Just as the country marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, a long-lost letter has surfaced that describes President Abraham Lincoln’s belief in God.
The Raab Collection of Philadelphia plans to sell a recently discovered letter written in 1866 by William Herndon, a Springfield, Ill., lawyer and Lincoln confidant.
“Mr. Lincoln’s religion is too well known to me to allow of even a shadow of a doubt; he is or was a Theist & a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary — supernatural inspiration or revelation,” wrote Herndon of the nation’s 16th president.
“At one time in his life, to say the least, he was an elevated Pantheist, doubting the immortality of the soul as the Christian world understands that term. He believed that the soul lost its identity and was immortal as a force. Subsequent to this he rose to the belief of a God.”
The collection estimates the letter is worth $35,000.
Lincoln’s faith has long been an elusive topic for historians. He was never baptized, did not join a church and usually did not discuss his beliefs.
“In rare instances, he divulged his true feelings to one close friend, longtime confidant and law partner, William Herndon,” said Nathan Raab, vice president of the Raab Collection. “He did believe in God, however difficult it might be to easily define those beliefs.”
You can surf around the Raab web site which has some incredible displays of historical documents here. They are in a small Flash presentation – letters and documents from that cruel two faced bastard Andrew Jackson, some from George Washington, some other letters from and to Lincoln and quite a few other notable figures of US history. They recently auctioned off a letter written by Susan B. Anthony that was unique for its tone. She was unusually calm and deliberative in her writings and this one was noted for protestations against women being treated like property. There is a full screen option. Highly recommended to get a good look. The Lincoln letter mentioned in the recent news release was previously discovered, but apparently something happened to bring it back to the historical documents market. Lincoln’s religious beliefs were complicated. It is known that Mary Todd held seances in the White House after the death of their son Thomas. An easy to read introduction into several historical takes on Lincoln here, Lincoln’s Religious Quest – Why his faith won’t suit either side in the culture wars.
The president’s observation in an 1864 letter that “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me”—a secular-sounding reflection avidly cited by historians over many generations—is followed immediately by the less often quoted comment that “God alone can claim” responsibility for “the nation’s condition.” God seemed to have willed both “the removal of a great wrong” and the punishment of both North and South “for our complicity in that wrong.” If so, future “impartial history” would see in such judgment “new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.” Carwardine’s succinct, elegant prose—he proves himself a master of concision—gives us a clear picture of Lincoln’s piety in relation to the politics of emancipation. For all his long-standing dismissals of the sectarian moral purity of the religious abolitionists, the president’s eventual conclusion that God himself counted as an abolitionist shows how profoundly the religious presuppositions of the anti-slavery movement had seeped into Lincoln’s consciousness.
Thanks to Carwardine and Guelzo we can see that Lincoln, by the end of his life, had inverted Thomas Jefferson on the subject of religion. The third president, the great exponent of Enlightenment, had tried to banish mystery from religion while preserving a privileged place for Jesus as the greatest ethical teacher of all time. For his part, the 16th president dropped Jesus by the wayside while rekindling awareness of the unfathomable mysteries of religion.
The culture wars aside public figures can get away with a lot if the public likes them. Especially in historic terms, the public likes Lincoln. In many cases projecting qualities into him, which have more to do with the observer than Lincoln. Considering that he was not especially dogmatic or practiced any formal dogma per a particular denomination, were he a modern politician he could probably get by quite well. His speeches could easily, they were and are, filtered by every listener to conform to what makes the listener happy. Considering the man’s intellect and understanding of the public, it is very likely he intentionally and intuitively crafted them that way.
Abraham Lincoln at Antietam During Civil War. “President Abraham Lincoln with General George B. McClellan at his headquarters at Antietam, October 3, 1862. From left: General George W. Morell, Colonel Alexander S. Webb, General McClellan, scout Adams, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, unidentified officer, President Lincoln, Colonel Henry Hunt, General Fitz, John Porter, unidentified officer. October 3, 1862”
Alex Pareene takes one of the net’s oldest wing-nut sites to the wood shed, The biggest, dumbest wingnut site on the Web – And boy, WorldNetDaily sure is upset at us. Just one short clip,
Here is a story from WorldNetDaily: “Soy is making kids ‘gay.'” It is in six parts. The original headline was “A devil food is turning our kids into homosexuals.” WorldNetDaily demands your respect! It is a serious news organization!
Pareene uses actual facts in his column. World Nut Daily’s staff and readers have special tin-foil that protects them from such high caliber ammo.