By the time Lincoln took the oath of office on March 4, 1861 seven Southern states had already seceded from the Union (their number would soon swell to eleven). In his First Inaugural Address Lincoln attempted to soothe Southern anger without abandoning his firm commitment to the unbreakable solidarity of the Union. As president he had sworn to uphold the Constitution, and that document, on Lincoln’s reading, forbids any state to secede from the Union of states.
Fellow citizens of the United States:
In compliance with a custom as old as the government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly, and to take, in your presence, the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, to be taken by the President “before he enters on the execution of his office.”
I do not consider it necessary, at present, for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety, or excitement.
Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States, that by the accession of a Republican Administration, their property, and their peace, and personal security, are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed, and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this, and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them. . .
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