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(1864) Abraham Lincoln “Address at a Sanitary Fair"

During the Civil War Northerners organized sanitary fairs to raise funds on behalf of the United States Sanitary Commission, a charitable relief organization which promoted the welfare of Union Soldiers.  President Abraham Lincoln addressed one such fair in Baltimore, Maryland on April 18, 1864.  The President noted that already one of the unintended consequences of the Civil War was the liberation of millions of slaves.  He reminded his audience that while both those who sought to free the slaves and those who wanted to keep them in bondage, used the word “liberty” to define their efforts, their understanding of the word itself and the outcomes they sought were radically different.  He also used the speech to publicly address for the first time the recent massacre of black and white Union soldiers at Fort Pillow, Tennessee.

Ladies and Gentlemen—Calling to mind that we are in Baltimore, we can not fail to note that the world moves. Looking upon these many people, assembled here, to serve, as they best may, the soldiers of the Union, it occurs at once that three years ago, the same soldiers could not so much as pass through Baltimore. The change from then till now, is both great, and gratifying. Blessings on the brave men who have wrought the change, and the fair women who strive to reward them for it.

But Baltimore suggests more than could happen within Baltimore. The change within Baltimore is part only of a far wider change. When the war began, three years ago, neither party, nor any man, expected it would last till now. Each looked for the end, in some way, long [before] today. Neither did any anticipate that domestic slavery would be much affected by the war. But here we are; the war has not ended, and slavery has been much affected—how much needs not now to be recounted. So true is it that man proposes, and God disposes.

But we can see the past, though we may not claim to have directed it; and seeing it, in this case, we feel more hopeful and confident for the future.

The world has never had a good