“In the midst of the labors and perplexities of war and policy, we are supported by the confidence and sustained by the prayers of good people. It is only less than the approval of God upon our endeavors”.
Lincoln’s whole political and moral philosophy was grounded in his judgment that slavery was a great wrong. When pursuing office, he tried to sway public opinion with appeals to a higher morality. Although a religious skeptic in his early years, this deep stress on morality inevitably led Lincoln to consider whether there...
Lincoln’s whole political and moral philosophy was grounded in his judgment that slavery was a great wrong. When pursuing office, he tried to sway public opinion with appeals to a higher morality. Although a religious skeptic in his early years, this deep stress on morality inevitably led Lincoln to consider whether there was a higher power influencing events. By February 11, 1861, when he bade farewell to his fellow citizens of Springfield saying “Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended [Washington], I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail,” Lincoln’s skepticism had evolved into a belief in God.
After becoming president, Lincoln increasingly felt the presence of a higher power, speaking of it at Gettysburg when he called the United States “this nation, under God.” By his second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865, Lincoln’s belief had ripened into a perception of God’s hand at work in the Civil War. He said, “The Almighty has His own purposes…If God wills that [this war] 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’…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…” Thus Lincoln, at the end, seemed to equate the preservation of the Union and the freeing of the slaves with some higher, mystical purpose.
Lincoln realized from the first that his ability to rally the people of the North to the flag would be a key component to victory. He often appealed to them, and specifically cultivated the support of religious groups who would share his moral conclusions that slavery was wrong and that the Union’s preservation was necessary to end this injustice. For example, on October 24, 1863, he told the Baltimore Presbyterian Synod that “amid the greatest difficulties of my Administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance on God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.” The religious people responded and formed an important core of his support.
Although Lincoln was frank about his beliefs and not hesitant to make appeals based on them, he seemed to reserve his references to God to public statements. Very seldom indeed did he include them in his correspondence. Interestingly, the same avoidance applies both to characterizations of his job as president and his need for the people to sustain him and his administration, all of which are extraordinary rarities. That is why finding letters on such topics is a real discovery. A previously unknown letter has now surfaced containing exactly this important content.
Carlton Chase was the first Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. He wrote President Lincoln on May 22 1862. “I cannot longer restrain the expressions of my grateful emotions as I contemplate the manner in which you, under the divine providence, are shaping the destinies of this afflicted country. God be praised, that such a man lives for us, and that to our chief leader in this momentous crisis is given such wisdom, and such moral and intellectual powers, to inspire us with confidence and hope. Of all men here, with sincerely are exception in any rank of life, you have now the perfect confidence. Thanksgiving for the good you are doing, and prayers for your health and safety into all the devotions of Christian people…”
Lincoln responded in this Letter Signed, Executive Mansion, Washington, May 29, 1862. In it, he states that he desires the approval of God above all, speaks of the difficulty of his work, and solicits the support of the “Good people” of the North. “I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of the 22nd May. Pray accept the assurances of my deep appreciation of your kind expressions of confidence. It is most encouraging to feel that in the midst of the labors and perplexities of war and policy, we are supported by the confidence and sustained by the prayers of good people. It is only less than the approval of God upon our endeavors…A. Lincoln.” The original mailing envelope is still present.
We obtained this original Lincoln signed letters along with Bishop Chase’s retained copy of his letter to the President, directly from the Chase descendants. It does not appear in any collection of Lincoln’s works, and has never before been offered for sale. This is a rare opportunity for the collector or institution that cares about Lincoln’s war aims and religion.
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