Student A states that President Lincoln’s main message, delivered in his first inaugural address, was that the Union would not be divided. Student A supports this point by drawing quotes from the address that demonstrate that Lincoln did not want the northern and the southern states to separate and that he did not want a war. I agree with Student A’s analysis, as my impression from the address is that Lincoln, speaking on behalf of the North, claimed that it would only be possible for the South to start a war because the North wanted to avoid conflict. Student A also notes that, although Lincoln does not promote the abolition of slavery in his first inaugural address, slavery and its wrongs are the main themes of the second address, and I acknowledge the importance of understanding this shift in tone between the two addresses. Imitating an editorial written by a senator from Illinois in 1865, Student A argues that full equality of rights should be provided to former slaves; I think that Student A manages to deliver the strongest points held by full equality supporters of the time, including an appeal to Christian values, the need to correct previous sins, and the importance of civil liberty. Finally, in analyzing the bargain of 1877 between the federal government and the South, Student A divides the reasons for this compromise into two categories: historical processes since the late 1860s and political corruption. What I particularly appreciate in Student A’s work is the explicit negative attitude expressed toward the bargain. Student A thinks that the agreement was unfair and led to adverse consequences, such as the failure of the southern Democrats to promote equality, which was also one of the main points of my essay. I agree that corrupt political agreements rarely result in wise political decisions.
Student B fully captures the main message of Lincoln’s first inaugural address in stating that the newly elected president wanted peace, seeking to assure the South that the North would not impose strict regulations on it (e.g., by appointing people from the North into southern federal offices) and would strive for the peace and preservation of the Union. Both Student B and I notice that Lincoln even claimed that he had no intention of abolishing slavery, which was one of the main concerns of the southern states. In the second address, however, as Student B notes, Lincoln definitively called upon his supporters to end slavery, thus indicating that slavery was one of the main reasons for the war. Despite his strong stand against slavery, his second inaugural address, given on the threshold of the North’s victory, was not triumphant but instead troubled in tone: He said that it would be hard to live united as one country once more and to build peace, but he believed it was possible. Speaking in the voice of a senator from Illinois in 1865, Student B delivers a powerful message of equality and an appeal to treat former slaves in the same way as any other American citizen. However, Student B does not mention the conflict between the opinions of those who supported full equality of rights and those who proposed the gradual acquisition of rights for former slaves. I think the message would have been even more powerful if Student B had laid out the arguments of the proponents of the gradual acquisition of rights and gone on to refute them. Finally, I appreciate Student B’s profound understanding of the bargain of 1877, as Student B maintains that the bargain, despite obvious negative consequences for former slaves in the South, was needed to preserve the fragile peace between the two parts of the country, and was thus justified. Although I do not think the bargain was inevitable, I agree with Student B that it should not be seen as simply and completely a wrong decision.