Lincoln's Second Inaugural Speech, given before congress on March 4, 1865, was perhaps best noted at the time it was given for its extreme brevity.However, unbeknownst to most of the grand orators of the time who regarded Mr. Lincoln as an uneducated country bumpkin, the president's speech spoke greater volumes of truth in the few minutes it took to deliver, than any one of them would ever accomplish in as many hours.With the end of the war in sight, Lincoln worked his purpose in the Second Inaugural to fit the needs of a country ravaged by war.Lincoln appealed to his audience to conduct reconstruction of the soon-to-be defeated Confederacy with compassion and forgiveness.By using word economy, simplicity, and avoiding extremes, Lincoln more than accomplished his purpose.He delivered what is now considered one of the greatest speeches in American history.
At Gettysburg, Lincoln had demonstrated the virtues of economy in the use of words.Lincoln had aspirations of doing the same thing in his second inaugural speech.This is impressive when we consider the grand scale of nineteenth century oratory, and the fact that most presidents gave very few speeches of any kind (for fear of saying something divisive).Unlike twenty- first century politics, where presidential speeches are delivered to the masses on a regular basis, and every aspect of their speaking style is subject to public scrutiny, presidents of the Civil War era were rarely seen making a public speech.They did not speak on campaign tours.They did not speak to conventions that nominated them.They even didn't give their annual speech to Congress in person.
One must conjecture that it was difficult for Lincoln to hold back, for he knew all too well the power of oratory (from the Douglass debates and the Gettysburg Address.)With this in mind, it is all the more impressive that Lincoln held back from saying all that he wanted to say in his s…