A Temperate Overture to A Divided Country

On the occasion of his inauguration, Lincoln tried to avert further secession by Southern states while insisting on the indivisibility of the Union. Reacting to an early draft of the inaugural address, Lincoln’s secretary of state, William H. Seward, suggested a more conciliatory approach. Lincoln took Seward’s advice, but (perhaps with a nod to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 144) artfully refashioned his proposed ending, “the guardian angel of the nation,” to the more euphonious phrase, “the better angels of our nature.”