Abraham Lincoln: First Inaugural Address Sentence Analysis

1.”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.”

Summary: The southern citizens of America are worried that the union is going to threaten their safety and belongings.

Meaning/Strategies/Style:  This sentence’s purpose is to set up Lincoln’s discussion on the relationship between the North and the South.  He has a rather relaxed tone, saying “there seems to be” rather than the definitive “there is”.  Perhaps this is to downplay the conflict that is present in the United States.

2. “That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we 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.”

Summary:  In order to keep government balanced, it is in America’s best interest to have each State decide on their own laws, especially regarding slavery.  We cannot have troops go into the states.

Meaning/Strategies/Style:  The purpose of this sentence is to establish Lincoln’s previous position on slavery, and in doing so, put the Southerners at ease.  He has clearly established that he is in no position to put troops or other violent means into the South to abolish slavery.

3. “It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those who made it for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the intention of the lawgiver is the law.”

Summary: The fugitive slave law was made by slave owners who were scared of losing their slaves.

Meaning/Strategies/Style:  Lincoln questions the validity of a law that was put into practice to protect the lawmaker.

4. “Again: In any law upon this subject ought not all the safeguards of liberty known in civilized and humane jurisprudence to be introduced, so that a free man be not in any case surrendered as a slave?”

Summary: Shouldn’t we make sure that all laws regarding this protect free men from going into slavery?

Meaning/Strategies/Style:   The speech now begins to tie in elements of human and civil rights, while previously issues were discussed in black and white, in context of the the law and governing issues.

5. “And might it not be well at the same time to provide by law for the enforcement of that clause in the Constitution which guarantees that “the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States”?”

Summary:  We must also acknowledge that rights of people go between states and this must be honored in revisions of the fugitive slave law.

Meaning/Strategies/Style: Lincoln has imposed further discussion of rights, but tied back in the idea of laws, this time painting the picture so that people who are not slaves consider their rights and how they are unalienable between and throughout the different states.

6.” It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our National Constitution. ”

Summary: It has been 72 years since the birth of our country.

Meaning/Strategies/Style: This matter-of-fact and straight to the point sentence is meant to put out a number and provide context for the next discussion Lincoln will have in his speech.

7.”Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional term of four years under great and peculiar difficulty. ”

Summary:  My term is short, and I have especially hard conflicts to deal with.

Meaning/Strategies/Style: Harsh times call for harsh measures, and Lincoln is acknowledging the success of his predecessors and saying that it will be necessary for drastic measures to take place because of the “peculiar” situation in the United States.  He lessens the burden on himself with the first phrase of the sentence.

8. “Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. ”

Summary:  Governments are established with the idea that they will be sustainable and last forever.

Meaning/Strategies/Style: In this sentence Lincoln has taken a basic belief and defined it so that he can apply it to his argument, aiding him in creating evidence with a reasoned sequence of ideas.

9.”If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it?”

Summary: If we let all the states govern themselves, than what is the purpose of the federal union and isn’t it not perpetual, as above stated?

Meaning/Strategies/Style: Lincoln has proposed the idea that by leaving states to fend for themselves, the federal government can be unmade as easily as it was created.  He does this in order to give himself room to argue for harsher federal law and the abolition of slavery.

10. “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.”

Summary:  All the states are going to follow the laws of the Union because I said so and I’m going to make sure it happens.

Meaning/Strategies/Style: This sentence is perhaps the climax of the arguments proposed previously by Lincoln.  He has make a proposition claim and stated what will happen with a definitive tone, one that is not easy to question or argue with.  This makes it more believable and appealing.

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