Rhetorical Analysis and Close Reading of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

First, some context:

From an article by historian Gary Wills,

“People were laboring through all these controversies as they labored through the mud to Lincoln's inaugural ceremony. The end of the war was in sight -- Lee would surrender at Appomattox a mere five weeks after the inauguration. But what would be done with that victory? Lincoln's appeal for latitude in the use of executive power, on the grounds that it was needed for waging the war, would lose all force when the guns fell silent. What new authority would he argue for to reach new goals? This was as thorny a situation, in its own way, as that which Lincoln had addressed in his lengthy First Inaugural. Then he had had to explain what terms he would accept for maintaining peace (including a promise to leave slavery perpetually undisturbed where it already existed) and what terms he would not accept (secession). That was a legal argument, involving constitutional philosophy, with many fine distinctions to be sharply drawn. If anything, the legal problems were even more complex in 1865. Would the Confederacy be a conquered nation? Or would it be a continuing part of America, in which some had committed crimes and others were innocent? How could the guilty be distinguished from the innocent, for assigning proper punishments or rewards? On what timetable? Under whose supervision? Using what instruments of discipline or reform (trials, oaths of allegiance, perpetual disqualification for office)? And what of the former slaves? Were they to be allowed suffrage, indemnified for losses, given lands forfeited by the rebels, guaranteed work and workers' rights? The problems were endless, and the very norms for discussing them were still to be agreed on. Lincoln had his work cut out for him, and his audience could reasonably expect a serious engagement with matters that were haunting everyone on the eve of victory.”

The brevity of his speech, in the face of these serious and overwhelming issues, makes it one of the most daring speeches in our history.  But Lincoln brilliantly packs a lot into a few words.  Today, you and a buddy are going to really delve into this document and see for yourself what all the fuss is about.

Step 1 – Read over the speech one time just for orientation/meaning.  Then, read a second time to be sure you understand what “argument” Lincoln is making.  Circle words you don’t know, ask questions in the margins, underline text that catches your attention for some reason (repetition, connotation, literary devices, etc.)

Now, approach the questions with your partner.  Use complete sentences.  You can turn in one copy with both students’ names on it.



1.       What do you believe Lincoln meant by "there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first"?







2.       Lincoln's speech, though short, contain all three rhetorical appeals in this speech.   Write a paragraph describing how each appeal appears and is effectively used in the speech.















3.        Lincoln's speech seems to be organized very simply:

He begins with a problem, which is:



Once he has established what the problem is, he goes into giving the reason that he believes the problem is there. What did Lincoln say was the reason for the problem?



After he clarifies what he believes the source of the problem to be, he goes into developing a solution….describe in your own words Lincoln’s solution.



4.      What are two lines that have strong imagery?  How are they effective?





5.       Refer to your handout of rhetorical devices.  Find examples of at least three rhetorical devices employed in this speech.