Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address Discussion Questions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address is an intriguing primary source for teaching students about American attitudes at the end of the Civil War. Use these discussion questions to help students explore this speech.

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

By the time that Abraham Lincoln was re-inaugurated as president in March of 1865, it was becoming clear to many that the Civil War would be over soon. This meant that Lincoln was now in a very different position than he'd been in during his first inauguration. While originally he was focused on preventing the fracturing of the country, now he had to convince Americans that they would be able to handle the process of putting the nation back together. Lincoln's second inaugural address helps us understand some of the president's ideas for Reconstruction as he tries to assuage national fears and reassure a fractured people. The following questions can help your students work through this address. Many of the questions are open-ended to encourage your students to think about things in different perspectives, to give you the opportunity to steer the discussion as you need, and to provide flexibility for various grade levels.

Questions About Context

  • What was happening in the United States by March of 1865? What was happening with the Civil War?
  • How do you think different groups in the nation felt about the looming end of the war and the rebuilding of the country? How did white Northerners feel? How did white Southerners feel? How did free blacks and former slaves feel? What were the hopes and fears of each group?
  • If you were the president of the United States at this time, what would be your main priority in this address? How would you try to communicate it?

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