Lincoln’s writing could sometimes be lawyerly, but in his best writing—his Gettysburg Address, his second inaugural, and at the end of his first inaugural—he often cut to the core of an issue, and mixed the plainspoken with poetry.
When Lincoln asked William Seward, his secretary of state, to review his first inaugural, Seward found the draft too provocative, fearing it could provoke both Virginia and Maryland to secede, leaving the capital surrounded by Confederate states. He struck Lincoln’s bellicose ending—“With you, and not with me, is the solemn question of ‘Shall it be peace, or a sword?’”—and instead suggested that Lincoln use words “of affection—some of calm and cheerful confidence.” Lincoln chiseled Seward’s flowery last paragraph into a shorter, sharper coda.
We are not, we must not be, aliens or enemies, but fellow-countrymen and brethren.
Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too hardly, they must not, I am sure they will not, be broken.
The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battle fields and so many patriot graves
pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation
|Lincoln’s Delivered Version
I am loath to close.
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.
Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.
The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave,
to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chords of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.