Seward sent Lincoln a new ending that considerably softened Lincoln's original conclusion ("Shall it be peace or sword?"), and which instead poetically invoked "the mystic chords" that bind all Americans together in shared destiny:
The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battle-fields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation.Lincoln accepted Seward's new closing paragraph, but made a small, yet extraordinarily significant, change in his words. Crossing out Seward's phrase “the guardian angel of the nation,” Lincoln wrote in the words we now all remember: “the better angels of our nature.”
It was to Lincoln a crucial reminder that America's greatness rested not in predestined divine favor or any innate virtue, but rather in the constant struggle of us all to rise above our own all-too-human failings. Lincoln never for a moment forgot the frailty of human nature—nor how much the survival of a democracy depended on whether the mass of men, and their chosen leaders, could overcome their worst, yet all too natural, instincts toward hatred, division, selfishness, and exploitation of others.