Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

 

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

 

 

MARCH 15, 1865

     EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON

     DEAR MR. WEED:

     Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech and on the recent inaugural address. I expect the latter to wear as well as–perhaps better than–anything I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. 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. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told, and, as whatever of humiliation there is in it falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.

          Truly yours,

                    A. Lincoln

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15 Comments

  1. Lincoln reportedly said to his friend Ward Lamon regarding the Gettysburg Address, “that speech won’t scour” , like a plow which won’t cut prairie sod. I’m glad to see he thought his Second Inaugural address “scoured”! I’ve always thought it to be the most moving piece of political literature in the English language.

  2. Mr. McClarey quotes President Lincoln:…”that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?…”
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    President Lincoln confused his own will for war with that of Our Lord’s.
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    Our Lord Jesus Christ manifested a better way than War to end slavery and honor the human dignity of all men when he taught us the Beatitudes:
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    “…1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
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    2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
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    3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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    4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
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    5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
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    6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
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    7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
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    8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
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    9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
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    10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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    11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
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    12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you…” Matthew 5: 1-12

  3. The Gettysburg Address usually gets more recognition, but this is undoubtedly his greatest piece of oratory, and probably the greatest speech delivered by any president.

  4. “President Lincoln confused his own will for war with that of Our Lord’s.”

    Rubbish. Most Americans at the time viewed the War as punishment by God upon America. Robert E. Lee thought it was punishment for national sins. Grant suspected that it was because of the Mexican War. Lincoln was far from alone, North and South, in seeing the hand of God in the great conflict that engulfed the nation. It was daring of Lincoln to ascribe blame to both North and South for slavery, and that they both merited the punishment of the scourge of war.

    The Old Testament of course is filled with calamities sent by God in punishment for sins. Nothing said by Christ negates any of that, and He himself noted that there would always be wars and rumors of war.

  5. “It is to the credit of the American nation, however, that after conquering Mexico, and while practically holding the country in our possession, so that we could have retained the whole of it, or made any terms we chose, we paid a round sum for the additional territory taken; more than it was worth, or was likely to be, to Mexico. To us it was an empire and of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other means. The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”

    Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

  6. Mr. McClarey opines: “…Most Americans at the time viewed the War as punishment by God upon America…”
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    The Civil War was an offensive and voluntary engagement which need not ever have been commenced and which could have been stopped at any moment by order of President Lincoln. This hardly constitutes a “punishment by God upon America”. There were better ways to address the odious institution of slavery.
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    God blesses the peacemakers (see the Beatitudes Matthew 5:9)

  7. “The Civil War was an offensive and voluntary engagement which need not ever have been commenced and which could have been stopped at any moment by order of President Lincoln.”

    Sure, all he had to do was betray his Presidential oath and allow the nation to be rent asunder and, after the Emancipation Proclamation, to selling out the freedom of the slaves, assuming, which was unlikely, that Congress and the population of the North would have agreed to such a change in policy. As Lincoln said at the time, if he had done this he would have been damned in time and eternity. Your neo-Confederate maunderings slainte are getting old. You might wish to recite them at other venues.

  8. Mr. McClarey, I have no allegiance whatsoever to the South or any neo-Confederate set of principles.
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    My observations are based exclusively on my understanding of my faith as an American Catholic and its mandate to pursue truth wherever it may lead.
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    I will honor your request that I not post my observations in connection with Civil War matters.

  9. The whole nation was very religious I think. I am sure people resorted to the consolations and exhortations of the beatitudes as they considered the morality of the war … I don’t know much about the war but the south shot first and conscripted first. I can’t blame Lincoln for the civil war.

  10. Slainte wrote “Lincoln confused his own will for war with that of Our Lord’s. . Our Lord Jesus Christ manifested a better way than War to end slavery and honor the human dignity of all men when he taught us the Beatitudes”

    Perhaps you don’t know that by the time of the Civil War southern attitudes toward slavery had so degraded from the shame about it that affected the founders so much that they had to reference it only in euphemisms in the constitution. But at the time of the Civil War, it was being touted by southern Christian theologians like James Henly Thornwell and Dr. Fred A. Ross as being “ordained by God” and a positive good. They also defended enslavement of blacks using the Bible. Ross writes “The precepts in Colossians 4 and 1 Timothy 6 and other places, show, unanswerably, that God has really sanctioned the relation of master and slave as those of husband and wife, and parent and child.” He also wrote “These two theories of Right and Wrong-these two ideas of human liberty-the right, in the nature of things, or the right as made by God-the liberty of the individual man, of Atheism, of Red Republicanism, of the Devil- or the liberty of man, in the family, in the State, the liberty from God-these tow theories now make the conflict of the world. This anti-slavery battle is only part of the great struggle: God will be victorious-and we, in his might” (Ross, “Slavery Ordained of God” p.52)

  11. “by the time of the Civil War southern attitudes toward slavery had so degraded from the shame about it that affected the founders so much that they had to reference it only in euphemisms in the constitution. But at the time of the Civil War, it was being touted by southern Christian theologians like James Henly Thornwell and Dr. Fred A. Ross as being “ordained by God” and a positive good.”

    The hardening of Southern opinion regarding slavery in the early to mid 19th century seems to have followed a very similar trajectory to the hardening of Democratic/liberal opinion on abortion in the late 20th and 21st centuries. The growth of the cotton industry (made possible by the invention of the cotton gin) and the increasing dependence of the Southern economy on slavery made Southerners less and less willing to give it up.

    In 1776, slaveowning Southerners still by and large saw slavery as a “necessary evil” that was regrettable and could hopefully be eliminated someday, just not right now. By 1820 that had shifted to “Slavery is here to stay and the South isn’t giving it up, but we will try to keep it confined to the South” (Missouri Compromise). By 1850, opinion had shifted even further to compelling the federal government and the people of free states to cooperate in the return of escaped slaves (Compromise of 1850, Fugitive Slave Act). This was the era when Southerners began really aggressively defending slavery as a positive good.

    The same thing is happening right now with the rise of political movements and candidates who actively defend abortion as a positive good and reject even the slightest regulation of the practice; compare that to the Planned Parenthood literature of 50 years ago (1963) which acknowledged that “an abortion kills the life of a baby”.

  12. Sadly consistent with that analogy is this: Democrats today will no more give up abortion without civil war than they gave up slavery without civil war in the 19th century. Pray that history does NOT repeat itself.

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