Lincoln's 2nd Inauguration Speech: The Civil War was the “Lord’s judgement” for slavery

ForeverFree

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From the blog Jubilo! The Emancipation Century:

“(T)he blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword”: Lincoln’s view of the war as the “Lord’s judgement” for slavery


Was the American Civil War the result of God’s judgment for the “bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil?” This was the extraordinary conclusion of president Abraham Lincoln in his second Inauguration Speech of March 4, 1865. Even more extraordinary is that most Americans today have no idea of this view which Lincoln expressed on that day. Why that is, we can only speculate.

Lincoln might well have used his second inauguration speech to gloat. By then the Union was on the brink of victory over the Confederate States. Indeed, just one month later, on April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox, Virginia. That was the beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

But Lincoln did not say much about the status the war, probably out of confidence for the Union's position. He did state that "(t)he progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all." And with that, Lincoln went into the main body of his oration.

Lincoln gave a speech whose tone was neither gloating nor celebratory, neither glorifying nor romantic about the Union’s winning war effort. Rather, his talk was somber, poignant, melancholy, and reflective. In fact, it was almost confessional. We have sinned, he said, and the wages therefrom have been enormous.

Continued here.

- Alan
 
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OpnCoronet

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Lincoln was much too intelligent and honest to not admit. the entire nation(North and South) had been guilty of the sin of slavery in the Union. As the cause for the CW, the cost of that evil had been too high for much gloating over its necessary eradication.
 

Allie

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One of the things I like about this speech is that if you follow it to his logical conclusion, he is pointing out that North as well as South, the whole nation, has paid a price, and thus if you believe that price was paid for wrongdoing, the wrongdoing must have been on both sides. Many fortunes were made by profits derived from the importation of slaves and the selling of slaves and the manufacture of finished goods from crops grown by slaves, on both sides.

For what it's worth, at my private school we memorized both this and the Gettysburg address, not in history class but in American literature class. It remains an example of masterful use of the English language.
 

kenjcruz

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I think this is Lincoln's best speech. So succinct, every sentence so powerful. A beautiful rumination at the end of the national trauma.

We had a poll on the forum several years ago (I searched and couldn't find it) on member's favorite Lincoln speech. I think this won.
 

Allie

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If the War was God's retribution for a sin, why didn't God bring an even worse retribution to the other countries in the western hemisphere where more than 90% of the African slaves were brought?
I think we're dangerously near to topics not allowed on this forum. What is relevant to the Civil War is that Lincoln expressed that belief, not what may or may not be true about God. But, imagining myself as Lincoln for a moment, I can think of several answers he, or another believer of his era's views on divine providence, might have suggested: 1) Perhaps some event not obvious to us was the retribution they suffered. 2) God's ways are mysterious. 3) And the one which strikes me as Lincoln's most likely reply: Whom the Lord loves, he chastises. Because America was destined to be a free nation of free people, God pays special attention, as a father might be harder on his favorite child than on a child with less potential.
 

rpkennedy

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He felt he had lost a war. He was desperate. And desperate men are capable of terrible things.

What tipped him over the edge was a speech that Lincoln gave in which he proposed equal rights for some African-Americans after the war. Booth wasn't going to stand for blacks being equal to whites, period.

R
 

hanna260

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What tipped him over the edge was a speech that Lincoln gave in which he proposed equal rights for some African-Americans after the war. Booth wasn't going to stand for blacks being equal to whites, period.

R

I think that that was the icing on the cake. Not only was his beloved Confederacy dead but he felt that, that speech was making the world he knew crumble to pieces around him. Such a vile man. Lord. How I wish that Lincoln's bodyguard hadn't stepped out for that drink!
 
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ForeverFree

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If the War was God's retribution for a sin, why didn't God bring an even worse retribution to the other countries in the western hemisphere where more than 90% of the African slaves were brought?

If one looks at the history of Africa and Europe in the late 19th century through mid- to late 20th century, she would see that there has been more than enough suffering to go around.

Having said that, Lincoln was looking inward, not outward. He was, one could say, concerned about the soul of America. Although Lincoln does not say it, one could infer that via this penance of wartime suffering, he believed that America was subject to redemption. And there could be no redemption without justice. Said Lincoln

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it 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.”​


- Alan
 

ForeverFree

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I think we're dangerously near to topics not allowed on this forum. What is relevant to the Civil War is that Lincoln expressed that belief, not what may or may not be true about God.

Ditto. It is also of note that many people looked at the war from a religious perspective, and Lincoln's view was one of many, varied views of how the war said "something" about man and/or providence.

In an earlier post, I mentioned a sermon by Benjamin Morgan Palmer. He was, per wiki, "an orator and Presbyterian theologian, was the first moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America. As pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, his Thanksgiving sermon in 1860 had a great influence in leading Louisiana to join the Confederate States of America. After 1865 he was minister in the Presbyterian Church in the United States."

Palmer gave an influential "Thanksgiving Sermon" on November 29, 1860, shortly after Lincoln won the White House. In it, Palmer says that the South, to protect its identity and independence, must conserve and perpetuate slavery, which he says is the region's "providential trust." Palmer literally states that slavery is a "trust from God" and that protecting slavery puts southerners on the highest moral ground.

The full text is here, this is an interesting excerpt.

In determining our duty in this emergency it is necessary that we should first ascertain the nature of the trust providentially committed to us. A nation often has a character as well defined and intense as that of an individual. This depends, of course upon a variety of causes operating through a long period of time. It is due largely to the original traits which distinguish the stock from which it springs, and to the providential training which has formed its education. But, however derived, this individuality of character alone makes any people truly historic, competent to work out its specific mission, and to become a factor in the world's progress. The particular trust assigned to such a people becomes the pledge of the divine protection; and their fidelity to it determines the fate by which it is finally overtaken. What that trust is must be ascertained from the necessities of their position, the institutions which are the outgrowth of their principles and the conflicts through which they preserve their identity and independence.

If then the South is such a people, what, at this juncture, is their providential trust? I answer, that it is to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of domestic slavery as now existing. It is not necessary here to inquire whether this is precisely the best relation in which the hewer of wood and drawer of water can stand to his employer; although this proposition may perhaps be successfully sustained by those who choose to defend it. Still less are we required, dogmatically, to affirm that it will subsist through all time. Baffled as our wisdom may now be in finding a solution of this intricate social problem, it would nevertheless be the height of arrogance to pronounce what changes may or may not occur in the distant future. In the grand march of events Providence may work out a solution undiscoverable by us. What modifications of soil and climate may hereafter be produced, what consequent changes in the products on which we depend, what political revolutions may occur among the races which are now enacting the great drama of history: all such inquiries are totally irrelevant because no prophetic vision can pierce the darkness of that future. If this question should ever arise, the generation to whom it is remitted will doubtless have the wisdom to meet it, and Providence will furnish the lights in which it is to be resolved. All that we claim for them, for ourselves, is liberty to work out this problem, guided by nature and God, without obtrusive interference from abroad.

These great questions of Providence and history must have free scope for their solution; and the race whose fortunes are distinctly implicated in the same is alone authorized, as it is alone competent, to determine them. It is just this impertinence of human legislation, setting bounds to what God alone can regulate, that the South is called this day to resent and resist.

The country is convulsed simply because "the throne of iniquity frameth mischief by a law." Without, therefore, determining the question of duty for future generations, I simply say, that for us, as now situated, the duty is plain of conserving and transmitting the system of slavery, with the freest scope for its natural development and extension. Let us, my brethren, look our duty in the face. With this institution assigned to our keeping, what reply shall we make to those who say that its days are numbered? My own conviction is, that we should at once lift ourselves, intelligently, to the highest moral ground and proclaim to all the world that we hold this trust from God, and in its occupancy we are prepared to stand or fall as God may appoint. If the critical moment has arrived at which the great issue is joined, let us say that, in the sight of all perils, we will stand by our trust; and God be with the right!
I wonder what a man like Palmer thought of Lincoln's comments.

- Alan
 

Allie

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These great questions of Providence and history must have free scope for their solution; and the race whose fortunes are distinctly implicated in the same is alone authorized, as it is alone competent, to determine them. It is just this impertinence of human legislation, setting bounds to what God alone can regulate, that the South is called this day to resent and resist.
I wonder what a man like Palmer thought of Lincoln's comments.

- Alan
Palmer was forgetting that enslaved Africans were also a people who had some stake in the matter. Not to mention that by involving the rest of the country in slave-catching due to the Fugitive Slave Act, the South had given them a moral stake in it as well.
 

hrobalabama

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I agree with President Lincoln 100%.
We are still suffering today with racial tension that was brought about initially by slavery.
It is the "Law of the Harvest", 'whatsoever a man sows he shall also reap'."
One reaps a lot more than he sows and a lot later. The folks who brought them here and the folks that bought and sold them and the folks that captured them to sell. This applies to nations as well as individuals.
 

southern blue

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One has to wonder why J.W. Booth hated him so? Lincoln was a man of demonstrable compassion.

Along with the other points raised some also think that by killing Lincoln he believed he could revive the spirits of the Cause and rally the former Confederates again. He didn't seem to take into account how war weary everyone was. He was apparently shocked at the reactions to the assassination.
 

dvrmte

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I think we're dangerously near to topics not allowed on this forum. What is relevant to the Civil War is that Lincoln expressed that belief, not what may or may not be true about God. But, imagining myself as Lincoln for a moment, I can think of several answers he, or another believer of his era's views on divine providence, might have suggested: 1) Perhaps some event not obvious to us was the retribution they suffered. 2) God's ways are mysterious. 3) And the one which strikes me as Lincoln's most likely reply: Whom the Lord loves, he chastises. Because America was destined to be a free nation of free people, God pays special attention, as a father might be harder on his favorite child than on a child with less potential.

Yes, I believe Lincoln was the spiritual heir of the Puritans. He seemed to avoid the self-righteous crusading as demonstrated by others such as Julia Ward Howe in the Battle Hymn of the Republic. He seemed to be directly channeling John Winthrop instead.

Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God...

Washington's Farewell, Lincoln's Second Inaugural, JFK's First Inaugural, Reagan, etc., all channeled Winthrop.

He didn't claim that the South alone was the cause of the war because if God was on their side, why didn't He end the war after the Emancipation Proclamation passed in January of 1863 when the cause could be seen as a crusade to end slavery?
 

Allie

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Yes, I believe Lincoln was the spiritual heir of the Puritans. He seemed to avoid the self-righteous crusading as demonstrated by others such as Julia Ward Howe in the Battle Hymn of the Republic. He seemed to be directly channeling John Winthrop instead.

Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God...

Washington's Farewell, Lincoln's Second Inaugural, JFK's First Inaugural, Reagan, etc., all channeled Winthrop.

He didn't claim that the South alone was the cause of the war because if God was on their side, why didn't He end the war after the Emancipation Proclamation passed in January of 1863 when the cause could be seen as a crusade to end slavery?
The Emancipation Proclamation by itself didn't do enough, as I'm sure you know, since it didn't free slaves in Union-controlled territory.
 

ForeverFree

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To make it easier to compare/contrast the comments Benjamin Morgan Palmer in post #13 with those from Lincoln, this is from the second inaugural address:

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.

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. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" If we shall suppose 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, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it 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 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; 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 lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.​

I do not know if Lincoln was aware of Palmer's oration or others like it. But intentionally or not, Lincoln words amount to a repudiation of Palmer's view of slavery as a "Providential Trust."

Of note: Palmer's view of slavery as sanctioned by God was not unique in its day, among southerners at least. Lincoln's view of the Civil War and its death toll as the "true and righteous" "judgment of the Lord" may have been something of an outlier among the Union public.

- Alan
 
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