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(1865) Abraham Lincoln, “Abraham Lincoln’s Last Public Address”

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On April 11, 1865, two days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, President Abraham Lincoln addressed a jubilant crowd that had gathered outside the White House in Washington, D.C.  While the crowd expected an address celebrating the Union victory and the preservation of the nation, Lincoln instead used the occasion to outline his view of reconstruction especially as he saw it unfolding in Louisiana.  He also for the first time publicly expressed his support for black suffrage which led John Wilkes Booth who was in the audience to vow, “That is the last speech he will ever make.”  Three days later on April 14, 1865, Booth assassinated the President at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.  Lincoln’s speech appears below.

We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with others. I myself was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skilful officers, and brave men, all belongs. The gallant Navy stood ready, but was not in reach to take active part.

By these recent successes the re-inauguration of the national authority—reconstruction—which has had a large share of thought from the first, is pressed much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike a case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We

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