The wisdom of Abraham Lincoln remains at the pinnacle of American presidential understanding. Like Winston Churchill, he had the rare gift of composition and left many hard lessons for our generation to study and ponder. We begin with his early assessment of the dangers that would confront a young country, relatively new to the world scene.
Dangers to America
In an early speech in Springfield, Illinois, in January 1837, Lincoln stated: "At what point is the danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach[es] us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher" (p. 9, emphasis added throughout).
Although enemy nations may be the final instrument in executing a nation's demise, the greatest danger is usually from the moral decay that has already occurred within its own borders.
Nearly 20 years later Lincoln spoke again of internal jeopardies during his speech at the first Republican State Convention of Illinois (May 1856).
He warned: "We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read. Are we in a healthful political state? Are not the tendencies plain? Do not the signs of the time point plainly the way in which we are going?" (p. 101).
Are not those words even more true today, 150 years after Abraham Lincoln spoke them?
Lincoln's awareness of God's purposes and guidance
In a personal letter to Eliza P. Gurney from the Executive Mansion in Washington D.C. (September 1864), Lincoln wrote: "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 [1861 to 1865] long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom, and our own error therein...Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay" (p. 313).
Lincoln well understood his own dependence on God. In February 1861, just before he traveled from Springfield to Washington D.C. to be sworn in as president, he said in a farewell speech: "Today I leave you. I go to assume a task more difficult than that which devolved upon General Washington. Unless the great God who assisted him shall be with and aid me I cannot prevail; but if the same Almighty Arm that directed and protected him shall guide and support me I shall not fail" (p. 203).
Instead of splintering into two separate nations, the United States remained one nation under God—not withstanding all of its moral and spiritual inadequacies, then and now. Lincoln always understood what his basic mission really was: the preservation of the American union.
Thankfulness to God
During his last public address in Washington D.C. in April of 1865, Lincoln stated: "We meet this evening not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart... In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated" (p. 336).
Shortly afterwards an assassin's bullet ended the life of this great man. He was prevented from carrying out the kind of reconstruction he had envisaged for the nation. But he had done the job! WNP