1 page | SMC 2509
Nobody knows how many letters Lincoln wrote. Some say six thousand; some go six figures. The best guess, for now, is 15,000. But what counts, be the sum scant or astronomical, is that as they are known, so they are indexed, word by word. Take, for instance, the word “Almighty.” In the canonical eight volumes of the Collected Works, “Almighty” is found 95 times. Given 46 years of Lincoln’s recorded writings, that makes its usage rare indeed. But rarer still, incredibly, is that “Almighty” is used in less than a handful of personal letters. And in only one, is it used in the context of a personal prayer – as it is here…
Lincoln, responding to congratulations proffered on his having, just three days before, been nominated for President by the Republican Party, warmly answers “the High Priest of Abolition,” Joshua Giddings. He is grateful for Giddings’ declaring him an honest man, he says, but in noting the daunting task ahead, reveals that his honesty goes far deeper than distaining backroom deals or making calculated promises. Lincoln was honestly humble about running for the presidency - he understood how he had much to be humble about –and in light of that, his reply spoke, uncharacteristically, to his deepest need:
My good friend: Your very kind and acceptable letter of the 19th. was duly handed me…. It is indeed, most grateful to my feelings, that the responsible position assigned me, comes without conditions, save only such honorable ones as are fairly implied. I am not wanting in the purpose, though I may fail in the strength, to maintain my freedom from bad influences. Your letter comes to my aid in this point, most opportunely. May the Almighty grant that the cause of truth, justice, and humanity, shall in no wise suffer at my hands.
Mrs. L. joins me in sincere wishes for your health, happiness, and long life.
Thus Lincoln acknowledged here his desire to lead; the all-too-familiar likelihood that he might fail; and the one thing he most desired for himself: that God might grant that the causes he held most profoundly would not suffer for his pursuit of them. That Lincoln, known to be absolutely “shut-mouthed” about anything personal, might admit an intimate hope, may well speak to a sobering realization that now, the mantle of leadership fell on him. Whether he was momentarily shocked by his surprising nomination, or whether he was daunted by the task facing him if elected – the most secretive of men, and the most honest of presidents, wrote down, just this once, a prayer for himself
It is noted, however, that Lincoln, be he ever so honest or secretive, was also married - and his postscript that “Mrs. L joins me in sincere wishes for your health, happiness, and long life” was, generously, a rhetorical liberty. She did not like Joshua Giddings.
Autograph Letter Signed (“A. Lincoln”), as president, 1p., quarto, Springfield, Illinois, May 21 1860. To ex-Congressman Joshua R. Giddings
Used with permission of Shapell Legacy Partnership 2.
all pages and transcript
Springfield, Ills. May 21. 1860
Hon: J. R. Giddings:
My good friend.
Your very kind and acceptable letter of the 19 was duly handed me by M Tuck. It is, indeed, most grateful to my feelings, that the responsible position assigned me, comes without conditions, save only such honorable ones as are fairly implied. I am not wanting in the purpose, though I may fail in the strength, to maintain my freedom from bad influences_ Your letter comes to my aid in this point, most oppertunely [sic] -- May the Almighty grant that the cause of truth, justice, and humanity shall in no wise suffer at my hands --
M L. joins me in sincere wishes for your health, happiness, and long life --
May 21. 1860