Historical Primary Sources

Historical primary sources can be defined as the first-hand account of
an event or moment in life. They are always in their original form with
no alterations. They are usually without any explanation or
interpretation. Primary sources are useful in that they help historians
critically and analytically evaluate the source since the primary
sources often come with no context. The sources also help the historians
to relate personally to events that took place thus enabling them gain a
deeper understanding of the subject. Speeches are considered to be
relevant historical materials since they are produced by people who are
directly involved in the event, for instance, in trying to write about
the American history, Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration speech is
Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration speech on 4th March 1861 is a
perfect example of a historical primary source. Lincoln had won the
presidential election on 6th November 1860 with 180 electoral votes to
become the sixteenth President of the United States. He made the
inauguration speech on the eve of American Civil War. His speech touched
on several issues including the promise to hold, occupy and possess the
property that the state owned. He also talked about the impossibility of
the secession plan by the Southern States. He promised the nation that
he would try to ensure that peace prevailed by avoiding attacks and use
of arms. In his closing remarks, he urged the nation not to break their
bonds of affection and to remain close friends.1
The time and place rule, which states “the closer in time and place
the source and its author are to the actual event, the likelier to be
true” is exhibited by the speech. There is evidence of the exact words
spoken by Lincoln during the ceremony. The events of the day were
recorded and stored for future use. No alterations can be done to the
manuscript since there were witnesses, and copies of the same are
available. There is a direct evidence of the event thus making the
speech an accurate historical primary source. Lincoln wrote his speech
and  this makes it an original and a reliable historical primary
source. Firsthand information is available on what he said. The content
of the speech is as he read it. Copies of the original speech are
available in all information avenues that is, government libraries,
historic books and also online.2
The document under analysis is Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration
speech which he made on 4th March 1861. He was the author of his speech
and only used the closing statement of his Secretary of State’s draft.
The message in the speech was mainly intended for the people of Southern
States. He addressed issues that were facing the United States including
secession of seven States from the Union. The speech was written in a
spirit of reconciliation towards the rebellious states. He denounced the
secession saying that it was not a possible move. He urged the citizens
to be at peace with each other and the bonds of affection should not be
broken. He regarded the secession as anarchy and emphasized that
majority rule had to be balanced and the spirit of republicanism
The speech was meant for the people of the United States. He was
particularly addressing the Southerners who wanted to be granted
secession from the confederate states. He told them that the
constitution had been formed to strengthen the union. He also addressed
the issue of slavery and stated that he did not intend to interfere with
slavery. He promised the Americans that force would not be used against
the South. He further promised that he would not use the spoils system
to appoint Northern office holders. He pleaded for cool and calm
deliberation in the face of mounting tension in the nation. Since the
information was intended for the public, it makes it a more reliable
primary source since it is characterized by first hand observers and
listeners. The speech was also intended for the person’s eye since not
all had gone to record the speech but rather to witness the sixteenth
President giving his first speech.
The speech was written before the inauguration day and was contained in
a carpetbag. Those who had information on what the speech contained were
sworn to silence. Lincoln’s draft was kept in a safe of the Illinois
state Journal newspaper. He had written it using Henry Clay’s 1850
speech that talked about compromise,  reply to Hayne by Daniel Webster,
Andrew Jackson’s proclamation. His secretary of state suggested some
changes to be made to the speech by adding a closing that made the
speech have a famous closing. Lincoln gave the closing a poetic and a
lyrical tone. Those who attended the inauguration might have also
recorded the speech. Copies of the speech were also available to the
public for future reference.3
The recorder had firsthand knowledge of the event. He had a copy of the
original speech and did not have to add any more information to the
speech since he/ she had a copy of the document. Lincoln’s speech was
eagerly awaited by the entire nation as well as foreign powers. They all
wanted to know what his plans were and how he would go about formulating
policies on confederacy. The recorder might also have reported using
what others saw and heard. There are so many reports on Lincoln’s
speech since it was an international event and had an international
audience. The sources are compared, and uniform information is extracted
to make a more reliable historical source.
Lincoln, Abraham. Abraham Lincoln’s First Inauguration Address.
Alexandria: Library of
Alexandria, 2012.
Suzanne Mclntire and William Burns. Speeches in World History. New York:
Infobase Publishing, 2009.
Lincoln, Abraham. Abraham Lincoln’s First Inauguration Address.
Alexandria: Library of
Alexandria, 2012.
Lincoln, Abraham. Abraham Lincoln’s First Inauguration Address.
Alexandria: Library of
Alexandria, 2012.
Suzanne Mclntire and William Burns. Speeches in World History. New
York: Infobase Publishing, 2009.

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