I doubt if there has ever been a bleaker inaugural of a President than that which awaited Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861. Seven slave states of the deep South had already seceded from the Union, stretching from South Carolina to Texas. Secession movements were active in every other slave state except for Delaware. The nation was shattering in two, a process that James Buchanan had been impotent to stop. North and South, all Americans now were eagerly wondering how the new President would address this overwhelming crisis. Lincoln realized that this speech would be carefully read and he chose his words carefully as he set out the policy of his new administration:
Fellow-citizens of the United States:
In compliance with a custom as old as the government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly, and to take, in your presence, the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, to be taken by the President “before he enters on the execution of this office.”
I do not consider it necessary at present for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety or excitement.