-- Lincoln`s Inaugural Address --


Columbus Daily Ohio State Journal, January 15, 1861

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

The flippant talk against coercion is worn threadbare. Likewise the pathetic sniveling about shedding fraternal blood. If a mob was at your door, threatening your property with destruction, and panting to slay yourself and family, would you hesitate to enforce one of the first laws of nature -- that of self-defense -- because in so doing you might possibly shed "fraternal blood"?

The United States Government is assailed by a horde of disunion traitors, and is, or soon will be, compelled to act on the defensive, or surrender at discretion. Which shall we do? If a man attempt to take your life and you kill him, who is responsible for the act? If traitors attempt to destroy the Government, and the Government turn and overwhelm them, can the Government be held responsible for the civil war involved, and the pouring out of blood?

That the General Government cannot coerce a State is the specious doctrine by which the leaders of secession delude their followers into a frenzy of treason. How often must this trick be exposed ere the infatuated mass of seceders become disillusioned? If the whole, or a part of the people of a State, resist United States law and authority, the penalty for the offense must be suffered in an individual, not a corporate, capacity. So, likewise, if the same persons make war against the General Government, the punishment for their treason must be administered to each offender as in cases of other crimes. It is true that a State cannot be coerced as it is a mere creature of law -- an immaterial existence. Neither can a railroad company be made to expiate an offense through capital punishment. Yet the law reaches its agents -- through whose instrumentality murders have been committed -- with the death penalty.

However much is to be deplored the want of vigor and promptness in the present administration of the Government, all persons actuated with the sentiments of humanity must rejoice that actual hostilities have been delayed, that every possible opportunity might be given the misguided and frenzied people of the extreme South to retrace their erring steps and become once more loyal, peaceful and law-abiding citizens of our common country. Although we deprecate the evident complicity of our national rulers in the treason of the Cotton States, we sincerely believe that it will yet redound to the advantage of the patriots; for should the latter be compelled to take up arms to save the country from fatal dissolution, the moral strength of their cause will be augmented in the fact that aggression has been wholly on the rebel side. Had the Administration been thoroughly loyal and patriotic, the danger of impulsive, precipitate action would have naturally been imminent.

But beyond certain limits forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We believe those limits have been reached in the present crisis. The rebels have seized United States fortifications; they have appropriated to their own treasonable use, by force, United States arms and other property; and more daring and criminal than all, they have fired into a vessel bearing the ensign of the Republic! What other nation on the face of the earth, civilized or savage, would permit such high-handed treason to go unpunished! The time is now upon us to test whether we have a government or not; whether a nation of thirty millions of people is at the mercy of a few thousand restless, desperate traitors. Shall we still delay action until there is no government to act, and anarchy reigns supreme? What if duty is hedged about with trying difficulties, and its path lead through blood, should we hesitate at its performance? Though the responsibility be fearful, should a people who boast greatness and power, energy and courage, shrink from meeting it? The government is the recognized power in this land; treason against it has not grown out of oppression; and the government must be sustained, the consequences falling on the heads of the traitors who would pull it down.

Now is no time for temporizing or dodging. The State coercion trick will not win. The people understand that the secession action of the cotton States is simple treason, and will treat it accordingly. They fear not to test the strength of the Union. The majority believe it superior to treason, superior to slavery. They believe it will have a flourishing existence when all traitors have been subdued, and when the abomination of African slavery will have passed into history. The gleam of sunshine penetrating the thick gloom enveloping the country is the irresistible fact, that the neck of the slave power is broken.