The very next day, somebody was discussing with him the difference between character and reputation, when he said,—with a look at me, as if to remind of what he had been talking about the day before,—perhaps a man’s character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of; the tree is the real thing.
Noah Brooks, newspaper correspondent and friend of Abraham Lincoln, recalling a statement by Lincoln
Stories cluster about Lincoln like barnacles on a great ship. Many of them cannot be sourced at all and have to be consigned to legend. One such story that is probably just a legend is that of Tad and the Turkey. The White House in 1863 received the gift of a live turkey that was to be fattened up for an eventual White House dinner. Tad grew fond of the bird, named him Jack and eventually begged his father for the Turkey’s life. Lincoln was reluctant at first, noting that the Turkey had been given as a gift for the table and not as a pet. Tad’s pleas however eventually caused Lincoln to give the Turkey a presidential pardon.
Like all good legends this story has the participants behaving in character: Tad always did have a menagerie of pets in the White House, and Lincoln was soft-hearted about animals and was a fairly indulgent father. A sequel to the story had Jack the Turkey stepping to the front of a line of soldiers waiting to vote at a polling place set up at a White House. Then Lincoln is supposed to have inquired of his son if Jack was going to vote. Tad solemnly responded that Jack could not vote due to his being too young. Continue reading
My personal favorite in the debate last night. Clinton’s attempt to invoke Lincoln deserved Trump’s comeback. It reminds me of the politician who said that his opponent reminded him of Abraham Lincoln, if one could imagine a short, fat, corrupt and lying Abe.
It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.
Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.
Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class–neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families–wives, sons, and daughters–work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.
Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.
From Lincoln’s Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861
These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.
Abraham Lincoln, August 17, 1858
(This is a repeat from last year. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday, go here to read about it, in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down two key sections in the Texas abortion law, it seemed more relevant than ever. The Supreme Court is growing ever more high handed in its rulings, and what it is engaged in when it comes to favored made up court created rights like “abortion” and “gay marriage” has nothing to do with the law or the constitution. In his blistering dissent in Hellerstedt, Justice Clarence Thomas nailed it:
Today’s decision will prompt some to claim victory, just as it will stiffen opponents’ will to object. But the entire Nation has lost something essential. The majority’s embrace of a jurisprudence of rights-specific exceptions and balancing tests is ‘a regrettable concession of defeat—an acknowledgement that we have passed the point where ‘law,’ properly speaking, has any further application.’)
Some quotes from Abraham Lincoln in how to react to illegitimate Supreme Court decisions. An illegitimate decision is one in which the Court arrogates to itself the power of a legislature under the mendacious guise of merely interpreting the Constitution:
1. I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case, upon the parties to a suit; as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the government.
2. Judicial decisions have two uses-first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use, they are called “precedents” and “authorities.”
3. We think its (the Supreme Court) decisions on Constitutional questions, when fully settled, should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only by amendments of the Constitution as provided in that instrument itself. More than this would be revolution.
4. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties, in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.
5. Judicial decisions are of greater or less authority as precedents, according to circumstances. That this should be so, accords both with common sense, and the customary understanding of the legal profession. Continue reading
Prophetic words of warning for us today from a young Mr. Lincoln:
We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.
How then shall we perform it?–At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
Well, yesterday my family and I made our annual pilgrimage to Springfield to attend the Lincoln Museum and go to the Lincoln Tomb. As we made our way though the Museum we encountered a large number of Amish touring the Museum, the women wearing long dresses and poke bonnets that made them look as if they stepped from the 1860s. The Amish were obviously fascinated by what they were seeing and talked among themselves in “Pennsylvania Dutch”. Illinois has had a large colony of Amish in the Arthur, Illinois area, about 72 miles from Springfield, since the 19th century. (Although the Amish are as theologically as far from the Church as it is possible for Christians to be, I should note that I have a huge amount of respect for them. They take care of their own, and ask nothing from the larger society in which they live, except to be left alone, a sentiment which resonates with me.) After the museum my family went to the Prairie Archives bookstore where I again marveled at their large collection of Lincoln books.
As usual we had a first rate lunch at the nearby The Feed Store. (Nothing shouts Midwest more than eating in a restaurant with a name like that.) We finished our day at Lincoln’s tomb praying for the repose of his soul and the souls of his wife and kids.) Once again I thought to myself how nice it was that the first or second greatest President in our history, has his tomb in a cemetery open to all, where there are no guards, no charges for admission, not even for parking. You simply pull up to the small parking area next to the tomb, go in and make your way through the tomb. We owe Mary Todd Lincoln for that. After Lincoln’s murder, there was an attempt to have Lincoln buried in Washington with a grand mausoleum being erected thereafter over his remains. Mary Lincoln would have none of it. She took her dead husband, and had the remains of her dead son Willie exhumed, and traveled with them both back to Springfield for burial. She wanted nothing more from Washington except to get out of there as quickly as she could, a city where she had suffered grief that makes her such a poignant figure in American history. (An exhibit in the Museum shows her framed by a rain stained window, sitting forlornly, mourning the loss of Willie. My bride observed to me yesterday that, sadly, we know precisely how she feels.)
It wouldn’t be a McClarey expedition if we didn’t buy books. We bought books yesterday at the Museum, the Prairie Archives and a used book store in Bloomington during an extended pit stop on our way home to Dwight. Most of the books were about Lincoln (surprise!) and here are those books:
- Lincoln’s Political Generals, David Work (2009)-Usually the incompetence of the generals appointed for political reasons is highlighted by historians, but it has always struck me how many of them, a perfect example is Illinois Congressman turned general John “Black Jack” Logan, eventually became competent officers. Just as more than a few West Pointers failed the iron test of war, more than a few politician-soldiers passed it.
- Abraham Lincoln: The Quest For Immortality, Dwight G. Anderson (1982)-A controversial book, Anderson contends that Lincoln deliberately sought to achieve immortality by becoming a second Washington. I find his thesis unconvincing, but I was happy to add his book to my collection as it is well argued and does highlight an aspect of Lincoln often missed, surprisingly, by other historians: that Lincoln was very conscious of history and how he and his contemporaries would be perceived by future generations.
- Lincoln the President, volume II (1945-reprinted 1974)-James G. Randall’s Lincoln the President is an exhaustive look at Lincoln as President, from an interesting standpoint: an admirer of Lincoln who also thought the Civil War was unnecessary. Scholarship was superb, albeit dated after six decades. I now have three volumes, of the four, in my library.
- Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Winter 2008 and Summer 2009. Cutting edge articles on studies of Lincoln and his times are published twice a year by the Springfield based Abraham Lincoln Association.
- Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln’s Life and Times, Rae Katherine Eighmey, (2013)-I told my bride that Lincoln had a marked indifference to what he ate, with a slight preference for the humble country fare on which he was raised, but that did not dampen her enthusiasm for this tome.
- “Here I Have Lived”: A History of Lincoln’s Springfield, Paul M. Angle (1933-reprint 1971)-A look at Springfield during the life of Lincoln. It is hard to overestimate the impact of that community on Lincoln.
- Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason, David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften (2010-first paperback printing 2015)-A look at the impact of Lincoln’s study of Euclid on the way he thought. Go here to read a post I wrote back in 2012 on that subject.
- The Annotated Lincoln, edited by Harold Holzer and Thomas A. Horrocks (2016)-A 604 page look at most of the major writings of Lincoln and a representative sample of his correspondence. The clarity, and logical precision, of Lincoln’s mind shines through in his writings. When one considers the meager education that Lincoln had, viewing his body of work makes one weep for the output of most modern politicians, albeit one can rarely be certain what is written by any modern politician after they attain office, and what is the product of the minds of staffers. O tempora, O mores!
One of the great tragedies of American history is that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated before he could implement his post war reconstruction policy. In a letter in January 1864 to Major General James Wadsworth, a wealthy New York politician and philanthropist who helped found the Free Soil Party, Lincoln set forth his basic policy:
You desire to know, in the event of our complete success in the field, the same being followed by a loyal and cheerful submission on the part of the South, if universal amnesty should not be accompanied with universal suffrage.
Now, since you know my private inclinations as to what terms should be granted to the South in the contingency mentioned, I will here add, that if our success should thus be realized, followed by such desired results, I cannot see, if universal amnesty is granted, how, under the circumstances, I can avoid exacting in return universal suffrage, or, at least, suffrage on the basis of intelligence and military service.
How to better the condition of the colored race has long been a study which has attracted my serious and careful attention; hence I think I am clear and decided as to what course I shall pursue in the premises, regarding it a religious duty, as the nation’s guardian of these people, who have so heroically vindicated their manhood on the battle-field, where, in assisting to save the life of the Republic, they have demonstrated in blood their right to the ballot, which is but the humane protection of the flag they have so fearlessly defended.The restoration of the Rebel States to the Union must rest upon the principle of civil and political equality of the both races; and it must be sealed by general amnesty. Continue reading
All of his life Abraham Lincoln enjoyed poetry and would occasionally compose poetry. In the fall of 1844 he was campaigning for Henry Clay in Clay’s unsuccessful run for the Presidency in southern Indiana and visited the region where he lived as a boy. He told a friend that the terrain was the most unpoetic imaginable, but moved by nostalgia he set pen to paper:
My childhood’s home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it too.
O Memory! thou midway world
‘Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise,
And, freed from all that’s earthly vile,
Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
All bathed in liquid light.
As dusky mountains please the eye
When twilight chases day;
As bugle-tones that, passing by,
In distance die away;
As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar–
So memory will hallow all
We’ve known, but know no more.
Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmates loved so well.
Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
The lost and absent brings.
The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
And half of all are dead.
I hear the loved survivors tell
How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell,
And every spot a grave.
I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I’m living in the tombs. Continue reading
“You are the only man of all men that I would wish to surpass me in all things.”
Saint Augustine in a letter to his son Adeodatus who died at age 19.
The Better Angels (2014) is one of the most beautiful films I have even seen. My review is below the fold and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full force. Continue reading
I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.
Running down the origin of this quote was a lot of fun. It sounded like something that Abraham Lincoln would have said, but I had difficulty finding a source for it. It is cited all over the internet, but no reference is given other than a speech in 1865, and such a lack of citation is often the sign of a spurious quote. After some searching I found it. It is sourced in a conversation that Joseph Gillespie had with Abraham Lincoln. Gillespie was a fellow member with Lincoln of the Illinois General Assembly. With Lincoln he helped found the Republican party in Illinois. Elected a circuit court judge in 1861, he helped set up the Illinois Appellate Court.
During a visit to Washington in Spring of 1864, Gillespie met with Lincoln and, among other subjects they discussed, Lincoln mentioned the problem of captured paroled Confederate troops who were found in arms before they had properly been exchanged:
These men are liable to be put to death when recaptured for breach of parole. If we do not do something of that sort, this outrage will be repeated on every occasion…It is indeed a serious question, and I have been more sorely tried by it than any other that has occurred during the war. It will be an act of great injustice to our soldiers to allow the paroled rebels to be put into the field without exchange. Such a practice would demoralize almost any army in the world if played off upon them. It would be nearly impossible to induce them to spare the lives of prisoners they might capture. On the other hand, these men were no doubt told by their superiors that they had been exchanged and it would be hard to put them to death under any circumstances. On the whole, my impression is that mercy bears richer fruits than any other attribute. Continue reading
Recently at a library book sale I purchased two volumes Lincoln 1840-1846 (1939) and Lincoln 1809-1839 (1941). Both volumes were written by Harry E. Pratt and published by the Abraham Lincoln Association of Springfield, Illinois. These two volumes attempted to relate the events of Lincoln’s life day by day. They joined two earlier volumes that accomplished the same task for the years 1847-1861.
The Abraham Lincoln Association still exists. Go here to view their website. The Association did pioneer work in the last century in studies about the Sixteenth President, particularly in assembling documents written by Lincoln and publishing them. The publication of the eight volume work of the writings of Lincoln bankrupted the Association for a time.
The volumes about the day to day activities of Lincoln often focused upon legal documents filed with courts by Lincoln, and proved an effective weapon against the cottage industry of the forging of Lincoln legal documents. I find the volumes make fascinating reading, perhaps because I am not only a Lincoln student, but also a lawyer. I have nothing but admiration for the hard work that went into compiling them and everyone who studies Lincoln is in the debt of Mr. Pratt and the two other authors of the series. Continue reading
Wonder how Jefferson Davis
Feels, down there in Montgomery, about Sumter.
He must be thinking pretty hard and fast,
For he’s an able man, no doubt of that.
We were born less than forty miles apart,
Less than a year apart–he got the start
Of me in age, and raising too, I guess,
In fact, from all you hear about the man,
If you set out to pick one of us two
For President, by birth and folks and schooling,
General raising, training up in office,
I guess you’d pick him, nine times out of ten
And yet, somehow, I’ve got to last him out.
These thoughts passed through the mind in a moment’s flash,
Then that mind turned to business.
It was the calling
Of seventy-five thousand volunteers.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
Commenter Greg Mockeridge asked my recommendation for a Lincoln biography. The above video shows the Lincoln tower of books, a 34 foot tower of books about Lincoln located at the Ford’s Theater Center for Education and Lincoln. The tower includes books about Lincoln as of 2011. The number of books written about Lincoln are estimated to be approximately 16,000. No one of course has read all of these books, nor should they. Life is too short for such monomania, and in any case most of the books would be greatly repetitious and many of them mere hack work of little intrinsic value. Here are the books I recommended:
1. Carl Sandburg-Poor scholarship even when it was written back in the forties, it is a magnificent oil painting of a biography that gets to the essence of Lincoln, while lacking the accurate detail of a photograph.
2. Michael Burlingame’s recent massive two volume bio is great for looking at the more recent Lincoln scholarship.
3. T. Harry Williams’ Lincoln and His Generals still remains, after more than six decades, the best look at Lincoln as commander in chief.
4. James G. Randall’s Lincoln the President is an exhaustive look at Lincoln as President, from an interesting standpoint: an admirer of Lincoln who also thought the Civil War was unnecessary. Scholarship was superb, albeit dated after six decades.
5. Allen Guelzo’s Redeemer President views Lincoln as a thinker, a surprisingly overlooked aspect of Lincoln as he first and foremost was a man of ideas. Lincoln had the ability of taking abstract and complicated concepts, stripping them down, and presenting them in his writing and speaking in a straightforward manner. He makes it all look easy, which perhaps detracts from what a powerful mind he possessed.
6. Stephen Mansfield’s Lincoln’s Battle With God is the best book on Lincoln in years. First rate scholarship directed at Lincoln’s religious views, a perennial subject of vitriolic debate in Lincoln Studies. Mansfield details the difficulties of making iron clad assertions about Lincoln on many topics because Lincoln often kept his cards tucked against his vest, and contemporary accounts by people who knew Lincoln often disagree about the most basic items.
7. Stephen B. Oates’ With Malice Towards None, stands out as perhaps the best one volume bio of Lincoln. Continue reading
Hattip for the above video to commenter Greg Mockeridge.
I have never liked Presidents’ Day. Why celebrate loser presidents like Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, non-entities like Millard Fillmore, bad presidents, like Grant, with great presidents like Washington and Lincoln? However, most presidents, for good and ill, have shaped the story of America.
To say that presidents have had a large impact on our history is to merely recite a truism. Presidential assassins, regrettably, have also had a large impact on our history.
On this President’s day we will look at the murderer of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth. The rest of the week we will look at other successful assasins of presidents.
On July 4, 1835 Junius Brutus Booth, founder of the Booth theatrical family, sat down and penned a letter to President Andrew Jackson. Booth and Jackson knew each other and were friends, which makes the letter quite odd indeed. The text of the letter:
To His Excellency, General Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, Washington City,
You damn’d old Scoundrel if you don’t sign the pardon of your fellow men now under sentence of Death, De Ruiz and De Soto, I will cut your throat whilst you are sleeping. I wrote to you repeated Cautions so look out or damn you. I’ll have you burnt at the Stake in the City of Washington.
Your Master, Junius Brutus Booth.
You know me! Look out!
Booth was one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of his day, and he often gave unforgettable performances. However, he was often noted for his off stage escapades, usually fueled by copious amounts of alcohol. I have little doubt that when he penned this missive Booth was quite drunk. De Ruiz and De Soto had been convicted of piracy. Many Americans had asked for clemency for the men. De Soto did receive a Presidential pardon on July 6, 1835 after an interview with De Soto’s wife and defense attorney with Jackson. In 1832 De Soto had saved the lives of 70 Americans aboard the burning ship Minerva in 1831 and that made him a sympathetic figure to the American public and Jackson. De Ruiz and the other men convicted of piracy were hung. Go here for the details of the piracy trial.
And what happened to Booth? Nothing apparently. I assume that Jackson probably laughed off the letter, assuming that his friend was drunk when he wrote it, and in any case threatening to assassinate the president was not a crime in 1835. One fervently wishes that Booth’s son, John Wilkes Booth had merely written a letter threatening to assassinate Lincoln. Continue reading
Lincoln, six feet one in his stocking feet,
The lank man, knotty and tough as a hickory rail,
Whose hands were always too big for white-kid gloves’
Whose wit was a coonskin sack of dry, tall tales,
Whose weathered face was homely as a plowed field-
Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down
The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,
And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay
As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine
Plutarchan sentences carved in Latin bronze;
The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,
The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,
State-character but comparative failure at forty
In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,
Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,
Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,
And a self-confidence like an iron-bar:
This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,
Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches
Which make the monumental booming of Webster
Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
Today is the 207th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Faithful readers of this blog know that I am an admirer of our sixteenth president. My admiration is not a matter of mere historical antiquarianism. I believe that many of the issues of Lincoln’s day are with us in our time under different guises.
- Are all men created equal, or may we treat part of the “great family of man”, as Lincoln called humanity, as sub-humans, mere disposable property?
- Who should decide the great issues of our day: the Supreme Court or the voters at the ballot box?
- What are the proper roles of the state governments and the federal union?
- Does God punish nations for sins?
- Are the Founding Fathers merely men of the past, or did they establish a movement that we should adhere to today?
- What is the meaning of freedom?
- Is this nation worth dying and killing for?
- Should the Constitution be amended to address the problems confronting us today?
- Are their evils like slavery that must be confronted no matter what the cost?
- Is a Republic a viable form of government long term?
When pondering these issues, I think Lincoln has much to teach us. Continue reading
As we approach Lent in this Year of Mercy it is striking to me how most who call themselves Christians have lost any sense of sin. Christ seems to be perceived as a divine Pal, with a dog like eagerness to embrace us just the way we are. Such a deity would seem to resemble Barney the Dinosaur more than the God of the Bible. Forgotten is the need for sorrow for sins, repentance for sins and amendment of life. Our ancestors tended to think much differently. Consider Proclamation 97 of Abraham Lincoln calling for a national day of prayer and humiliation to pray for forgiveness of national sins. Here is the text of the proclamation:
By the President of the United States of America.
Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.
And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.
All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.