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Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural

4.5 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0743212991
ISBN-10: 0743212991
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the tradition of Garry Wills's modern classic Lincoln at Gettysburg, Ronald C. White Jr. offers a close reading of the speech Abraham Lincoln gave in 1865 at his second inauguration and declares it the man's finest and most important effort. It contains one of Lincoln's best-known lines ("With malice toward none; with charity for all"), which White admires as "a timeless promise of reconciliation." At the same time, White reminds readers that rather than yanking such brilliant rhetorical nuggets from their context, "We need to understand Lincoln's strategy for the complete speech." He provides this in some detail, describing the political environment in which Lincoln found himself, having recently won a presidential election that he nearly lost and also seeing the Confederacy begin to collapse for good. It was not a long speech, containing only 701 words of mostly one syllable each and requiring merely six or seven minutes to deliver, compared to about 35 minutes for the inaugural address he had given four years earlier. White calls these words Lincoln's "last will and testament to America." John Wilkes Booth, who attended the inaugural ceremony, would murder him the next month. Lincoln buffs in particular will appreciate this book, as will fans of Jay Winik's April 1865. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Dean and professor of American religious history at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, White (Religion and the Bill of Rights) does for Lincoln's Second Inaugural ("with malice toward none... ") something of what Garry Wills did for the Gettysburg Address: explicate Lincoln's remarks, place them in the context of the hour when they were uttered, and demonstrate how Lincoln (as usual) sought to shape public sentiment through the power of eloquent and carefully calculated rhetoric. In the process, however, White expends a great deal of ink attempting to prove a point that many will think moot. Why is it necessary to label the Second Inaugural "Lincoln's greatest speech"? Such subjective competition is dicey, especially when it comes to Lincoln, who made a habit of great eloquence, whether on Inauguration Day 1865 or at Gettysburg in 1863. There is also his "House Divided Speech" of 1858 and his 1860 remarks at New York's Cooper Union. Which of these is Lincoln's "greatest" speech? Who is to decide, and what is the point of arbitrating such questions? That said, White's book does a workmanlike job of parsing the 701 words in which Lincoln, with victory in sight, briefly laid down the philosophical framework for reconciliation between South and North, a framework grounded in simple Christian generosity. Agent, Mary Evans. (Feb. 12)Forecast: White doesn't have the name recognition of Wills to propel this onto bestseller lists. While aimed at a wide audience, its sales will probably be limited to Lincoln- and Civil War-era buffs.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743212991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743212991
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,592,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kerry Walters on March 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those of us who have always sensed that the 2nd inaugural speech rivals and in some ways even surpasses the more acclaimed Gettysburg Address, Ronald White's book is a masterly vindication. In it White carefully traces the speech's genesis and follows its implications, both political and moral. The clear message is that the themes of conciliation, justice, equality, and compassion apply in all social contexts, not just in this one historical moment in early 1865. The distance between Lincoln as a statesman and today's politicians is even greater in style and substance than in years. What politician today would dare to call for equality and conciliation when it's so much easier (and profitable) to sabre-rattle and flag-wave?
Of special interest and value is White's reflections on what Lincoln might mean in his almost apocalyptic references in the speech to divine will and bloodshed, as well as Lincoln's almost agonized acknowledgment that religious convictions can be used to defend opposite sides of an issue. (As Lincoln says in his speech, "Both [the North and the South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other..."). The conclusion? Be extremely wary about claiming divine favor in conflicts.
All in all, an excellent, insightful, well-written book. Anyone interested in White's book might also appreciate William Miller's recently published *Lincoln's Ethics.*
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Format: Hardcover
It took only 703 words for Lincoln to say the words that started to heal the nation.White looks at the context in which he wrote the speech,explains how Lincoln came to an undertstanding of the reasons for and consequences of the war(God's scourge to remove the sin of the stain of slavery for which "all" americans were accountable),and deconsturcts the speech to show how the techniques Lincoln used to make his points. Read it and you'll get in touch with our history as well as see how a great work of literature comes into being.
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Format: Paperback
This is a short book about a short speech; but both are saturated by meaning and insight. Ronald White's analysis of Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (which Lincoln gave weeks before the end of the Civil War), portrays Lincoln as a thinker and artist, wrapped in a politician. White deconstructs each word and phrase in the speech/sermon, firmly setting them within the historical context that includes Lincoln's speaking style, Frederick Douglass, Bible-smuggling, Aristotle's rhetoric, the reading public, theological debates within Christendom, the little table in front of Lincoln while he spoke, long-forgotten sermons delivered in the Washington church where Lincoln and his family worshiped, the overtaxed printing presses which rushed out copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin, skeptical foreign newspapers, and so many other aspects of this lost and sad world. American deaths in the Civil War almost equaled American deaths in all subsequent wars, and yet, in this speech, Lincoln avoided blame for the war and gloating over the North's impending victory, and instead invoked a merciful God that punished the whole of the country for "America's (not the South's) slavery." White captures a Lincoln who was a man of his times but was somehow able to rise above them. He has written a masterful book here, blessedly short. We need more short books like this. History, like speeches, can be a lot more palatable in small bites than in the large tomes that crowd contemporary bookshelves.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I picked up Ronald White's impressive book to learn not only about Lincoln's March 4, 1865, Second Inaugural Address, but also about persuasive speech. And learn I did. Thus, I think others who speak or write about things important will be instructed by Lincoln and White's analysis of his effective rhetoric. For them, that alone will be worth the price of the book.
But there is much more in these pages. I'm neither a Lincoln scholar nor an historian, and I'm not sure what I was expecting, but when I read histories I first check for the wide range of material the authors draw upon. I then look for the care they take not to read into their texts and sources what they want readers to hear, but to read out of them what they actually say and to tell us what they have found between the lines. I appreciated White's integrity and discipline in this regard.
I also found myself fascinated by both the president's penetrating insights into human nature and White's deft ability to spell them out. I was impressed, too, with the author's lucid descriptions of the historical setting, emotional context and profound theological influences that shaped Lincoln and his address. They helped me to identify with the president as he struggled to heal and unify the nation and to see why he approached his daunting task the way he did. Moreover, both White's competence as an historian and his training in theology helped me to understand better not only this critical American moment, but also to grasp what Lincoln's message says to us today.
When finished reading, I went to our back bedroom to be alone. I read the speech to myself several times. Then I stood at the window and looked down on the plants in our garden, envisioning them as Lincoln's inaugural audience.
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