Lincoln frequently and humbly expressed that God was guiding him in his vital Presidential role and his only purpose would be God’s purpose. In a letter to the Reverend Byron Sunderland toward the end of 1862, Lincoln wrote, “I hold myself in the present position and with the authority vested in me, as an instrument of Providence. I am conscious every moment that all I am and all I have is subject to the control of a Higher Power and that Power can use me or not use me in any manner and at any time…as may be pleasing to Him.”
Much has been said of errors of the Southern politicians and slave owners that led up to the Civil War, but it is important to remember, as Lincoln frequently pointed out, that Americans on both sides, North and South were victims of the terrible war. Reinhold Niebuhr, a leading American theologian wrote in 1965, “Lincoln’s religious convictions were superior in depth and purity to those held by the religious as well as by the political leaders of his day.” Niebuhr was struck by Lincoln’s ability to resist “the natural temptation” to do what most other politicians did by asserting that God was on the side to which that politician was committed. He said, “Lincoln had a sense of historical meaning so high as to cast doubt on the intentions of both sides."
With the war going badly for the Union in the late summer of 1862, Abraham Lincoln seemed to have gone through some unknown spiritual transformation. His administering of the country-in-crisis changed. He began relying less and less on his cabinet and congress and more and more on his own personal impressions and inclinations as reflected in his open response to Horace Greeley’s public reprimand cited above. It was sometime in September of that year that Lincoln wrote a note that apparently was shared with no one. After Lincoln’s tragic death John Hay, Lincoln’s private secretary, discovered this private notation among a number of other such notes and kept it. In 1872, Hay gave it a title: Meditation on the Divine Will. He included it in the biography of Lincoln that he and Nicolay published in 1890, with the description, “This meditation was not meant to be seen of men.” Lincoln wrote:
"The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party—and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say this is probably true—that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By His mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds."
Abraham Lincoln- God's Humble Instrument
Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Smith
How two Contemporaries Changed the Face of American History
In March of 1830, while Joseph Smith was making preparations for the April 6th organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Abraham was helping his father Thomas Lincoln and step-mother Sarah, move the family to Macon County in central Illinois. Abe would stay on one more year to help his parents establish their home and farm until April 1831. Then at age twenty-two he left home to strike out on his own when he and two friends were hired to build a flatboat, load it with barrels of bacon, corn, wheat and live hogs and guide it to New Orleans.
Young Lincoln was enthralled with the bustling city of New Orleans, except for the numerous slave pens: high walled enclosures where slaves awaited their day at the slave auctions to be callously displayed, inspected and purchased by the highest bidder. While there, he and his friends happened upon the slave market auction and Lincoln watched in horror as families were systematically disassembled; mothers being sold to one plantation owner, fathers to another and children to still others. It was a heart-wrenching scene as these families anguished over their cruel separation and the likelihood that they would never again be reunited, while the callous auctioneers seemed as unruffled as they would be at separating a calf from a cow.
Leaning over to his companions he said, “Let’s get away from this. If ever I get the opportunity to hit that thing [slavery] I’m going to hit it hard.” Some four decades later Lincoln would find himself at the head of this nation in civil war, just as he foresaw he would in those early days in Illinois, and it would be during this harrowing time that he, as a self-proclaimed instrument in the hands of God, would land the blow that would end slavery forever in the United States.
Lincoln returned to Illinois to receive his meager pay for the flatboat venture and having nowhere else to go, he accepted an offer to cut wood for the sawmill in New Salem. He told his newfound friends there that he was just “a piece of floating driftwood” and until he had somewhere else to go, he would remain there. Lincoln would live the next six years of his life in the tiny settlement. The hamlet consisted of about 100 residents when he arrived, approximately the same size as Chicago in 1831. It was however the largest community in which Lincoln had ever resided, located about 15 miles northwest of Springfield and 90 miles to the southeast of the future Mormon settlement of Nauvoo.
Within a year of the new church’s organization, Joseph Smith told his members that he had received a revelation from God informing him that war was in America’s near future and that the Saints, for their safety, should gather to the western frontier of America:
March 7, 1831:
Ye hear of wars in foreign lands; but, behold, I say unto you, they are nigh, even at your doors, and not many years hence ye shall hear of wars in your own lands.
Wherefore I, the Lord, have said, gather ye out from the eastern lands, assemble ye yourselves together ye elders of my church; go ye forth into the western countries, call upon the inhabitants to repent, and inasmuch as they do repent, build up churches unto me.” (D&C 45:63-64).
In the coming years leading up to the war, Lincoln would continue to openly express his fear that a civil war was eminent and would result from the divisive injustice of slavery. And to his closest friends he would confide that he held disturbing and unrelenting premonitions that he would play a major role in the tragic, nation-cleansing event, and that God would be the one who would place him
Abe didn't have many books, but his two favorite books were the Bible and Aesop's Fables and he read them often.
Abe loved to write but he rarely had a pencil and paper. So he would scrawl his words on a shovel or a board with charcoal. Or he would shape them in dirt, sand, or snow with a stick. His youthful fascination with writing and reading served him well years later when he became president.
Sometimes Dennis would help Abe make ink from blackberry briar root, and Abe learned fashion pens from a turkey buzzard feather.
When Abe wrote his name, he would say, "Denny look at that, will you? Abraham Lincoln! That stands fur me. Don't look a blamed bit like me!"
"He'd stand and study it a spell," wrote Dennis. " 'Peared to mean a heap to Abe." "Aunt Sairy never let the children pester him. She always said Abe was goin' to be a great man some day. An' she wasn't goin' to have him hindered."