October 2002 | Volume 53, Issue 5
Overrated “With malice toward none ; with charity for all. ” The best-remembered, most frequently quoted phrase from Lincoln’s extraordinary Second Inaugural Address was actually “off message,” as media gurus might put it today. In its totality *he speech was a fire-and-brimstone condemnation of the evils of slavery, punctuated by a breathtaking biblical threat: “Woe unto the world because of offences!” The phrase—and it must have truly startled the audience on March 4, 1865—was Lincoln’s blunt warning that the Civil War would continue until “every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” At the end the President abruptly switched gears to conclude with his kinder and gentler call to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” but the real message of the Second Inaugural was sacrifice and retribution, not charity.
Underrated “Let us have faith that right makes might.” Lincoln made this declaration at the beginning of the peroration of his Cooper Union address in New York City on February 27, 1860, and liked it so well that he repeated it at several speaking engagements that followed in New England. When the speech was reprinted in pamphlet form, under his personal supervision, Lincoln made sure that the line appeared in capital letters. This unprecedented emphasis indicates how firmly he believed in this notion. The message was clear: To be antislavery in 1860 was simply right, and ultimately, inevitably, freedom would prevail. After years spent languishing among Lincoln’s “secondtier” quotes, modern leaders, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton among them, resurrected it to reassure a newly challenged generation of New Yorkers.