On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office for President of the United States for the second time. On that occasion, with the end of the Civil War in sight, he gave one of the most famous speeches in American presidential history.

As you read the following excerpt from the speech, note the 18 words we've numbered. On a separate sheet of paper, write what you think each word means, judging from the context. Then, trade papers with a classmate and use a dictionary to check each other's guesses.


The Second Inaugural Address

Fellow-countrymen: At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued seemed very fitting and proper. Now, at the (1) expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and (2) phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and (3) engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. . . .

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an (4) impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avoid it. . . . Both parties (5) deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came. One-eighth of the whole population were slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, (6) perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would (7) rend the Union by war, while government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the (8) territorial enlargement of it.

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. . . . Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each (9) invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in (10) wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayer of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. . . . If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences which, in the (11) providence of God, must needs come, but which having continued through His (12) appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we (13) discern there any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always (14) ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, (15) fervently do we pray, that this mighty (16) scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continues. . . until every drop of blood drawn with the (17) lash shall be paid another drawn with the sword . . . so still it must be said that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

With (18) malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us 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 for his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Note: Just one month and 10 days after he delivered this speech, on April 14, Lincoln was assassinated. His death ended the hope that he might lead the nation to a smooth reconciliation of its bitter regional differences — differences whose marks are still felt more than 100 years later.


Adapted from Scholastic Voice