Civil War References in President Biden’s Inaugural Address

President Joe Biden delivers his inaugural address (photo courtesy of Fox News)

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).

*     *    *

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.

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10 Responses to Civil War References in President Biden’s Inaugural Address

  1. Donald Smith says:

    He didn’t say “rural versus urban” twice, did he? 🙂

    If he wants to end this uncivil war, then have him tell the progressives and cancel culture types to keep their hands off the Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and the Confederate statues at national battlefields.

    • Chris Mackowski says:

      Actually, I think he stumbled over that line, which is why the transcription had it in there twice. For clarity, I’ve removed it. Thanks.

      I don’t have his ear on the monuments issue, although I would agree with you on that.

  2. John Pryor says:

    As per usual, the only good lines in Biden’s speech were the ones he…errr..”borrowed”. His concept of unity and justice is eeriely like Jeff Davis in his inaugural: We’re right, you’re wrong, just admit it, and we all can be friends again. Biden, like Davis, wants to deny history. In Davis’s case, the fundamental wrongness of coercive control over uncompensated labor in a democratic republic; in Biden’s case, a blatant refusal to admit that the last 70 years of African American civil rights and economic nprogress have real meaning, or even occurred. Both are essentially driven by emotional grievance, rather than reason. I hope this fashionable “Lost Cause” has a shorter half life than the last one.

  3. Lyle Smith says:

    Calling half the country Confederates in 2021. Oh yeah, that will bring us together. Yay, for allusion to the Civil War that killed thousands.

    • Chris Mackowski says:

      I don’t see where he calls half the country Confederates. His parallelism here is rhetorical, not metaphorical. I DO think he’s trying to compare the “uncivil war” to the Civil War so that perhaps we can understand the potential cost of being so divided, as the insurrection at the Capitol demonstrated a couple weeks ago.

      • Lyle Smith says:

        If he’s alluding to the Civil War, what side does he see himself on in this so-called uncivil war? Is it the Confederate side?

        I am probably being unfair to this specific speech, but he needs to denounce the labeling of half the country as white supremacists and terrorists, and he needs to do it pronto. Let’s be real, that’s what a bunch of folks that voted for Biden think of millions of Americans today.

        We are not all a bunch of John Browns, and there is danger in millions of people believing that.

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  5. thomas e christianson says:

    Easy to call for unity NOW…..what about before….where was he on unity then?!

  6. John Sinclair says:

    Sorry, but it seems like these folks are still angry about the election results and are buying into the false narratives of media types like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson who are being paid millions of dollars to rail against President Biden for the next four years.

  7. nygiant1952 says:

    1. Biden did NOT call half the country , Confederates.
    2.No one calls half the country, White Supremacists.

    To effect change is NOT storming the Capitol to disrupt the Constitutionally mandated function of the Congress.

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