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Sunday Proclamation — Lincoln's Religion — Message to
Among the many volunteer counsellors of President Lincoln, by letter and in person, there were loyal and good men who expressed concern that Sunday was not more piously regarded in the army and navy; and especially that battles were sometimes fought on that day. The President, who had not found it possible, even at the White House, to keep the day as a Puritan Sabbath, mildly hinted to one of these gentlemen that military movements depended somewhat upon Confederate as well as Union commanders. He desired, however, that the soldiers and sailors should, so far as practicable, enjoy the same benefits of a day of rest as people engaged in peaceful pursuits. On the 16th of November (1862) he issued an order enjoining “the orderly observance of the Sabbath by the officers and men in the military and naval service,” saying in conclusion: “ The first general order issued by the Father of his Country, after the Declaration of Independence, indicates the spirit in which our institutions were founded, and should ever be defended: "The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as
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becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.'
Whether Secretary Seward supplied the rhetoric of Executive proclamations conventionally devout, matters little. Lincoln certainly was not, as to the habit of his life, a strict "Sabbatarian." His religious faith differed from that of Oliver Cromwell; but was it any less firm and sincere than his? When told by a clerical visitor that no one was ever before so remembered in the
prayers of the people, especially of those not praying to be “heard of men,” he replied: “I have been a good deal "helped by just that thought.” It was an instant answer from the heart unquestionably; yet not every one will give his words the same interpretation. He "thanked God for the churches" on one public occasion; he appreciated their work for good to the race; he welcomed their organized power in support of a just cause; yet he joined no church. Almost all the "articles of belief and confessions of faith” he once — and probably many
times avowed to be such that he could not consent to them "without mental reservation.” What did he, then, really believe? Those who seek an honest answer will find help from a study of this short letter, written a few weeks later, (February 22, 1863,) to the Rev. Alexander Reed:
My Dear Sir:— Your note, by which you, as General
: Superintendent of the United States Christian Commission, invite me to preside at a meeting to be held this day at the hall of the House of Representatives in this city, is received.
While, for reasons which I deem sufficient, I must decline to preside, I can not withhold my approval of the meeting and its worthy objects.
Whatever shall be, sincerely and in God's name, devised for the good of the soldiers and seamen in their hard spheres of duty, can scarcely fail to be blessed; and whatever shall tend to turn our thoughts from the unreasoning and uncharitable passions, prejudices and jealousies incident to a great national trouble such as ours, and to fix them on the vast and long-enduring consequences, for weal or for wo, which are to result from the struggle, and especially to strengthen our reliance on the Supreme Being for the final triumph of the right, can not but be well for us all.
The birthday of Washington and the Christian Sabbath coinciding this year, and suggesting together the highest interests of this life and of that to come, is most propitious for the meeting proposed.
These words came from the depths of one of the saddest of human souls. The last three months had been to him a period of such actual calamity and evil portent as might well disturb the stoutest spirit.
In his message of December ist (1862), the President, after disposing of departmental details, treats chiefly of proposed emancipation with compensation and colonization, to be provided for under constitutional amendments formulated by him, and urgently pressed in a prolonged argument, with this axiom for its starting point: “Without slavery, the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery, it could not continue.” To this may be added a "text" quoted by him from his inaugural address: “One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute."
So sagacious a statesman may never have really entertained a hope of consummating a scheme of emancipation and colonization combined; but the following passages show that at least he was terribly earnest in urging a united endeavor to save the nation by removing the only cause of its deadly danger:
There is no line, straight or crooked, suitable for a national boundary, upon which to divide. . . . The fact of separation, if it comes, gives up, on the part of the seceding section, the fugitive slave cause, along with all other constitutional obligations upon the section seceded from, while I should expect no treaty stipulation would ever be made to take its place.
But there is another difficulty. The great interior region, bounded east by the Alleghanies, north by the British Dominions, west by the Rocky Mountains, and south by the line along which the culture of corn and cotton meets, already has above ten millions of people, and will have fifty millions within fifty years, if not prevented by any political folly or mistake. A glance at the map shows that, territorially speaking, it is the great body of the Republic. The other parts are but marginal borders to it, the magnificent region sloping west from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, being the deepest, and also the richest in undeveloped resources. In the production of provisions, grains, grasses, and all which proceeds from them, this great interior region is naturally one of the most important in the world.
And yet this region has no sea-coast, touches no ocean anywhere. As part of one nation, its people now find, and may forever find, their way to Europe by New York, to South America and Africa by New Orleans, and to Asia by San Francisco. But separate our common country into two nations, as designed by the present rebellion, and every man of this great interior region is thereby cut off from some one or more of these outlets, not, perhaps, by a physical barrier, but by embarrassing and onerous trade regulations.
Among the friends of the Union, there is great diversity of sentiment, and of policy, in regard to slavery, and the African race among us.
Some would perpetuate slavery; some would abolish it suddenly, and without compensation; some would abolish it gradually, and with compensation; some would remove the freed people from us, and some would retain them with us; and there are yet other minor diversities. Because of these diversities, we waste much strength in struggles among ourselves. By mutual concession we should harmonize, and act together. This would be compromise; but it would be compromise among the friends, and not with the enemies of the Union. These articles are intended to embody a plan of such mutual concessions. If the plan shall be adopted, it is assumed that emancipation will follow, at least in several of the States.
As to the first article, the main points are: First, emancipation; secondly, the length of time for consummating it
thirty-seven years; and, thirdly, the compensation.
The emancipation will be unsatisfactory to the advocates of perpetual slavery; but the length of time should greatly mitigate their dissatisfaction. The time spares both races from the evils of sudden derangement — in fact, from the necessity of any derangement — while most of those whose
habitual course of thought will be disturbed by the measure, will have passed away before its consummation. They will never see it. Another class will hail the prospect of emancipation, but will deprecate the length of time. They will feel that it gives too little to the now living slaves. But it really gives them much. It saves them from the vagrant destitution which must largely attend immediate emancipation in localities where their numbers are very great; and it gives the inspiring assurance that their posterity shall be free forever. ... Doubtless, some of those who are to pay, and not to receive, will object. Yet the measure is both just and economical. In a certain sense, the liberation of slaves is the destruction of property, - property acquired by descent, or by purchase, the same as any other property.
If, then, or a common object, this property is to be sacrificed, is it not just that it be done at a common charge? And if, with less money, or money more easily paid, we can preserve the benefits of the Union by this means, than we can by war alone, is it not also economical to do it? ... The war requires large sums and requires them at once. The aggregate sum necessary for compensated emancipation, of course, would be large. But it would require no ready cash; nor the bonds even, any faster than the emancipation progresses. This might not, and probably would not, close before the end of the thirty