Lincoln's Faith

Much has been made of President George W. Bush's faith and devotion to religion since he declared with simple eloquence that his personal hero was 'Christ' during a Republican primary debate in 2000. The mainstream media lampooned and criticized the President after author Bob Woodward revealed on 60 Minutes last year that President Bush said he sought 'a higher power' than his former—President father in the lonely moments before committing United States forces into Iraq in 2003.

In the current atmosphere of conventional wisdom mocking nearly every form of Judeo—Christian religion and accusing public officials who are public about their religious beliefs of breaching the intent of the Founders, it is important to again look to the past and the thoughts and meditations on the subject of previous Presidents and leaders. Perspective is needed, especially when it relates to the fanatical hatred of President Bush and the misunderstanding many have about his faith.

A study on the religious principles and leadership of Abraham Lincoln, written nearly 60 years ago and just recently published by the late author's son, helps illuminate the thoughts and actions of the sixteenth President during one of the most trying times in our nation's history and helps bring the badly—needed perspective to bear today.

Dr. G. George Fox wrote Abraham Lincoln's Faith Based Leadership in 1959. Dr. Fox, who was also a rabbi, desired to show that President Lincoln was indeed 'a believer' and used religion and religious belief in his presidency, while also drawing on Dr. Fox's own scholarship to further examine the President's beliefs.

One of the unique aspects of Dr. Fox's work is that it intentionally looked beyond the self—imposed restrictions on celebrated volumes of the day such as The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, which deemed anecdotal evidence of the content of President Lincoln's religious life as incomplete and unworthy of inclusion of any published portrait of the President. Dr. Fox utilized early 'utterances, memoirs, reminiscences and interviews' that many scholars to that point hastily discarded, but are prized by contemporary historians. This was a unique method when Dr. Fox first wrote his work, and at times one has to remember that indeed the manuscript was written decades ago, lest the reader dismiss the information within as common knowledge.

Dr. Fox points to conversations Lincoln had with people who in turn jotted down their remembrances. Dr. Fox, for example, points out a conversation President Lincoln had with Gen. Sickles regarding prayer and the battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Dr. Fox argues that such conversations are absent from the mainstream studies of Lincoln such as The Collected Works, but 'vital' in understanding Lincoln's religion and his approach during wartime.

Readers who recall with a laugh the carefully—crafted of image of Bill and Hillary Clinton rolling up to church, the President carrying a Bible the size of a law school book will enjoy Dr. Fox's juxtaposition of President Lincoln skepticism of 'pious displays' of religious devotion while detailing his stone—cold knowledge of the Bible and its teachings is craftily executed.

Among others with similar thoughts on the matter of faith, Dr. Fox cites Henry Whitney's observations of Lincoln driving 'right straight to the essence and marrow of the subject.' President Lincoln's reliance on the private act of prayer is also examined, relating to his 'sublime faith' and certainty that the Lord stood on the side of right and Lincoln's anxiety that he was on the Lord's side. Dr. Fox cites reminiscence by Jesse Fell of Bloomington, Illinois, that follows in part:

'He never attached himself to any religious society whatsoever. His religious views were eminently practical, and are summed up as I think in these two propositions: The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. He fully believed in a superintending and overruling Providence, that guides and control the operations of the world; but maintained that law and order, and not their violation of suspension, are the appointed means by which this providence was exercised.'

Perhaps the most fascinating and unique discussion in this book is Dr. Fox's meditations on President Lincoln and the Biblical prophets. Dr. Fox posits that President Lincoln's knowledge of the ethical teachings of the prophets was 'phenomenal.' Putting his rabbinical studies and knowledge to great use, Dr. Fox profiles 'Lincoln's Prophets,' who included Moses, Jesus, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Looking at various state papers of the Lincoln administration, Dr. Fox demonstrates that two proclamations for a Fast Day papers echo the burdens of Jeremiah and an excerpt from Ezekiel, respectively. Dr. Fox also shows how the Thanksgiving message of 1864 reads like Psalms 9 and 66. As Lincoln wrote in part:

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad, and vouchsafing us unto in His mercy, many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes, as our soldiers in their camps, and our sailors on the rivers and seas, with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and immigration, while he has opened to us new sources of wealth, and had crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry, with abundant rewards. Moreover he has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage and resolution, sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and affiliations.

Imagine if George W. Bush said that today.

Dr. Fox finally argues that Abraham Lincoln was a modern—day Jeremiah, who both lived in times of great peril and died for their causes. Dr. Fox's use of state papers, anecdotal remembrances and the words of the Bible and Prophets is well—organized. Again, that this work was completed in 1959 yet still holds much value and perspective today is a testament to the craftsmanship and foresight of G. George Fox. In his introduction to the book, Dr. Fox wrote that he wished his writing 'to have contributed some light to the study of the religion of Abraham Lincoln.' His writing did so — and more.

Matt May is a freelance writer and can be reached at matthewtmay@yahoo.com; his website is here.

Much has been made of President George W. Bush's faith and devotion to religion since he declared with simple eloquence that his personal hero was 'Christ' during a Republican primary debate in 2000. The mainstream media lampooned and criticized the President after author Bob Woodward revealed on 60 Minutes last year that President Bush said he sought 'a higher power' than his former—President father in the lonely moments before committing United States forces into Iraq in 2003.

In the current atmosphere of conventional wisdom mocking nearly every form of Judeo—Christian religion and accusing public officials who are public about their religious beliefs of breaching the intent of the Founders, it is important to again look to the past and the thoughts and meditations on the subject of previous Presidents and leaders. Perspective is needed, especially when it relates to the fanatical hatred of President Bush and the misunderstanding many have about his faith.

A study on the religious principles and leadership of Abraham Lincoln, written nearly 60 years ago and just recently published by the late author's son, helps illuminate the thoughts and actions of the sixteenth President during one of the most trying times in our nation's history and helps bring the badly—needed perspective to bear today.

Dr. G. George Fox wrote Abraham Lincoln's Faith Based Leadership in 1959. Dr. Fox, who was also a rabbi, desired to show that President Lincoln was indeed 'a believer' and used religion and religious belief in his presidency, while also drawing on Dr. Fox's own scholarship to further examine the President's beliefs.

One of the unique aspects of Dr. Fox's work is that it intentionally looked beyond the self—imposed restrictions on celebrated volumes of the day such as The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, which deemed anecdotal evidence of the content of President Lincoln's religious life as incomplete and unworthy of inclusion of any published portrait of the President. Dr. Fox utilized early 'utterances, memoirs, reminiscences and interviews' that many scholars to that point hastily discarded, but are prized by contemporary historians. This was a unique method when Dr. Fox first wrote his work, and at times one has to remember that indeed the manuscript was written decades ago, lest the reader dismiss the information within as common knowledge.

Dr. Fox points to conversations Lincoln had with people who in turn jotted down their remembrances. Dr. Fox, for example, points out a conversation President Lincoln had with Gen. Sickles regarding prayer and the battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Dr. Fox argues that such conversations are absent from the mainstream studies of Lincoln such as The Collected Works, but 'vital' in understanding Lincoln's religion and his approach during wartime.

Readers who recall with a laugh the carefully—crafted of image of Bill and Hillary Clinton rolling up to church, the President carrying a Bible the size of a law school book will enjoy Dr. Fox's juxtaposition of President Lincoln skepticism of 'pious displays' of religious devotion while detailing his stone—cold knowledge of the Bible and its teachings is craftily executed.

Among others with similar thoughts on the matter of faith, Dr. Fox cites Henry Whitney's observations of Lincoln driving 'right straight to the essence and marrow of the subject.' President Lincoln's reliance on the private act of prayer is also examined, relating to his 'sublime faith' and certainty that the Lord stood on the side of right and Lincoln's anxiety that he was on the Lord's side. Dr. Fox cites reminiscence by Jesse Fell of Bloomington, Illinois, that follows in part:

'He never attached himself to any religious society whatsoever. His religious views were eminently practical, and are summed up as I think in these two propositions: The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. He fully believed in a superintending and overruling Providence, that guides and control the operations of the world; but maintained that law and order, and not their violation of suspension, are the appointed means by which this providence was exercised.'

Perhaps the most fascinating and unique discussion in this book is Dr. Fox's meditations on President Lincoln and the Biblical prophets. Dr. Fox posits that President Lincoln's knowledge of the ethical teachings of the prophets was 'phenomenal.' Putting his rabbinical studies and knowledge to great use, Dr. Fox profiles 'Lincoln's Prophets,' who included Moses, Jesus, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Looking at various state papers of the Lincoln administration, Dr. Fox demonstrates that two proclamations for a Fast Day papers echo the burdens of Jeremiah and an excerpt from Ezekiel, respectively. Dr. Fox also shows how the Thanksgiving message of 1864 reads like Psalms 9 and 66. As Lincoln wrote in part:

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad, and vouchsafing us unto in His mercy, many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes, as our soldiers in their camps, and our sailors on the rivers and seas, with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and immigration, while he has opened to us new sources of wealth, and had crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry, with abundant rewards. Moreover he has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage and resolution, sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and affiliations.

Imagine if George W. Bush said that today.

Dr. Fox finally argues that Abraham Lincoln was a modern—day Jeremiah, who both lived in times of great peril and died for their causes. Dr. Fox's use of state papers, anecdotal remembrances and the words of the Bible and Prophets is well—organized. Again, that this work was completed in 1959 yet still holds much value and perspective today is a testament to the craftsmanship and foresight of G. George Fox. In his introduction to the book, Dr. Fox wrote that he wished his writing 'to have contributed some light to the study of the religion of Abraham Lincoln.' His writing did so — and more.

Matt May is a freelance writer and can be reached at matthewtmay@yahoo.com; his website is here.