President Biden’s inaugural address today contained a number of Civil War references.
Here’s a run-down:
“In another January, on New Year’s Day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said, and I quote, ‘if my name ever goes down into history, it’ll be for this act. And my whole soul is in it.’”
The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” in areas of rebellion “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Here’s a look from the National Archives.
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“Through civil war, the Great Depression, world war, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed.”
This passage had two references. The first contextualized the Civil War as one in a list of America’s great traumas. He finishes the sentence with the phrase “better angels,” one of the most famous lines from Lincoln’s first inaugural address:
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 living 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.
* * *
“Here we stand in the shadow of the Capitol dome, as was mentioned earlier, completed amid the Civil War, when the union itself was literally hanging in the balance. Yet we endured, we prevailed.”
Here’s the story of the Capitol Dome, as provided by the Architect of the Capitol.
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“Here we stand across the Potomac from Arlington Cemetery, where heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion rest in eternal peace.”
“The last full measure” is a line from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered at the dedication of the national cemetery in Gettysburg, PA: “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion”
* * *
We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.
While not a direct reference to the war, it’s certainly a strong allusion. The Civil War pitted blue versus gray and north versus south. The parallelism with an “uncivil war” is unmistakable, particularly because he then begins a list of with colors (red versus blue, which parallels gray versus blue).
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And of course, a much-publicized part of the backdrop to the Inauguration was the presence of National Guard troops. Here’s a story from the Associate Press about the Civil War echoes of troops in the Capitol.