Abraham Lincoln’s Moral Constitution – Lecture by Allen Guelzo

Today Kevin Rau (my library assistant) and I took in a special lunch-time lecture at the Acton Institute in downtown Grand Rapids. We did one last you too and enjoyed it, so we thought we would try another. The advertised subject and speaker drew us in – a talk on a prominent president’s faith by a prominent American Civil War historian and Lincoln scholar.

This was was held in the Murray Auditorium in the lower level of the Acton Institute and featured Dr. Allen C. Guelzo speaking on “Abraham Lincoln’s Moral Constitution.” As noted on the Action website for this lecture, “Allen Guelzo, Ph.D. is the Director of Civil War Era Studies and the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. During 2017-18, he has served as the Wm L. Garwood Visiting Professor in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.” And as for his topic, this brief description too is given on the website:

As one of only two presidents to have never formally joined a church, people have wondered just how much Abraham Lincoln himself was under God when he said that the United States should consider itself as such as it strove for a new birth of freedom.

However, the Civil War shifted the ground decisively under Lincoln’s feet. In the cauldron of war, he discovered that God was not merely a remote force or a faceless universal power, but a personal, intelligent, and willing God who intervened in the affairs of men, to direct them in ways that they could not even begin to imagine.

This was a God whom he wanted his nation to be under.

We both found the speech interesting and edifying. Guelzo is an gifted and engaging speaker. He knows the history of the Civil War period well, is an expert in all things Lincoln, and communicates in a lively manner. The Q&A period was filled with good questions and wonderful anecdotal stories on Lincoln by Guelzo.

Guelzo is the author (among other books) of the award-winning book Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, part of the “Library of Religious Biography” published by William B. Eerdmans here in GR. The book won prestigious the 2000 Lincoln Prize. Amazon has the new paperback edition (2002) listed at 55% off.

And we close with a few good Lincoln quotes, perhaps showing that Lincoln was indeed more than a “Calvinist Deist” (as Guelzo refers to him in his biography, a description that was the subject of one of the questions today.)

I am much indebted to the good christian people of the country for their constant prayers and consolations; and to no one of them, more than to yourself. The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.
Letter to Eliza Gurney on September 4, 1864 (CWAL VII:535)

I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation’s condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.
Letter to Albert G. Hodges on April 4, 1864 (CWAL VII:282)

Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’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 three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865 (CWAL VIII:333)

Source: Abraham Lincoln’s Moral Constitution | Acton Institute