American Portraits

With Charity for All: Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and Respect

In this lesson, students will review Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered as Union troops were within sight of ultimate victory in the Civil War. They will analyze how he demonstrated respect in his approach to his second term of office and plans for restoring the Union. They will achieve the following objectives.

Founding Principles

Civil Discourse image

Civil Discourse

Reasoned and respectful sharing of ideas between individuals is the primary way people influence change in society/government, and is essential to maintain self-government.

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

The morning of March 4, 1865 was dreary and dismal in the nation’s capital. Torrential rains flooded the city, and the largely unpaved streets were clogged with several inches of mud. The city was encased in a gloomy, thick fog that for a while refused to lift. Howling winds started to whip through the streets with enough force to rip down tree limbs. There was an overwhelming military presence of federal soldiers, who roamed the city and monitored every major thoroughfare to dissuade a rumored Confederate plan to assassinate the president. Unseen sharpshooters stationed themselves on the roofs and in the windows around the Capitol building. It was a melancholy and inauspicious start for President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

Why is respect an essential trait for civil society?

Virtue Defined

Respect is civility flowing from personal humility.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will review Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered as Union troops were within sight of ultimate victory in the Civil War. They will analyze how he demonstrated respect in his approach to his second term of office and plans for restoring the Union. They will achieve the following objectives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Abraham Lincoln’s character as a leader and his commitment to respecting people who had fought against the Union during the Civil War.
  • Students will examine Lincoln’s understanding of respect as a practical virtue.
  • Students will understand why cultivating respect affects the future of the United States.
  • Students will demonstrate respect in their own lives to protect freedom.

Background

In November 1864, Republican incumbent president Abraham Lincoln defeated his Democratic Party rival, General George McClellan, in the presidential election. In the coming months, Union armies would score huge victories as General William Sherman cut a swath of destruction through the South, and General Ulysses Grant chased and finally defeated General Robert E. Lee. With the ghastly war that had killed more than 600,000 Americans winding down, President Lincoln and Congress fought over how the population would be brought together again and the Union reunited. In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln offered a message of reconciliation and respect for the vanquished foe. It was one of his last speeches as Lincoln was assassinated five weeks later.

Vocabulary

  • Incumbent
  • Torrential
  • Melancholy
  • Inauspicious
  • Depot
  • Azure
  • Vengeance
  • Magnanimously
  • Reconciliation
  • Deprecated
  • Obliquely
  • Unrequited
  • Malice

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • In what ways did Abraham Lincoln demonstrate respect in order to enhance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for himself and others in his Second Inaugural Address?
  • What was Abraham Lincoln’s identity during the Civil War? To what extent do you see emphasis on the virtue of respect in his words and actions?
  • As the Civil War drew to a close and he began his second term as president, how did Lincoln see his purpose as president?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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