Analyzing Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13868

Elected presidents traditionally give inauguration speeches when accepting office. In 1865, however, the U.S. was embroiled in the Civil War, leading Lincoln to give a very different sort of speech.



English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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In 1985, the Cold War was coming to an end, and the United States was not heavily involved in other parts of the world.

Ronald Reagan was re-elected during this period of relative peace and gave a 20-minute-long Second Inaugural Address.

Ronald Reagan, 1983

In 1865, the United States was being torn apart by the Civil War. When Abraham Lincoln was re-elected, he gave a Second Inaugural Address that was only five minutes long!

  • What did Lincoln say?
  • How did he say it effectively enough to warrant giving such a short speech?


Before you can analyze this speech, you need to understand what was going on around the country.

Lincoln gave his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865. This is what the Civil War had done to the United States.

Civil War, 1863 to 1865

As Lincoln gave his speech, only the orange pockets shown above were still controlled by the Confederacy.

On a separate sheet of paper, jot down what you think Lincoln spoke about in his speech.

  • In light of the above map, what should be in his speech?

With the Union poised to end the Civil War by the end of the year, people expected Lincoln to address how the country would put itself back together.

  • How would the Southern states be reintegrated back into the United States?

This was the major question everyone had as Lincoln stood to speak.

Lincoln's Speech

Lincoln delivering Second Inaugural Address, 1865

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, courtesy of the National Park Service, is only a few hundred words.

The excerpts below have been divided to showcase the purpose and theme as well as the literary device Lincoln uses. You may choose to listen to each as you read along.

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Continue on to the Got It? section to explain what you think the purpose and theme are and revisit the idea of biblical allusion.

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