Lincoln’s Private War with Faith

Dear Reader:

I always got tickled on President’s Day that the only two Presidents ever shown in the hallways at schools were Washington and Lincoln…and sadly for far too many public school students they were the only two they could remember at a moment’s notice after graduation.

We have had Presidents of all faiths and denominations….but when it comes to Lincoln I think he has sometimes been unfairly labeled as “lifelong religious skeptic” especially when it comes to ignoring the more dramatic moments in his administration when evidence of Lincoln’s ever-deepening faith would eventually shape the course of the nation.

Source: Lincoln’s Battle with God – Stephen Mansfield

It was the prolonged agonies of this civil war that finally broke and remolded his faith. Lincoln began to see that God apparently wasn’t for one side over the other…after all the soldiers on both sides were His children…and that there had to be another, more important reason for this war that just couldn’t seem to come to closure easily. It was while he was in this new frame of thinking that his discovery of the most important issue of the war was revealed.

If God wasn’t necessary pulling for one side over the other…especially at the high cost of the union being permanently separated then there had to be another issue at hand more important to God. “Lincoln was beginning to conclude that God was about something else. But what was it?”


The answer came at the Battle of Antietam. Lincoln made a promise to God if the union could win one decisive victory he would use it as the signal from God that he was been waiting for…”the sign that it was time to begin.”

At the next cabinet meeting following the union victory he revealed his new plan. Salmon Chase, secretary of the Treasury, recorded the moment in his diary.

Gentlemen, I have, as you are aware, thought a great deal about the relation of this war to Slavery; and you all remember that, several weeks ago, I read to you an Order I had prepared on this subject, which, on account of objections made by some of you, was not issued.

Ever since then, my mind has been much occupied with this subject, and I have thought all along that the time for acting on it might very probably come. I think the time has come now. I wish it were a better time. I wish that we were in a better condition. The action of the army against the rebels has not been quite what I should have liked. But they have been driven out of Maryland, and Pennsylvania is no longer in danger of invasion.

When the rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, to issue a Proclamation of Emancipation such as I thought most likely to be useful. I said nothing to any one; but I made the promise to myself, and (hesitating a little) — to my Maker. The rebel army is now driven out, and I am going to fulfill that promise.”

The cabinet was stunned…silence followed. In fact as President Lincoln had been speaking his voice had dropped at one important place and he was asked to repeat the comment…here we see the struggling Lincoln finally professing the change in him and his covenant with God publicly for the first time.

“According to F. B. Carpenter, the artist commissioned to paint Lincoln deliberating with his cabinet over the proclamation, Chase told him that the president had dropped his voice just at the moment he mentioned his promise to God. Chase asked if he had heard correctly. Lincoln replied, “I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee was driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves.”

Once Lincoln realized what the war was truly about…the freedom of slavery for all God’s children and not merely territorial gains or losses…Then from the ensuing Battle of Gettysburg on… the war began to play out according to the covenant established between Lincoln and God.

It wouldn’t get easier for the beleaguered President. (More losses, death, dying, casualties, personal loss of his young son Willie, Mary’s mental health tittering on the brink of insanity…etc.)

*In fact just mere months before the end of the war he wrote:

“‘I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go.”

The different between Lincoln’s faith at the beginning and the end of the war was that he now understood that he did have some place to go when ‘over troubled waters.’

So until tomorrow…If we are honest with ourselves…aren’t we, too, all “lifelong religious skeptics?” Don’t we spend our whole lives searching for that faith that will take us home? And just when we think we have found it and feel it securely locked inside…something arises in our lives to shake us and once again we falter in our faith.

But I think God is like the teacher who knows that as long as the student keeps asking questions he will always remain a life-long learner. By continuously asking more questions of God each and every day…we remain life-time faith seekers…

“Today is our favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh

*This is the latest snapshot from Hutchinson Square as the final brick mortars for the sign by the train depot gets ready to be added…the last lamp posts erected and the final landscaping completed.

***Don’t forget…Anne and Helen’s art exhibit is growing nigh….come stroll the walls and make a buy! 🙂  This Thursday!!!


About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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4 Responses to Lincoln’s Private War with Faith

  1. Thank you. I live near the Stones River Battlefield. As I walk through it, I can almost feel the spirits of the young men who died there. I wonder if the costs were too great, and I realize that freedom carries great costs. As a black person, I react differently than my husband, feeling the impact of so many young lives lost, but thankful the Union won. To know this history means so much to me. Our “Exodus” from slavery orchestrated by God through a honorable man. I cried at the Lincoln Memorial. I was surprised at the depth of my emotions as I read the proclamation.


  2. Becky Dingle says:

    Now you have me in tears…the power of different perspectives! Lincoln starts out prioritizing the stability and re-uniting of the union over all other “spoils of victory.” He reasoned if he couldn’t keep the union together… all other issues surrounding the war would be a mute point. But God would not let him stop there…that was not reason enough for this bloodiest war in American history. It had to be about something more…something that would change people’s lives forever…it had to be about freeing God’s people from the oppression of slavery if this great country had any chance at survival and becoming a landmark for people from all over the world to leave bondages of different causes behind and find the ultimate freedom to live their lives out in America. We must never forget that our country was born out of the fight for freedom under another country’s domain…we wanted it then for all people who will one day call themselves Americans and we should never stopping wanting it for all God’s children who still come to our country seeking.the age old “yearning to be free.” This is what has made us great!…


  3. bcparkison says:

    Sadly there are those in power today working really hard to take those freedoms ,won through hardship and death, away from all of us. Pray for Gods direction and protection.


  4. Becky Dingle says:

    As difficult as it is for me I realize that our leaders are just “potential” instruments of God too and we must pray for God’s guidance in these most difficult challenging times when it feel like dignity, calm, and a sense of reverence have gone amuck. God can change people for His good and that is my hope for all of us living through these uncertain and unstable times.


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