“With malice toward none…”
In 1860, a poll of the clergy in Springfield Illinois revealed that twenty-three of its twenty-six members intended to vote for Stephen Douglas in the upcoming election. A disheartened Abraham Lincoln, holding a copy of the Bible, lamented to his friend Newton Bateman, “These men well know that I am for freedom, and my opponents are for slavery, and yet, with this book in their hands; they are going to vote against me; I do not understand it at all.” What Lincoln didn’t understand, was that the clergy suspected he was, as his law partner William Herndon described, “An infidel.”
Lincoln was not an infidel. Although, he abandoned his Calvinist roots, he was a self-educated man, and approached his faith in the same manner. He read the Bible regularly, and could quote chapter and verse, but as an independent thinker, Lincoln had an aversion to embracing any doctrine or dogma that wasn’t his own. As he put it, “When any church will inscribe over its altar, as its sole qualification for membership, the Savior’s condensed statement…, ‘Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and thy neighbor as thyself,’ that church will I join with all my heart and all my soul.”
During his Presidency, Lincoln was frequently visited by members of the clergy. He was always respectful and courteous, and never refused a meeting. He genuinely enjoyed their visits, and appreciated their prayers and support. He had a special affinity for the Quakers, whom he believed were particularly pious and sincere. However, Lincoln would occasionally get annoyed with his well-wishers.
One such visit occurred on September 13, 1862, when a delegation of clergy from Chicago visited the White House, and pressed the President for the emancipation of the slaves. Lincoln had already prepared the Emancipation Proclamation, but was waiting for the right opportunity to issue it. During the meeting, one of the ministers became indignant, insisted that he was a messenger from God, and demanded that the President free the slaves immediately. Lincoln acknowledged the minister may very well be delivering a message from God, but wondered aloud, “Is it not odd that the only channel he could send it by was a roundabout route, and that awfully wicked city of Chicago?” Four days later, Lincoln’s opportunity came with a Union victory at Antietam.
Lincoln may not have been a Christian in the traditional sense, but he sincerely believed that God was a real and an active force in the world. The death of his two sons, and the terrible burden of the Civil War, tempered Lincoln’s faith, and he came to see himself as an instrument of God’s will. He said, “I know I am not a great man – and perhaps it is better that is so – for it makes me rely upon One who is great, and who has the wisdom and power to lead us safely through this great trial.”
Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is only four paragraphs long, and took less than seven minutes to deliver, but it contains some of the most powerful words ever delivered in a Presidential address. The abolitionist Frederick Douglas said, “The address sounded more like a sermon than a state paper.” In his address, Lincoln put forth the notion that the Civil War, a war that killed and wounded a million and a half Americans, was God’s punishment for the sin of slavery. Lincoln was a practical and pragmatic politician, and knew this notion would not be well received, but he believed that it needed to be said. As he explained, “Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it; however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world.” Lincoln considered his Second Inaugural Address his best speech, and although, such notions are ridiculed by the modern secular mind, his knowledge and understanding of the Bible and history, compelled him to speak the truth.
The repetitive theme of the Old Testament is, that whenever the Israelites acknowledged the authority of God, and obeyed his laws, they flourished and prospered, and whenever they denied God, and disobeyed his laws, they suffered in exile and bondage. History has a similar theme; nations and societies that strive to be virtuous and just, thrive, while empires and cultures that become decadent and corrupt, collapse. The United States was established upon the divine truth that all men are created equal, but, for our first eighty-five years, we chose to ignore that truth. Finally, when it couldn’t be ignored any longer, we plunged ourselves into the most destructive and devastating conflict in our history.
For the past fifty-years, America has been drifting away from God. The secular-progressive movement has driven a wedge between God and the American people. We can no longer acknowledge him in public schools, at high school football games, or on the town common at Christmas. Sing “Silent Night” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” at a school pageant, and prepare for an injunction and law suit.
The secular-progressives have successfully removed God from the public sector, and won the culture war. Forty-percent of our children are born out-of-wedlock, and the traditional family has been decimated. A class of federal surfs, with no real opportunity, or hope for advancement, who are permanently dependent upon the government, has been created. A generation of self-absorb automatons, incapable of interacting with another human being without the aid of a smart-phone, has reached adulthood. A government that views the Constitution as an obstacle has overcome it, and successfully inserted itself into every aspect of its citizen’s lives. And, the voices of 57 million unborn Americans have been silenced forever.
Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861, was an attempt at reconciliation, a plea with the South to avoid a Civil War. Unfortunately, the South did not heed his plea, and fired upon Fort Sumter just 39-days later. However, no one, not even Lincoln, could have imagined how horrendous that war would become. If Lincoln is right, and nations inflict their own “scourging,” I shutter when I imagine the punishment that awaits us. Whatever it might be, whatever the toll we may extract, “as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”