Excerpts from Lincoln’s most recognizable speeches & letters
10/16/1854- Peoria Speech: …If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal,' and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another.
6/16/1858- House Divided Speech: ...Agitation has not only, not ceased, but has been augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to dissolve- I do not expect the house to fall- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.
2/27/1860- Cooper Union Address: …Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
12/22/1860- Letter to Georgian AH Stephens: …You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That, I suppose, is the rub.
3/4/1861- First Inaugural Address: …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 battlefield, and patriot grave, to every heart and hearthstone, 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.
8/22/1862- Open, published letter in response to Horace Greeley’s editorial, Prayer for 20 Millions: ...My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.
9/22/1862- Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation: ...on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free..
12/1/1862- Annual Message to Congress: …Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history… The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation…In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth.
11/19/1863- The Gettysburg Address: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
4/4/1864- Letter to A. Hodges: …I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel…
I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. …If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God..
1/31/1865- The Thirteenth Amendment: Section 1 Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
3/4/1865- The Second Inaugural Address: …Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other… The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes…
Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.