In his brief second inaugural address, delivered only six weeks before his assassination, Lincoln explored the relationship between American freedom and Divine Will. He knew that nations often, if not always, claimed God or the Gods for their side. So, acknowledging that “neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained,” Lincoln addressed the fact that both North and South invoked God as their partisan: “Both read the same Bible and Pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” But he made it unmistakably clear that though he did not and could not really know God’s Will, he did know that God intended to end slavery, no matter what it took. Lincoln powerfully invoked a Jeremiad like vision of an all powerful and deeply offended God that would reign “woe” down upon those by peoples through ‘whom the offense cometh.’ “If we suppose that American slavery is one of those offences,” he declared, “which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God ascribe to Him?” “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray,” Lincoln continued, “that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled up by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said, . . . so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’” Here it all is: the idea that the United States represents “the last best hope” that—the belief that an all powerful, not fully comprehendible God, governs the affairs of humankind, and that this God held the whole nation, not just the South, accountable for the existence of slavery in its midst, for the violation of its appointed mission. Finally, unlike most proponents of the idea that “America is a nation called to a special destiny by God,” he refrains from claiming God as the agent of Northern victory, even though as the second inaugural makes clear he had come to believe the Almighty was the ultimate agent of “the mighty scourge of war” that He had visited upon the nation for the sin of slavery.
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