Philosophy and rhetoric in Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

David H Zarefsky*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lincoln's First Inaugural Address was not designed to coax the seceded states back into the Union, because he never conceded that they had left. Rather, he sought to define the situation so that, if war broke out, the seceders would be cast as the aggressors and the federal government as acting in self-defense. To this end, he presented a principled case against the legitimacy or even possibility of secession while applying the arguments to the exigence at hand. He identifies the cause of the trouble as "unwarranted apprehension" among the southern states, announces his policy as a minimalist assertion of national sovereignty, and urges that disaffected southerners not act in haste to threaten that sovereignty further. Not only does he explicitly call for slowing down the push to war but the speech itself enacts a slowing of time. In sum, the First Inaugural illustrates both Lincoln's philosophical grounding and his rhetorical dexterity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-188
Number of pages24
JournalPhilosophy and Rhetoric
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 21 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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