Beinstein column: Abraham Lincoln embodies the joy of Independence Day
Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal,” and yet we began a revolution without any real commitment to including blacks in that clause. It was only with the sacrifice of Abraham Lincoln that those words began to have any meaning. And it is also why the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy called him “Christ in miniature”; Lincoln needed to die to forgive the nation of its original sin of slavery.
If any man would ever be likened to Christ, it would have to be Lincoln. We as a nation do not commit the sin of idolatry by worshipping a king or queen. Secondly, America was founded upon puritanical values, including, as William Bradford noted in his diary “Of Plymouth Plantation,” that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” And lastly, more than any other country imaginable, this country is the follower of the greatest Christian commandment of them all, to be merciful and compassionate.
Even as a young boy in the backwoods of Kentucky and later on a rural farm in Indiana, Lincoln rejected living under the tyrannical thumb of any preacher. With his great wit, he often made fun of the drunken pastor or the merciless spokesman of God. And later in life, he would maintain an evangelical commitment to Christ.
Deeply religious, he still eschewed joining any formal church. He reasoned he could maintain a relationship without any intermediary getting in the way. And he maintained this relationship by constantly reading and quoting Scripture. During the Civil War, it was said he read the Book of Job more than any other book in the Bible. His speeches are laden with scriptural references. One of his most iconic phrases, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” comes directly from the Book of Matthew.
And, most important of all, he never mimicked a king or queen. When Lincoln met with Frederick Douglass, a former slave and then black abolitionist, they disagreed on certain matters, namely the extent to which Lincoln promised to close the gap between pay for white soldiers and black soldiers. But Douglass still walked away loving the man because, as he said many months after the meeting, “I tell you I felt big there!” Lincoln tried to treat every person he met as if they were as important as he was, president of the United States.
Lincoln never had much appetite for money. Despite his popular success as a lawyer and the opportunities that came with it, he did not get in on many land deals. Even in the 19th century, lawyers, as a general rule, were thought of as dishonest. And yet he maintained his reputation as “Honest Abe,” a lawyer who would actually return money to his client for paying too much. He never was seduced by wealth or power. He worked himself to the bone until the very end. And he was never hesitant to share these views publicly. He likened supporting slavery to worshipping Mammon, the false God of wealth in the Bible. He told promising young lawyers to never demand an “exorbitant fee.” And in his Second Inaugural, he described slavery not in racial terms but as theft. He wrote the slave owning class stole from the “bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil.”
And finally it was Lincoln’s heart that was the most special of all — his wife, Mary Todd, once said it was “as large as his arms are long.” And it was a heart that was manifest in all his writings. Despite his visceral hatred of slavery, he always identified and empathized with the slaveowner. They were his friends, and he might do what they did if he were in their shoes. How else, without the most tender and gentle of hearts, could one write, before engaging in that awful scourge of war, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
The genius of Independence Day might not lie in high-sounding aristocrats writing fanciful words from Philadelphia. Rather, its true genius might lie in the fact that we could ever produce as beautiful a man as Abraham Lincoln. The Scriptures say, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” For a man who was shot and killed on Good Friday, and then was returned to the heavens the next day, Lincoln glorified his Father and our Father under the most trying and humble of circumstances. It is for that reason, more than any other, that we should celebrate Independence Day.
Alex Beinstein of Carbondale was a Republican primary congressional candidate in 2016 challenging incumbent Scott Tipton. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.
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