Lincoln Speaks Online Exhibition: Documents

In the trenches

A dead Confederate soldier in the trenches of Fort Mahone, also known as “Fort Damnation,” Virginia, 1865

Confederate soldier

Photograph, Confederate soldier killed at Petersburg, Virginia, 1864.

Union dead

Union soldiers killed while charging a Confederate artillery battery at Antietam, Maryland, 1862.

Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution

The Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, was the only ratified constitutional amendment signed by a president. The Constitution does not require a president’s signature; an amendment needs to be approved only by two thirds of both houses of Congress and ratified by three fourths of the states. With his signature, Lincoln emphatically signaled to the world […]

Mill’s Reaction to the Assassination

During the Civil War, the British philosopher and economist J. S. Mill wrote extensively in support of the North. In “The Contest in America” (1862), Mill argued: “The world knows what the question between the North and South has been for many years, and still is. Slavery alone was thought of, alone talked of. Slavery […]

Lincoln Offers Words of Comfort

The devastating losses of the Civil War made the composition of condolence letters one of Lincoln’s regular, dismal duties. He wrote this deeply felt letter to the twenty-two-year-old Fanny McCullough only ten months after the death of his son Willie. Lincoln offers words of solace on the death of McCullough’s father, telling her that “In […]

Lincoln’s Language Provokes Hostility

In Lincoln’s time, Americans were familiar with Lincoln’s opinions primarily through his printed speeches. As this vitriolic letter demonstrates, Lincoln’s words sometimes provoked raging anger among those who disagreed with his principles.

Lincoln Calls for a Black Regiment

In this terse memo to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Lincoln makes it clear he wants Stanton to help William Dole organize what would be the first regiment of African-American soldiers formed in Washington, DC. Coincidentally, in Boston, the Massachusetts 54th Infantry was mustered on the following day, 13 May 1863, and officially became the […]

O Captain! My Captain!

Lincoln’s assassination inspired Walt Whitman to write this poem of mourning. It is one of the few poems in which he used a conventional meter and rhyme scheme. His tribute became extremely popular at the time of its first publication, in 1865, and it was the only poem of Whitman’s to be anthologized during his […]

Lincoln Upholds Execution of a Condemned Slave Trader

This document stands out in the history of a man renowned for his mercy and willingness to forgive. His refusal to grant the condemned Nathaniel Gordon clemency for his capital crime made Lincoln the only American president to execute a slave trader. Predictably, Lincoln’s decision caused a huge public stir. The execution made an example […]