Lincoln Landmark - The First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln emphasized that Southern states need not take drastic action: the Constitution did not speak to slavery in the territories, he had no intentions of invading the South, and the Fugitive Slave Act would be vigorously pursued. On the other hand: the bond between States caused by the Constitution could not be broken, and Lincoln had just taken the oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, which he had every intention of doing. A showdown was in the making. Lincoln stressed that the Union already existed, and had no necessity to be broken.

3/4/1861... 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.

No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due [enforcing the fugitive slave laws].

I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual...It is safe to assert that no government proper, ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination...Again, if the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of a contract...[then], one party to a contract may violate it-break it, so to speak; but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

It follows from these views that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union...that acts of violence, within any State or States, against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to the 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 me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States...

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. FT 88-97