January 06, 2021 Feature

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

Lincoln was at the top of his game in manipulating the language in two different but complementary ways.

George D. Gopen

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In my On the Papers installment last issue, I looked with some care at the rhetorical music and structure of the fourth and final paragraph of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. This installment deals with the first two paragraphs of the same speech. It can stand by itself; but it would benefit from your reading the last issue’s article beforehand.

In writing the final paragraph, his peroration, of his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln had concentrated his rhetoric primarily on lyricism, as he urged the country to take this moment as the beginning of the future. He was able to effect that memorable, musical closure because, in the previous three paragraphs, he had already taken care of the rhetorical business of narration, exposition, and argumentation. In this edition of On the Papers, we explore that business as it is done in the address’s first two paragraphs.

We will find that he is at the top of his game in manipulating the language in two different but complementary ways: (1) He continues to understand in what structural locations of a sentence readers expect to find certain kinds of information; and (2) he continues to attend to the music of his prose, by expanding and contracting its rhythms. All of these concerns can prove helpful to you in reaching and controlling your audience in any legal brief, memo, or letter you may need to write.

Illustration by Dave Klug.

Illustration by Dave Klug.

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