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HOME > Short Stories > The Soul of Abraham Lincoln > CHAPTER XIX FROM THE HOUSETOPS AND IN THE CLOSET
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 This part of our inquiry draws near its close. We have reserved for this chapter a selection from those religious expressions of Abraham Lincoln which belong to his mature years, and which are indisputably his. They are largely in addresses, proclamations, and official documents. In them religion is, as a rule, an incidental subject. But it finds frequent expression. Here no literary criticism is necessary, for there is no question about the accuracy of the report. We shall quote nothing that is not contained in an accredited compilation of Lincoln's papers or addresses, omitting all that is disputable or open to the suspicion of glossation or coloring or exaggeration.
There is only one question, Was Abraham Lincoln sincere in these utterances? Did he speak them as his own profound convictions, or because he was expected to say something of this sort, and took refuge in pious commonplaces? Both statements have been made concerning these and like utterances. Let us read them with an open mind and discover what evidence they bear of their own sincerity.
These are not reports of private conversations, or utterances addressed to small groups. These are the words which Lincoln uttered in the ears of all men; and they afford some evidence of the faith that was in him.
In Lincoln's first annual Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, dated October 3, 1863, after reciting the blessings of God to the nation in the harvest and in the success of our arms, he said:
[Pg 211]
"No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
"It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union."
In the summer of 1864, a resolution was adopted concurrently by the Senate and House of Representatives, requesting the President to appoint a day of prayer, Mr. Lincoln issued the following proclamation, July 7, 1864, in which, after quoting the words of the resolution, he continued:
"Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, cordially concurring with the Congress of the United States in the penitential and pious sentiments expressed in the aforesaid resolutions, and heartily approving of the devotional design and purpose thereof, do hereby appoint the first Thursday of August next to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of national humiliation and prayer.
"I do hereby further invite and request the heads of the executive departments of this government, together with[Pg 212] all legislators, all judges and magistrates, and all other persons exercising authority in the land, whether civil, military, or naval, and all soldiers, seamen, and marines in the national service and all the other loyal and law-abiding people of the United States, to assemble in their preferred places of public worship on that day, and there and then to render to the Almighty and merciful Ruler of the Universe such homages and such confessions, and to offer to Him such supplications, as the Congress of the United States have, in their aforesaid resolution, so solemnly, so earnestly, and so reverently recommended."
Mr. Lincoln issued another special thanksgiving proclamation on May 9, 1864, saying:
"Enough is known of army operations within the last five days to claim an especial gratitude to God, while what remains undone demands our most sincere prayers to, and reliance upon, Him without whom all human effort is vain. I recommend that all patriots, at their homes, in their places of public worship, and wherever they may be, unite in common thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God."
In a response to a serenade at the White House, on May 9, 1864, following the Battle of the Wilderness, Mr. Lincoln said:
"While we are grateful to all the brave men and officers for the events of the past few days, we should, above all, be very grateful to Almighty God, who gives us victory."
May 18, 1864, in a letter of reply to a deputation of ministers who presented to him resolutions adopted by the Methodist General Conference, he said, "God bless the Methodist Church—bless all the churches—and blessed be God, who, in this our great trial giveth us the churches."
In a letter to a committee consisting of the Rev. Dr. Ide, Honorable J. R. Doolittle, and Honorable A. Hubbell, May 30, 1864, Mr. Lincoln says:
[Pg 213]
"In response to the preamble and resolutions of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, which you did me the honor to present, I can only thank you for thus adding to the effective and almost unanimous support which the Christian communities are so zealously giving to the country, and to liberty. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive how it could be otherwise with anyone professing Christianity, or even having ordinary perceptions of right and wrong. To read the Bible, as the word of God Himself, that 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,' and to preach therefrom that, 'In the sweat of other men's faces shalt thou eat bread,' to my mind can scarcely be reconciled with honest sincerity. When brought to my final reckoning may I have to answer for robbing no man of his goods; yet more tolerable even this, than for robbing one of himself and all that was his. When, a year or two ago, those professedly holy men of the South met in the semblance of prayer and devotion, and, in the name of Him who said, 'As ye would all men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them,' appealed to the Christian world to aid them in doing to a whole race of men as they would have no man do unto themselves, to my thinking they contemned and insulted God and His church far more than did Satan when he tempted the Saviour with the kingdoms of earth. The devil's attempt was no more false, and far less hypocritical. But let me forbear, remembering it is also written, 'Judge not, lest ye be judged.'"
On December 7, 1863, in making announcement of union success in East Tennessee, he closed as follows: "I recommend that all loyal people do, on receipt of this information, assemble at their places of worship and render special homage and gratitude to Almighty God for His great advancement of the national cause."
His Third Annual Message to Congress, December 8, 1863, began: "Another year of health, and of sufficiently abundant harvests, has passed. For these, and especially for the improved condition of our national affairs, our renewed and profoundest gratitude to God is due."
[Pg 214]
After the capture of Mobile and Atlanta, on September 3, 1864, Mr. Lincoln issued his fourth special thanksgiving proclamation, calling on all people to offer thanksgiving to God "for His mercy in preserving our national existence"; and also "that prayer be made for divine protection to our soldiers and their leaders in the field, who have so often and so gallantly periled their lives in battling with the enemy; and for blessings and comforts from the Father of Mercies to the sick, wounded, and prisoners, and to the orphans and widows of those who have fallen in the service of their country, and that He will continue to uphold the Government of the United States against all the effects of public enemies and secret foes."
He issued a proclamation calling for thanksgiving for victories, July 15, 1863:
"It has pleased Almighty God to hearken to the supplication and prayers of an afflicted people, and to vouchsafe to the army and navy of the United States victories on land and on sea so signal and so effective as to furnish reasonable grounds for augmented confidence that the union of these States will be maintained, their Constitution preserved, and their peace and prosperity permanently restored. But these victories have been accorded not without sacrifice of life, limb, health, and liberty, incurred by brave, loyal, and patriotic citizens. Domestic affliction in every part of the country follows in the train of these fearful bereavements. It is meet and right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father and the power of His hand equally in these triumphs and in these sorrows.
"Now, therefore, be it known that I do set apart Thursday, the 6th day of August next, to be observed as a day of national thanksgiving, praise, and prayer, and I invite the people of the United States to assemble on that occasion in their customary places of worship, and, in the forms approved by their own consciences, render the homage due to the Divine Majesty for the wonderful things He has done in the nation's behalf, and invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit to subdue[Pg 215] the anger which has produced and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion, to change the hearts of the insurgents, to guide the counsels of the government with wisdom adequate to so great a national emergency, and to visit with tender care and consolation throughout the length and breadth of our land all those who, through the vicissitudes of marches, voyages, battles, and sieges, have been brought to suffer in mind, body, or estate, and finally to lead the whole nation through the paths of repentance and submission to the Divine Will back to the perfect enjoyment of union and fraternal peace."
On March 30, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation appointing another national fast-day. It reads as follows:
"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 subject to punishments and chastisements in this world, and 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 ............
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