Was the Civil War worth the lives of more than 620,000 Americans? Most Americans struggled with this question as loved ones died in battle. Abraham Lincoln responded with direction, consolation, and inspiration to a divided nation, employing determined leadership and lyrical prose.
Lincoln’s goal was to save the Union. As he explained, "The central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of people to govern themselves." But Lincoln also understood that at the root of secession was slavery. In his mind, preserving the Union also meant expanding the boundaries of liberty to include blacks in the nation’s “new birth of freedom,” as espoused in his Gettysburg Address.
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