations, without their consent. The President does not believe the government was made to be terminated in that way, but holds that, in the execution of all its provisions, the Union will endure forever.

Assuming this ground, he must necessarily consider the Union unbroken, and that it is his duty to see that the laws under that Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Until the people withhold the requisition or direct to the contrary, he believes it a duty to be performed, as far as practicable. This is said in no offensive way, and he desires it will not be regarded as a menace, neither does he believe there need be any bloodshed or violence, and there will not be, unless it be forced upon the national authority. In this respect, while asserting the obligation to enforce the laws, the President does not go so far as Attorney General Black advised President Buchanan that he had a right to go, for he says if there is such hostility as to "prevent competent resident citizens from holding the federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among people that object."

The language of conciliation—not compromise—is very freely and strongly used in the last half of the address, while the obligation to obey the expressed will of the people, as provided by law, is as distinctly announced. The folly of breaking up such a national fabric as ours, with its memories and hopes, he urges should not be entered upon without ascertaining precisely why it is done, and before hazarding such a step it should be well considered whether the certain ills they fly to, who propose such steps, are not much greater than the real ones they fly from. To those who are determined to seek the destruction of the Union, if there are any, he thinks it not necessary to speak. It is doubted whether any plainly written right in the constitution has ever been denied; "all the vital rights of minorities and of individuals are so plainly assured to them by affirmations and negatives, guarantees and prohibitions, in the constitution, that controversies never arise concerning them."

The questions from which spring all our constitutional controversies, are cited as those of the surrender of fugitives from labor, and the protection of slavery by Congress. As the constitution does not expressly say whether the surrender shall be by national or State authority, or whether such protection shall be afforded, there must be a division on them among the people into majorities and minorities, and if the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the government must cease. The question is very forcibly presented by him in the statement that if a minority secede rather than acquiesce, it will in turn divide and ruin them, making a precedent for any minority to do the same, indefinitely, whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. This idea of secession, he contends, is anarchy, and whoever flies from the constraints of the majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, must fly to anarchy or despotism.

An allusion is made to the argument derived from the Dred Scott decision, in which all that was decided by the court is admitted to be binding to the parties in the suit; beyond that any decision upon other questions, while entitled to respect, would be liable to become a precedent for evil; and in regard to the policy of having all vital questions affecting the people irrevocably fixed by the Supreme Court, such a practice would be the practical resignation of the government into the hands of that tribunal. To question the right of the Court to exercise such power, he does not think an assault on the Court or the judges.

In the view of the President the people cannot, physically speaking, separate. The country with its institutions, belonging to the people, they can dismember or overthrow it, and of those who are desirous of amending the constitution he gives the convention mode the preference, yet recommends no measure of the kind. That which was passed by Congress as an amendment, although unnecessary, he has no objection to. After stating the fact that the Chief Magistrate derives all his power from the people, and has no power to fix terms for the separation of the States, and reiterating it as his duty to administer the government as it came to his hands, he exhorts to a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people, in the trust that no administration is capable of doing much wrong in the control of the government in the short space of four years.

As an address, we cannot see how any right minded man, having in view the enforcement of the laws and the good of the country, can make any objection to it. Those who look upon themselves as out of the Union will undoubtedly call it a declaration of war upon them, as they would any measure which did not at once yield everything to their demands. To such in the border States as are willing to remain in the Union, it ought to be acceptable, and so it should be to the entire North, otherwise it would be in vain to administer any government except by a submission of the majority to the minority. If any objection can be possibly made to it, it is in too great a lenience to the revolutionists. But the administration of the government having been successfully begun, it can afford to be magnanimous, and wait awhile, in the knowledge that every day adds to the power of reaction in the seceding States.