Selections from Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural Address
Washington, DC, 1861
Fellow-citizens of the United States:
In compliance with a custom as old as the government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly, and to take, in your presence, the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, to be taken by the President "before he enters on the execution of this office." I do not consider it necessary at present for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety or excitement.
But apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States, that by the accession of a Republican Administration, their property, and their peace, and personal security, are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension... I declare that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so...
And more than this, I denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes. I add too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause -- as cheerfully to one section as to another.
And for that very reason, I can not and will not commit the armed forces of this government to interference or violence within the several States.
It is known by all that, even today, fighting has begun in several of the cities of the Southern States -- fighting between slaves and masters, but also between those who believe in the institution of slavery, and those who do not. It has been said by some that it is the province of the President to defend the slave masters, for indeed their property and lives are threatened.
But it is not said in our Constitution that the President shall take upon himself the office of policeman, to right the wrong of theft; nor yet to defend all citizens against every violence or harm. Against rebellion, insurrection, invasion, or foreign interference, I stand ready to defend all States and Territories, without hesitation, with all my might and heart and soul. But I declare unequivocally that I can not and will not interfere violently in the internal matters of the several States. To do so would undermine the essential sovereign powers of the States, and recast the Presidency as a hegemony akin to the monarchies of Europe, who suffer no authority or order but their own...
Nevertheless, let it not be thought that I construe the Union to be toothless. I hold that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments... Continue to execute all the express provisions of our national Constitution, and the Union will endure forever -- it being impossible to destroy it, except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself...
It follows from these views that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union, -- that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence, within any State or States, against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.
I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken; and to the extent of my ability I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part... I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that will constitutionally defend and maintain itself...
Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, 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.