The War-Time Lincoln and the Ironic Tradition in America

In commemoration of the Gettysburg address and the presidency of Lincoln, this 2000 lecture applies some Niebuhrian perspectives on historical irony to the contemporary scene.

Military historians write about the military; economic historians about economics; social historians about social affairs; labor historians about labor; religious historians about religion. Being in the company of historians who speak and write about religion, it is natural for me to focus this year’s Fortenbaugh Lecture on that subject and to set out to convince an audience and a readership that the religious dimension has something to do with the way they might think about Gettysburg, Lincoln, the Civil War, and civil life in general.

Aware that not everyone will bring curiosity or passion to the concentration on the “faith-based” dimension of national life, I should spend a moment justifying it just enough to help make the agenda credible. A colleague who once appeared on a television program was labeled on screen “James Gustafson. Theologian.” The program opened with the host turning to the professor and barking: “So you’re a theologian. Say something theological.” Our program could begin: “So you’re a religious historian. Say something religious.”

It is hard for a theologian or scholar of religion to say much at all without a text, a word of scripture. In the case of Abraham Lincoln in his final years, and with what I shall call “the ironic perspective” in mind, I would draw upon a text that to my knowledge he never used, Psalm 2:4. It speaks of what happens when “the rulers” of the earth over-reach. In the King James Version we read of the heavenly response to arrogance and extravagant self-assurance:

“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision.”

A contemporary reading has it:

“The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord derides them.”

In World War I some waggish poet was sarcastic about the way rulers, armies, and prayerful people forgot about this aspect of deity:

“Gott strafe England” and “God save the King,”

“God this, God that, and God the other thing.”

“Good God, said God, I’ve got my work cut out for me.”

Of course, texts get twisted, paraphrased, and recast as interpreters put them to work. In Lincoln’s case, I will argue, the laughing, derisive God of rulers turns into the mysterious Almighty who has his own purposes, directed to all parties and peoples. That puts under judgment “the rulers,” in this case those who lead the prosecution of the war and those who follow them, when they make extravagant claims of identification with this Almighty. At the same time they can quite possibly be treated with mercy, even as their “sides” in the war, as Lincoln calls them, are, called at the end, to treat each other with mercy.

Treating Lincoln as a Religious Thinker

One problem for the religious historian who speaks to and writes for a general audience, which in the United States means for a diverse or pluralist company, is that its members are free to be and obviously are of many faiths and in some cases of no faith. Most of them do their thinking about and transacting with “the Almighty” not through the experience of the nation and its presidents but through particular communities called churches, synagogues, mosques, and movements, or entirely on their own. Why and how, then, treat Lincoln the president and commander-in-chief as a religious thinker who has something relevant to say about God?

Answers to those questions can be simple: one treats Lincoln that way because he invites such an interpretation. Indeed we have shelves full of books and articles on Abraham Lincoln as religious leader. Some authors call him the theologian of the American experience. He presided over the nation, the Union as he called it, in its most crucial hour and left a legacy of thought and action that merits, even demands, pondering by those who take the man and the hour seriously.

A word about Lincoln as theologian. In the present context I would define theology as the interpretation of the life of a people in the light of a transcendent reference, which means, in most religions, in the light of God. The theologian is not or at least is not by vocation a mystic, someone who must have a direct experience of God. She is also not necessarily a philosopher, who can have ideas about deity apart from a communal context. The theologian has nothing to talk about unless some responsive community provides language and action that is subject to interpretation. While we are accustomed to thinking of such a community as being Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, or whatever, in the case of Lincoln it is the Union, the nation itself, that provides the community whose language about God the theologian interprets.

Not only believers in conventional religion feel the weight of such interpretations. Some interpreters may be situated in such a way that their language inspires holy war against others, or it may help produce peace among nations, parties, and sides. What Lincoln as theologian of the American experience thought, colored his actions, had a bearing on how the war was fought and understood, and how peace was to be pursued. His outlook has also become a standard by which many historian, theologian, and public philosophers measure the activities and expressions of other presidents.

Ironies in Lincoln Acts and Interpretations

Abraham Lincoln is the only president never to have joined a church. His views of God are problematic to the orthodox, ambiguous to the dogmatic, frustrating to the cocksure, and in the eyes of historians of rhetoric, seen to be developing in the light of circumstances and experiences. Born into a Calvinist tradition on the frontier, he was well read in skeptical Enlightenment-era thought. When as a young man he voiced radical :opinions, some friends and political foes alike branded him, at least at one stage, an “infidel.” He would make an idiosyncratic entry in any encyclopedia of a religion such as Christianity. But he did so much and said so much about transactions with the Almighty that he leaves us with a complex of possibilities. The one I have chosen to pursue is implied in my title: Abraham Lincoln and the ironic perspective. This means that we shall see him as an ironist in his expressions about God and the people, and as someone subject himself to ironic interpretation.

In respect to the instances in which Lincoln himself is attractive to ironists, his career as it led to the presidency and then to war-time leadership is suggestive. These instances appear at those moments leading up to and during the earlier stages of the war when Lincoln came close to identifying the cause of preserving the Union with the cause of God. In such moments he set himself up for ironic interpretations, when outcomes of his hopes, planning, and claims did not match expectations. We are to conceive the Almighty at such times being heard as the laughing God of Psalm 2:4.

At the same time, he could turn his ironic eye on those who lost perspective entirely, particularly various earnest and pretentious churchly delegations who were sure of God’s will and way for the Union and its armies. At such moments he reflected on the vast distance between human discernments or advertisements and the will of God. Lincoln then spoke of the risks of arrogating to one’s self the claims that God was on a particular side. He implied that there was danger that such claims would lead such a side to experience pathetic or tragic outcomes. Especially near his end, after many military setbacks, constant administrative frustrations, devastating personal agonies, and a prolonged war, Lincoln chose patterns of discourse that, while still using God-language, served to caution the unguarded and to protect himself from being an ironic victim.

This was not so much the case, in the earlier years, as we noted. Back in 1860 both the South, which hoped that slavery might become national, and the North, which feared this, engaged in controversy over who was the more just, the more right, the more righteous, the more God-possessed and possessive of God. In both Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech of 1858 and the “Cooper Union” speech of 1860, while being generous with and gentle to the South, he identified his North’s cause with righteousness and that of the other side simply with sin. He used explicitly religious language. In this context, before he became president and as a partisan, Lincoln had identified the Republican Party cause itself with God’s will and could even use the language of “God is with us.” Only later did he caution himself against any such identification.

In the Cooper Union speech in February of the year of his nomination, as he attacked slavery and identified the anti-slavery aspects of the Northern cause with the will of God, he allowed for few qualifications of the righteous claim. “LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.” {1} The post-Emancipation celebrators would applaud Lincoln for his attack on slavery as sin and unrighteousness. In his time the abolitionists and now modem civil rights-oriented historians and critics faulted and fault him for faint-heartedness, tardiness, and timidity as he slowly worked out the implications of this position. Yet the expression I have just quoted and others of the “right makes might” sort did set Lincoln up for ironic interpretations.

Some of this language of identification lasted as late as May 30, 1864, when he wrote a letter to a committee that represented the Baptist Home Mission Society’s resolutions to him in respect to slavery and Emancipation. Just before new military disasters were to follow, he thanked the Society for “adding to the effective and almost unanimous support which the Christian communities are zealously giving to the country, and to liberty.” So far, so good. But he went on, “Indeed it is difficult to conceive how it could be otherwise with any one professing Christianity, or even having ordinary perceptions of right and wrong.”{2}

Of course, clergy in the South were claiming the same quality of biblical warrants for their pro-slavery, pro-secession, pro-Confederacy causes, and Lincoln had to deride them for that. Only a year or two before, he wrote the Society:

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, and thus, 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 the earth. The devils [sic] attempt was no more false, and far less hypocritical.

Then, after having identified the South and its clergy with the satanic and the devilish, Lincoln qualified his point: “But let me forbear, remembering it is also written, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.'”{3} “Ironically,” he had just judged.

And Lincoln could set himself up for ironic interpretation when he acted against Union principles for the sake of Union survival. Keeping the Union together and strong meant, for Lincoln, that there dared be no threat from within. One of the dark marks on his record in the eyes of lovers of liberty then and now, an ironic display of a defect of the virtue, was his frequent suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in contested locales where secession threatened. In Septembers of 1862 and 1863 he went so far as to suspend the writ everywhere in his jurisdiction. The Union, not civil liberties, mattered supremely. Everything else was negotiable.

There were other issues with which the President had to contend while prosecuting the war, issues that subject him to ironic analysis. Thus unrest among Native Americans led to uprisings and executions, as in a notable case in Minnesota, about which the President learned in mid-October in 1862. He put a stop for a time to executions and admitted his ignorance in respect to Indian affairs, urging Native Americans to learn the arts of civilization, but not having a clear idea of what to do with or about these Indians. For once his ironic perspective was confused and even forgotten. Astoundingly, Lincoln could virtually write off as momentary the Civil War, the worst that the world had yet seen. In a phrase that allowed that while “we are now engaged in a great war between one another,” he showed that the Great Emancipator lost perspective: “We are not, as a race, so much disposed to fight and kill one another as our red brethren.”{4}

What is the Ironic Perspective?

I have been talking about the ironic perspective as if we all knew what it was and could agree on it. To go further without pausing to define what we mean would be irresponsible and confusing, especially since the version I am employing is from a particular interpretation, one choice among many. I shall use as an instrument a half-century old book. In The Irony of American History, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, usually thought of as the most influential and profound 20th century public philosopher in the religious field, concluded with six provocative if underdeveloped paragraphs on “our greatest President. . . . during our Civil War.”{5}

Niebuhr, like Lincoln, though of course against a less significant personal backdrop, also attracted response from people who did not share his faith. Some of them, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Hans Morgenthau in the lead, jocularly called themselves “atheists for Niebuhr.” Yet while they did not share Niebuhr’s faith in God, they were attracted to his thought, and within that to his ironic interpretations.

Why devote so much energy to irony? Only a few ironologists must wake up in the morning concerned to refine the topic and to relate it to figures like Lincoln. Not many visitors to the Gettysburg battlefield as they move daily among the monuments, study the terrain, or commemorate the Address on November 19 each year, are likely to be at all concerned with anything so apparently abstract and abstruse as a concept like irony. What is at stake will become more clear as we narrow the focus to a particular perspective.

First off, we can clear away nine-tenths of the debris that may surround the notion by pointing out that the kind of irony we will associate with the wartime President has little, almost nothing, to do with literary irony as opposed to what we will call historical irony. Some of Lincoln’s ironic comments in this mode did lead him to tell jokes in the face of somber conversation partners and impending tragedies. If he sometimes covered his depression or countered his critics by the use of such ironic humor, this did not always seem befitting to ideologues and those of unironic outlooks. Typical was the critique of Chicago’s prime Methodist minister, the Reverend Robert Collier: “Tale-telling and jesting illy suit the hour and become the man in whose hands the destiny of a great nation is trembling.” The pulpiteer added, “Earnestness, unmixed and terrible, is the demand alike of the crisis and the people.”{6}

Lincoln could not, would not oblige. “Earnest” he truly was. “Terrible” was his tenacity and firm purpose. But his perspective did not allow the President to be as sure of his posture as such critics wanted him to be. Somehow he did have to be a leader, using the ironic perspective but all the while bidding for “earnest” response from all who would save the Union. Abraham Lincoln throughout his life did use literary devices that fit into most classic molds of rhetorical irony. But they are subjects for other scholars on other days.

A second distinction, this one falling within the alternative category, historical irony, is that between the “irony of fate,” in which the main character is a victim, and what we might call “agential irony,” because in it the leading figure remains an agent.

In the first or fate-full case, as president and commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln would be seen undertaking actions that did not turn out the way he and supporters hoped they would, and this for a variety of reasons: accident, fate, the fates, the gods, God, or the circumstances, determined the whole situation including the outcome. In such a reading, the actor as victim could not or did not foresee the inescapable, the fateful result. Things simply were destined to eventuate out the way they did and the actor, in this case Abraham Lincoln, was nothing more than an interesting character on a stage that had been set and scripted by forces outside himself, forces that turned him into someone blinded or beguiled. There were many moments in the Civil War when Lincoln did seem to play the role just described and did appear to be a victim of fate, of events.

Sometimes Lincoln played along, virtually cast himself as a candidate for victimhood by stressing the accidental, mis-fitting character of his role, even though he had pursued leadership, including the presidency, with an ambition that impressed his colleagues and enemies. For all that “agential” activity, Lincoln became president, he was to say, “by a mere accident, and not through any merit of mine.” The important point at this moment is not to notice his self-professed humility but instead to remark on the fact that he granted much to contingency, to luck, be it good or bad. He said he had been “a mere instrument, an accidental instrument, perhaps I should say,” not an instrument of God–he did not arrogate that notion to himself–but to the great cause of the Union. Of course, there was some hazard in such an interpretation, as we have mentioned, because the Union often took the place of God-language in Lincoln’s assertions during the Civil War itself.{7}

Lincoln, as we shall see, on occasion spoke of Providence, which is what the non-evangelical American founders had done four score and seven years earlier, without in his case personally making faith commitments to the God of the Bible. The term Providence provided a verbal meeting place for Enlightened and Evangelical thinkers who dealt with statecraft, but they meant different things by it. Lincoln could cite Providence and still deride those who spoke of the “special interference of Providence”{8} and its over-identification with causes.

What was he taking from his reading of the Bible and religious texts? There are some clues that he was seeing reinforced those earlier-held views of Providence, shall we say Predestination, certainly Necessity. A letter to Albert G. Hodges, a Kentucky editor, made this clear. But Lincoln connected it with a view of his response: “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.” And “now, at the end of three years struggle the nation’s condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it.”{9}

President Lincoln could also on occasion mingle literary irony with irony of fate by using almost grotesque imagery to provide perspective. Representative Daniel Voorhees of Indiana heard questions in that mode from the president. “Doesn’t it seem strange to you that I should be here?” and “Doesn’t it strike you as queer that I, who couldn’t cut the head off of a chicken, and who was sick at the sight of blood, should be cast into the middle of a great war, with blood flowing all about me?”{10} None of these expressions illuminate the more consistent role of Lincoln as agent.

There is no succinct or agreed upon name for this situation comparable to the term “irony of fate.” One scholar and critic of Reinhold Niebuhr, Richard Reinitz, turned eponymous and called this version simply “Niebuhrian irony” or, he added “somewhat arbitrarily, humane irony.” Reinitz writes: “We perceive a human action as ironic, in the sense in which I shall use the term, when we see the consequences of that action as contrary to the original intention of the actor and can locate a significant part of the reason for the discrepancy in the actor himself or in his intention.”{11} [Italics mine.]

Reinitz also cites an attempt at definition of humane ironic perspective by Gene Wise: “An ironic situation occurs when the consequences of an act are diametrically are opposed to the original intention, and the fundamental cause of the disparity lies in the actor himself, and his original purposes.”{12} The moments that interest us here are those that show how Lincoln, when aware of possibly ironic outcomes, still had to act and therefore summoned others to act responsibly. But here is the important point: they could not, while acting, claim assured knowledge of the will of God as certifying their doings or the way they were doing them.

Niebuhr himself set up a framework for a fourfold ironic analysis, so applicable to Lincoln’s perspective, when he wrote about action and its consequences: “if virtue becomes vice through some hidden defect in the virtue; if strength becomes weakness because of the vanity to which strength may prompt the mighty man or nation; if security is transmuted into insecurity because too much reliance is placed upon it; if wisdom becomes folly because it does not know its own limits–in all such cases the situation is ironic.” The war years reveal numerous incidences of all four.{13} [Italics mine].

Lincoln, we will be contending, took actions but interpreted them, especially in his final years, in such a way that he could not so readily suffer derision from a laughing God, or from those who might hear the voice of such a God. Four-foldly, in the course of time, Lincoln pondered the defects in the Union virtue; the weakness that led the putatively superior Northern troops to be all but vanquished on numerous occasions through the first three years of the war; the insecurity in the situation and the bare survival of the Union, even though in 1861 the majority of its citizens had felt secure as they foresaw easy victory; the foolishness in the action of several generals and other leaders, including the president himself, as he came later to acknowledge.

Reinitz turns at once, as we shall, to Niebuhr’s illustration of the paradoxes and incongruities when their root causes are not so much in the hands of the fates as in those of responsible agents. You will be asked to keep these two distinctions in mind as we trace Lincoln’s rhetoric through the war years. Lincoln had had good reason to combine, at first, the claim of virtue (“RIGHT”) for the Northern cause with strength (“MIGHT”). Such picturing will, for example, call to mind the many early assessments of power with which the Union greeted hostilities in 1861, its white citizens outnumbering as it did the Confederacy by 20,000,000 to 5,000,000 in population and being an industrial power as the South was not. We should also keep in mind reportage on the moral posture with which the civilian and military leaders at first thought they were prosecuting the war.

Lincoln’s Ironic View of the Limits in Human Nature

In part Lincoln was able to come to such understandings because his view of human nature, as evidenced in the nation, was realistic. He so often spoke of “erring” as a disposition of humans. Thus, “we erring mortals.”{14} They in their causes and national life had a “worse” side, yet he was also hopeful–there were “better angels” in our nature. In other words, humans, in this case partisans in the Civil War, were called to act responsibly even if their actions could at times be vicious, weak, marked by insecurity and folly.

Lincoln, possessed with a righteous sense for the Union cause and his role in it had not originally been prepared to offer such a soft “better angels of our nature” interpretation in The First Inaugural Address, delivered March 4, 1861. It had to be moderated from a provocatively belligerent first draft upon the counsel of advisers. William H. Seward urged some “words of affection,” words that would offer the kind of sympathy called for among humane ironists.{15} Lincoln did borrow and paraphrase some of Seward’s suggestons as he revised the address. Thus, significantly, Seward had suggested reference to “the guardian angel of the nation.” Lincoln changed that and conferred angelic nobilty to one aspect of “our” nature on both sides as he tried to hold the Union together and prevent war. In other words, his views of contingency and human action dared not lead to self-abnegating pride or paralysis:

“I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies,” he continued. “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Lincoln may have brought views of human limitation, of what Calvinists would have called original sin, to his view of “us,” but there were also, contra such Calvinism, naturally some “better angels” in the human, the American citizen’s, makeup.{16}

Whatever were the mystic chords of memory or the better angels of our nature, forty-three days after the Inaugural Address, on April 12, the “erring” Confederate States of America fired on Fort Sumter. The Union garrison surrendered the next day, and those citizens who, Lincoln had said, “must not be enemies” now were at war. In the North many at first cheered that war had begun, so sure were they of their virtue, strength, security, and wisdom. They expected early victory, so conscious were they of their greater resources. Lincoln himself was hopeful but not extravagant in his vision; he did not so readily join those who foresaw easy and early victory. He was well aware of the South’s fighting capability and passion and of some limits in the northern side of those he called God’s “almost chosen people.”

By July 4 in the first year of the War, on Independence Day and the opening of an emergency session of the Congress, the President provided a rationale and set forth his planned course for his administration and the war. He dared not call the conflict a war between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America; it was to him a rebellion of individuals and interests. Nothing, he thought, dared detract from the notion that the Union was inviolable and permanent. Of course, he and the other Union leaders had to act as if they were prosecuting a war and not simply putting down a rebellion. Any other interpretation would have meant that soldiers on both sides would be arrested and executed as criminals instead of being imprisoned as prisoners of war.

If Lincoln might ever have been tempted to lose perspective on himself in wartime, there were plenty of fellow Northerners on his side or at his back to reduce him. After horrible news about the progress of the war came from Fredericksburg in 1862, as some members of Lincoln’s own cabinet were caucusing on December 18, he feared that “these men” “wish to get rid of me.” “We are now on the brink of destruction.” And then, in Job-like fashion he added: “It appears to me the Almighty is against us, and I can hardly see a ray of hope.”{17}

The frequently voiced and considerate judgment of many in Lincoln’s own party, as expressed by those long and more strongly pro-Emancipation at one extreme as well as those who disagreed with its rationale and timing on the other, was that Lincoln was, as David Herbert Donald catalogued their vituperations, incompetent, shattered, dazed, utterly foolish, self-destructive, usurping, worthy of court-martial, vacillating, weak, ignorant.{18} Lincoln was himself depressed, despondent, almost despairing. The worst came on May 6, when news of the drawn out battle at Chancellorsville reached him. He said to some guests: “My God! my God! What will the country say! What will the country say!”{19}

In 1864 Lincoln still reached back into the wells of despair, increasingly using a language of Providence, of Almighty purpose, and the recognition that the outcomes were not in his hands but in the Almighty’s. He was to have sleepless nights; he would make anguished outcries: “Why do we suffer reverses after reverses,” speaker Schuyler Colfax heard him exclaim. “Could we have avoided this terrible, bloody war!” and “Is it ever to end?”{20} Such depressed expressions, however, were not permitted long to last. Lincoln each time recovered enough again to show his belief in the cause and to profess that he was an instrument in furthering it. He must govern, must preside, must command–and did.

The ironic perspective is not the only one available in assessing Lincoln. Pathos and tragedy are also possibilities, but I do not think they apply as well in his case. Reinitz, Wise, of course Niebuhr, and now I, had or have to show at such a stage how this ironic reading differs from those two main alternatives.

Think of Abraham Lincoln as I quote Niebuhr on the distinctions among these tropes: “The ironic situation is distinguished from a pathetic one by the fact that the person involved bears some responsibility for it. It is differentiated from tragedy by the fact that the responsibility is related to an unconscious weakness rather than to a conscious resolution.”{21} [Italics mine.]

Pathetic people, Reinitz notes, do not act at all; they are victims, acted upon. Tragic people act heroically, but necessity and fate limit them. Lincoln in the decisive leadership roles and expressions that concern us was neither tragic nor pathetic. He acted, and while he considered the ways of the Almighty under whom he would see the Union and its forces to be mysterious, he did not see them as merely necessitarian or simply fate-full.

Hayden White, noting “victim irony,” sees that it leads to apathy and defeatism: “irony tends to dissolve all belief in the possibility of positive political actions” or, of course, military ones. Acting and speaking with the perspective of such irony would have led to disaster. As for those of us who apply a humane ironic perspective, a special critical sympathy is called for. Lincoln evidenced such as he viewed the devastations of war and the narrowness of victories. Niebuhr posed this well, and we can appropriately view Lincoln as embodying it: “The knowledge of [irony] depends upon an observer who is not so hostile to the victim of irony as to deny the element of virtue which must constitute a part of the ironic situation; nor yet so sympathetic as to discount the weakness, the vanity and pretension which constitute another element.”{22}

Irony, it is often said, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder and is not a natural or automatic property in situations or expressions. So what did Lincoln “see” and say in respect to the Union’s claimed virtue, strength, security, and wisdom and, paradoxically, as things turned out, also in its defects, weakness, insecurity, and folly, that helps us better understand him, the war, and the nation?

Why is all this important to note? It takes on life when we ask questions of leadership in times of crisis. Here the notion of “humane irony” or “agent’s irony” is important. You cannot long lead people into battle at risk and cost of life if, all too aware of the potentially paradoxical outcomes of action, you and they decide that mortals are fools, that others have a right to laugh at them, that everything has been tried and been found lacking. Irony does not carry people into sacrifice, into battle unto death.

The Niebuhrian and, more relevantly, the Lincolnian “humane” ironist, has to display a severe view of human limits but not a paralyzing one. For Niebuhr this meant invoking a Christian understanding of divine will and human limits. I would prefer to say that this relates to a biblical view–the Hebrew scriptures get invoked more than Christian New Testament–in which God, mysterious but capable of action and address, is the one agent. In Lincoln’s case, the human, national, and military drama is somehow played out, as he said in the Gettysburg Address “under God.”

The necessary corollary to this theistic potential was the realism about the human situation on which we have commented here at length. Niebuhr called it “original sin.” Lincoln did not need that word, though there was enough Calvinism in his youthful tutelage and formation that he was ready to speak and constantly spoke of human limitations that showed up as defects in virtue, weakness, insecurity, and folly. Yet these limits as mentioned, dare not be paralyzing. To escape paralysis, Niebuhr argued on biblical grounds, there had to be on the part of agents “an experience of repentance for the false meanings which the pride of nations and cultures introduces into the pattern of history.” {23}

One need not go so far as Niebuhr did in claiming that “Christian faith tends to make the ironic view of human evil in history the normative one”{24} –a very controversial and often criticized claim–to see that there are connections between Christian views of human limits and ironic perspectives on the human scene. Those for whom Christian, biblical, and theistic faith is out of the question have good reason to be motivated to understand why some of their leaders, including Lincoln, and some of their fellow citizens interpret action in history as some do.

Lincoln as president and commander-in-chief often acted in ways that showed an awareness of human limits but accompanied these with responsible action. Niebuhr put it this way: over all national exertions “we discern by faith the ironical laughter of the divine source and end of all things. ‘He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh'” (Psalm 2:4). This God laughs because ‘the people imagine a vain thing.'” The vain thing may be the claim that God being on their side renders them virtuous, strong, secure, and wise–until they meet military defeat and national disarray.

The scripture Niebuhr quoted and the scriptural motifs cited by Lincoln are emphatic about the understanding that God’s laughter can be derisive, containing the sting of judgment upon our vanities. But in this humane understanding and in the context of human repentance, Niebuhr said and Lincoln reflected, “if the laughter is truly ironic it must symbolize mercy as well as judgment. For whenever judgment defines the limits of human striving it creates the possibility of an humble acceptance of those limits. Within that humility mercy and peace find a lodging place.”{25} We will later find all this unfolding supremely in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

Niebuhr sees a consistently ironic outlook to be “achieved on the basis of the belief that the whole drama of human history is under the scrutiny of a divine judge who laughs at human pretensions without being hostile to human aspirations. The laughter at the pretensions is the divine judgment. The judgment is transmuted into mercy if it results in abating the pretensions and in prompting men to a contrite recognition of the vanity of their imagination”{26} This again is an understanding expressed in the Second Inaugural Address.

Lincoln’s Need for a Corollary View of a Mysterious Almighty

If Lincoln was anything but a conventional life-long Calvinist believer in original sin, we have also seen that he was anything but a conventional believer in “the Almighty.” Yet as he prosecuted the war and served as Chief Executive, to advance his perspective he somehow needed “God,” but God viewed in a particular way. Over-against all those ungifted with an ironic perspective, Lincoln’s God had to have a “mysterious” will; we cannot stress that enough. If that will were patent and easy to lay bare, there would reason for God’s people on both sides in the war to be anything but virtuous, strong, secure, and wise.

Mysterious this God may be, but still the Almighty acted and humans must act in response, as through pondering and prayer. There must be some sort of semi-interpretable transaction between the Mysterious One and fallible mortals. The Union, indeed, “this nation,” must live its life somehow “under God.” And this God must have an essentially moral purpose toward the people held responsible and recognized for the validity of some aspirations–in this case to hold the Union together and, eventually, to free the slaves.

Important for understanding Lincoln, with his view of God, and of value to any leader who would escape falling victim in ironic perspective is a notion of how ironic situations can be dissolved. “Naturally an interpretation of life which emphasizes the dire consequences of vain pretension and sees them ironically refuted by actual experience must induce those who accept the interpretation to moderate the pretensions which create the irony. Consciousness of an ironic situation tends to dissolve it.”{27} [Italics mine]. We shall see how Lincoln’s reflection on the irony of both sides praying to the same God but not both being able to win illustrates this “dissolving” action in Lincoln’s case.

If things go wrong, they go badly wrong. Niebuhr continues: then, irony may be “dissolved into pure despair or hatred.” Many of Lincoln’s contemporaries and many in their succession have come to such dissolution. If the ironic perspective is creatively employed, however, things can go better. Thus, Niebuhr: “If, on the other hand, a religious sense of an ultimate judgment upon our individual and collective actions should create an awareness of our own pretensions of wisdom, virtue or power which have helped to fashion the ironic incongruity, the irony would tend to dissolve into the experience of contrition and to an abatement of the pretensions which caused the irony.” 28}[Italics in cases mine.]

To deal for example for a moment from the more recent past: from a Lincolnian and Niebuhrian point of view, any problems critics might have had with Ronald Reagan’s pronouncement that the Soviet Union was an “evil empire” had little to do with the charge of any inaccuracy in the designation. By any measure, the U.S.S.R. was an empire and it was evil. Problems rose for the theologians and prophets when critics in the context of the American public religion from the fact that President Reagan’s proclamation was unironic, for it failed to show “awareness of our own pretensions of wisdom, virtue or power.”{29}

The leadership that has to be evident among anyone with Lincoln’s outlook must have to goad a people toward victory and through suffering, but it was not immediately apparent in his case. It often was clear that even a numerically stronger Union was not always to have its way in battle, as the defeat at the battle of Bull Run that first July of the war demonstrated. Lincoln thereafter began his desperate game of shuffling military staffs, trying out general after general. Many “Peace Democrats” grew critical instantly and Lincoln feared disunion in the Union. Not a few Republicans also were demoralized and began to fear that their leader was not up to the task of winning the war and saving the Union. General George B. McClellan, who as of October, 1861, was in charge of the whole army, himself said “the Presdt is an idiot,” and wrote his wife that Lincoln was “nothing more than a well meaning baboon.”{30}

Attorney General Edward Bates told his diary, “The Prest. is an excellent man,and, in the main wise,” “but he lacks will and purpose, and, I greatly fear he, has not the power to command.” By January of 1862 even Lincoln himself began to fear the “bare possibility of our being two nations.”{31}

The Ways of the Mysterious Almighty

To this point we have not listened to much war-time expression of faith or pondering of the ways of God on the part of Lincoln. A personal experience may have led to change in this respect. As Lincoln and the Union armies both suffered defeats, the worst emotional blow came to the President when his son Willie died of a fever on February 20, 1862. Mary Todd Lincoln looked back on her husband’s turn of mind in this period and said that “he first thought” about religion when his son died, “never before.” Whatever the cause of his turn, he also for the first time in his presidency began to make regular and other than routine reference to God in his letters, public papers, and speeches. In this period Lincoln experienced not the kind of conversion that would have satisfied evangelicals but “a process of crystallization” of his beliefs. These beliefs kept him short of joining a church and still left room for his questioning, for what his enemies earlier had called his “infidelity.”{32}

A flash-back: it is true that there had been some anticipatory references to God. Lincoln had said good-bye to his fellow Springfielders in 1860 with a reference that today sounds merely perfunctory in chief executive messages: “Without the assistance of that Divine Being” he said, “I cannot succeed.”{33} En route to the capitol he might speak of “the Providence of God, who has never deserted us,” or would state that “the Almighty, the Maker of the Universe” would be the savior of the nation.{34} One must not read too much into these references. These lines helped establish him as a friend to morality and displayed his readiness to let people think of this non-church member as a Christian.

One of the President’s most explicit apparently Christian references came in his First Inaugural Address, in which he hoped to avoid war thanks to “intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land.” But in a way these statements were still rather impersonal and routine. It was hard if not impossible to see in such expressions how Lincoln pictured the Divine Being, the Almighty, the Maker, intervening, being an agent in administration and military affairs, or relating to the cause at all.{35}

In other words, evidences remained in 1861 that Lincoln was poised to experience and interpret “the irony of fate,” thanks to what some would see as a vestigial fatalism. But there was also change, with ever more accent on Lincoln as agent. This can be seen in his agony evidenced in relation to the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. While it is not our purpose to tell the story of Lincoln’s ambiguous role in the emancipation of slaves, a cause he made secondary to preserving the Union, there were incidents along the way in which he tipped his hand further about his view of divine potetential and human limits. For example, some young “Progressive Friends” had come to visit him on June 20, 1862, to urge freeing of the slaves. To them he was explicit in explaining that he was “deeply sensible of the need of Divine assistance,” and did speak less now of being a mere accidental instrument of the Union. “Perhaps,” he reported having thought “he might be an instrument in God’s hands of accomplishing a great work and he was certainly not unwilling to be,” but he cautioned that perhaps “God’s way of accomplishing the end,” referring to slavery, “may be different from theirs.”{36} In Niebuhr’s terms, he was helping dissolve an ironic situation without letting the consequence lead to despair or hatred.

Bit by bit Lincoln moved toward Emancipation, even to the point of his welcoming, for the first time by any president, a group of African-Americans to the White House. Some of them he won over to his point of view. Yet in a famous response to Horace Greeley, Lincoln kept positioning the freeing of slaves below that of keeping the Union, a posture that elicited criticism from abolitionists then and is a controversial point in assessments of his priorities to this day: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union . . . and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”{37}

This was strategic talk, of course, beamed to cautious Northerners who were not ready to see the war as a crusade for abolition or as the tipping of his hand to anti-slavery forces that there was room for different strategies in the future.{38} But, as noted, it did pose Lincoln so that he became the subject of ironic interpretations (if not denunciations) by civil rights leaders, latter-day African-Americans whose family stories recall extensions of slavery well into the war. These keep Lincoln from being their hero as Great Emancipator.

Meanwhile, back on the war front: as Confederate troops threatened Washington itself in August of 1862, Lincoln began to sound depressed, more fatalistic, unsure that any strategy would bring an end to slavery and save the Union. “I am almost ready to say,”he wrote in an extremely determinative note for his own eyes only, [called “Meditatiion on the Divine Will” by John M. Hay and John G. Nicolay] “that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet.” God could, he noted, “have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest,” yet the war was allowed to begin, “and having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.” One more note he sounded: “In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party.” Distancing himself now from those who would claim too much he reminded himself: “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God.”{39}

The president seconded this theme by means of various applications of it and actions based upon it. Told on one occasion that he must do right so that God would give the Union victory, Lincoln responded, “My faith is greater than yours. I not only believe that Providence is not unmindful of the struggle,” he said, “but I also believe that he will compel us to do right,” and to do this “not so much because we desire them as that they accord with His plans of dealing with this nation.”{40}

If that talk sounded explicit about the divine will, it was complemented or qualfied by a complicating note. The language of mystery began to enter and find its place. Weeks after that memorandum, for instance, Lincoln wrote to English Quaker Eliza P. Gurney, a woman who brought out a specially thoughtful side of the President, that he had to conclude that God was permitting the war “for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe it, that he who made the world still governs it.”{41}

Lincoln further developed the accent on the divine mysteriousness. From Chicago came some Christians’ call for immediate emancipation. But Lincoln replied to them, “It is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. And if I can learn what it is I will do it!” He could be ironic and teasing to such clergy (September, 1862): “I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal his will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed he would reveal it directly to me.”{42}

For once the latter-day Lincoln even allowed that he might await a non-mysterious signal. He told the cabinet, he had “made a vow, a covenant, that if God gave us the victory in the approaching battle, he would consider it an indication of Divine will, and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation.”{43} The war was rather consistently leading Lincoln to express a more personalized view of Providence. On January 1, 1863, whether he could read the Divine will clearly or not, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. In this most drastic personal act by a president, which he defended before his cabinet on the basis of his having made a private vow fulfilled in blood and smoke by the hand of God, for only the second time in his life did he make public reference to “my” God. Joseph Gillespie heard Lincoln say that “circumstances had happened during the war to induce him to a belief in ‘special providences.'”{44}

The President through the efforts to hold the Union together, win the war, and emancipate slaves, kept learning from his cabinet and at their suggestion changed the end of the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 to match proposals of two members, so it concluded: “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgement of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”{45}

Two days after the Proclamation he told some celebrating White House serenaders, “I can only trust in God I have made no mistake.” Responsibility remained among humans: “It is now for the country and the world to pass judgment on it.” Then came a note of weariness: “I will say no more on this subject,” because “in my position I am environed with difficulties.”{46} As for Horace Greeley, he bannered in the New York Herald Tribune, “God bless Abraham Lincoln.”{47} Most of the happy pro-emancipation celebrators assured the President that he had acted under the guidance of God and therefore that the consequences would be God-blessed. The time to regard the Proclamation and its results more critically and cautiously was still ahead.

A commander-in-chief has to be confident as he sends troops into battle and Lincoln sounded thus in that State of the Union address. “We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it.” He turned philosopher of history, which means he dealt with the future as if it had already occurred and thus it threw light on the present. “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.”{48} In conventional historical terms such a statement would be nonsense. One could not know until the last day what had been the last and best hope of earth. Here was a call for citizens to sacrifice toward a specific outcome, yet it appeared as a statement about the present reality.

When victories, even of a short-lived character, occurred, Lincoln could call on the mysterious Almighty. This was the case after the battle of Gettysburg, as news of General Robert E. Lee’s retreat and apparent defeat reached Washington on July 4. Lincoln authorized issuance of a press release that announced “great success to the cause the union.” The same release proclaimed “that on this day, He whose will, not ours, should ever be done, be everywhere remembered and reverenced with profoundest gratitude.”{49}

Disappointment was soon again to follow, as Lee’s army survived, General George Gordon Meade having failed to follow through when a chance for victory came. But this time Lincoln did not have to question his own role as he had weeks before. He could put energies into his re-election campaign then taking preliminary shape. When a party of serenaders came to him after Gettysburg and Vicksburg {50}, he greeted them with an acknowledgment that ideas about human equality would make a “glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech,” but he was as yet “not prepared to make one worthy of the occasion.” The dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg tuned out to be the occasion.

During Lincoln’s campaign for a second term the northern Protestant chuches backed him with enthusiasm. He was glad to be reminded of Methodist support: “God bless the Methodist Church–bless all the churches–and blessed be God, Who, in this our great trial, giveth us the churches.”{51} In such an interpretation, the churches were blessed, as was Lincoln, who was renominated and reelected.

In both the First Inaugural and the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln had continued to utter a suggestion that America was especially called by God. He did this to rally political and military forces against the South. In the Gettysburg Address Lincoln relied on the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution to ground American republican life. His calculated use of biblical language was designed to evoke in a Bible-reading public a redemptive sense. He focused on one portion of one battlefield within one nation on one continent, seeing in the sacrifice at Gettysburg, “a larger sense.” The purpose?

Lincoln was doing what any effective chief executive and commander-in-chief during a war he must win would do: cast the events and the scene against a cosmic backdrop. Out of the blood and gore, the inhumanity of war, there would be a “new birth of freedom,” and the government that would result “shall not perish from the earth.”{52}

Disasters followed. Cold Harbor. The siege of Petersburg. General Sherman’s weak command. In six weeks 100,000 of Grant’s men were lost. Lincoln’s supporters and he himself came to fear that he would not be reelected. Chastened by all of these setbacks, Lincoln made a significant turning after Sherman, roused to despoil, defeated Atlanta in

September. That month Lincoln wrote that letter to Quaker acquaintance, Eliza P. Gurney, a letter that struck the new theme in a new tone. No longer was there any self-righteousness, any simple identification of virtuous, wise, secure America with the divine will. The change is startling:

“The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.”{53}

Shadowing all such words was Lincoln’s awareness that, all along, the Northern cause could still fail, the Union itself could come to an end with a war that could be lost. The letter to the Quaker showed how Lincoln now connected the doctrine of divine necessity with personal responsibility; some of the burden of suffering could be held to mysterious account, not humans, not Lincoln, yet all was not fated: “we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us” is not the language of the fatalist or tragic hero.

We do well to focus on the chastened and ambiguous way Lincoln spoke henceforth. In the decisive passage, his “summa,” in the Second Inaugural Address, the one that most reveals his changed mind and heart and outlook, he shows that he could not have given up a faith in the righteousness of the Union effort. He continued to invoke Providence; indeed, he did so with refreshed vigor. But he was humbled in the face of the mysterious ways of God and the fallible ways of humans.

“Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. 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.”{54}

A corollary had to go with such thinking, and Lincoln developed it in a very late post-Inaugural, letter to Thurlow Weed, dated March 15, 1865. One can read it as a final swipe at the clergy and all others who had always been too sure of their reading of the Almighty’s wishes and will. “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.”{55}

Most startlingly of all, in the Second Inaugural Lincoln showed himself not merely one of the “men. . . not flattered” but the one who had to learn most the “difference of purpose between the Almighty and them” over against him. He was the humiliated one. Had he been among the guilty, both for the tardiness with which he came to the Emancipation cause, the compromised way he pursued it, his miscalculation of Southern resolve to secede? That great Second Inaugural, though it avoids first-person pronouns, sounds something like a personal confession involving the President with all the people. Coming as close as it did to Lincoln’s death, it sounds like preparation for “last rites” for himself at a time of new birth for the nation. No later critic was needed to bring an ironic perspective to his career through all its stages including as president and commander-in-chief.

“Woe unto the world because of offences!” he quoted Jesus. Now, supposing “that American Slavery is one of those offences 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 [italics mine], this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came,” Lincoln threw everything back on the character of God. “Shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?” The war continued, even this long and late: “Fondly do we hope–fervently do we pray–that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.”{56}

The judgment remains with God: “Yet, if God wills that it [the war] continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’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 from 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.'”{57}

The speech ended with the familiar words of compassion and reconciliation toward and with the enemy, the South. But in the context of Lincoln’s personal struggle, the more important motif was a confession, a penitence, the casting of a new reflection, a fresh perspective, on the Union, the war, and its northern prosecutor. Ironist Lincoln protected himself from being an ironic victim and a pathetic or tragic figure. In Reinhold Niebuhr s terms, “consciousness of an ironic situation,” which Lincoln possessed, “tends to dissolve it,” not into “pure despair or hatred,” as might have been expected. Because “a religious sense of an ultimate judgment upon our individual and collective actions [created] an awareness of our [Lincoln’s, the Union’s] own pretensions of wisdom, virtue or power which have helped to fashion the ironic incongruity, the irony [dissolved] into the experience of contrition and to an abatement of the pretensions which caused the irony.”{58}

Hence, and only hence: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”{59}


  1. Roy P. Easier, ed., Marion Dolores Pratt and Lloyd A Dunlap, assist, eds.,The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols., 2 suppl. vols. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953-55, 1974 (Greenwood), 1990), 3:550.
  2. Ibid, 7:368.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid, 6:151-152.
  5. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (New York: Scribner’s, 1952), 17l
  6. Robert Laird Collier, Moral Heroism: Its Essentials to the Crisis: A Sermon, Preached to the Wabash Ave. M. E. Church, Chicago, Sabbath Evening, August 3, 1862, 7-8.
  7. Basler, et al., eds., Collected Works of Lincoln, 4:193.
  8. Ibid, 2:150.
  9. Ibid, 7:282.
  10. Louis A. Warren, Lincoln’s Youth: Indiana Years, Seven to Twenty-one (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1959), 225.
  11. Richard Reinitz, Irony and Consciousness: American Historiography and Reinhold Niebuhr’s Vision (Lewisburg, Penn.: Bucknell University Press, 1980), 19.
  12. Quoted in Ibid, 185.
  13. Niebuhr, The Irony of American History, viii.
  14. Basler, et al., eds., Collected Works of Lincoln, 7:535.
  15. Frederick W. Seward, Seward at Washington. . . 1846-1861 (New York: Derby & Miller, 1891), 512-513.
  16. Basler, et al., eds., Collected Works of Lincoln, 4:271.
  17. Theodore C. Pease and James G. Randall, eds., The Diary of Orville Hickman Browning 2 vols. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1925-1933), 1:600-601.
  18. Quoted Donald, Lincoln, 423-425.
  19. Noah Brooks, Washington in Lincoln’s Time (New York: The Century Co., 1895), 57-58.
  20. Alien Thomdike Rice, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time (New York: North American Publishing Company, 1886), 337.
  21. Reinitz, Irony and Consciousness, 20.
  22. Niebuhr, The Irony of American History, 237.
  23. Ibid, 150.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid, 63-64.
  26. Ibid, 155.
  27. Ibid, 168.
  28. Ibid, 168-169.
  29. Ibid, 169.
  30. Stephen Sears, ed., The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correpondence, 1860-1865 (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1989), 85-86.
  31. Howard K. Beale, ed., Diary of Edward Bates, 1859-1866 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1933), 387; Earl S. Miers, Lincoln Day by Day: A Chronology, 1809-1965 (Washington D. C.: Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, 1960), 3:87.
  32. William H. Herndon Interview with Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, September 5, 1866, Weik Collection, Library of Congress; Francis B. Carpenter, Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln. The Story of a Picture (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866), 189.
  33. Basler, et al., eds., Collected Works of Lincoln, 4:190.
  34. Ibid, 4:199, 226.
  35. Ibid, 4:271.
  36. Ibid, 5:278-279.
  37. Ibid, 5:388.
  38. Ibid, 5:388-389.
  39. Ibid, 5:403-404.
  40. Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, eds., Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 500.
  41. Basler, et al., eds., Collected Works of Lincoln, 5:478.
  42. Ibid, 5:420.
  43. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911), 1:143.
  44. Osborn Oldroyd, ed., The Lincoln Memorial: Album-Immortelles (New York: G.W Carleton & Co., 1883), 457.
  45. Basler, et al., eds., Collected Works of Lincoln, 6:23-26.
  46. Ibid, 5:438.
  47. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951), 177.
  48. Basler, et al., eds., Collected Works of Lincoln, 5:537.
  49. Ibid, 6:314.
  50. Ibid, 6:319-320.
  51. Ibid, 7:350-351.
  52. Ibid, 7:18.
  53. Ibid, 7:535.
  54. Ibid, 8:332-333.
  55. Ibid, 8:356.
  56. Ibid, 8:333.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Niebuhr, The Irony of American History, 168-169.
  59. Basler, et al., eds., Collected Works of Lincoln, 8:333
Scroll to Top