Thursday, November 8, 2012

Love Me Some Lincoln!

All this election year hoopla has inspired me to check out books on past presidents and their leading ladies. Here I visit one of my favorites, Abraham Lincoln, who, according to a few biographies I've read on the guy, hated being called Abe. Whatever name you want to give him now, this man undeniably had a way with talking simply but strikingly. Not saying the guy was perfect or that every decision he made was brilliant... how could you say that about anyone? But man, to read back on even basic letters he wrote to people, one can find some touching, inspiring words! Most recently, I've read Abraham Lincoln: Theologian Of American Anguish by Elton Trueblood. Gotta say, the title alone intrigued me. Considering the title, I actually didn't get into this book for any Christian reasoning. I looked at it as another sort of history book. And it did not disappoint!


I had the Carl Sandburg Lincoln books when I was a kid {sadly, they got ruined while in storage at my parents' place years ago :-( } but had never come across this title before. This copy I have now was actually in a box of books one of my friends had pulled from a house that he helped clear out. He nearly threw them in the dumpster but I got the box from him, realizing when I got home that I had an autographed copy! Always a bonus :-)

author Elton Trueblood - from mises.org:
"David Elton Trueblood (1900–1994) was a noted 20th-century American Quaker author and theologian, former chaplain both to Harvard and Stanford universities."

At only 141 pages, this is a pretty easy, entertaining read -- easily done in an afternoon or evening lounging at home (if you're so lucky to have those :-D ). I didn't find the writing overly preachy but definitely informative, regardless of your faith. Some of the cool stuff Trueblood discusses:

  • Lincoln was the first President to establish an officially / federally recognized Thanksgiving Day. Lincoln originally encouraged 4 nationwide fasting and reflection days throughout the year but upon suggestion from a Quaker friend, decided one nationally recognized holiday for everyone was the way to go -- Lincoln wanted the day to be non-denominational, just a day where everyone could stop, collaborate and listen... jk.. couldn't resist... nah, he wanted people to stop, reflect, and be thankful and humble for their blessings, acknowledge their misguided actions but appreciate the lessons learned from them. 
  • Even though Lincoln was down for having a Thanksgiving Day, he actually pushed to keep legislation in session during Christmas. In fact, Lincoln had official work-related letters dated on Christmas Day! While he was a man of faith personally, he never outwardly subscribed to any one particular religion or followed any one church's religious holiday schedule. He found things he liked in several faiths. Even the night of his assassination, the night he was attending the theater with Mrs. Lincoln, was a Good Friday. 
  • Terms that are so commonly attached to American Government today, such as "Under God", recited by schoolchildren everywhere with the Pledge of Allegiance,  and "In God We Trust" lead back to Lincoln. Trueblood talks of how "Under God" does not appear in the first draft of The Gettysburg Address, leading one to believe it was something Lincoln ad-libbed in the moment and added in later when it was reprinted in the papers of the day. And it was Lincoln's administration who popularized the phrase "In God We Trust", a phrase we instantly associate with the National Treasury now. 
Abraham Lincoln
"Abraham Lincoln was not a religious leader in the conventional sense. Certainly he was not  professionally religious and he had no formal theological training. What he knew about prayer came not from books but from experience, much of  it agonizing. He was no flaming prophet like John the Baptist, nor was he an ecstatic arouser of men's emotions, like the Mahdi. He was, instead, as Horace Greeley said, 'a plain, true, earnest, patriotic man, gifted with common sense.'"


This book definitely had me thinking about our presidential election this year. Think about how many people on either side  of this election said that the opposing candidate winning would be the worst decision a voter could make. How many, on either side, said the opposing candidate would bring the country to ruination? Well, take a look at what was being said of Lincoln during one of his election years:

"Had we any respect for Mr. Lincoln, official or personal, as a man, or as President-Elect of the United States, his career and speeches on his way to the seat of government would have cruelly impaired it. We do not believe the Presidency can ever be more degraded by any of his successors, than it has been by him, even before his inauguration." ~ The Baltimore Sun

Or the 1864 New Year's edition of The Crisis:

The people of the North owe Mr. Lincoln nothing but eternal hatred and scorn. There are  500,000  new made graves; there are 500,000 orphans; there are 200,000 widows; there is a bottomless sea of blood, there is the Constitution broken; there are liberty and law -- liberty in chains and in a dungeon; thieves in the Treasury, provost marshals in the seats of justice, butchers in the pulpit -- and these are the things which we owe Mr. Lincoln.

WOW. Sound familiar? I'm recalling something about history and repetition... Imagine, Lincoln ever being considered the worst president in history! But in his time, there were people that honestly saw it that way. Just as now, there are people that things couldn't be worse. Trueblood makes a good point regarding the President and the press:

 During his first year as President, Lincoln was faced with public criticism of a bitterness which is hard to believe. All men in public life are forced to bear abuse, but few have faced it as much as Lincoln faced it day after day. The writers in the newspapers could sound smart because they did not have the responsibilities of decision, and they could sound bold by enunciating extreme positions which they were not required to implement. Lincoln, by contrast, in order to maintain integrity had to reject extremes because he was sworn to be faithful to the welfare of the entire nation. 

Reading about Lincoln, and how he solidified his stance on slavery (in part, finding support in the Bible verse Matthew 25:40 -- 'Inasmuch as ye have it done unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me'), it makes me ponder how Lincoln would view our president now. What would he say about the hateful, racist things said about the guy? What would be his words of wisdom to bring people together and pull their heads out of their asses? Would they listen? Regardless of what you might think of our president as a person or a leader, the amount of blatantly racist, uneducated, uninformed comments I've seen thrown his way just off of his race... I've found it utterly ridiculous that with all the information in the world now, people can still choose to remain so f-n stupid when it comes to race and respect for fellow human beings in general. But I was warmed by one story in particular in this book, regarding Lincoln and Quaker Eliza Gurney.

widow of  English Quaker Joseph Gurney and friend of Abraham Lincoln


During the Civil War, Eliza Gurney became concerned for the mental health of Lincoln, what with the stress of brother versus brother out there killing each other and him being held largely responsible. Gurney rounded up three of her fellow Quakers (John M. Whithall, Hannah B. Mott and James Carey) and walked over to the White House to visit him -- back in the days when it was still cool to just walk up to the front door like you were taking over some mail that got mistakenly delivered to your house. Gurney explained that they were not there to request anything of the strained president, but instead offered their spiritual support and friendship. They came in, did a prayer circle with the president. They only intended to stay 15 minutes or so, but Lincoln found himself so lifted and refreshed by being given the opportunity to share the weight of his burdens with genuinely concerned friends that he asked them to stay longer, do some more praying, more talking. One of the Quakers later wrote that at one point, there was a moment of silent prayer where the tears were just rolling down Lincoln's face. Lincoln was so moved by the day and the generosity of these people that he asked Eliza to continue to write to him so that he may continue to talk out his fears and have a friend / Friend to pray over him (a sort of unofficial therapist, maybe?). You just don't hear these kinds of stories that often these days. But it was sweet to picture what a gift this must have been to Lincoln.

"Lincoln was grateful for the confidence of those who supported him so loyally in his difficult task, but he was deeply sobered by the fact that almost two million of his fellow countrymen had voted against him." ~~ Elton Trueblood



Another vintage Lincoln book I highly recommend if you can find a copy is Lincoln: His Words And His World, published by Country Beautiful in 1965. My copy pictured below:


This book explores the man behind the presidency through his letters and speeches. Heavily illustrated, it offers a wealth of info on him that's easy to read in sections. Might be a bit of a treasure hunt involved finding a copy though -- I was given this copy when I was a kid and it's the only one I've come across in person. I'm sure there's gotta be some out there on Amazon and Ebay though :-) But hey, that's half the fun of a collectible library right? The hunt!

And, seeing as how this is a book blog, I thought I'd share the list from Trueblood's book of
Lincoln's Top 5 Most Influential Reads:


  1. The Bible
  2. The plays of Shakespeare
  3. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  4. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
  5. Life of Washington by Mason Locke Weems 

No beach reads for that guy!  :-P  I take that back, Robinson Crusoe is kind of a beach read... of a different sort lol.... see ya next time to talk about Lincoln's missus!