Almost Chosen People
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Senate of the State of New-Jersey: I am very grateful to you for the honorable reception of which I have been the object. I cannot but remember the place that New-Jersey holds in our early history. In the early Revolutionary struggle, few of the States among the old Thirteen had more of the battle-fields of the country within their limits than old New-Jersey. May I be pardoned if, upon this occasion, I mention that away back in my childhood, the earliest days of my being able to read, I got hold of a small book, such a one as few of the younger members have ever seen, “Weem’s Life of Washington.” I remember all the accounts there given of the battle fields and struggles for the liberties of the country, and none fixed themselves upon my imagination so deeply as the struggle here at Trenton, New-Jersey. The crossing of the river; the contest with the Hessians; the great hardships endured at that time, all fixed themselves on my memory more than any single revolutionary event; and you all know, for you have all been boys, how these early impressions last longer than any others. I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for; that something even more than National Independence; that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come; I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle. You give me this reception, as I understand, without distinction of party. I learn that this body is composed of a majority of gentlemen who, in the exercise of their best judgment in the choice of a Chief Magistrate, did not think I was the man. I understand, nevertheless, that they came forward here to greet me as the constitutional President of the United States — as citizens of the United States, to meet the man who, for the time being, is the representative man of the nation, united by a purpose to perpetuate the Union and liberties of the people. As such, I accept this reception more gratefully than I could do did I believe it was tendered to me as an individual.
Abraham Lincoln, February 21, 1861
Announcing a new blog, Almost Chosen People. It is a blog dedicated to American history up through Reconstruction. I am one of the contributors. A fair amount of my initial posts at this blog will be reposts of material first posted at The American Catholic, but they will be interspersed with new material. My fellow contributors, including Paul Zummo of the Cranky Conservative, and Dale Price of Dyspeptic Mutterings, will be providing posts that will be well worth reading, so please stop by. Needless to say, although I’ll say it anyway, this new blog will not lessen my posting frequency here at The American Catholic.
The phrase “almost chosen people” has always struck me as somewhat mysterious. What exactly did Lincoln mean by this phrase? Was this a reference to the secession crisis that threatened to overturn the good fortune that God had granted the US? Was Lincoln attempting to be humorous or ironic? Was Lincoln using the phrase “almost” to indicate that America could be God’s chosen people depending upon the path followed? Lincoln was a precise speaker and writer, and he rarely used words carelessly, so I think the words had some important meaning to Lincoln, although I confess that to me what this meaning was is not at all clear. That makes the phrase for me an apt name for a blog exploring American history since while we are living in history our views of it must remain tentative. Only in the next world will the purposes of God be fully understood as His will has been worked out in sacred and profane history.