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“We Must Not Be Enemies”

These are not the words of one nation's leader speaking about another nation, but of one leader speaking about his own nation.

Inauguration of President Lincoln at U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1861 Page 1 of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, he assumed leadership of a nation torn asunder. Seven Southern states had seceded from the Union, and the new president was anxious to avoid war. This photograph of the inauguration shows a very familiar building in an unfamiliar state. The famous dome of the U.S. Capitol was under construction and would not be completed until 1868. A brief recap of events of March 4 is on the Today in History Web site. If you visit the Archive, you can read what happened that day or any other day of the year.

Lincoln's stirring inaugural address included the words: "I am loth [sic] to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Several of the Library of Congress' "treasures" -- its rarest and most important items -- are related to the 16th president. You can see many of them in the "'I Do Solemnly Swear?': Presidential Inaugurations" presentation in the American Memory Web site of more than 120 thematic collections. A printed copy with Lincoln's emendations of his first inaugural address demonstrates the great importance Lincoln placed on this critical speech. (If you move your cursor to the lower right corner of the document and click on the arrows, you will be able to see an expanded image of the document.) A transcript is also available.

A Library exhibition was dedicated to Lincoln's most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address. Of the five known manuscript copies, the Library has two, and you can view them here. The only known photograph of Lincoln at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863, is also available.


A. [Inauguration of President Lincoln at U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1861]. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-48564 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: PRES FIL - Lincoln, Abraham - Inauguration, 1861.

B. [Page 1 of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address]. Abraham Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division. Reproduction information: Contact Manuscript Division at (202) 707-5387.