In March of 1865, only weeks before his death, President Abraham Lincoln used just 701 words to set forth his call to reconcile the torn United States. With the end of the Civil War in sight, his second inaugural address shunned the retribution sought by many in his audience. Instead, he offered a somber vision of the steps needed to begin the healing. Lincoln's prose often bordered on poetic, and his final sentence still resonates after 150 years: a plea to “bind up the nation's wounds” and “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Lincoln, like Churchill a century later, led his country through war with his words. Both men favored simplicity. Remarkably, Lincoln had less than a year of formal education, so it's no surprise that...

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