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The President Who Died for His Country on Good Friday

This is a discussion on The President Who Died for His Country on Good Friday within the Education forums, part of the US Discussion category; Nice historical article from The New York Times related to Good Friday. The President Who Died for Us By Richard Wightman Fox, The New York ...


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Old 04-14-2006, 04:00 AM
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The President Who Died for His Country on Good Friday

Nice historical article from The New York Times related to Good Friday.

The President Who Died for Us
By Richard Wightman Fox, The New York Times
April 14, 2006

THIS year, Good Friday, the day commemorating Christ's crucifixion, falls on April 14, as it did in 1865. On that evening, in the balcony box of Ford's Theater in Washington, John Wilkes Booth fired a handmade .41-caliber derringer ball into the back of Abraham Lincoln's head.

In the days that followed Lincoln's death, his mourning compatriots rushed to compare him to Jesus, Moses and George Washington.

Despite the Good Friday coincidence, the Jesus parallel was not an obvious one for 19th-century Americans to make. The Protestant population, then as now, included a vigilant evangelical minority who thought that Jesus, sinless on earth, was defamed every time ordinary sinners presumed to imitate him. No mere mortal could be put beside Jesus on a moral balance scale.

But Honest Abe overwhelmed the usual evangelical reticence — by April 1865 the majority of Northerners and Southern blacks took him as no ordinary person. He had been offering his body and soul all through the war and his final sacrifice, providentially appointed for Good Friday, showed that God had surely marked him for sacred service.

At a mass assembly in Manhattan five hours after Lincoln's death, James A. Garfield — the Ohio congressman who would become the second assassinated president 16 years later — voiced the common hesitancy, then went on to claim the analogy: "It may be almost impious to say it, but it does seem that Lincoln's death parallels that of the Son of God."

Jesus had saved humanity, or at least some portion of it, from eternal damnation. Lincoln had saved the nation from the civic equivalent of damnation: the dissolution that had always bedeviled republics. "Jesus Christ died for the world," said the Rev. C. B. Crane in Hartford. "Abraham Lincoln died for his country."

The small minority of Jews and Catholics, equally awed by Lincoln's bodily sacrifice, joined Protestants in hailing the president's uncommon virtues: forgiveness, mercy, defense of the poor and the oppressed. Catholics joined Protestants in noting his Christ-like habits of brooding in private and keeping his own counsel.

Nearly everyone joined in heralding Lincoln's phrase "with malice toward none, with charity for all," which Christian mourners hailed as the heart of the Gospel. Those words from his second inaugural address, delivered just six weeks before his death, turned up on hand-scrawled banners all over the Union. People mounted them, along with black-bordered flags and photographs of Lincoln, in the windows of their homes and shops.

Thomas Nast's 1866 painting "President Lincoln Entering Richmond" (commemorating his surprise stroll into the capital of the Confederacy on April 4, 1865, shortly after Robert E. Lee's retreat) reinforced the sentiment: Lincoln shepherded his people just as Jesus did. The president walked into Richmond before Holy Week the way Jesus rode into Jerusalem before Passover: humbly, not triumphantly. Both men were enveloped by exuberant admirers.

Most American Christians turned to the Jesus analogy because they realized how much they loved Lincoln. They took his loss as personal, often comparing it to a death in the family. Many felt attached to Lincoln almost as they felt attached to Jesus. The striving rail-splitter from Illinois and the simple carpenter from Nazareth resembled them, the people. In contrast, while still heroic, Washington seemed more distant, even aloof.

Yet calculation as well as veneration entered the campaign to sanctify Lincoln. Radical Republicans revealed a political reason for comparing Lincoln to Jesus. Trying to explain why a rational Providence had permitted Lincoln to die, they decided that the savior of the nation had proved himself too Christ-like, too softhearted, too "womanly," for the necessarily punitive job of "reconstructing" the postwar South. God in his wisdom had put Andrew Johnson in place for the messy task of enacting justice.

Many Protestants also displayed a religious motive for emphasizing the resemblance between Lincoln and Christ. They made the president a virtual holy man because they wished retroactively to make him a morally impeccable and believing Christian. They considered theater-going, a favorite pastime of the president, as morally dubious; his choice of the stage for recreation on this day of crucifixion made them sick at heart.

And Lincoln, who after 1862 had spoken repeatedly of his dependence on God and Providence, had never referred much to Jesus. The barrage of Jesus comparisons offered a camouflaging aura of piety for a man who had enjoyed lowbrow, off-color humor as much as play-acting.

Seven score and one years have passed since Good Friday 1865, and Lincoln has always remained his own man. In his final years, he had set his own course by balancing a pressing sense of the rule of Providence with a persistent belief in the power of reason. Still, he can — and should — stand as historic demonstration that a republican hero's sacrifice for the people comes very close to Christ's ideals of self-denial and self-giving.
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Old 04-14-2006, 04:05 AM
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Very nice! I've often wondered what would have happened in this country, if there had been a Congress that had followed Lincoln's post war scenario? If there had been no 'Radical Republicans'? How different would the country be?
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Old 04-14-2006, 06:42 AM
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Lincoln was a man far ahead of his time. Too bad he had so many enemies within government and his own party.

In a history course I took in college, the professor asked us to write a paper on what we thought would have happened with regard to reconstruction if Lincoln had lived. One girl in the class wrote a few sentences to this effect: "Lincoln was killed, so we will never know what would have happened. What is to be gained by speculating?"

The professor held her "paper" up, read it to the class, and stated this was definitely not the way to respond to assignments. As a teacher, I thought you would appreciate that story.
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Old 04-14-2006, 06:46 AM
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Quote: Originally Posted by Adam's Apple
Lincoln was a man far ahead of his time. Too bad he had so many enemies within government and his own party.

In a history course I took in college, the professor asked us to write a paper on what we thought would have happened with regard to reconstruction if Lincoln had lived. One girl in the class wrote a few sentences to this effect: "Lincoln was killed, so we will never know what would have happened. What is to be gained by speculating?"

The professor held her "paper" up, read it to the class, and stated this was definitely not the way to respond to assignments. As a teacher, I thought you would appreciate that story.
LOL! Sounds like the professor and I were on the same page! Us history folk, love 'What if...'
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Old 04-14-2006, 08:44 PM
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A very wonderful article indeed. Just reading about Lincoln is often a joy, a man so rich in complexity but so heroically simple in virtue.
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Old 04-15-2006, 11:58 PM
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I'm not a big Lincoln fan. I think he played it fast and loose with the Constitution, and that the end did not justify his means.
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Old 04-16-2006, 01:27 AM
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Quote: Originally Posted by gop_jeff
I'm not a big Lincoln fan. I think he played it fast and loose with the Constitution, and that the end did not justify his means.
Greatly respecting your opinion and judgement, I would love to see a short essay (like 3 paragraphs, the way merlin1047 used to break down his opinion, like on jimmy carter or airstrikes) explaining this viewpoint. I'm sure it would be a fine read.

But I know if you're busy, its cool.... but still... it'd be great to see this explained in decent detail with examples and insight.
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Old 04-16-2006, 10:56 AM
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Quote: Originally Posted by gop_jeff
I'm not a big Lincoln fan. I think he played it fast and loose with the Constitution, and that the end did not justify his means.
The US Civil War, IMO, was just another display of 19th century US imperialism.
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Old 04-16-2006, 12:02 PM
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Nothing civil about that war. That dog Sherman, often hailed as a great hero and champion in government sponsored history books, made his name by burning property and executing innocent civilians whose only crime was living in Georgia. What made it worse was the condescending, reconstructionist, 'carpetbagger' attitude towards the south that continues on to this day. Lincoln saw the south as stray family members who needed to be brought back into the fold, by force, if necessary. Those who followed in his footsteps saw (and some still see) us all as unruly children who need to get shown the way things are done.

Personally, I'm split on Lincoln, but what followed Lincoln was inexcusable.
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Old 05-12-2006, 08:27 PM
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Quote: Originally Posted by NATO AIR
Greatly respecting your opinion and judgement, I would love to see a short essay (like 3 paragraphs, the way merlin1047 used to break down his opinion, like on jimmy carter or airstrikes) explaining this viewpoint. I'm sure it would be a fine read.

But I know if you're busy, its cool.... but still... it'd be great to see this explained in decent detail with examples and insight.
bump

I know this is an old thread and all, but if you're still interested, there's about a hundred or so essays here:

http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo...enzo-arch.html
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Old 05-13-2006, 08:21 AM
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Quote: Originally Posted by Hobbit
Nothing civil about that war. That dog Sherman, often hailed as a great hero and champion in government sponsored history books, made his name by burning property and executing innocent civilians whose only crime was living in Georgia.
Don't forget Alabama. The folks over here still hold some pretty harsh words for Sherman. Hell, he burnt the University of Alabama to the ground. The good people of Alabama can respect Lincoln, but I'm pretty sure that they hate Sherman.
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Old 05-15-2006, 09:08 AM
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Quote: Originally Posted by NATO AIR
Greatly respecting your opinion and judgement, I would love to see a short essay (like 3 paragraphs, the way merlin1047 used to break down his opinion, like on jimmy carter or airstrikes) explaining this viewpoint. I'm sure it would be a fine read.

But I know if you're busy, its cool.... but still... it'd be great to see this explained in decent detail with examples and insight.
I apologize... I must have totally missed this post. Let me put something together.
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