Lincoln the Magnanimous

Abraham_Lincoln_half_length_seated,_April_10,_1865

From William J. Wolf, The Almost Chosen People: A Study of the Religion of Abraham Lincoln:

“From a window of the White House to a group who serenaded him on his re-election, [Lincoln] confessed: ‘So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom. While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result. May I ask those who have not differed with me, to join with me, in this same spirit towards those who have?'”

What a model of civility presented by this great President to his people. This was a people torn apart by the issue of civil war. One side wanted to end the bloodletting, even at the cost of negotiating an end to the war with the Confederacy on the basis of separation. Lincoln’s position was to see the thing through until the states of the Confederacy had been restored to their proper relationship to the other states of the Union.

Lives were at stake. At the time of the election in the fall of 1864, no one really knew how much longer the war would go on. George McClellan, Lincoln’s opponent, represented the position that almost guaranteed an immediate end to the war and the suffering. The election of Lincoln would mean that the war would go on, perhaps for a very long time–no one really knew.

If there was ever a time when public civility would have no place in the political, religious, social, or economic life of the nation, it would have been in 1864-65. If it could be possible to justifiably dismiss civility from the words and actions of politicians, it would seem that the election of 1864 would be the time. But Lincoln consistently extended his magnanimity to all whom he met to oppose and defeat–those on the battlefield and those on the ballot. His magnanimity was informed by his trust in the wise and gracious providence and care of God in all things.

In this election year, when we Americans are torn apart by differences over momentous issues, may we yet remember the example of this, our most religious president. And may we follow it.

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