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lincoln’s calvinist transformation 201 Lincoln’s Calvinist Transformation Emancipation and War nicholas Parrillo The role of religion in Abraham Lincoln’s political leadership very much deserves to be studied, for, as reinhold niebuhr claims, Lincoln apprehended the religious meanings of political events more deeply than did almost any other American of his time.1 Yet the sources available on the subject present serious difficulties.While Lincoln’s statements on religionwere at times profound, they were never lengthy or great in number. Some historians have tried to fill in the picture by using the reminiscences of people who knew Lincoln, but these sources entail problems of their own. Authors of reminiscences suffered from the tricksof memory. Further, theywereespeciallytempted to bias theiraccounts when talking about religion, for after Lincoln was murdered and consequently canonized as a national saint, a heated controversy ensued over what religious group might claim him.2 one approach to this problem of sources is to put aside reminiscences and 201 E Civil War History, vol. XLvi no. 3, © 2000 by The kent State university Press i wish to thank John Stauffer for his excellent instruction in American cultural history and for his guidance as i wrote and edited this paper. i am grateful to David Herbert Donald and Lawrence Buell for their valuable criticisms of the manuscript. 1. reinhold niebuhr, “The religion of Abraham Lincoln” in Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address: Commemorative Papers, ed. Allan nevins (urbana: univ. of illinois Press, 1964), 72–87. 2. For the confusion on Lincoln’s religion after his death, see Merrill D. Peterson, Lincoln in American Memory (new York: oxford univ. Press, 1994), 68–69, 76, 226–30. For an overview of major reminiscences, see William e. Barton, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln (new York: George H. Doran, 1920), 101–221, 303–6, 309–57. In order to view this proof accurately, the Overprint Preview Option must be checked in Acrobat Professional or Adobe Reader. Please contact your Customer Service Representative if you have questions about finding the option. Job Name: -- /358884t 202 nicholas parrillo 3. William J. Wolf was the first to call for a tighter focus on Lincoln’s writings. Though Wolf looked more closely at Lincoln’s works than had his predecessors, he still cited many reminiscences. See The Almost Chosen People:A Study of the religion of Abraham Lincoln (Garden City, n.Y.: Doubleday, 1959). elton Trueblood’s use of sources was similar. See Abraham Lincoln: Theologian of American Anguish (newYork:Harperand row, 1973).Wolf’s stated goal tofocuson Lincoln’sworkswasexecuted much more faithfully by Glen e. Thurow, Abraham Lincoln and American Political religion (Albany: State univ. of new York Press, 1976), and David Hein, “Lincoln’s Theology and Political ethics” in Essays on Lincoln’s Faith and Politics, ed. kennethWThompson (Lanham, Md.:univ. Press of America, 1983).There are, of course, otherstrategies fordealingwith the sources on Lincoln’s religion.Wayne C. Temple’s study includes a staggering number of sources of varying reliability and is quite useful as a catalogue of references to religion both in Lincoln’s writings and in the reminiscence literature. See Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet (Mahomet, ill.: Mayhaven Publishing, 1995). The most insightful analysis of the reminiscences (and the one that best integrates them with Lincoln’s writings ) appears in Allen C. Guelzo’s intellectual biography, Abraham Lincoln: redeemer President (Grand rapids, Mich.:eerdmans, 1999),which appeared aftericompleted this essay.Guelzoconcludes, as i do,thatLincolngravitatedtowardCalvinisminthecourseof thewar,thatprovidentialismsuperseded his liberal views to some extent, and that the change contributed to his decision about emancipation. However, where i consider this change to be a full-fledged transformation, Guelzo believes it was much more limited and that Lincoln retained a melancholy doubt about God’s redemptive power (115–21, 149–60, 318–29, 341–45, 416–21, 447, 461–63). 4. edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (new York: oxford univ. Press, 1966), 99–106;David HerbertDonald, Lincoln (newYork:Simon and Schuster, 1995), 337. 5. This essay focuses as much as possible on Lincoln’s own writings. The quotations in the text include three Lincoln utterances not included in Basler’s Collected Works, but each of these comes from a contemporary account by a well-established source: in my note 60, Gideon Welles’s diary entry on the cabinet meeting of Sept. 22, 1862; in my notes 60 and 62–63, Salmon P. Chase’s diary entry on the same meeting; and in my note 69...


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