Abraham Lincoln and American political religion by Glen E. Thurow

By Glen E. Thurow

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It is less evident that the war tested whether "any nation so conceived and so dedicated" can long endure. It is possible, even plausible, that the war and its outcome were rooted in causes peculiar to the United States. The existence of slavery, the constitutional and legal situation, the economic strengths and weaknesses of each side all seem peculiar to the United States. It might appear that the collapse of such a nation would show little about its possibility elsewhere. We must see why Page 21 Lincoln thought the war the outcome not of causes unique to the United States but of causes inherent in the very kind of nation the United States was one conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

He went on to argue that while the separation of church and state must be complete in that there could be no interference with the free exercise of religion nor any establishment of religion, there need not be separation in all respects. To declare the program unconstitutional, the Court would have to declare any connection whatever between church and state, even the Court's own opening words at each session ("God save the United States and this Honorable Court"), to be unconstitutional. Not only would this be carrying the notion of separation of church and state to ridiculous extremes, but, he maintained: We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.

The height of Jefferson's statescraft could be seen in the Declaration of Independence; Washington's magnanimity and prudence viewed in his Farewell Address; Madison's architectonic calculations recognized in the Federalist Papers. The newer view held that a stateman's words were but a rationalization for his actions, or a screen behind which he could carry out deeds he could not defend in public. Speech was thought a weapon in a battle whose ends and true purposes must be found in psychology, the forces of history, economic interest, or other factors either not recognized or not acknowledged by the statesman himself.

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