Lincoln's Last Speech: Wartime Reconstruction and the Crisis of Reunion

ISBN : 9780190218393

Louis P. Masur
264 Pages
143 x 209 mm
Pub date
Apr 2015
Pivotal Moments in American History
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On April 11, 1865, Abraham Lincoln gave his final speech to thousands gathered in the rain outside the executive mansion in Washington, D.C. Coming two days after Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, and a week after the fall of Richmond, the crowd expected a victory oration. Instead, they heard the President's ideas about how best to proceed in returning the seceded states to " with the national government and how to advance the status of freedmen in a nation soon to be without slavery. After Lincoln's endorsement of limited black suffrage, one listener had heard enough. Walking away, John Wilkes Booth remarked, " Three days later, he made good on his threat. Significant in part because it was his last, Lincoln's April 11th speech is also particularly important for providing us with the president's final public thoughts on the problem of reconstruction, a process, as he said that night, " In Lincoln's Last Speech, renowned historian and author Louis P. Masur uses the occasion of this speech to trace the debate over reconstruction policies-which, he shows, began not with war's end, but with the war's beginning. Masur reveals how, from the start of the war, restoring the union was foremost on Lincoln's mind, and between 1861 and 1865 he pressed multiple plans of action. Even as battles raged, and the odds of victory continued to shift, the aftermath of war was never far from the thoughts of northern statesmen. Masur traces the evolution of Lincoln's ideas and the debate over reconstruction during the war, from the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction on December 8, 1863 to the Wade-Davis bill pushed through Congress by radical Republicans in July 2 1864, and Lincoln's resulting pocket veto. In addition to political reconstruction, Masur examines the questions around social reconstruction, the plight of the freedmen and the debate over the place of blacks in American society. And he considers the implications of Lincoln's speech after April 1865, when Andrew Johnson assumed office and the battles over reconstruction ensued. Filling an important gap in the Lincoln literature, Lincoln's Last Speech illuminates the disputed question of reconstruction, from the earliest days of the Civil War up through the president's final address, and allows us to retrace the path that brought him and the nation to reunion.


Prologue: "Gladness of Heart" Chapter 1: "A Large Share of Thought From the First" Chapter 2: "Proper, Practical Relation" Chapter 3: "A Pernicious Abstraction" Chapter 4: "A Plan of Re-construction" Chapter 5: "We, the Loyal People, Differ" Chapter 6: "Fraught With Difficulty" Chapter 7: "A Righteous and Speedy Peace" Chapter 8: "The Egg is to the Fowl" Afterword: "The Present 'Situation' " Appendix: Text of Lincoln's Last Speech, April 11, 1865 Acknowledgments Notes Index

About the author: 

Louis Masur is Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, The Civil War: A Concise History and Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union.

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