Abraham Lincoln: The Purposes Of The Almighty Are Different Than Our Purposes

March 15, 1865

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Abraham Lincoln: The Purposes Of The Almighty Are Different Than Our Purposes
Autograph Letter Signed
1 page | SMC 449

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      Background

      Having just given, at his second Inauguration, perhaps the greatest speech in all of American history, Lincoln says here that he expects it will “wear” better than anything he has ever produced, but believes “it is not immediately popular.” The reason for this is that “men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.” But to think otherwise, he reminds, is to “to deny that there is a God governing the world.” That is a truth that needed to be told, even if in the telling of it, Lincoln insists, he is the one humiliated.

      For Lincoln to have invoked the Almighty, then, was not to summon a tribal deity, conferring special status or benefit upon the petitioner, but to call upon a universal God who judged impartially, and whose purposes were His own. More and more, throughout the War, he had come to believe a Divine will, mysterious and unknowable, was being expressed. That all men, not just Southerners but Northerners as well, were responsible for allowing slavery to flourish in America decades prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. It was God's will that the North too would suffer from the conflict's ghastly toll - despite their view of a superior purpose - and that it would be God's ultimate purpose to stop it when the debt was paid. Lincoln was not himself in control, but rather, controlled. God’s will would be done, as he said in his address, for "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

      Before the presidency, Lincoln wore his faith so lightly it was generally believed he was a “skeptic," but in the White House, that markedly changed. His old friend Joshua Speed, visiting in 1864 and observing him intent upon his Bible, remarked that it appeared he had “recovered” from his doubts, to which Lincoln replied, if one took all that the Bible offered on reason, and the rest on faith, one might live and die a happier and better man. Certainly, whatever religion Lincoln brought with him into the presidency, deepened during it. The loss of dear friends, the death of his son, his wife’s emotional breakdown, the endless tragedy and atrocity of civil war: these burdens strengthened his faith, and led him to reflect upon God’s purposes, as this letter eloquently attests.

      Autograph Letter Signed, as president, 1 page, quarto, on the lined-letterhead stationery of the Executive Mansion, Washington, March 15, 1865. To Thurlow Weed.

      Used with the permission of Shapell Legacy Partnership.


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      Executive Mansion,
      Washington,  March 15, 1865.

      Thurlow Weed, Esq

      My dear Sir.

      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.

      Yours truly

      A. LINCOLN