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God in America: "A Nation Reborn"
WRITTEN, PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
[The words spoken by the actors in this film are from transcripts, sermons and personal journals of the characters they portray.]
NARRATOR: In the 19th century, many Americans believed their country had been chosen by God.
CYNTHIA LYNN LYERLY, Historian, Boston College: You'd be hard pressed to find a white American who do not believe that the Lord had a special destiny for America and that the Lord wanted America to be an example to the world.
NARRATOR: But tensions over what God wanted for America were now ripping the country apart. At the heart of the conflict was an issue as old as the nation itself, slavery. Both those who defended slavery and those who opposed it believed God favored their cause. Their certainty threatened not only the nation, but their special status as a chosen people. Yet the man at the center of the conflict was anything but certain about God's plan. Abraham Lincoln had always kept his beliefs about God to himself.
HARRY S. STOUT, Historian, Yale University: Card-carrying Christians made him nervous. He had a deep and abiding suspicion of and hostility to that notion that "There's no possibility that I'm wrong. I'm absolutely right, and I'm therefore righteous."
NARRATOR: The Civil War would force Lincoln to re-examine his own relationship to God.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: I am almost ready to say that this is probably true, that God wills this contest.
ALLEN C. GUELZO, Historian, Gettysburg College: Lincoln is working out his own problem, his own difficulty. This is Lincoln's own agony and sweat over the ultimate question, "What is the will of God in this crisis?"
NARRATOR: In the spring of 1844, James Osgood Andrew, a Methodist bishop, prepared to leave Georgia for his church's national meeting in New York City. The Methodists had grown into the nation's largest religious denomination. Their ministers traveled the country, foot soldiers in a missionary army spreading the faith. They had become a fundamental part of the fabric that held the nation together.
Like other Protestants, Methodists believed God favored the United States.
MARGARET WASHINGTON, Historian, Cornell University: It was a covenant, an agreement between the people and God. They were a New Israel, a chosen people, and they had a responsibility to live up to God's covenant.
NARRATOR: For Andrew, the covenant with God meant dedicating his life to converting souls. He toiled for nearly two decades as an itinerant minister, traveling the South, preaching mostly to the slave population. As reward for his dedication, he was elected bishop, the highest office in the Methodist church.
But now, as he set out on his trip North, Andrew was worried. His beloved Methodist Church was wracked by bitter infighting. No one knew if it would survive intact.
The battle had begun with a small yet vehement group of Christians who demanded an immediate end to slavery in America. Known as abolitionists, they charged that slavery was a national sin.
RANDALL M. MILLER, Historian, St. Joseph's University: Unless you attack this sin, you are complicit in it, even if you're not a slave-holder. The nation is complicit in it by tolerating it. It will destroy this redeemer nation, and it will then stink in God's nostrils, and all will pay for it.
NARRATOR: Abolitionists demanded clergy speak out against slavery, as they did about other sins like drinking, stealing and adultery.
DAVID W. BLIGHT, Historian, Yale University: They were deeply inspired by evangelical Christianity, by the idea that if a sinner can be converted to some degree of faith, and then to salvation in the Christian sense, practically overnight, then why not a whole society?
NARRATOR: At the heart of the abolitionist movement was a former slave who had escaped to the North, Frederick Douglass.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS: I have seen my master tie up a lame young woman and whip her upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip. And in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture. "He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes."
CYNTHIA LYNN LYERLY: Here is an African-American who was born in slavery, who lived slavery, who's also a church member. He was a Christian. But he quickly discovered, both in slavery and then later as an abolitionist, the inconsistencies between slavery and Christianity.
NARRATOR: Douglass had been converted at a Methodist revival, inspired by the freedoms promised by the Bible.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: African-Americans saw Christianity as liberating, not just spiritually liberating but humanly liberating. Nothing was more graphic for the slaves than the story of the children of Israel being led out of bondage. When these stories were recounted to them, they couldn't help but look around at each other and say, "This is going to be our hope."
FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference. The church and the slave prison stand next to each other. The church-going bell and the auctioneer's bell chime in with each other. The pulpit and the auctioneer's block stand in the same neighborhood.
JOHN STAUFFER, Historian, Harvard University: He blames American Christianity as a fundamental cause for the spread of slavery. He says that the Christian church has become a church that's in bed with these slave owners, and it bears no resemblance to the true message of Christ.
NARRATOR: For America's churches, slavery had become an unavoidable and divisive issue.
CYNTHIA LYNN LYERLY: Slavery touches on all kinds of moral questions that churches are interested in, such as the sanctity of marriages, the separation of families, brutality. What's allowed for one human being to do to another just to extract labor? All kinds of profound questions slavery brings up, and they're religious in nature.
NARRATOR: And in May 1844, as Methodists from across the country gathered in New York, it was Bishop Andrew who would be the target of the anti-slavery attack, for Andrew had inherited a slave. As long as he remained a slave owner, many Northern Methodists argued, he must resign as bishop.
On May 22nd, a motion was put before the 180 delegates that would require the membership to vote on Andrew's future. Some Southern delegates argued that Andrew had inherited, rather than purchased the slave. Others, like Reverend Augustus Longstreet from Georgia, pointed to the Bible to defend their bishop.
Rev. AUGUSTUS LONGSTREET: You cannot, brethren, lay your finger on a text that says no man can hold slaves and be a Christian.
JOHN B. BOLES, Historian, Rice University: Never did the Bible in any abstract way condemn slavery. And they were eager to find verses, for example, in the Book of Philemon, where Paul sends the slave back to his master.
AUGUSTUS LONGSTREET: It appears plain to me why this epistle has been preserved. It is that men may see that it is possible to hold slaves and go to heaven.
CYNTHIA LYNN LYERLY: If you're claiming we can't have a bishop that holds slaves, then you're suggesting that slave-holding is somehow incompatible with being a good Methodist. And that means you're claiming that we're doing something wrong. And slavery is not only not a wrong, it's a blessing.
NARRATOR: Methodists shouted each other down as abolitionists looked on from the visitor's gallery. Andrew was caught in the middle. If he offered to resign, which would satisfy his Northern brethren, his fellow Southerners would secede from the church.
HARRY S. STOUT, Historian, Yale University: Nobody goes into it, overnight. It's something that is for many agonizing because these were brothers in a common denomination, and it was it was very painful to contemplate separation.
NARRATOR: After nearly two weeks of impassioned debate, a vote on Andrew's future was finally taken. It broke down along regional lines- 68 Southerners defended Andrew, but 110 Northerners demanded he resign.
CYNTHIA LYNN LYERLY: They believe the same things. They look to the same founders. They read the same documents. They have this shared theology. And now, in 1844, they say, "Yes, but on this one thing, we are fundamentally diametrically opposed."
NARRATOR: A year later, what many had feared came to pass. Southern Methodists broke away and founded the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Other Protestant denominations ruptured, as well.
CYNTHIA LYNN LYERLY: Now there's no censorship because slavery's no longer the untouchable subject. So with each political crisis, you've got ministers on both sides that can give sermons on it and can write letters and can publish tracts for and against.
ANTI-SLAVERY MINISTER: Every man who holds slaves and who pretends to be a Christian is an incurable Idiot.
PRO-SLAVERY MINISTER: Slavery was established decree of Almighty God. It is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation.
ANTI-SLAVERY MINISTER: He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
STEPHEN PROTHERO, Professor of Religion, Boston University: "Slavery is a divine institution," say the people in the South. "Well, slavery is a satanic, evil institution" say many in the North. If neither side has the sense that God is backing that up, it just becomes a human argument. But if both sides have the sense the God is backing that up, it becomes a sort of cosmic conflagration.
PRO-SLAVERY MINISTER: Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and they shall be your possession. They shall be your bondmen forever.
ANTI-SLAVERY MINISTER: Exodus Chapter 21, Verse 16.
PRO-SLAVERY MINISTER: Leviticus Chapter 25, Verses 45 and 46./p>
NARRATOR: Into this religious turmoil stepped a new and untested president, a man who didn't presume to know the mind of God.
HARRY S. STOUT: He had a deep and abiding suspicion of and hostility to that notion that "There's no possibility that I'm wrong. I'm absolutely right, and I'm therefore righteous."
NARRATOR: Growing up, Abraham Lincoln had witnessed waves of religious revivals on America's Western frontier. When his family joined a Baptist church, 14-year-old Abraham would attend the services but refused to join.
RONALD C. WHITE, Jr., Historian, The Huntington Library: It's a quite conservative tradition, emotional. Lincoln struggles with it. Lincoln is always suspicious of emotion. He always wants to raise the trumpet of reason in all of his thinking and acting.
NARRATOR: But if Lincoln rejected his parents' religion, he never let go of its teachings.
ALLEN C. GUELZO, Historian, Gettysburg College: For Lincoln, if there is a God, he probably is not the personal God that Christianity talks about. He might be a great watchmaker in the sky. He might be someone who sets the universe going according to its own natural laws and then stands back and lets it run without personally interfering himself.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Man is a simple tool, a mere cog in the wheel, a part, a small part of this vast iron machine that strikes and cuts, grinds and mashes all things, including man, that resist it.
RONALD C. WHITE, Jr.: The world has a certain order to it, but we are left by ourselves in this world. God does not intervene directly. This is not a God with personality, not a God who is a loving God. There's a certain humility before this God, but there's also a certain sense that his ways can never be fully understood.
NARRATOR: In the spring of 1861, Lincoln faced the greatest crisis in the nation's history. Seven Southern states had seceded from the Union. The United States was on the brink of war, and its newly elected president would have to address the nation.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national union- before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories and its hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it?
NARRATOR: Lincoln believed that democracy should trump self-righteous religious conviction. While he opposed slavery, he was willing to accommodate it to save what was most sacred to him, the union. He understood the future of the nation itself hung in the balance.
STEPHEN PROTHERO: To what extent are the sides kind of dug in with theological certainty? And I think Lincoln's hopeful that there is room for compromise.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Will you hazard so desperate a step while there is any possibility that any portion of the ills you fly from have no real existence?
NARRATOR: On inauguration day, the president struck a delicate balance, urging a polarized nation to reunite.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.
NARRATOR: Southern leaders rejected the president's plea. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, their newly drafted constitution invoked "the favor and guidance of Almighty God."
MARK A. NOLL, Historian, University of Notre Dame: There was a great, overwhelming sense that the moral edge, the moral advantage, resided in the South. The Southern way of life was being attacked. The institution of slavery that many of the Southern leaders had justified fully with a biblical defense was under assault. Southerners in general felt that the Lord was on their side.
JOHN B. BOLES, Historian: They believed that they are defending a divine institution. They believed that they are God's nation. In a very profound sense, I think, they believed that they were doing God's will.
SOUTHERN MINISTER: Your cause is the cause of God, the cause of Christ, of humanity. It is a conflict of truth with error, of pure Christianity with Northern fanaticism.
NARRATOR: But the North felt God favored their cause.
HARRY S. STOUT: The northern clergy are saying, "The Union is a sacred bond. It cannot be broken."
NORTHERN MINISTER: Repent. Forsake your sin. Lay down your arms. Retire from your rebellious attitude.
STEPHEN PROTHERO: There was a contract between the American people and God. Who is anyone to bail out of that deal?
MARGARET WASHINGTON, Historian: It was a question of a disintegration of the compact, and each region blaming the other for breaking this agreement that they had with God.
NARRATOR: People on both sides came to believe that by defending their cause, they would guarantee their salvation.
HARRY S. STOUT: Maybe the single most important question people are asking is, "What must I do to be saved?" When you put that mentality into place, and then you find ministers saying not only does God give you the right to pick up weapons and go to war, but it would actually be sinful if you didn't pick up weapons.
NARRATOR: On April 12, 1861, the war Lincoln had feared began.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS: God be praised! The war has come at last. Let the long crushed bondsman arise, snatch back the liberty of which he's been so long robbed and despoiled.
NARRATOR: For Frederick Douglass, the war was proof that God condemned America for the sin of slavery.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Men have a choice. They may be angels or they may be demons. In the apocalyptic vision, John describes a war in heaven. Such is the struggle now in the United States.
JOHN STAUFFER, Historian: Douglass literally says that the war is a battle between Michael and his angels against Satan. Douglass is one of those angels.
NARRATOR: Douglass was not alone. Many Americans considered the war an apocalyptic event unleashed by God, a belief embodied in a new hymn that became a Northern anthem.
DAVID W. BLIGHT, Historian: If you read those lyrics, it's God entering history with his terrible swift sword, and he is tearing up the landscape. And out of it is going to come something better, or newer or bigger.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: "As he died to make men holy, let us to make men free." This is a struggle between good and evil.
HARRY S. STOUT: You have to ask yourself the question that most people in the 19th century asked with great interest, "How do you think the world's going to end? What about everything we read in the Book of Revelation, where the forces of Christ and his followers mass against the forces of Antichrist?" All of these prophecies pointing towards the initiation of a new heaven and a new earth. For Protestants, this was as certain as July is warmer than December.
NARRATOR: Telegraphed reports from the battlefront confirmed Lincoln's worst fear. There would not be a swift and decisive conclusion to the war: 460 Union soldiers killed at Bull Run, 346 casualties at Rich Mountain, more than 2,000 at Wilson's Creek. Lincoln read them day and night.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: I have been anxious and careful that the inevitable conflict for this purpose shall not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle.
STEPHEN PROTHERO: He's saying, "Let's not do this. Let's not make it," you know, "the certainty Christians on one side and the certainty Christians on the other side killing each other over their certain views of God."
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: I have, therefore, in every case thought it proper to keep the integrity of the union prominent as the primary object of the contest on our part.
JOSHUA WOLF SHENK, Writer: You have widows and orphans coming to Lincoln constantly. They line up in the hallway. He has to pass through this crowd of visitors just to get from his living space to his office.
RONALD C. WHITE, Jr., Historian: As he recognizes the pain all around him and the cost not simply of the lives of these young men but to their wives, mothers, sweethearts- what this is going to mean for the future of the country?
NARRATOR: Lincoln toured hospitals and sat with the sick and wounded.
RANDALL M. MILLER, Historian: If things are supposed to be right, it should be that bad people suffer and die and good people triumph. But the war was demonstrating that death came to people regardless of whether they were good or bad.
ALLEN C. GUELZO, Historian: While Lincoln won't actually say, "I am responsible for this," he has a government, he has a war, he has a nation to whom he is responsible.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: If Hell is not any worse than this, it has no terror for me.
NARRATOR: Then in February 1862, death visited the White House itself. Lincoln's third and favorite son, Willie, died of typhoid fever. He was just 11 years old. Lincoln found a measure of consolation in the eulogy delivered by a Presbyterian minister, Phineas Gurley, at Willie's funeral.
Rev. PHINEAS GURLEY: What we need in the hour of trial, and what we should seek by earnest prayer, is confidence in Him who sees the end from the beginning and doeth all things well. Let us acknowledge his hand and hear his voice and inquire after his will and seek his holy spirit as our counselor and guide, and all, in the end, will be well.
RONALD C. WHITE, Jr.: There's no facile explanation as to why Willie might be better off in heaven. There's none of that in this sermon. There's this recognition of the mystery of God's dealings, but there's also the affirmation of the comfort God at times of loss. The comfort is in a loving God, a God who cares for us.
NARRATOR: Lincoln asked for a copy of Reverend Gurley's eulogy.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: "What we need in the hour of trial, and what we should seek by earnest prayer, is confidence in him who sees the end from the beginning and doeth all things well."
RONALD C. WHITE, Jr.: This sermon is a real pivotal moment in Lincoln's life. Your son has died. You listen to this sermon. This pastor comes into the White House and suggests to you that you need to trust in a loving God with personality, who acts in history.
NARRATOR: A few months after his son's death, Lincoln began to re-examine his relationship with God.
RONALD C. WHITE, Jr.: It was untitled and undated. It's on a little slip of paper, lined paper. This is something Lincoln never expected any of us to ever see. He was not about to publish this. This was his own private musing and reflection.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: The will of God prevails.
ALLEN C. GUELZO: Lincoln is working out on paper his own problem, his own difficulty. This is Lincoln's own agony and sweat over the ultimate question, "What is the will of God in this crisis?"
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: In great contests, each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true, that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet, by his mere quiet power on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun, he could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.
JOSHUA WOLF SHENK: Lincoln is considering this epic and awful idea that the master of order and goodness is actually in favor, in some way, of the carnage and suffering because of some larger end. Lincoln's mind is turned towards that question, "Out of this affliction, what good might come?"
NARRATOR: Lincoln determined that he must act.
ALLEN C. GUELZO: There must be something new and novel that God is interjecting here. God is doing something new in this war. What could that new thing be? Ah! Emancipation!
NARRATOR: In September 1862, the president called his cabinet together. Southern troops had been defeated after a fierce battle at Antietam Creek. It was a divine signal, he said, for him to issue a proclamation abolishing slavery in the rebellious states.
ALLEN C. GUELZO: It was so astounding that one member of his Cabinet actually asked him to repeat himself because he was sure he hadn't heard it right.
NARRATOR: "God," Lincoln declared, "had decided this question in favor of the slaves."
RONALD C. WHITE, Jr., Historian: "I have been told by God to free these slaves."
ALLEN C. GUELZO: God has ceased to be this machinery, grinding and chopping. Instead, God has plunged himself into the flow of human events, to direct them in a very personal way. And it is to this God that Lincoln appeals.
NARRATOR: On January 1st, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law, freeing slaves in the rebel states.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: "Jehovah has triumphed. His people are free." This was indeed the coming of the Lord.
DAVID W. BLIGHT, Yale University: This was a religious moment. This was a moment to be experienced in biblical time, in religious time, in spiritual time. It was an event for the soul.
NARRATOR: But Southern whites ignored Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. And in the North, racism prevailed. Many doubted whether black solders, now being enlisted, had the courage to fight.
The war dragged on and casualties mounted on both sides. At Chancellorsville, Virginia, more than 20,000 were killed or wounded in six days of combat. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, North and South suffered 50,000 casualties in just three days of battle. But Lincoln was resolute.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: "If we are right," says Lincoln, "and if what we are doing is good in the sight of God, then we have to carry it through to its fruition because in the process of making African-Americans free, we are freeing ourselves. And once we free ourselves, then we can begin again."
NARRATOR: The president articulated his new understanding of the war in November 1863 at the dedication of a cemetery for Union soldiers lost at Gettysburg.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
CYNTHIA LYNN LYERLY: Lincoln asks Americans who have suffered so much, and who are going to continue to suffer - he knows this - to re-conceptualize this massive death, like a minister might, to understand this in a theological way as redemptive bloodshed, like Christ's redemptive bloodshed. The sacrifice, is going to be for a new birth of freedom which will be for all citizens in America.
DAVID W. BLIGHT: He has changed the very aim and purpose of the war. He has given it this holy quality now. It is now for a redefinition of human freedom.
NARRATOR: It made no difference how long it might take and how many lives would be lost. Lincoln was determined the North must win.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: We accepted this war for an object, a worthy object, and the war will end when that object is attained. Under God, I hope it never will until that time.
HARRY S. STOUT: How do you justify destroying farms? How do you justify bringing war upon the elderly, upon women, upon children with no defending army in sight? It requires a sort of withdrawal, where ultimately, it is not me who is orchestrating this but God.
NARRATOR: Lincoln found comfort in the story of Job in the Old Testament.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God.
STEPHEN PROTHERO: It's a story about a man who has a special relationship with God, and all he seems to get is grief. And the question is why? You know, why doesn't God bring grief to the people who are out of relationship with God or the people whom God doesn't favor or the people whom God has not chosen? And the message seems to be that God's job wasn't to fix our world. It's our job to fix the world in the direction that we believe God is pushing it.
NARRATOR: After four grueling years of war and 600,000 dead, by the spring of 1865, the North had prevailed.
ALLEN C. GUELZO: "Aha," say many triumphalistic Northerners. "See? We were right, we of the North. We were right about our opposition to slavery. We were on the side of God. God has been directing us. We have been God's instrument in smiting and slaying the secessionist, slave-holding dragon."
NARRATOR: Thirty thousand people gathered at the Capitol expecting to hear their re-elected president celebrate a great victory for the North, a victory they felt had been guided by God's hand.
ALLEN C. GUELZO: "And now it's our turn to enjoy the fruits of being right and victorious."
NARRATOR: But Abraham Lincoln didn't feel triumphant. The war had been too brutal, and God's intentions too uncertain, for a righteous celebration.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the other. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes.
ALLEN C. GUELZO: Lincoln had no incentive, much less mandate, for talking about God in the second inaugural. If you look at the preceding 15 presidents' worth of inaugural addresses, God makes nothing more than a perfunctory appearance. All that changes with Lincoln's second inaugural.
NARRATOR: The war, Lincoln had come to believe, was God's punishment of the entire nation for 250 years of slavery.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: 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 bondsman's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
STEPHEN PROTHERO: The second inaugural goes back to the first Americans, who understood they were in this relationship with God, where God would bless them if they did good and God would punish them if they did bad, and where they wouldn't really know what God exactly was doing and they would try their best to be on the side of God and righteousness and justice. And that's what he's expressing.
NARRATOR: The crowd was mostly silent throughout Lincoln's address until halfway through, when African-Americans in the audience began to repeat "Bless the Lord" after each sentence.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS: A dreadful disaster has befallen the nation. I feel it as a personal as well as a national calamity.
NARRATOR: Lincoln was shot on Good Friday, six weeks after his second inaugural address. That Easter Sunday, Northern ministers eulogized their fallen leader.
RONALD C. WHITE, Jr.: Ministers, pastors, preachers across the land quickly began to interpret Lincoln's death. And they interpreted his death as, in Christian language, an atonement, that he had died for the nation's sins, that his blood was a kind of offering. He was almost the last casualty of the Civil War.
NARRATOR: "The grave cannot hold him, and he is risen!" a Boston minister declared. "He was the well beloved Son of God."
RANDALL M. MILLER, Historian: Lincoln's assassination acquired very rapidly religious meaning. Lincoln was now to be lifted up through the clouds by the angels to sit at the side of God.
NARRATOR: "Jesus Christ died for the world," a preacher in Hartford proclaimed. "Abraham Lincoln died for his country."
STEPHEN PROTHERO: God's righteous anger was called down upon the country. God sent this horrible conflagration to punish us for the sin of slavery. We deserve more punishment than we got, but Lincoln, like Christ, took the sin of slavery onto his own body and onto his own person.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS: It may be the blood of our beloved martyred President will be the salvation of our country. Though Abraham Lincoln dies, the Republic lives.
STEPHEN PROTHERO: From the very beginning, from the Puritans and the Pilgrims on, we're trying to figure out what the national religious story is, and Lincoln gives voice to that. He articulates our sense of chosen-ness, but he also articulates the fact that we have not achieved what we should have achieved. The freedoms that we should be manifesting are always out in front of us.
Published October 11, 2010