Lincoln and the Will of God

February 12, 2008 | 104 comments
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The State of New Mexico officially recognizes Lincoln today. Our recognition doesn’t elevate him but it does elevate us.

Today First Things published Andrew Ferguson on Lincoln’s faith, Lincoln and the Will of God . Ferguson explains the real uncertainties about Lincoln’s faith and how everyone, from vegans to Christians to atheists, has tried to claim the “real” Lincoln. Read it. You won’t be sorry.

I’m a Lincoln man, myself. My impression is that the real Lincoln was a genuine sceptic, sceptical even of scepticism. And a real empiricist, accepting as evidence even his own inner experience. I believe he came to believe in Providence later in life (i.e., he was a theist, not a deist) because he had to or break, and he would have believed more than that if he could.

But I’m not positive about any of that, and I don’t care. We Mormons don’t have to fight over the dead Lincoln because we can claim the living Lincoln, thanks to Wilford Woodruff’s experience in the St. George temple (which is vastly underrated, in my opinion, as a source of religious meaning). And for myself, Lincoln is less a validation of my views than a source of them. I have my Lincoln canon, some of which would be well worth reading today.

The Second Inaugural,
The Gettysburg Address
The First Inaugural–”hold, occupy and possess” and “mystic chords of memory”
The letter to Mrs. Bixby, though you should know that scholars debate its authenticity.

P.S. If you want to noodle, check out the Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

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104 Responses to Lincoln and the Will of God

  1. matt b on February 12, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Actually, I think Lincoln’s spiritual greatness comes from his skepticism. His doubts about God made him humble, and hesitant to claim to know the mind or assert the favor of Deity in an age where (like our own) such claims were rampant.

    There’s Calvinism here, but in a roundabout, residual way.

  2. Bob on February 12, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Thank you Adam..I am not sorry for the read. Three men, I will continue a lifetime ponder of, but never hope to reach an understanding of: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Joseph Smith.
    Note: Smith was 4 when Lincoln was born, Lincoln was 17 when Jefferson died.

  3. Joey on February 12, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    I am a lurker here who stumbled upon the bloggernacle about a year ago. This is my first comment. I enjoy listening in on your conversations and gleening what knowledge I can. I too have always felt great admiration for Abraham Lincoln. He is one of my greatest heroes. Growing up I always wanted to be an attorney for no other reason than ALincoln was an attorney. Do any of you know whether the story I heard years ago about a Joseph Smith prophesy concerning Lincoln is true. The way I remember hearing this was that Joseph Smith was seeking help from Stephen A. Douglas when Douglas was an Illinois Senator or Congressman. Douglas apparently would not help the Mormons and as Joseph Smith was leaving he told Douglas that he would seek the presidency one day and that he would lose. In light of all the success Douglas previously had running against Lincoln, I like to think that there was some divine intervention in that election.

  4. Matt Evans on February 12, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    The Lincoln canon should include the emotional Farewell Address, given as Lincoln left Springfield for his presidential inauguration with states already seceded from the Union:

    My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

    He never did return to see Springfield, until the adorned train pulling his funeral casket returned his body to be buried. Also,

    O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
    The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
    The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
    While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
    But O heart! heart! heart!
    O the bleeding drops of red,
    Where on the deck my Captain lies,
    Fallen cold and dead.

    O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
    Rise up, for you the flag is flung, for you the bugle trills;
    For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths, for you the shores a-crowding;
    For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
    Here Captain! dear father!
    This arm beneath your head;
    It is some dream that on the deck,
    You’ve fallen cold and dead.

    My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
    My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
    The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
    From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
    Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
    But I, with mournful tread,
    Walk the deck my Captain lies,
    Fallen cold and dead.

    - Walt Whitman, of the recently victorious Union army

  5. Christopher on February 12, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    I present a lecture once a semester for a history class here at BYU on the theology of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. I essentially conclude with matt b’s (#1) suggestion that the greatness of Lincoln’s theology lies in his skepticism. Ronald C. White’s Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural is a great read that breaks down Lincoln’s theology expressed in that address, as well as Lincoln’s internal struggle with God that led up to the views expressed in the Second Inaugural.

  6. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    I think the greatness lies rather in the humility, the lack of rancor, the powerful condemnation of slavery, and the trust in God, rather than the skepticism per se. I’m sure you have good reasons for your conclusions, but from where I sit ‘rah, skepticism’ is not the obvious way in which to be affected by the speech.

  7. Ardis Parshall on February 12, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Joey, it’s not so much a pro-Lincoln as a contra-Douglas story, so I’ll tell it briefly. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois had always been fair in dealing with the Mormons. In about 1842, Missouri sought the help of the Illinois court in arresting Joseph Smith as a fugitive from justice; Douglas, who was a member of the Illinois Supreme Court and was sitting on cases from Hancock County, dismissed Missouri’s case because of defects in the arrest warrant (something about the writ being left over from an earlier case and not valid in a new case). Mormons through their political support behind the Democrats, Douglas’s party, at the next election, no doubt in gratitude for Douglas’s help. At some point, Joseph Smith told Douglas that he (Douglas) would prosper and would someday aspire to the U.S. Presidency, but *if* he ever betrayed the Mormons, his career would be over. In 1857, Douglas was in the United States Senate, and was chairman of the committee on territories, which of course had a great deal to do with Utah affairs. Looking forward to the 1860 election when he intended to run for president, Douglas abandoned his earlier fairness and, courting public favor in the vicious atmosphere leading to the Utah War, gave a speech in Springfield in which he called the Mormons a “loathesome ulcer on the body politic,” the only cure for which was “applying the knife.” The well known, well admired, skilful politician Stephen A. Douglas lost the 1860 election to the rough western nobody, Abraham Lincoln, and died in 1861.

    In support of Adam’s everybody-claims-Lincoln observation, I note that just last week I read an 1897 speech by a Unitarian minister in Salt Lake, giving elaborate reasons to prove why Lincoln was a Unitarian, or at least would have been a Unitarian had Unitarianism been around during Lincoln’s lifetime.

    I’m a Lincoln admirer, too, and have little doubt that Reconstruction would have been far more humane for my Alabama ancestors and their neighbors had Lincoln lived.

  8. Christopher on February 12, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    I think the greatness lies rather in the humility, the lack of rancor, the powerful condemnation of slavery, and the trust in God, rather than the skepticism per se.

    I see his skepticism about God being the source of much of Lincoln’s humility, lack of rancor, etc. Regarding the “powerful condemnation of slavery,” plenty of northern theologians and ministers (as well as abolitionists and others) condemned slavery in more forceful and condemning terms. Lincoln’s condemnation of slavery is compelling to me because it is tempered with humility and unsurety of Divine will.

  9. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    AEP, manaen, thanks for the particulars of Douglas’ reversal. I never knew them.

  10. manaen on February 12, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    #4 & #7,

    Re: Joseph Smith’s prophecy/warning to Stephen A. Douglas, here is an explanation from Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: Illinois [Provo: Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1995], H. Dean Garrett, ed:
    .
    “On 18 May 1843, a few months before he was elected to Congress, Douglas dined in Carthage with Joseph Smith and several of the elders of the Church on their return trip from the Mormon settlement Ramus, where the Prophet had given his now well-known set of instructions found in Doctrine and Covenants D&C 131. After dinner, Douglas asked Joseph to relate the history of the Church’s persecution in Missouri. Douglas listened with great attention and agreed with the Saints that they had been wronged by Governor Boggs and other authorities in Missouri and that these authorities should be brought to justice. Joseph Smith, grateful to speak to a prominent politician who would listen, prophesied that unless the United States redressed the wrongs committed against the Saints in Missouri and brought the offending parties to justice, in a few years the government would be utterly “overthrown and wasted.” Concluding, the Prophet uttered another prophecy, the aftermath of which has led to this essay. “Judge, you will aspire to the presidency of the United Sates,” prophesied Joseph Smith. “And if you ever turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of the Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life.” Douglas “appeared very friendly, and acknowledged the truth and propriety of President Smith’s remarks.” *
    p. 364.)
    .
    (* Joseph Smith, Jr.,History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1958), 5:393-94. James B. Allen in his Trials of Discipleship: The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon ((Urbana, IL: Univ of Illinois Press, 1987), 118-20, has written that Clayton’s extant journal does not discuss Joseph Smith’s prophecy about Douglas, although it does indicate that the two met in Carthage and dined together on 18 May. When LDS Church historians wrote this portion of Joseph Smith’s history during the 1850s, they either drew from another Clayton source, from Clayton verbally, or from other eye witnesses to the Smith-Douglas encounter such as Orson Hyde. In any event, the “prophecy” was published for the first time, in the Deseret News approximately a year before Douglas spoke out against the Mormons.)
    .
    .
    “Beginning in 1854 Douglas’s opponents in Illinois, remembering that he had been identified as a friend of the Mormons, charged that his Kansas-Nebraska bill and popular sovereignty were to be used by Douglas to bring Utah into the Union as a polygamous state. To these opponents, polygamy was a fate even worse than slavery. The national Republican Party was born in 1854, and in 1856 the party fielded its first presidential candidate. p.369] The Republicans, hoping to make political hay out of Mormon polygamy, which was universally unpopular, adopted a platform labeling slavery and polygamy the “twin relics of barbarism.” Up to 1856 Douglas Democrats in Illinois argued for toleration of the Mormons. But gradually Douglas himself came to realize that the charges that he was defending polygamy were becoming dangerous politically.

    Saddened that he was bettered by his long-time Democratic nemesis, James Buchanan, in his quest for the presidency in 1856, Douglas and his wing of the Democratic Party were even more jolted in March 1857 by the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision that attacked the heart of Douglas’s popular sovereignty ideas. The Kansas issue also heated up and by the end of the legislative session in May 1857, when Douglas returned to his constituents in Illinois, he was surly because of the criticisms he seemed to be receiving from all sides. In June the “Little Giant” was in Springfield, where he was asked by the Grand Jury of the United States District Court, then in session, to express his views on the three most important topics then agitating the minds of the American people-Kansas, the Dred Scott decision, and conditions in Utah Territory. The senator, taken by surprise, spoke extemporaneously before a large audience in the statehouse, later writing out his comments for publication. He entitled this speech, one of the most noteworthy of his career, “Kansas, Utah, and the Dred Scott Decision.”
    .
    “Douglas’s comments on Kansas were brief and optimistic. Over half of his speech was dedicated to his views on the Dred Scott decision. But his remarks on conditions in Utah were also extensive. Just weeks before this speech President Buchanan, bowing to public sentiment and relying upon reports from biased sources, ordered a military expedition to the Salt Lake Basin to replace Brigham Young with a non-Mormon, territorial governor. “Douglas was swept up in the tide of denunciation,” evaluates his most recent biographer. Douglas gave credence to wild reports that nine-tenths of Utah’s inhabitants were aliens who refused to become naturalized citizens. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories and being more familiar with Mormons and their ways than most politicians in Washington, Douglas must have known that this was untrue. He also charged that Mormons were “bound by horrid oaths and terrible penalties” to recognize Brigham Young’s authority as paramount to that of the United States and that the Mormon p.370] government was stimulating the Indians to acts of hostility as well as prosecuting “a system of robbery and murder upon American citizens.” If investigation should prove these charges to be true, Douglas asserted, then “the inhabitants of Utah, as a community, are outlaws and alien enemies.” The senator called on Congress “to apply the knife and cut out this loathsome, disgusting ulcer.” In a move to diffuse the arguments against his popular sovereignty principles, Douglas proposed repealing Utah’s Organic Act and blotting out the territorial government so that the offenders could be apprehended and punished. He conditioned his proposals, probably not well-thought-out in the first place: “If official reports and authentic information shall change or modify these facts, I shall be ready to conform my action to the real facts as they shall be found to exist. I have no such pride of opinion as will induce me to persevere in an error one moment after my judgment is convinced.”
    .
    “Immediately after Douglas sat down, the leading Republican spokesman in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, arose and promised to answer Douglas’s remarks in two weeks. Lincoln spent most of his rebuttal on the Dred Scott matter, but in turning to the Utah question, he accepted, like Douglas, most of the reports that purported to describe the “open rebellion” in that territory. Republicans could easily support Douglas’s solution for Utah, Lincoln pointed out. Lincoln and other Republicans who spoke out against Douglas’s Springfield speech argued primarily that Douglas’s proposal for Utah proved that “popular sovereignty” was ineffective, rather than that his attitude toward the Mormons was in error.”
    p. 370.)

  11. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    I see his skepticism about God being the source of much of Lincoln’s humility, lack of rancor, etc.

    You may be right, but I don’t see much evidence of that in the address. Unlike Lincoln’s famous meditation on divine will, for instance, the starting point of his reflection about God’s will in this speech is not the competing claims North and South that God is on their side. Scepticism, in my experience, is often proud and arrogant. My belief is that Lincoln’s scepticism was more likely a product of his humility than the other way around.

    Regarding the “powerful condemnation of slavery,” plenty of northern theologians and ministers (as well as abolitionists and others) condemned slavery in more forceful and condemning terms. Lincoln’s condemnation of slavery is compelling to me because it is tempered with humility and unsurety of Divine will.

    It’s not vitriolic, to be sure, but the gentle and thoughtful tone of the speech makes the condemnation of slavery all the more powerful. There is no unsurety or scepticism about his condemnation of slavery. We probably mostly agree on this.

  12. Christopher on February 12, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Unlike Lincoln’ famous meditation on divine will, for instance, the starting point of his reflection about God’swill in this speech is not the competing claims North and South that God is on their side.

    Where do you see the “starting point of his reflection about God’s will”? I see it in the following statement:

    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.

  13. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Ditto. It’s not really an expression of scepticism in this context.

  14. Scott Fife on February 13, 2008 at 12:24 am

    I am not a Lincoln man. On Lincoln’s watch, a bloody Civil War was fought, costing 600,000 American lives. A truly great President with vision, leadership, and one who was being spiritually guided by God, would have stopped this most terrible of all American tragedies from ever happening. Lincoln had the power to prevent the CW, yet he failed to do so.

    Also, Lincoln was no friend to the Mormons. He did not lift a finger in defense of the Mormons or against their persecution in his state of Illinois. He was silent. I find it ironic, that the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum were murdered not in Missouri, but in the “Land of Lincoln.”

    All is not lost for me however. The car I drive is a Lincoln.

  15. Ardis Parshall on February 13, 2008 at 12:47 am

    Scott, how familiar are you with the chronology of Lincoln’s election and inauguration on the one hand, and secession and the opening shots of the Civil War on the other? I think you’re mistaking great presidents with the cast of Heroes. And as for being a friend to the Mormons, I submit that Brigham Young would rather have had Lincoln serve a dozen terms than to have had to deal with either Buchanan or Grant. Especially Grant — when you’re looking for wicked men without vision, start there.

  16. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 12:30 am

    On Lincoln’s watch, a bloody Civil War was fought, costing 600,000 American lives. A truly great President with vision, leadership, and one who was being spiritually guided by God, would have stopped this most terrible of all American tragedies from ever happening

    I wished we lived in that kind of world, but we don’t. Monstrous evil happens and no one man can stop it.

  17. Ray on February 13, 2008 at 1:34 am

    #14 – Yeah, that wicked Captain Moroni. What an uninspired hack.

  18. manaen on February 13, 2008 at 2:02 am

    18. Ray – LOL!

    A pointless aside about Grant: The answer to “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” is “Nobody.” Grant’s tomb is in New York City because he/someone believed it would have more visitors there. Grant’s body remains entombed above ground, so it is not *buried*. I get half your bar-bet winnings for this.

  19. Scott Fife on February 13, 2008 at 2:17 am

    Ardis, I agree there were numerous Presidents who were not friends to the Mormons during the 1800′s, and Lincoln undoubtedly was not the worst. On a number of occasions, Brigham Young did have negative things to say about Lincoln, and his lack of support for the Saints, while they were in Illinois and Utah.

    Lincoln and only Lincoln, had the power to prevent the CW if he had wanted to. In Dec of 1860, Sen. John Crittenden of Kentucky, in coalition with several Northern and Southern congressmen, presented a compromise that would have prevented the Civil War. This was prior to South Carolina’s secession. With President Elect Lincoln’s support, this compromise would have passed. Instead Lincoln immediately rejected the compromise, and this opened the way for the tragic CW. A war that should have been averted at all costs. Lincoln didn’t have to raise a Union army to invade the South. He could have simply let the Southern states leave the Union. I submit that would have been preferable to the CW. How can we call ourselves the “United” States, when at gunpoint 11 states were forced to stay in the “Union?”

    We did not need to fight a CW to end slavery. The Southern states most certainly would have freed their slaves eventually, by 1900 at the latest. It would have been done gradually, as virtually all other nations in the world had ended slavery–without a civil war–and this gradual method would have been much better for both master and slave than a CW.

  20. Russell Arben Fox on February 13, 2008 at 1:26 am

    Especially Grant—when you’re looking for wicked men without vision, start there.

    Allow me to make a small defense of Grant. He was perhaps the last true believer in the ideal of Reconstruction in the south; under his adminstration, the Civil War amendments were actually enforced, and the freed blacks of the southern states had a short respite from the terrors of the KKK. Similarly, he worked in vain to get the American government–and specifically Congress–to honor treaties they had made with Native Americans; not for him the genocidal visions of Custer and Sherman. He was, indisputedly, a poor businessman and administrator, and didn’t exactly resist the smooth talkers and con-artists that he allowed to crowd into his administration. But a wicked man? No, I don’t think so.

  21. MCQ on February 13, 2008 at 2:31 am

    “Lincoln had the power to prevent the CW, yet he failed to do so.”

    There’s a statement that cries out for explanation, if there ever was one.

    Yes, Lincoln could have prevented war, if he was willing to accede to Southern seccession, Southern seizure of Federal munitions and properties, continued entrenchment of slavery in the South, and probable expansion of it westward. But hey, small price to pay, huh? Why isn’t it better to be two countries instead of one, right?

  22. MCQ on February 13, 2008 at 2:34 am

    “The Southern states most certainly would have freed their slaves eventually, by 1900 at the latest.”

    As a separate country? With an economy based on slavery? You are nothing if not an optimist.

  23. Matt Evans on February 13, 2008 at 2:43 am

    “Brigham Young did have negative things to say about Lincoln . . . while they were in Illinois and Utah.

    Do we really have record of Brigham Young saying anything (whether positive or negative) about Lincoln while he was in Illinois? Lincoln had a low profile in 1847.

    As for the civil war, it wasn’t fought to end slavery or preserve the Union, it was fought to save democracy. Democracy can’t work if losers can just leave — secession would have continued into progressively smaller pieces until an authoritarian power declared democracy a failed experiment and “restored order.” At the time, we were civilization’s democratic candle in the wind, and had Lincoln not fought, the democratic experiment would have been set back 200-plus years. Kiss a $5 bill next time you vote.

  24. MCQ on February 13, 2008 at 3:02 am

    Amen Matt.

    “A war that should have been averted at all costs.”

    All costs? Really? Is there nothing worse than war? I think the slaves might have disagreed with you about this. The Civil War wasn’t (originally) fought to end slavery, but it ended by having that effect. 100 years more of slavery would certainly have been a worse evil than the Civil War was.

    You know, we could have avoided WWII as well, and saved so many lives! All we had to do was placate Germany and Japan until they governed most of the world. Would that really be so bad? Hitler would have learned not to be so intolerant by no later than 1980. Shouldn’t we have just given him a chance?

  25. mlu on February 13, 2008 at 3:02 am

    “Lincoln had the power to prevent the CW, yet he failed to do so.”

    He certainly continued the war at an escalating cost and through difficulties that gave him many chances to end it, though not win it, sooner than he did.

    I am a “Lincoln man” if that means I admire him greatly and hold him somewhat in awe.

    But I have had times, long times, when I wondered whether I could be so sure of any political conviction to have stayed the course he stayed. Actually, that’s not quite what I wonder, because I’m pretty sure I would have wavered any number of times, and usually I want politicians who will eventually bend because otherwise things are guaranteed to break. Principles that are too strong in politicians make me nervous. It leads to wars.

    Usually. But then I think he called it right, as in the message he sent to Congress accompanying the Emancipation Proclamation that America was “the last best hope of the Earth.” Without a free and powerful nation, whole-heartedly committed to the ideals of liberty for everyone, it’s hard to imagine what the twentieth century would have been like with its vast slave empires on the march.

    But still, his certainty as the body count rose gives me pause. Then I say a prayer of thanks that he was there and we are past it.

  26. Ardis Parshall on February 13, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Russell, my assessment of Grant as a wicked man starts and ends with the qualification “as for being a friend to the Mormons.” Outside of that, I’m willing to endorse all the good qualities you attribute to him, (although a lot of southern innocents who suffered under and after Reconstruction might not), and I’ll throw in kindness to babies and good table manners as a bonus. But he was abominable to the Mormons.

    As for Scott’s alternate history — just about anything is possible in the realm of fantasy, but rational people aren’t usually willing to project a 40-year timeline with such certainty. If any one moment in late 1860 was so critical to the path of human history that it could have averted the Civil War, an almost infinite number of other moments in the following years would have brought it on again, or sparked something even more terrible, because neither men’s hearts nor generations of building pressure over slavery or states’ rights (whichever simplistic label you want to put on the complex stew of passions behind the Civil War) could be resolved overnight by *any* compromise. “Peace” or “stability,” or however you envision the outcome of your fantasy absence of the start of the Civil War, could/can never be established so permanently as you seem to think, as long as Satan remains unbound.

  27. Russell Arben Fox on February 13, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Ardis, I’ll submit to your superior knowledge of those elements of 19th-century history–including the Grant administration–that pertain to us Mormons.

    As for Lincoln and the Civil War, I’m afraid I’m going to have to give Scott Fife his due. I think he’s ultimately wrong, both historically and morally, in making the case he does, but his case is not a ludicrous or irresponsible fantasy; to pull out the heavy ideological guns–to make the Civil War an all-or-nothing battle “to save democracy”–doesn’t do Lincoln’s cause any favors. The Civil War was a product of many forces, as Ardis and Adam maintain, but there were nonetheless choices–moral as well as strategic and/or political choices–that Lincoln or others might have made that could have delayed it, or could have minimized it, or could have turned it into something other than a contest which resulted in over a half-million deaths and permanently altered (in some ways for the better, in some ways for the worse) the shape of our nation. Or maybe not. When all is said and done, I tend to think that the Civil War, on the balance, was a “Good War,” with all that entails, as well as a necessary one, for both moral and historical reasons. But we shouldn’t ignore the face that, for example, there wasn’t a single Founding Father–from the progressives like Jefferson to the conservatives like Adams–who wouldn’t have considered a national war over an abstract ideal like “equality” to be complete madness.

  28. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 10:06 am

    The Southern states most certainly would have freed their slaves eventually, by 1900 at the latest.

    Thank you, AEP. I’d be pretty sheepish to meet Lincoln in the beyond and admit that I’d been attacking his character on the basis of some rosy, happyface alternate history that no one at the time he made his decisions really envisioned. (Someone mentioned WWII–I should note that there actually are historians who blame Churchill for continuing with his “war of choice” instead of making a deal with Hitler after Dunkirk.).

  29. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Scott Fife made the same argument in a prior thread:

    The American Civil War was a great tragedy, that never should have been fought. Both sides share blame, however, Lincoln was the only man who had the power to prevent it, but he was unwilling to compromise with the South on the spread of slavery to the territories. Lincoln had a civil war during his watch. A war that caused over 600,000 American soldier deaths on American soil, and caused great divisions in our union that remain to this present day.

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3877#comment-225005

    Of course, I am not in favor of slavery, but I would have been in favor of extending slavery to the territories in order to prevent a civil war. Lincoln himself said years before, that slavery was on the path to extinction. A civil war did not have to be fought to free the slaves. The Southern states certainly would have eventually freed the slaves, probably by 1900 at the latest, and this would have been a much better solution to the slavery dilema than fighting an unnecessary, tragic war

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3877#comment-225031

  30. Mormon Paleo on February 13, 2008 at 10:19 am

    In defense of Scott Fife:

    Let me fire another shot or two into the volley. First off, I do respect President Lincoln. But my feelings are mixed.

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Civil War was worth it or necessary, except as a fulfillment of prophecy that a nation that had rejected the true and living Gospel must suffer terrible consequences.

    I have a hard time seeing why preserving the Union was such a critical need. Was it really worth 600,000 lives? The Civil War was not fought to end slavery. Abraham Lincoln would have continued slavery in the South, if it would have preserved the Union. Why was preserving the Union worth 600,000 lives? Couldn’t peace have been made rather quickly? I am baffled here.

    The North invaded the South. As I see it, the Union was the aggressor. (Captain Moroni defended his people from attacks, incidentally. He was never the aggressor.) This actually sounds more like the southern states than the northern. The North could have withdrawn Union troops and artillery from the South and let the South secede peacefully, as many northern states (including New England states) had threatened many times. Remember the principles of ’98? (1798, that is). Oh, that’s right. We don’t really talk about them.

    We forget that history is written by the victors. For that reason, I don’t think we really understand the southern perspective. It seems like many paint the Civil War as the good guys (the Union) vs. the bad guys (citizens of Southern slave-holding states). It is more complicated than this. For similar reasons, we have a much weaker comprehension of the pre-war ante-bellum period than we otherwise would have; such widespread knowledge would surely help us understand, at least in context, early Church history.

    Many European critics, for instance, painted the Civil War as the first birth pangs of an American empire, of a Northern country forcing or compelling the southern Confederacy to submit to a large federal government. Some would say (probably most) that states’ rights, as a result, have seen a significant downturn as a result.

    There were all manner of economic inflationary problems associated with the Civil War as well. It was an unnecessary, bloody, reckless mess.

    By the way, thumbs up for Abraham Lincoln endorsing the spot resolution in regards to the Mexican War. I am quite proud of him for this little-known fact.

    I am sure I am opening the floodgates with this revisionist perspective. So be it.

  31. Nat on February 13, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Most great men — and women — are not one-dimensional cartoon characters, but are flesh and blood people who usually are bundles of contradictions. Most are flawed — King David, for example, or even Joseph Smith — and so was Lincoln. Still, I wouldn\’t replace him for all the rest of our presidents put together.

  32. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 10:33 am

    RAF,
    I think your argument partakes of the same abstraction that you condemn. The view that the Civil War is reasonably wrong is one you can only take by stepping outside the American experiment. I don’t feel detached from America. I am an American by birth and conviction.

  33. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 10:40 am

    The North invaded the South. As I see it, the Union was the aggressor. (Captain Moroni defended his people from attacks, incidentally. He was never the aggressor.) This actually sounds more like the southern states than the northern. The North could have withdrawn Union troops and artillery from the South and let the South secede peacefully

    The South fired the first shot. The South could have avoided the Civil War entirely simply by giving up their demand that unless slavery were extended to all the territories they would secede. Its always true that any one side can end a war by giving the other side what it wants. In this case what the North wanted was far more reasonable and just than what the South wanted.

    We forget that history is written by the victors.
    This is a slogan, not an eternal principle. In fact a good deal of the history of the Civil War and of the South was written from a pro-Southern perspective, even today. The victorious Union never really suppressed Southern writing on the subject or tried to propagandize its views in southern schools.

  34. Russell Arben Fox on February 13, 2008 at 10:57 am

    The view that the Civil War is reasonably wrong is one you can only take by stepping outside the American experiment.

    I disagree. You embrace the America that Lincoln made. I also embrace (though perhaps with a greater sense of the tragic and the “what-might-have-been” than you) the American that Lincoln made. But there was an America that existed before the one that Lincoln made; nearly a century of it, in fact. That is a legitimate slice of the “American experiment” within which the Scott Fifes and the traditionalist conservatives and the decentralists among us can attach themselves to and use to judge and, if they so choose, reject Abraham Lincoln, in the same way that many contemporary conservatives use the post-Civil-War-capitalist-individualism slice of the American experiment to judge and reject the New Deal, or the Great Society, or pretty much the entire welfare state. (For that matter, you can also find certain theocons who seems to believe that pretty much everything after the Puritan Settlement has similarly gotten the American experiement “wrong.”)

    There’s a lot of Americas out there that one can belong to, Adam. The fact that one of them triumphed ideologically in defining our character and system of government not entirely through moral argument or historical necessity, but also through killing off most of its opponents, is the way things often work in the fallen world. America’s no different than any other country; we can exult in it and mourn for it at the same time.

  35. Eric Boysen on February 13, 2008 at 9:58 am

    “But we shouldn’t ignore the face that, for example, there wasn’t a single Founding Father—from the progressives like Jefferson to the conservatives like Adams—who wouldn’t have considered a national war over an abstract ideal like “equality” to be complete madness.”

    What about the abstract ideal of liberty?

  36. Ardis Parshall on February 13, 2008 at 11:05 am

    My skepticism over Scott’s alternate history is not that I am convinced that the Civil War was a good thing, or that preserving the Union was worth 600,000 lives, or any of the other suggested reasons. My disbelief is because I recognize the human passions and the hair-trigger tempers that you all seem to be overlooking when you posit rational “solutions” to the war. For tens of thousands of people, it (however you’re willing to define “it”) was indeed all or nothing. An 1860 proposal of compromise that looks oh-so-logical to you today could have had no effect in cooling the passions or resolving the pent-up frustrations and indignation and the absolute conviction that we (whoever “we” is to you) had been unpardonably wronged. That doesn’t go away with the stroke of a politician’s pen to some compromise.

    (And the South invaded the North, too — they just weren’t successful enough to keep it up.)

  37. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Even if the founding can be understood in the terms you argue it can be, RAF, nothing Lincoln can have done would have revived it. War ended the vision as you describe it, but so did the secession of several states to found a slave republic because they had lost an election. I do not agree that the South’s actions were consistent with the founding vision in any reasonable view of it. So it follows that those who argue against Lincoln because his actions were against the founding really are arguing outside the American experiment.

  38. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 10:19 am

    the replies to Fife’s argument that slavery would have ended in 40 years are so are worth reading:

    Kaimi points out that the slaves were people and that 40 more years of whipping, beating, separation from family, castration, mutilation, etc., is not irrelevant.
    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3877#comment-225133

    Madera Verde pointed out that

    Third, I don’t think that the end of slavery was inevitable. Consider the virtual slavery instituted by the nazis. Industrialization isn’t inherently incompatible with slavery. Even if it were, agriculture would be – and still is – a lot more profitable with cheap labor.
    I would even go so far as to assert that if the South and North had gone their separate ways there would still be slavery or the de facto equivalent. Consider the economic sanctions and political pressure that helped end apartheid in S.Africa. If S.Africa hadn’t been alone and had oil rich and idealogically committed allies what would have been the result?

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3877#comment-225155

  39. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 10:19 am

    And here was my response–

    The argument that the Republicans’ huff over slavery was pointless because slavery would have soon vanished anyway is flawed for three reasons:

    1) In part its a hindsight argument. We know now that Brazil was going to voluntarily abolish slavery in the 1890s, so we assume that slavery’s near-term extinction was inevitable. But Lincoln and his contemporaries did not know that. When we judge Lincoln and his contemporaries, we have to judge them by their motives and the information they had. When we do we find (a) that there was no universal consensus that slavery was economically unviable–many Northeners thought it was but many Southerners thought differently and even those Northerners who thought slavery probably held back the economic progress of the South as a whole were inclined to believe that the plantation owners (the ruling elite) benefited from it economically; (b) that Lincoln and many others were quite willing to leave slavery alone as long as they were convinced it was firmly on the course of ultimate extinction–but they believed that slavery was not on the course to ultimate extinction if the slave-power succeeded in expanding to Central America and the West Indies, succeeded in making slavery universally legal in all federal territories, succeeded, as hinted in the Dred Scott decision, at making free states constitutionally unable to prevent the importation of slavery into their soil.
    In the 1850s, slavery did not seem to be declining. Cotton enjoyed an enormous boon, slaves had become valuable enough that some illicit slave-trading had revived, Southerners had widely switched from seeing slavery as a necessary evil to seeing it as a positive good, Southerners had started to actively agitate for the expansion of slavery, including by conquest of Cuba and Central America, and the slave-power had won numerous political victories, including Dred Scott, the overthrow of the Compromise of 1850, and a strengthened fugitive slave act. Slavery was profitable enough that southerners had started to agitate for reopening the African slave trade and, in fact, a few expeditions had evaded the US and British navies and had made enormous profits on slave cargos. These ship captains and crews were acclaimed and feted in the South.

    2) Even if you ignore the fact that our perspective is a hindsight perspective, you have to acknowledge that our perspective is of a world in which the Civil War occurred. The world in which Cuba and Brazil abolished slavery was a world in which opinion had been shaped by the Union’s bloody and resolute victory over the South. Would black slavery have appeared so obviously an anachronism and an evil if Sherman’s legions hadn’t marched through Georgia, burning and liberating, singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic while ex-slaves danced and former masters cowered? It appeared to the minds of men that God had judged the slavers and had decreed his decree in awful blood and gunfire, mene, mene, tekel, upharsim. I’m being poetic here but I think the Civil War really did change attitudes.

    3) The argument that slavery was economically inferior to free labor does not mean that slavery’s extinction was inevitable. Economic institutions, once set in place, can be extremely difficult to change, even if, in theory, a different set of institutions would be preferable. Its the economic equivalent of the founder effect. This is even more so when powerful interests do benefit economically from these institutions (think the planter class); when there are strong emotional, cultural, and ideological supports for the institutions (as was the case in the South); and when there are non-material benefits that the institution offers (when it comes to slavery, mastery and dominion are attractive in themselves and not just because they’re profitable).

    4) The argument that slavery was notably economically inferior to free labor may not be true, at least through the industrialized age. There is a large literature arguing both sides of the question.

    P.S. For a look at what a “vibrant” industrial slave economy might look like, take a look at this dystopia:
    http://www.alternatehistory.com/decadesofdarkness/

  40. Mark N. on February 13, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Is there nothing worse than war?

    I guess I’m going to have to go back over my Sermon at the Mount and Sermon at the Temple texts to see if I can find the part where Christ encourages me to judge and kill others for any reason whatsoever.

  41. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    This is the difference I think between a conservative and a reactionary. A reactionary has to abstract from the actual, existing moral order in search of something found only in history books (often not even there).

    RAF, I was thinking more about our conversation on the drive in to work and I was going to say that while I do not necessarily accept the particulars of the New Deal, I accept the principles (and even to some extent with a more recent and more contested event like the Great Society) precisely because I am a conservative and an American patriot. Paleocons usually seem utopian and ideological to me. But I find Jeremiah J. has said it better than me.

    I second Jeremiah J.’s appreciation for your argument.

  42. Russell Arben Fox on February 13, 2008 at 11:17 am

    I do not agree that the South’s actions were consistent with the founding vision in any reasonable view of it. So it follows that those who argue against Lincoln because his actions were against the founding really are arguing outside the American experiment.

    I guess I’m not as convinced as you that I have definitively discovered the true “reasonable view” of the founding, and thus of America. Lincoln and his defenders have a very strong argument, one that I find morally, politically, and historically persuasive; that’s as far as I can go. I can’t get myself to the point where I’m capable of discounting the claimed “Americanness” of other arguments entirely.

  43. Russell Arben Fox on February 13, 2008 at 11:20 am

    My disbelief is because I recognize the human passions and the hair-trigger tempers that you all seem to be overlooking when you posit rational “solutions” to the war.

    For whatever it’s worth, I assume that any other possible response to the multiple crises of the decade before the Civil War would have been equally “irrational,” perhaps even more so.

  44. Jeremiah J. on February 13, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Adam and RAF: A nice exchange; thank you both. I’ll take a side on one thing Adam said:

    “I think your argument partakes of the same abstraction that you condemn. The view that the Civil War is reasonably wrong is one you can only take by stepping outside the American experiment. I don’t feel detached from America. I am an American by birth and conviction.”

    Yes, I think so. Nullification and secession were once part of the American conversation. Now they are as Samuel Beer once wrote, “heresy”. In fact that’s an understatement, because heresies are often viable alternatives. It’s true that the moral perspective of the South was defeated at least in part by force. But it doesn’t exist in any way that we have the normal kind of access to. So it’s true that “There’s a lot of Americas out there that one can belong to,”, but the Puritan Settlement and the side of the South in the Civil War (T-shirts worn in my neck of the woods notwithstanding) are not among them. This is the difference I think between a conservative and a reactionary. A reactionary has to abstract from the actual, existing moral order in search of something found only in history books (often not even there). Perhaps this is what RAF is acknowledging when he explains that “we can exult in [this situation] and mourn for it at the same time.”

  45. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    I guess I’m not as convinced as you that I have definitively discovered the true “reasonable view” of the founding, and thus of America.

    I’m mumbling then. I’m not arguing that Lincoln had the right, true view of the founding. I’m arguing that the founding didn’t really account for the controversy that led to the Civil War, that because time marches on neither Lincoln nor the secesh could have been true to the founding as such, and therefore that criticizing Lincoln from the standpoint of 1789 is bootless and praising the secesh from the standpoint of 1789 is purblind. Instead you have to creatively reimagine the founding in the particular circumstances of 1860-1861 and when you do that, Lincoln looks more reasonable to me than the South–the South did not have a reasonable argument that he was planning to interfere with “domestic institutions” as such, what the South wanted was an actual affirmation of slavery.

  46. Mark B. on February 13, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Scott Fife said (if I read Adam’s citation correctly): “Lincoln himself said years before, that slavery was on the path to extinction.”

    Lincoln many times spoke of slavery being put on the path to extinction, but his hopes for that were dashed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, by Douglas’s Popular Sovereignty and by the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision. It is hardly historical to suggest that Lincoln thought that slavery was on the path to ultimate extinction after 1857.

    As to Grant (and realizing that Ardis’s comment was intended mainly to address his relationship with the church), perhaps his one greatest moment was when he wrote the following about the Mexican War:

    . . . to this day [I] regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.

    A close second for Grant was his working on in great pain to complete his memoirs, as he was dying of cancer, in hopes that sales of the books might provide for his wife and children after his death. They otherwise would have been left penniless. He completed work on the Memoirs (a great read, by the way) less than two weeks before his death.

    Back to Lincoln’s skepticism: it seems (at least later in his life) to have been aimed more at the ability of man to discern the Almighty’s purposes, than at the existence of the Almighty or of those purposes. And that’s the greatness of the Second Inaugural–invoking God not as the author of the Union’s impending victory–Appomattox was just five weeks away–but as the Unknown Director of human events to whose will we must ultimately submit.

  47. Jason J on February 13, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Great discussion.

    All I can add is another gem from the Lincoln lexicon, a letter to Albert Hodges on April 4, 1864:

    “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation’s condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.”

    I’m sure many of you have read the letter, but here’s the full text if you haven’t already had the pleasure: http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/hodges.htm. The letter is not only fascinating in substance, but shows Lincoln in top rhetorical form.

  48. Mark B. on February 13, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Nice addition, Jason. That letter, and Lincoln’s earlier musings on divine will, show that the themes of the Second Inaugural weren’t something that dawned on him on March 3, 1865, as he sat musing in his study wondering what to say the next day.

  49. Ray on February 13, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    We need to very careful of making any statements that involve not taking some action “at all costs” – especially if we aren’t the ones paying the cost for inaction.

  50. Bob on February 13, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    #32: Like others, I could write all day on this, but will just go with “We forget that history is written by the victors. For that reason, I don’t think we really understand the southern perspective”.
    None better than Shelby Foote said all the good Civil War writings were done by Southern writers. I think all wars have points where they could have been avoided, or stopped. And if those who fought them had seen the end price, maybe they would have been.

    siuthern write

  51. Bob on February 13, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    #49: I can’t think of any action I would take “at all costs”(?)

  52. Bob on February 13, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    #52: I guess I need your definition of “inaction”. I am not seeing sermons from Christ of action other than love, etc. I see calls as turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar, go the extra mile, forgive and love you enemies, blessed are the peacemakers, let he who is without sin…, etc. These seem calls for inaction to me.

  53. MCQ on February 13, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    “I guess I,m going to have to go back over my Sermon at the Mount and Sermon at the Temple texts to see if I can find the part where Christ encourages me to judge and kill others for any reason whatsoever.”

    Encourages? No, I don’t think you’ll find that. But I think you will also look in vain for a justification in Christ’s sermons for inaction in the face of slavery, murder and holocaust.

  54. Bob on February 13, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    #54: “But an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and to faithfully execute its laws calls for some kind of action.”
    Or no action…..like rewriting it.

  55. Mark B. on February 13, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    But an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and to faithfully execute its laws calls for some kind of action.

    And, Lincoln was right when, in the Second Inaugural, he described the beginning of the war:

    While the [first] inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war–seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

  56. Mark N. on February 14, 2008 at 1:27 am

    an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and to faithfully execute its laws calls for some kind of action.

    The Constitution was in no danger whatsoever. Lincoln didn’t go to war to defend the Constitution, he went to war to preserve a union of States that some no longer wanted to be a part of.

    If Lincoln had just said, “Go your way in peace”, would it have been so awful?

  57. Ray on February 14, 2008 at 2:13 am

    #57 – Kind of depends from whose perspective you are looking.

  58. Mark N. on February 14, 2008 at 2:17 am

    When is anyone ever justified in saying “If you don’t do what I tell you to do, I will kill you” to their fellow man?

  59. Mark N. on February 14, 2008 at 1:23 am

    I think you will also look in vain for a justification in Christ’s sermons for inaction in the face of slavery, murder and holocaust.

    Shame on that Mormon for utterly refusing to be a commander and a leader of his people, because of their wickedness and abomination. Such disgusting inaction in the face of slavery, murder and holocaust.

    Of course, he relented after a while, but he knew it was hopeless.

    I’m of the opinion that the Nephites were destroyed because they had been given a higher law with the coming of Christ, and they judged the words of Christ to be “a thing of naught”.

    2000 years ago, we might have been able to use the Old Testament to argue some sort of justification for war. Those days are now long gone.

  60. JimD on February 14, 2008 at 1:27 am

    But I think you will also look in vain for a justification in Christ’s sermons for inaction in the face of slavery, murder and holocaust.

    In the face of this, then, can we agree that the Iraq war – insomuch that the US engaged in it to remove a brutal dictator – was just? (Not expedient, necessarily, but just?)

  61. Bob on February 14, 2008 at 2:20 am

    #57:”If Lincoln had just said, “Go your way in peace”, would it have been so awful? Yes. Who else would have left? Who would have joined? What good is a Constitution of United States, with no member states?
    #58:”insomuch that the US engaged in it to remove a brutal dictator – was just?” No, Not of the USA created that that dictator, to fight Iran as our guy.

  62. Scott Fife on February 14, 2008 at 3:46 am

    What a great “democratic” nation we have here, that forces states at gunpoint to stay in the Union. Maybe we should start calling this country the Un-United States. Eleven Southern states desired to leave the Union, and form their own democracy. The Union would still be preserved, but with 11 fewer states. The Union would not be desolved. Who knows, maybe some or all of the Southern states would have eventually rejoined the United States, or maybe not. So what? It should be their decision. Two great democratic nations would be side by side, allied together in many ways.

    Suppose the state of Alaska decided they wanted to leave the union, and form their own nation. Would you be willing to die as a soldier in a war forcing Alaska to stay? Would you be willing to send your sons and daughters to their deaths in Alaska, fighting such a war? Would you be willing to kill your family relatives who might live in Alaska? I think not.

    Let them go in peace, Mr Lincoln. Blessed are the peacemakers.

  63. Ray on February 14, 2008 at 3:47 am

    #60 (and #51) – I can think of a few – not totally in context of the Civil War, but certainly in context of avoiding sweeping statements of “never at all costs”. Just one example:

    If I discover someone brutally torturing someone else, and if I know this torture will last indefinitely if it is not stopped, and if the only way to stop it is to threaten to kill the perpetrator (then follow through and kill said perpetrator if he doesn’t stop), I have no problem with saying, “If you don’t do what I tell you to do, I will kill you.” To me, that is an absolute no-brainer.

    NOTE: I am not using this as a justification for the Iraq War, so please don’t turn it into a threadjack on that subject.

  64. Kaimi Wenger on February 14, 2008 at 4:19 am

    “If Lincoln had just said, “Go your way in peace”, would it have been so awful?”

    Awful for who?

    It would have been great for Southern landowners, sure. For slaves, not so much.

  65. Adam Greenwood on February 14, 2008 at 10:18 am

    I will remove any further comments on the subject of the Iraq war.

  66. Adam Greenwood on February 14, 2008 at 10:20 am

    A democracy where votes aren’t binding is no democracy at all. The southern states tried to break the Union because they lost an election and because the other states refused to concede that slavery should be expanded. Their leaving was abominable.

  67. Mark B. on February 14, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Further to Adam’s point, the Constitution was adopted not by the states, but by the people of the United States. To suggest that it was not in danger by the rebellion of some of those people, or to suggest that states could at will leave the union, is to ignore the fundamental nature of the document itself.

    And, to suggest that a nation built upon the sweat of other men’s faces would be a great democracy is rather like saying that Ian Smith’s Rhodesia was a great democracy.

    Lincoln didn’t choose war. The South chose war by taking property of the United States, by interfering with the laws of the United States (including, especially, those relating to collection of customs duties) and by assaulting the armed forces of the United States (see, e.g., Fort Sumter). And, Lincoln didn’t choose the length and terrible-ness of the war. Remember, again, his words from the Second Inaugural:

    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.

    The South could have ended the slaughter at any time by ceasing their rebellion.

  68. Ardis Parshall on February 14, 2008 at 11:01 am

    The South could have ended the slaughter at any time by ceasing their rebellion.

    I agree more overall with Mark B. than with most commenters in this thread, so I apologize for targeting your comment this way, Mark.

    But while a simplistic statement like this looks nice on the page and may be logically true, it is about as realistic as saying the saints could become perfect at any time by ceasing to sin, or I could win the Boston Marathon at any time by running faster than the competition, or the US could become independent of foreign oil at any time by ceasing to import petroleum.

    The neat little formulas offered so often in this discussion ignore historical circumstances, and especially ignore genuine human behavior. They don’t help anyone achieve understanding of the past; they are only cannonballs lobbed at opponents over an ideological divide. Kind of like the Civil War itself.

  69. Eric Boysen on February 14, 2008 at 11:06 am

    The Constitution clearly included a process for adding states, but not for removing them. It was silent on seccession and the arguments for whether the union was indivisable went back a long way. Force of arms has now decided this question for us. I wonder though if the south in time could not have made a good enough case to the north to ultimately create an ammendment to allow seccession to occur legally.

    As it was, no one in 1861 knew how long the war would run or what it would cost the country. The north thought a quick romp to Richmond would rout the traitors, and the south thought if they could defend Richmond from the first stroke that the north would give up. Well, it wasn’t a romp, and the south underestimated the north’s resolve. “And the war came.” Further investment of blood and treasure made it necessary to justify the conflict in a process of rationalization that Linclon alluded to in the Second inaugural.

    I doubt not that reasonable men could have prevented the war, but reason was not the order of the day. Questions unanswered, compromises that covered over the the structural conflict of the uneasy union of unlike states from the beginning, were festering in the political fissures of the mid 19th century. All that had to come out, and would have eventually. A half generation later the conflict might have shown a different face, but I think it still would have spilt the blood of hundreds of thousands.

    The judgements of God were upon the nation. Let it never be so again!

  70. Matt Evans on February 14, 2008 at 11:23 am

    I wonder though if the south in time could not have made a good enough case to the north to ultimately create an ammendment to allow seccession to occur legally.

    That’s the right response to Scott — in a democracy already established, the rules for how to handle disagreements are settled. They vote. If they lose, they can persuade and argue and vote again.

  71. Mark B. on February 14, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Yeah, Ardis, you got me. Mea culpa.

  72. Bob on February 14, 2008 at 11:46 am

    #63: “To me, that is an absolute no-brainer.”
    But what if the “perpetrator ” is CIA, trying to “find the ticking bomb”, do you still take the shot? What if you knew the perpetrator’s family would now kill your six kids. do you still take the shot… “at all costs”.?

  73. Jonovitch on February 14, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Mark B. (67), you’re right on the money. I don’t think I’ve seen a better summary of the reasons for the beginnings of the Civil War.

    Ardis (68), brilliant, simply brilliant. Way to smack down Mark B!

    Mark B. (71), way to take that smackdown from Ardis! Instead of whining and diving deeper into the mud of polemical rhetoric (on this topic? never!), you acknowledged your deficiency. Wow, now there’s a novel approach.

    :)

    Jon

  74. Adam Greenwood on February 14, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    If you were a Virginian, would you fight against the counties of western Virginia which didn’t want to secede from the Union?

    An interesting point. The Confederacy viewed the West Virginians and the East Tenneseans as traitors because they did not want to go along with the majority view in their state. Although Lincoln gets all the obloquy for this, Jefferson Davis suspended habeas corpus in East Tennessee and executed unionist East Tenneseans as traitors without judicial trial. I believe the Confederacy executed more “traitors” than the United States did (don’t quote me). And this is to say nothing of the Confederate’s extralegal, not to say illegal, attempts to bring in Kentucky, Missouri, etc. (or to say nothing of slavery, for that matter–I bet slaves would have left the Confederacy if allowed). If you wish to condemn all violence designed to keep people in a polity against their will, you have to condemn the Confederacy.

    If not, then you’re just taking sides in the argument the southern states and the United States had about whether there was a right to secede from the United States. The pro-Union argument is at least as good as the other and is ratified by events, so as an American I accept it.

  75. Matt Evans on February 14, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    “If you wish to condemn all violence designed to keep people in a polity against their will, you have to condemn the Confederacy.”

    That’s both clever and accurate, reminding how slavery tainted everything it touched and vitiating the South’s argument for self-rule.

  76. Jason J on February 14, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    I’m surprised how many of these anti-Lincoln arguments are based on pure “democratic” arguments. It seems to me that Lincoln didn’t do in a purely democratic America; the Constitution did. The Federalist makes clear that at least one perceived problem with the Articles of Confederation was that the regime was too democratic, leading to factions and probable interstate conflict.

    The Constitution has democratic elements, sure, but the document was steering the new states away from democracy to a more stable republic. I believe that the Constitution provides greater safeguards to freedom than a democracy would. I also believe that the Constitution provides greater safeguards to freedom after the Civil War amendments than it did before.

  77. Jeremiah J. on February 14, 2008 at 11:55 am

    “What a great “democratic” nation we have here, that forces states at gunpoint to stay in the Union. Maybe we should start calling this country the Un-United States.”

    Democracy and coercion are compatible. Indeed, without coercion no government is possible. Since I don’t see anywhere in the Constitution that grants states some special right of exit, I don’t think they’re much different from other national or ethnic groups within the U.S. who might want to carve out their own country, or individuals who want to secceed on their own land.

    “Would you be willing to kill your family relatives who might live in Alaska? I think not.”

    If you were a Virignian, would you fight against the counties of western Virginia which didn’t want to secede from the Union? Would you fight against a white supremacist group trying to claim northern Idaho as an Aryan republic (if they had a majority of people in favor on some piece of land)? Would you fight against a “Ron Paul Revolution” which took up arms and refused to accept the authority of the federal government until president McCain/ Obama was removed and their man installed (not that Paul advocates such a move, just to be clear)? I wouldn’t *want* to fight against other American citizens; it would be very bad if it came to that. But it seems in these cases that it would be right. Maybe these situations can be distinguished from the situation of a state secceeding, but I don’t think they can.

    It seems to me that secession, approved within a political constitution and of course by the seceding part, is possible. But not secession which comes about through violence, a threat to leave, or an actual declaration of a separate political community.

    63 and 64: I’m Lincoln was surely concerned about slavery in what would be a separated South, but that wasn’t his justification for using force against them. He was pretty clear throughout his career that slavery should be eliminated gradually, within the Constitution. It was only when the South tried to spread slavery throughout the country, and then decisively when they secceeded from the Union, that other options became legitimate and possible. The upshot seems to be that Lincoln’s rationale for the Civil War would not require that he approve of other wars to free other slaves in other countries.

  78. JimD on February 14, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Forgive me, Adam. Believe it or not, I wasn’t trying to really open the Iraq can of worms – I just wanted to make the point that a theory of jus ad bellum is useless unless it’s universally applicable. If we aren’t willing to grant that liberation of the oppressed is not, in and of itself, sufficient justification to start a war in 2003, was it really sufficient justification to start a war in 1861?

    But I suppose even that’s a bit far afield from your topic. Feel free to delete away! ;-)

  79. JimD on February 14, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Great. Yet another typo . . . I give up!

  80. JimD on February 14, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Oops – make that

    “If we aren’t willing to grant that liberation of the oppressed is, in and of itself, . . . “

  81. Mark N. on February 14, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    It seems to me that secession, approved within a political constitution and of course by the seceding part, is possible. But not secession which comes about through violence, a threat to leave, or an actual declaration of a separate political community.

    Then I guess the colonists had no right to form a new country in North America — oops, make that West Britain, now — and the Revolutionary War was completely unjustified.

  82. Mark N. on February 14, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    It would have been great for Southern landowners, sure. For slaves, not so much.

    For the 600,000+ who were killed needlessly (and the additional 500,000+ wounded), it would have been infinitely better.

  83. Adam Greenwood on February 14, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    The American colonists did not claim the right to secede–i.e, the right to leave because they willed it. They claimed the right of revolution–the right to throw off an unjust government. This is apparent in the Declaration. Many southerners recognized the distinction and some argued that the South should rely on the right to revolution, not the right to secession.

  84. Adam Greenwood on February 14, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    For the 600,000+ who were killed needlessly (and the additional 500,000+ wounded), it would have been infinitely better.

    350,000 of those dead were Union men. Mostly volunteers. They freed the slaves. They preserved the Union. They maintained the honor of the flag. They were not craven. They did not tell themselves that any kind of disgrace or dishonor would be “infinitely better” than death.

  85. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 14, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Our recognition doesn’t elevate him but it does elevate us.

    Amen

    For the 600,000+ who were killed … actually many more died. Ask yourself, of everyone who was alive then, who is alive now? We all die, the real question is how did we live and why.

  86. Ray on February 14, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    If there is someone currently commenting who would be ok if slavery still existed on this continent as an integral part of the economy of a sovereign nation (or, at least, still existed as late as Apartheid did in South Africa), please let us know.

  87. Bob on February 14, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    #86: Of course not! Our “economy of a sovereign nation” has learn it is cheaper to hire illegal aliens…than to keep slaves!

  88. Bob on February 14, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain…” Wm. Faulkner

  89. Ray on February 14, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    BTW, I would posit that the chance for something to happen differently than it did is 0% – since something would have to change about the situation in order for it to happen differently. It’s legitimate to try to learn from history in order to act differently now or in the future, but saying that someone could have acted differently than they actually did is imposing unrealistic expectations on them. They acted how they thought they needed to act; they would have to have been different to act differently – and they were who they were, dealing with what was what it was.

  90. Ray on February 14, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    Two more quick examples:

    1) Someone who claims that you should never, ever lie – not even by omission with the intent to deceive – probably hasn’t faced a situation where lying is both honorable and noble.

    2) The extremes actually are quite easy; it’s the struggle living in the middle that’s hard – but that’s where the real growth occurs, imo – when you have to face doing something differently in one situation than you did in a different, previous situation (with the inevitable criticism that accompanies such a decision). Bishops face that dilemma constantly, and it’s perhaps the hardest part of their calling.

  91. mlu on February 15, 2008 at 4:24 am

    “I surrendered as much to Lincoln’s goodness as I did to Grant’s armies.”

    General Robert E. Lee

  92. Mark B. on February 15, 2008 at 11:17 am

    JimD (78)

    If we take Lincoln at his word, the war did not begin in 1861 for the purpose of freeing anybody from oppression. It’s purpose was to preserve the Union.

    The Republican Party platform of 1860, upon which Lincoln was elected, included the following:

    4. That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

    7. That the new dogma that the Constitution, of its own force, carries Slavery into any or all of the Territories of the United States, is a dangerous political heresy, at variance with the explicit provisions of that instrument itself, with contemporaneous exposition, and with legislative and judicial precedent; is revolutionary in its tendency, and subversive of the peace and harmony of the country.

    8. That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom; That as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that “no person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to Slavery in any Territory of the United States.

    In short, the platform contained no pledge to end slavery in the states where it existed, but did pledge to halt its spread to the territories. The South, obviously, didn’t believe the Republicans (or at least the most ardent secessionists didn’t, and they persuaded the rest to go along).

    The war began as a war to preserve the union. That its purposes evolved (or that additional purposes were added) as the war progressed does not change it into a war that began to end slavery.

  93. Mark B. on February 15, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    In addition to Adam’s comments regarding #93, more care should be taken in describing the taking of another’s life in wartime. If all soldiers are murderers, then we have even more reason to thank God for Christ’s mercy, since there are fathers and grandfathers of writers on this thread who served in the armed forces, and there is at least one remaining member of the Twelve who served in combat in World War II.

    Further to Adam’s points on attitudes toward slavery in the South, the spread of slavery was seen as a positive good by some Southerners for additional reasons as varied as

    – income from the sale of slaves for new territories constituted a significant source of income for slaveholders. A young slave woman who gave birth every two years for ten or fifteen years produced “assets” valued in the tens of thousands of dollars. If no new territories were opened for slavery, the market for sales of those “assets” would be limited.

    – some believed (in the 1820′s, but perhaps had got over it by 1860) that “diffusion” of slavery over a wider territory reduced the risks to whites. A revolt by slaves who constituted over 50% of the population (as in South Carolina in 1860, where the slave:free ratio was greater than 4:3) was a much greater danger than a revolt by slaves constituting 15% of the population.

  94. Mark N. on February 15, 2008 at 11:26 am

    350,000 of those dead were Union men.

    Yes, and they made the conscious decision to join in the effort of killing 250,000 Confederate men. Bless their hearts.

    They freed the slaves. They preserved the Union. They maintained the honor of the flag. They were not craven.

    We’ve got a pretty craven Savior, then, who has commanded us to renounce war. I guess He was just kidding about His reiteration of that “thou shalt not kill” stuff when He spoke to the Nephites somewhere in this very hemisphere, or maybe “thou shalt not” doesn’t really mean what I’ve always thought it means.

    I suppose it’s possible that I’m missing the subtext that says “but kill if you think you’ve got a really good reason”, but I tend to doubt it.

  95. Adam Greenwood on February 15, 2008 at 11:41 am

    The South, obviously, didn’t believe the Republicans (or at least the most ardent secessionists didn’t, and they persuaded the rest to go along).

    That’s mostly right. But it was also somewhat true that the South had come to see slavery as a positive good and saw the North’s refusal to agree as insulting. And some in the South were uneasy about slavery and had come to agree with Lincoln that if slavery were stopped from spreading it would eventually die out.

  96. Adam Greenwood on February 15, 2008 at 11:44 am

    We’ve got a pretty craven Savior, then,

    Don’t insult Christ, even as a rhetorical device. Your passions are getting the better of you. If you think me taking you on means I’m taking on Christ, nuts to you, but that’s your affair.

    Your view that any kind of violence is wicked is not a view that I share, or one that is tenable from the scriptures, but I’m not going to debate you on it here. You’ve persistently tried to threadjack away from Lincoln into a discussion of your extreme version of pacifism and I’m not having any more of it. You can reply to this comment–make it as screechy as you want–but no more.

    In any case, comments will probably be closed soon.

  97. Bob on February 15, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    I think the “War Between the States”, started 100 years before the first shot was fired. There was already two Americas 500 miles apart, with different values and goals. When, where. why, how long, avoidable, outcome….are different questions

  98. Mark N. on February 15, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Don’t insult Christ, even as a rhetorical device. Your passions are getting the better of you.

    The words of Christ as found in the scriptures do mean what they say, don’t they? I’m just amazed that there are such numbers of saints who seem to think that “renounce war” and “thou shalt not kill” really don’t mean that, and will instead try to find some justification for war, whether it takes place a hundred years before I was born, or on this very day at the behest of a President who has only been to eager to wrest the Constitutional powers of declaring war from a Congress that is apparently too craven to do so itself.

    I’m not the one who used the word “craven” first.

    The Latter-day Saints of the period were blessed by the Lord in their forced withdrawal from the United States to miss out completely on having to participate in the “civil” war. I’m “blessed” by the fact that there are sufficient numbers of citizens of the country who have bought into the whole “let’s occupy the middle east for another hundred years” lie so as to make a wartime draft unnecessary, thus keeping my own craven kids out of the military.

    I sure hope the Elders of this church do manage to save the Constitution, but it looks like it’s going to be a good long while yet before it happens based on what I read. Instead, we’ll all hold our noses and vote for the next pro-war administration, and the example of the rapid decline of the post-resurrectional Nephite society will somehow be lost on all of us.

    Or at least some of us.

    [Editor-- I will delete any further pacifist or anti-pacifist arguments or arguments about Iraq. No matter how insulting or erroneous you may find threadjack portions of this comment, please limit yourself to the implied claim that Mormon non-participation in the Civil War meant it was unrighteous.]

  99. Mark N. on February 15, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Ah, found it: “I will say here, before closing, that two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead, gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they: “You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.” These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them. The thought never entered my heart from the fact, I suppose, that heretofore our minds were reaching after our more immediate friends and relatives. I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon Brother McAllister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others; I then baptized him for every President of the United States except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them. (1877, J.D. 19:229)

  100. Mark N. on February 15, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    On a different topic:

    we can claim the living Lincoln, thanks to Wilford Woodruff’s experience in the St. George temple

    Wilford Woodruff claimed that Lincoln was part of that group? I’ve googled the topic and am unable to find that specific item. There was one place where I found a reference stating that all of the past Presidents of the US were in the group “save three”, but I haven’t been able to find anything more specific than that.

    Based on what I’ve read about Lincoln and what the Presidents of the Church have had to say about his treatment of and statements regarding the Church, he may very well have been one of “the three”.

  101. Adam Greenwood on February 16, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Abraham Lincoln was baptized on that occasion. Those whom Wilford Woodruff did not baptize were James Buchanan, Martin Van Buren, and Ulysses S. Grant.

    Among the fifty other eminent men baptized on this occasion were William Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, and Admiral David Farragut, victor of New Orleans and Mobile. Curiously Stonewall Jackson was also baptized, along with John C. Calhoun, ideologue of secession.

  102. Ardis Parshall on February 16, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    USGrant was still alive in 1877 so “refusal” isn’t exactly right; his work was done later.

    threadjack: I don’t know about Van Buren, but suppose his work was done eventually.

    Buchanan is a problem — information on a different James Buchanan from Pennsylvania, born very near the date of Pres. JB’s birth, was submitted, and JB “the other” was baptized, with the record showing his correct birthdate and place. (I know this is a different JB despite the similarities because his information was submitted along with that of all his siblings, and I confirmed that there was such a Buchanan family group with a James born then and there.) But between the baptism and endowment, somebody in the Temple Bureau saw the name, assumed it referred to Pres. JB, oh-so-helpfully “corrected” the information to reflect the birthdate of Pres. JB, added a notation “president of the U.S.,” and did the endowment for Pres. JB. So at least as of that date, JB “the other” was baptized but not endowed, and Pres. JB was endowed but not baptized.

    Knowing how resource-wasting people love to do the work of celebrities umpteen zillion times, I suppose Pres. JB has had a valid baptism by now. I’ve felt a little sorry for JB “the other” ever since I researched this, though, and keep meaning to be sure his work has been completed.

    /threadjack

  103. Adam Greenwood on February 16, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    That’s fascinating, AEP. Post an update when JB the other gets his work sorted out.

  104. Adam Greenwood on February 16, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    I am closing the thread. If you have a substantive addition to our discussions, email it to me at adam*at*times*and*seasons*dot*com.

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