Abraham Lincoln stood in front of a half-finished Capitol dome 153 years ago today delivering his inaugural address as sharpshooters in green coats eyed the crowd.
Since his election four months earlier, seven states had left the union, believing a Republican president would abolish slavery.
Lincoln was cautious in his inaugural speech, hoping to keep border states and mountainous states that did not rely on slave labor in his fold. He promised not to interfere with slavery where it existed, but he took a strong stance against secession and the Southern seizure of federal forts and property.
“In your hand, my fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it. We are not enemies, but friends.”
Lincoln was president for six weeks when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, the first volley of the Civil War.