I have also been contemplating the Second Inaugural, as well as Lincoln’s two fronts and the fateful choice of Andrew Johnson as his Vice-President for his second term.
It seems to me that a more courageous speech would have pointed out what form of government found slavery to be peculiar to it, practically reveling in it being a “peculiar institution”. If Lincoln had that understanding of democracy being the great sin of our land, even before it become a country, he would have picked as his running mate a convert to Republicanism from a Southern State rather than an unrepentant democrat who simply found it politic to preserve the Union. For then, he could have offered to those who had been Democratically privileged a path to repentance without persecution, a way for their former slaves, in serving the public in office, to graciously treat their former oppressors.
Yet Lincoln was between a rock and a hard place. It is nothing short of a miracle that, with Democratic sympathizers in the North and a breakaway confederation of democracies in the South, he was able to preserve the Union at all. It might be presumptuous to second-guess him, but we need not swallow his oratory whole.
That brings me to my second criticism of the Second Inaugural: the thought of armies praying to God should not go unchallenged. For however earnestly the generals and politicians may believe their prayers are ascending to God, it is far more likely that they are descending to the Devil. With prayers from each side calling for the murders of each adversary, the Devil can with great equanimity grant all of these supplications completely. The answer to their prayers is not victory, but slaughter.
Moreover, it has become quite clear that the prayers to God, the prayers to end democracy and, hence, slavery are being answered daily. These answers, by prophets major and minor, by sound arguments of every kind, are ignored by Man. The temptations to Pride in Morality, to Greed in Society, sway Man away from compassion for his Neighbor, to whom is issued instead a hundred paths to prison, both physical and effective, and thus to slavery. Once the Slave is made, the Privilege is Granted, and the Rule is Authorized. Thus Democracy and Slavery remain, despite the answers to our prayers.