Letter to Thurlow Weed (March 15, 1865)

Contributing Editors for this page include Patrick Culhane

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#74 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told…”

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HD Daily Report, March 15, 1865

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Posted at YouTube by “Understanding Lincoln” course participant Patrick Culhane, August 2014

How Historians Interpret

“Lincoln was pleased with his inaugural. A week before delivering it, he said there was ‘[l]ots of wisdom in that document, I suspect.’ A woman who admired the religious tone of the address asked a friend in Congress to obtain for her a presidential autograph written with the pen used to compose the inaugural. With emotion, Lincoln replied to the request: “She shall have my signature, and with it she shall have that paragraph. It comforts me to know that my sentiments are supported by the Christian ladies of our country.’ When Thurlow Weed praised the inaugural, Lincoln responded: ‘Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech, and on the recent Inaugeral Address. I expect the latter to wear as well as – perhaps better than – any thing I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told; and as whatever of humiliation there is in it, falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.’”

— Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript by Chapter, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 2, Chapter 35 (PDF), 3933.

 

“In understanding what Lincoln does claim to know about the purposes of God, we have the testimony of Lincoln upon the precise point in a letter to Thurlow Weed written shortly after the inaugural. Lincoln wrote that he expected the Second Inaugural to wear as well and perhaps better than anything he had written However, it was not immediately popular: “Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told; and as whatever of humiliation there is in it, falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.’ Lincoln perceives a gulf between human purposes and God’s and comes to this perception by seeing the imperfection of human purpose. What becomes clear is not the content of God’s purposes, but that they differ from ours. “

— Glen E. Thurow, “Lincoln and American Political Religion,” in The Historian’s Lincoln: Pseudohistory, Psychohistory, and History ed. Gabor S. Boritt (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 136.

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Searchable Text

Executive Mansion,Washington,
March 15, 1865
 
Thurlow Weed, Esq 
My dear Sir. .
Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech, and on the recent Inaugeral Address. I expect the latter to wear as well as—perhaps better than—any thing I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told; and as whatever of humiliation there is in it, falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.
Yours truly
A. LINCOLN
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