Pathos in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address: Rhetorical Analysis Essay

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Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is a renowned speech delivered during a critical moment in American history—the final months of the Civil War. In this essay, we will undertake a rhetorical analysis focused on the effective use of pathos in Lincoln's address. By examining the emotional appeals and empathetic language employed by Lincoln, we can gain a deeper understanding of the speech's impact on the audience and its enduring significance.

Establishing Emotional Connection:

From the very beginning, Lincoln establishes an emotional connection with the audience by acknowledging the immense suffering and loss endured during the Civil War. He refers to the conflict as a "great civil war" and recognizes that both sides "read the same Bible and pray to the same God." Through these words, Lincoln appeals to the shared humanity of the audience, emphasizing their common experiences and values.

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Appeals to Grief and Mourning:

Throughout the speech, Lincoln skillfully appeals to the emotions of grief and mourning. He acknowledges the staggering death toll and the profound impact of the war on families and communities, stating, "Both read the same Bible and both pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other... The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully." These words evoke a sense of shared loss and tragedy, invoking empathy from the audience.

Promoting Reconciliation and Unity:

In his address, Lincoln emphasizes the need for reconciliation and unity, even amidst the ongoing conflict. He encourages the audience to "bind up the nation's wounds" and to "do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves." By using language that emphasizes the collective responsibility to heal the nation, Lincoln appeals to the audience's sense of compassion and empathy.

Appeals to Future Generations:

One of the most powerful aspects of Lincoln's address is his appeal to future generations. He speaks of the war as a divine punishment and cautions against the perpetuation of hatred and division. Lincoln's use of pathos is particularly evident when he states, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds..." These words not only convey a message of hope and reconciliation but also call upon the audience to consider the impact of their actions on future generations.

The Impact of Pathos:

The use of pathos in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is instrumental in conveying the gravity of the Civil War and its consequences. By appealing to the audience's emotions, Lincoln creates a profound connection that transcends political divisions. His words inspire a sense of shared responsibility and promote a collective commitment to healing and reconciliation.


Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address stands as a testament to his remarkable rhetorical skills, particularly in the effective use of pathos. Through his empathetic language and emotional appeals, Lincoln created a deeply resonant speech that acknowledged the collective suffering, called for reconciliation, and appealed to the audience's compassion. By analyzing the pathos employed in this address, we gain a greater appreciation for Lincoln's ability to unite a nation torn apart by war and to inspire a sense of shared responsibility in the face of adversity.

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