Prayer from Abraham Lincoln for Thanksgiving

LINCOLN scholar Duncan Newcomer has contributed many of the fascinating materials indexed in our Abraham Lincoln Resource Page. Drawing on Lincoln’s own words, from various texts, Newcomer has assembled this special prayer, perfect for use at Thanksgiving—the national holiday our 16th president established. Of course, you are free to widely share this prayer. Click the blue-“f” Facebook button, or the envelope-shaped email icon, or print this page and pass it around.

Inside the Lincoln Memorial Washington DCPrayer from Lincoln
at Thanksgiving

So, we must think anew,
And act anew.
We must disenthrall ourselves.
We are not enemies,
But friends.
We must not be enemies.
We cannot separate.
There is no line, straight or crooked,
Upon which to divide.
We cannot escape history.
No personal significance, or insignificance,
Can spare one or another of us.

The mystic chords of memory
Will yet swell the chorus of union
To every living heart
And hearthstone,
And again touch
The better angels of our nature.








Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.




Abraham Lincoln and visions of a ‘United America’

(Note from ReadTheSpirit: In this sesquicentennial era of the Civil War—Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer is writing a series of columns about the legacy of our 16th president. Learn more about our many Lincoln resources, which you are welcome to share with friends or with your organization to spark discussion.)

By Duncan Newcomer

Abraham Lincoln understood that politics lives by talk.

That is why he was so careful with his spoken words, why he worked so hard to get his words right. He would have succeeded in averting the Civil War if more of the people more of the time had been good listeners. He said in his First Inaugural Address, “We are not enemies. We must not be enemies.” He then appealed to the “better angels of our nature” so we would not become enemies.

What shows the better angels of our nature more than our values? Lincoln appealed to our values to avert tragedy. But too many people were in what John Burt calls a “moral panic” in his new book, Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict. Despite Lincoln’s eloquent appeals, people didn’t listen, or couldn’t believe his words, or they were listening to a different set of values.

We can ask what would have happened if more people, then, knew how to talk and listen to each other from a common set of values. We can hope as a society that we have learned how to talk and listen better. We have a new instrument for achieving harmony in politics with Wayne Baker’s new book with the long title, United America The surprising truth about American values, American identity and the 10 beliefs that a large majority of Americans hold dear just published by ReadTheSpirit.

The book is chock full of up-to-date information about what we believe, accurate facts about who we have become—the true status of our values—and multiple sources of wisdom and guidance from a wide variety of thinkers, including personal stories and lots of quotes from just “the people.” But as we learn from the Preface by Brian McLaren, it is a chilling picture as well. Across the board we are failing our values.

The good news is we share those values.


Before looking at the 10 values documented in Dr. Baker’s research, let’s consider one other point he makes in this new book: Americans, it turns out, hold “Kindness” as our No. 1 “character strength.” This finding is from a world-wide survey of over 50 nations, of whom none but the U.S. picked Kindness as No. 1. Few presidents seem as kind, even kindly, as Abraham Lincoln. He forgave hundreds of deserting soldiers often saying things like, “You can’t blame a man for what his legs do.” When kindness becomes policy we call it reconciliation. Overall, Americans tend to be hard on leaders who call us to reconcile. Woodrow Wilson wanted a peace treaty with Germany that stressed reconciliation. Lincoln wanted peace with the rebel South that built on reconciliation. To bind up the nations wounds and tend to the widow and the orphan was Lincoln’s Second Inaugural plea.

Looking at the 10 values listed in United America:

Respect for Others. Lincoln’s single deepest value was his desire to earn the esteem of his fellow citizens, and he knew to do that he needed to be worthwhile to them. He said so in his first posting for local elected office. A psychologist recently said, in a lecture on Lincoln, that his deepest need was to earn the esteem of others. People felt this, his respect for them.

Symbolic Patriotism. Lincoln became a symbol for patriotism. Everything we know about him goes into how we feel when see the Lincoln Memorial, or hear again the Gettysburg Address, or see his outstretched hand with its shiny finger tips in a small bronze statue in the rear corner of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Most people now love him partly because he loved this county with mystic fervor. We see him as an icon for that love.

Freedom. “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master, this expresses my idea of democracy.…” That was one statement of Lincoln’s about freedom. His view of slavery was that taking away the freedom of another human corrupted the person who did the taking. Corruption—spiritual and social—necessarily would be spread by the need to use force to maintain it. The sacred canopy of Law was Lincoln’s sanctuary for freedom. Freedom was the American opposite of the oppression known from European history.

Security. Lincoln would joke about the mosquito bite wounds he suffered as a captain in the brief Black Hawk Indian War. But he became the Commander in Chief over the largest use of force ever assembled in this country at that time. The war inflicted a total of 600,000 casualties, which would be 6 million people if figured as a percentage of today’s total population. He used force in an absolute way for the single purpose of re-establishing the authority of the national government, which he considered to be a sacred trust.

Self-reliance and Individualism. Lincoln may have heard Ralph Waldo Emerson in a Chicago speech. He felt the deep call to find the force of nature that was in him and to fulfill what his partner William Herndon called “the little engine of his ambition.” He did that with extremely thorough work. Of the seven generations of Lincolns who had lived in America, he was the first to move without a relative to accompany him. When at the age of twenty-two he landed in New Salem, Illinois, in July of 1831 to start his life, he was alone.

Equal Opportunity. With those five words, “All men are created equal,” Dr. Baker opens his sixth chapter. From the time Thomas Jefferson penned that new natural law to the time when Martin Luther King brought it all home, first for Black Americans and then for poor Americans, no one lifted those words higher than Abraham Lincoln. If the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, as King reminded us, the American crown on that rainbow was Lincoln at Gettysburg making equality the new gold to be found at the rainbow’s end. Always a matter not of social status—but of legal status—equality for Lincoln was the common doorway to opportunity.

Getting Ahead. Lincoln admitted his taste for the presidency. He was ambitious in advancing his career. He was the smartest person he knew. He worked long hours and hard ones. He was lucky often. When he saw a chance to merge his failing career with his moral passion to stop the spread of slavery, he became a national meteor. But he told his law partner that after his presidency was over, he would just come back, again, so the two of them could hang out a shingle and practice law just like before. In August of 1864 he fully expected not to be re-elected, and wrote a letter for the next president and put it in his desk drawer. He was peacefully resigned.

The Pursuit of Happiness. Lincoln made himself happy telling jokes which he need to relieve his melancholy. He deeply enjoyed the theater. As president, he learned to like opera. His chief pleasures were to read his Robert Burns and Lord Byron—and to read and recite Shakespeare. He had a frontier man’s appetite for simple food, and he did not drink or smoke or lust after women. He did make money as a railroad lawyer in Illinois and had one of the better houses in Springfield. He was proud of his social achievement, but that was not what made him happy.

Justice & Fairness. Kindness and mutual help was the way people survived and children grew up in the small settlements in Indiana when Lincoln was a boy. There were eight other families within a mile of his home in Pigeon Creek, and another six within two miles. Within four miles of his home there were 90 children under the age of seven and 48 between seven and seventeen. That adds up to a lot of people to enforce fairness and the Golden Rule. The rule of law was for Lincoln the force that made fair play and justice work.

Critical Patriotism. In a speech to the New Jersey Legislature on his way to becoming president, Lincoln turned a crucial—and critical—phrase. He referred to America as “God’s almost chosen people.” That is what separates Lincoln from the glory gluttons of contemporary patriotism. He had a mystical awe for what self-government in a free land could mean for the human race. He was not ever in favor of the nativist American movement that wanted to slam the door on immigrants. As an Enlightenment thinker, Lincoln was poised to be critical of just about everything. He and Mark Twain would have been Mississippi riverboat soul mates joking with skeptical discontent in the service of a freer humanity. While the war effort closed down much political opposition, Lincoln was never the tyrant people feared or imagined.


We can never know what Lincoln would do now. But we can easily imagine him reading United America and “getting it.”

We know from his life and words that his appeal to values failed in preventing the Civil War. Competing values themselves made the Civil War. If there had been sociologists trained like Dr. Baker in 1860, it would have been interesting to know if they could have found a common ground in the values claimed by North and South. Could those values then have been a part of the better angels of their nature?

Certainly the values Lincoln offered as he entered his presidency, values of reason, law, and sheer common sense, were not enough to calm the “moral panic” of the extremists on both sides.

As the conflict unfolded, Lincoln pondered deeply why the war was so long and horrible. He wondered: Were there deeper demons in human nature? Was there some higher value he had yet to grasp? Finally for Lincoln, what he perceived as the mystery of God in history and Biblical justice were what defined the common ground for the North and the South.

Ironically, it was killer angels that made happen what our better angels failed to do. This was the tragedy of that failed conversation about values.


In 1999 Duncan earned a Doctor in Ministry in Preaching from the ACTS DMin program through the Chicago Theological Seminary. He is the author of Desperately Seeking Mary. He  has prepared various community resources, discussion starters and historical columns, which you can find in our extensive Abraham Lincoln Resource Page. Currently, he is working on an upcoming series of columns about the popular Western writer Ralph Moody (1898-1992), the author of the Little Britches books. Duncan currently lives and works in Maine, but travels to present talks and programs. Got questions about Duncan’s work? Email us at [email protected]


Visit our resource page for the new book, United America, to learn more about the 10 core values documented in research by University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker. The United America resource page includes study guides and also two colorful, downloadable charts of the 10 values.

You are free to use, discuss, share and even republish this “sample sermon,” as long as you credit Duncan Newcomer and online magazine.

Video: Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer on the significance of Thanksgiving proclamation

Duncan Newcomer—author, theologian and Lincoln scholar—has written extensively about Abraham Lincoln, including various columns now indexed in our Abraham Lincoln Resource Page.

Duncan produced this 11-minute video explaining the significance of one of Lincoln’s most enduring decisions: the declaration of Thanksgiving. If you are planning to discuss this milestone in your small group—or perhaps you are planning to write about it—you will want to watch Duncan’s short talk.

In the opening of the talk, Duncan explains: “I want to help us look at Abraham Lincoln’s unusual Thanksgiving Day Proclamation—unusual because he instituted a nearly religious national holiday and unusual because of the values and ideas he used to do so. Lincoln’s two greatest speeches are the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. They have become American beacons of light from an extraordinarily dark time—our Civil War. The ideals enshrined in those speeches are enacted in at least two practical proclamations: The Emancipation Proclamation and this lesser-known Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. In these, Lincoln took practical steps toward the two goals of the Civil War: freedom and union.”

Click the video screen below to watch the entire, brief talk …

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Want to share this video with your audience? Here is the direct URL on YouTube:




Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.




Best Books on Abraham Lincoln and Civil War from our reviewers

ABRAHAM LINCOLN and the Civil War were so important in shaping American life that ReadTheSpirit regularly updates our Abraham Lincoln Resource Page—packed with columns, materials for small groups, reviews, sample sermons—and much more. Visit that Resource Page to find additional columns by Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer, the writer whose reviews are featured prominently on this Best Books page. The first review, here, is by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm …

The Civil War and American Art


Photography and the American Civil War


YOU may never see the actual exhibitions from which these two thought-provoking coffeetable books were drawn, but the books themselves make remarkable gifts for any American history buff. Both books go far beyond reproducing large-format prints of remarkable paintings and photographs from the Civil War era. They provide a great deal of thoughtful reading related to these works of art, as well.

In The Civil War and American Art, Eleanor Jones Harvey draws on her decade as the senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to tell readers the story of these startling paintings, including Winslow Homer’s 1865 “The Veteran in a New Field.” At first glance, the canvas seems to be a nostalgic rural scene—striking in its beautiful colors and simple design. In Harvey’s accompanying prose, she points out this design was anything but simple!

Most Americans think of Homer as the nation’s favorite seaside painter and forget that he began as a visual journalist—sent to the front lines of the Civil War by Harper’s Weekly, the TIME magazine of its era. Virtually the moment the war ended, Homer began this more-than-3-foot-wide canvas and, before it was finished, reworked the imagery in several ways. Readers of Harvey’s large-format book can easily discern the discarded Union uniform in the lower right of Homer’s canvas. (The uniform looks like a dark oval in the small web-resolution image with this review.)

This crumpled uniform made the painting a vividly familiar image for Americans nationwide as Union soldiers returned to farms to discover, at least across the North that year, an especially abundant harvest. Then, as Harvey explains in the book, Homer deliberately painted a style of scythe that 1865 viewers would have immediately recognized as an ancient model. Even then, contemporary farmers cut with more modern tools.

As 1865 viewers pondered this painting—especially as Civil War veterans looked upon it—they would have realized that Homer was evoking The Grim Reaper, even then a stylized figure with this kind of scythe. What’s more, any veteran would have shuddered at the scene, remembering countless battles fought in fields just like this. The harvester in the painting was moving through a field, mowing down the wheat as he once had mowed down opposing troops. And, even as they recoiled from such a memory, Harvey tells us, they might remember, too, the biblical references all of them would know about beating swords into plowshares.

It may sound surprising, but this lavish art book is a real page turner!

So is Jeff Rosenheim’s equally engrossing Photography and the American Civil War. If Vietnam was the first war televised in American living rooms, the Civil War also was a media first. As Rosenheim writes, “For the first time ever, the camera recorded a long and ferocious war from beginning to end.”

Most Americans may assume that Mathew Brady was the only man with a camera crisscrossing war-torn America. Certainly, a half dozen of Brady’s iconic photos are the images widely known from that era. Rosenheim points out that there were roughly 1,000 photographers on the move during the war, producing hundreds of thousands of images. What’s more, Rosenheim argues, it was in the capturing of these photos that Americans collectively were able to mourn the enormous losses. Suddenly, all Americans could see the youthful faces of all of those young men—now dead and buried. Plus, all Americans for the first time could see a realistic image of the carnage left on battlefields.

“In the creation of this vast treasury of photographs—a national visual library of sorts—the camera performed a key role the opposing armies and their leaders could not: It defined and perhaps even helped unify the nation through an unrehearsed and unscripted act of collective memory-making,” Rosenheim writes.

NOTE: The “Civil War and American Art” exhibition has closed, but the “Photography and the American Civil War” exhibition continues at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina, through January 5—then it reopens at the New Orleans Museum of Art January 31 through May 4, 2014.


Abe. A Novel of the Young Lincoln




First, why not a novel about Lincoln? Great writers of history work hard to get us to see the human Lincoln behind the white marble giant of the Lincoln Memorial, and the great rock face of Mount Rushmore.

But it’s not that easy. It takes an act of imagination to re-image Lincoln. The problem of finding the real Lincoln is difficult because Lincoln was a giant in almost all ways. We also have had all those years of tall tales about him. Most of them amazingly are true. But it takes a giant act of imagination to get a new, real, sense of him. It would take a great myth to get behind the big myth of Lincoln.

What a gigantic act of imagination it was then for Richard Slotkin in Abe: A Novel of the Young Lincoln to picture young Lincoln on his flatboat Mississippi voyage like Huck Finn on his mythic raft. Huck Finn’s journey is a deep story and image in the American mind. Lincoln could have been Huck’s older brother. Through the lens of Mark Twain’s story we have an imaginative way to see behind the lofty image of Lincoln. A great novel about young Lincoln, paradoxically, can be the cure for an overly mythologized President Lincoln.

The genius of Slotkin to place Abe imaginatively on a Huck-like raft was quickly noted by Kevin Baker in his positive New York Times review, shortly after the book originally appeared a decade ago.

This would be a great novel even if it were not telling the tale of many greatly known historical figures. As an historian Slotkin knows the details and the facts of hard frontier life—a mythic tale all its own. But as a poetically inspired writer he takes us into the heart and mind of his lead character, who just happens to be the Abraham Lincoln we think we know.

In a novel historian Slotkin can picture the swaddled infant Lincoln in his mother’s arms, “…the river flowing under them all, dark, and him drifting with it, yearning towards a dim shore that almost had a shape.” (p. 4)

In the second chapter of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Herbert Donald’s biography, Lincoln we find the title, ”A Piece of Floating Driftwood.” Both Slotkin’s novel and Herbert’s biography touch on similar themes. These are not just images; there is fact to it. Herbert’s original theme is the “essential passivity” of Lincoln’s nature. We know, near the end of his life, Lincoln’s dream was of rushing in a boat to a far distant shore—both the nation being saved and his journey being over.

A book like Abe, fact-based fiction, does for us what David Herbert Donald also sets out to do in his must-read historian’s biography.

Putting on an expertly crafted set of blinders, Donald asks, at every stage of Lincoln’s career what he knew when he had to take crucial actions. His is a biography “written from Lincoln’s point of view using the information and ideas that were available to him.” (p.13). Donald does this largely based on “Lincoln’s own words.”

Lincoln in Slotkin’s novel, as Donald pictures him in his biography, is just trying to act—as we all do—and face the flow of life as it comes. This flow is what Donald gives us in factual detail and narrative. What Slotkin’s fiction does is to take us even one step closer. In an historical biography we still see Lincoln in the camera-eye of biographer. But in a novel we are with Lincoln floating down the river. We see and feel the life of this wild and profound young man from within the one dramatic truth he had—that he didn’t know that he was Abraham Lincoln, at least not the Abraham Lincoln we know. He just thought he was Abe, or even just, as he most often signed his name, A. Lincoln.

Historical fiction is not history. The movie “The Butler,” based on the true story of the long-time White House butler, is not all factually true. It is mythically true. This is how “Abe” should be read, historically true to the real story, but also truly inside the big story.

Donald gives us one of the best new clear-eyed and lucid views of the whole Lincoln life. We cannot do without that. Slotkin paints Lincoln’s coming of age in the colors of an American life now writ large.


Lincoln: The Biography of A Writer


The poet Shelley wrote that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” After reading Fred Kaplan’s brilliantly minted biography of Lincoln as a writer we can see how a legislator—Lincoln’s chosen occupation—can be the poet of the world.

In Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, Kaplan says that it is as a writer, with unacknowledged poetic genius, that Lincoln rose to power and governed the warring nation. Kaplan shows us how Lincoln took his cue from Ralph Waldo Emerson. How many people know of this surprising connection? After hearing Emerson talk in Springfield, Lincoln dove back into the deep currents of American history to embrace and channel the one natural power that could solve the problem of disunion and slavery.

What was that natural power? American values. Lincoln perceived that the country could rise above the curse of slavery and survive the threat of disunion through a language—a language!—that appealed to American’s preference for justice. That, and our generous willingness to extend to others the benefits of our belief in the idea that all men are created equal. Greed and folly, aggression and slavery, would not defeat this natural force if Americans could be presented with that American story in compelling language. It was Lincoln’s literary task—written and then spoken—to do so, says Kaplan.

Lincoln did this all with his words, such as the image of the house divided. He did this with words that created actions. Hear this, his words in Chicago in 1856, “…can we not come together for the future. Let every one who really believes, and is resolved, that free society is not, and shall not be, a failure…let past differences, as nothing be….let us inaugurate the good old ‘central ideas’ of the Republic. We can do it. The human heart is with us—God is with us…to renew the broader, better declaration that ‘all men are created equal.’”

Kaplan’s case is both strong and relevant. He reminds us that Lincoln had no political office in 1854, and was all but washed up politically. The explanation of how Lincoln rose on his moral passion and his “superior language skills” becomes convincing. It is eerie to read this view of Lincoln on language, written in 2008: “He appreciated the inherent danger to effective government in political parties: the manipulation of language to advance their agendas.” (p.243)

He shows us Lincoln’s rich language when he takes a written speech (Lincoln rarely ever departed from a written text) given at the Wisconsin Agricultural State Fair in August of 1859, and gives it the line breaks of a poem. By this point in the book we have already deeply studied Lincoln’s poems on mortality and memory and even a bear hunt. These poems, Kaplan shows us, are of real literary quality. But this he calls Lincoln’s best poem. It is Whitmanesque, before Walt Whitman’s 1882 volume, Specimen Days.

Lincoln’s first line is, “Every blade of grass is a study.”

Lincoln’s written speech, ends with …
“… the thousand things
Of which these are specimens—
Each a world of study within itself.”

Lincoln’s intellectual biography includes the great poets: Burns, Byron and Shakespeare. So when Kaplan takes us through Lincoln’s love letters—yes, love letters—we see how the poets could affect Abe Lincoln’s heart. Kaplan explicates the sordid Mary Owens love affair more clearly than most biographers because he takes the time to understand the words and their psychological nuance.

Lincoln read widely, including major works of his time—or of any era. From Hume to Voltaire to Pope and Milton. Along with Burns and Byron, which he kept at hand and near and dear to this heart, he read Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Bunyan, Longfellow, Edgar Alan Poe. The Library of Congress, Jefferson’s idea and original gift, was Lincoln’s library. Kaplan knows which books he checked out and when. The state library in Illinois was his study away from home as he prepared for his massively detailed, more-than-7,000-word Cooper Union speech in 1860.

In the course of his book, Kaplan shows us how nature, cause and effect, first principles and even God figure into our history—and our tragedies that Lincoln viewed as echoing Shakespeare’s tragedies. Kaplan shows us Lincoln as a man who, at first, viewed language as an honest tool, much like an axe—then learned how, in the end, the pen is the mightiest tool of all.

“He became what his language made him,” Kaplan writes. A master biographer who also has written on the lives of Henry James, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, Kaplan begins this book by quoting the famous editor of The Atlantic, William Dean Howells, who said that “Mark Twain was the Lincoln of our literature.” Indeed, we have noted the role of Mississippi riverboat mythology in both lives. Kaplan wants to suggest that, because Lincoln was such a good and devoted writer—perhaps he is the Mark Twain of our politics. I think this underestimates—if that is possible—Lincoln’s skill.

Not only did Lincoln become what his language made him—we became what his language made us.


Care for more on Lincoln’s language?

A talk by Duncan Newcomer is featured in four 15-minute YouTube segments given at The Working Man’s Institute in New Harmony, Indiana, on the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, November, 2011. In the talk, Duncan takes a secular look at the language of Abraham Lincoln. He shows how—with no church membership and little formal education—Lincoln authored speeches that were and are prophetic and revelatory of spiritual truths for our nation’s history. Seeded in the mystery of language and his own sense of “yonder” Lincoln’s love of language carried him—and us.

(Originally published in, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Walt Whitman on the loss of Lincoln in the poem that became his most popular: ‘O Captain! My Captain!’

O Captain! was Walt Whitman’s single most popular poem during his lifetime.

Wikipedia has a biography of Whitman, but the essential details are these: Whitman had family and friends in the front lines of the Civil War. He volunteered as an Army nurse and worked with the wounded and amputees. He also was a great admirer of President Lincoln. His harrowing experiences poured into his poetry. Before Whitman’s death in 1892, O Captain! My Captain! was the only one of his poems available in book-length poetry anthologies. So, Whitman’s far more complex and powerful When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d was largely unknown until many years later.

In his biography, Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself, Jerome Loving describes the enduring popularity of Whitman’s poems about Lincoln’s death, writing: It was Whitman’s passion for the president as the redeemer of the Union and its democracy that makes the poetry so successful as a national eulogy, turning a monologue into a dialogue with the American reader. Also at work is Whitman’s mourning for Lincoln as the commander-in-chief of his beloved soldiers, who suffered and died as Lincoln now was. It was probably the poet’s intense involvement in the hospitals that made Lincoln’s death so monumental to him. … For him, Lincoln’s death symbolized the war’s most profound loss.

On the specific influences behind O Captain!—Justin Kaplan writes in, Walt Whitman: A Life, a biography that won the National Book Award: Among (the influences were) his early glimpsing of Lincoln as an archangel Captain and also the widely circulated newspaper report that the night before he was shot Lincoln dreamed about a ship entering harbor under full sail. “He had had that very dream before every great national success,” George Templeton Strong noted a week after the assassination, “and he was certain he should hear of some great piece of news within 48 hours. A poet could make something of that.” The poet also may have found some clues in Moby Dick, where Starbuck pleads with the doomed Ahab, “Oh, my Captain! My Captain! Noble soul! Grand old heart! … How cheerily, how hilariously, O my Captain, would we bowl on our way to see old Nantucket again.

Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer, for the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation, draws on Whitman’s O Captain! for a moving sample sermon he calls A Captain in the Storm.

Here is …

Walt Whitman’s
O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

O captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

Care to read more Whitman?

We also have the complete text of Whitman’s longer poem on Lincoln’s death, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.

Abraham Lincoln and American Values Resource Page

Abraham Lincoln was the only president faced with literally reuniting the United States. In that process, he redefined what American unity should mean for all of us. In charting new directions for the nation, Lincoln drew on his own hard-won wisdom, his political savvy, his moral code and also his own sense of theology. In his 1865 Second Inaugural, Lincoln pleaded with Americans to hold “malice toward none” and quoted the Gospel of Matthew: “Let us judge not, that we be not judged.”

THIS RESOURCE PAGE is  your easy guide to finding the most interesting material for your own personal reading—and for sharing with discussion groups or classes.



Many Americans across the U.S. call the annual period leading up to Thanksgiving the “Season of Gratitude.”

Grassroots efforts to promote a culturally and religiously diverse celebration under this inclusive name has been unfolding since 2013, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s declaration of the first annual Thanksgiving for Americans.

Here’s an example: The State University of New York College of Brockport chose “Season of Gratitude” as the name for its annual Holiday Helping Hand campaign (a major drive to collect resources for needy family). Brockport officials found Season of Gratitude more inclusive of Americans’ many different traditions.

Wondering what you will cook for your Thanksgiving dinner? There’s a Season of Gratitude Pinterest page with some yummy recipes.

5 TIPS ABOUT PREACHING ON ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Whatever you choose to say about our 16th president, Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomver provides an overview of key themes to keep in mind while preaching. He debunks the myth that Lincoln didn’t like preachers. (Lincoln loved them.) And, based on his many years of teaching and writing about the 16th president, Duncan shares insights into capturing the great man’s message.

‘THANKSGIVING,’ A SAMPLE SERMON ON LINCOLN: Duncan Newcomer also provides this sample sermon with a more focused Thanksgiving message, drawing on themes from the Bible and from Lincoln’s wisdom.

‘CAPTAIN IN THE STORM,’ SAMPLE SERMON ON LINCOLN: Duncan Newcomer provides a masterful sermon on the life and legacy of Lincoln near the occasion of the holiday he inaugurated: Thanksgiving. As you read this sermon, you may also want to read our texts of Walt Whitman’s two powerful tributes to Lincoln: O Captain! My Captain! (Whitman’s most popular poem in his own lifetime and a partial inspiration behind Duncan’s text) as well as Whitman’s longer When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.

WHAT WOULD LINCOLN SAY ABOUT AMERICAN VALUES TODAY? Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer explores Lincoln’s life and writing on the 10 core values documented in Dr. Wayne Baker’s new book United America.

BEST BOOKS on ABRAHAM LINCOLN & THE CIVIL WAR: ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm and Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer bring you recommendations of books that will warm the heart of any history buff. What’s more, the reviews themselves are full of intriguing details about the era. Enjoy!

PRAYER FROM LINCOLN FOR THANKSGIVING: Drawing on the words of our 16th president, we present this prayer you can share. In Lincoln’s words, it calls again for unity in our all-too-divided times.

LINCOLN’S PROCLAMATION OF A NATIONAL THANKSGIVING: We provide the entire text of Lincoln’s moving 1863 proclamation, plus we explain the lobbying effort of influential journalist Sara J. Hale.

See the Video! IMPORTANCE OF THE PROCLAMATION: Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer offers a short video—which you are free to share with others—explaining how the Thanksgiving proclamation reflects Lincoln’s most important values.


HISTORIAN STEPHEN PROTHERO PUTS LINCOLN IN PERSPECTIVE: This in-depth interview with Dr. Stephen Prothero explains more about the genius of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his declaration of the first national Thanksgiving.

JIM WALLIS ON LINCOLN: Jim Wallis’s book, On God’s Side, shows the Lincoln Memorial on its front cover and in this in-depth interview with Jim, he talks about the importance of Lincoln’s vision of a common ground in America.

LINCOLN, A COMPLEX MAN OF FAITH: Many writers have tried to explain Lincoln’s relationship to religion. This column is a fascinating overview of the historical evidence by Edward McNulty, the noted faith-and-film writer. McNulty prepared this historical column to accompany his film review of Steven Spielberg’s 2012 movie, Lincon.

LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS: We have the entire text of the address, plus we briefly explain the historical context—and we have the Bible references on which Lincoln drew when writing this message that includes the famous line “with malice toward none.”

LINCOLN’S BEARD: In 2010, columnist Stephanie Fenton posted this look at the 150th anniversary of the little girl’s letter that inspired Lincoln to grow his beard.

‘WHEN LILACS LAST IN THE DOORYARD BLOOMED’: You’ll find the entire text of Walt Whitman’s haunting elegy, penned after Lincoln was killed, plus related links.


LINCOLN & MELANCHOLY COLUMN: After five years at the helm of the OurValues project, sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker looked back at readership patterns and discovered this column about Lincoln’s “melancholy” was an all-time favorite. That was part of a week-long OurValues series on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

DUNCAN NEWCOMER AND ‘LINCOLN LEGACY‘: The popularity of that early 2013 series of Emancipation columns led us to invite Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer to write an entire week-long series on the “Lincoln Legacy.” That wide-ranging series includes one unusual column comparing Lincoln to Marilyn Monroe. Duncan also helped to write this fascinating column about the changing nature of Lincoln’s face throughout his presidency.

SECOND GREATEST PRESIDENT: In 2012, OurValues also reported on a Gallup Poll ranking Lincoln as America’s second greatest president out of 44.


BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS: Daniel Buttry’s inspiring book is packed with profiles of courageous peacemakers from around the world. Included in that book are stories about abolitionists Frederick Douglass, Thomas Clarkson and other heroes crusading for racial equality throughout history.


LINCOLN, THE STEVEN SPIELBERG MOVIE: Faith-and-film writer Edward McNulty not only reviews the film—he also provides discussion questions for your personal reflection or small group.

LINCOLN AND LES MISERABLES: Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer prepared this much-discussed column describing Lincoln’s personal connections with Victor Hugo and the similarities in themes between the president’s life and Hugo’s famous novel. Start with Newcomer’s column and then you’ll want to follow the link to the closely related column written by Edward McNulty about the best film versions of Les Miserables.

PBS’s THE ABOLITIONISTS: Starting long before the Civil War, this terrific three-hour miniseries tells the story of the moral and religious campaign that culminated in the Civil War. Our review explains why everyone should see this series—and why the film works well in sparking small-group discussion.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)


The Jim Wallis Interview: What Abe Lincoln, C.S. Lewis, Narnia and Puddleglum can teach us about the Common Good

THE COMMON GOOD. When is the last time you heard that phrase? Perhaps it came from a memorable high school teacher, a beloved mentor in your profession, or a wise aunt who taught you a lot about life. Now, best-selling author and social-justice activist Jim Wallis is barnstorming the country trying to rescue that phrase from the cob webs of nostalgia.

This idea is so powerful, Wallis argues, that it may hold the key to finally resolving the political and cultural wars that have brought America and the rest of the world to a standstill.

In today’s interview with ReadThespirit Editor David Crumm (below), Jim Wallis talks about how this idea suddenly resurfaced in his own life—during a retreat in a remote forest where he says he could almost feel the great Lion Aslan from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia novels walking at his side. This is part of the inspiring story that Wallis tells in his new book: On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good.

All this week in the OurValues column, sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker will explore the practical implications of the Common Good in today’s political, cultural and global crises. If you order a copy of Jim’s book (click the book cover, above, to visit its Amazon page), you will find that this interview and Baker’s OurValues series cover the book’s two major parts: Part 1, Inspiring the Common Good, and Part 2, Practices for the Common Good.

Here is David Crumm’s interview with Jim Wallis …


DAVID: Your book makes an eloquent Christian case for rediscovering the Common Good; you show how this concept flows upwards to us from the roots of Christianity in Jesus’s teachings. You explain how C.S. Lewis’s Aslan the Lion reminds you of this truth. However, before you introduce readers to Aslan, you introduce Abraham Lincoln. You quote, at length, from his Second Inaugural. The Common Good is a deeply religious idea, you argue—but, first, you point out that it’s also an American civic ideal as articulated by Lincoln and enshrined in Washington DC. Why did you decide to start with Lincoln?

JIM: Readers actually meet Lincoln right on the book’s cover. That cover is a lovely photo of the Lincoln Memorial at night. It’s my favorite of all the monuments in Washington—and I love the Second Inaugural. When I was tutoring inner-city kids and trying to help them learn to read, I sometimes would take them to the Lincoln Memorial and ask them to sound out word-for-word the Second Inaugural, especially: “With malice toward none, with charity for all …” In his final years, Lincoln was working so hard to bring the nation back together that he was no longer interested in simply identifying who was right and who was wrong.

There is so much in the Second Inaugural that we should study today. He actually talks about how Americans on both sides of the Civil War “read the same Bible and pray to the same God.” Then, he points out that “the prayers of both could not be answered.” What Lincoln is describing here is conflict resolution. In the real world, we do resolve most of our human conflicts without resorting to violence. We resolve conflicts—large and small—in a peaceful way every day. War really is a failure, Lincoln is saying.


DAVID: This is a good point to ask a practical question on behalf of our regular readers: If we already own some of your other books—why buy this one? And I think you’ve just touched on that unique, central theme of this new book. Right after quoting Lincoln in the book, you argue: “Lincoln had it right. The biggest problem with religion is that people, groups, institutions, nations, and all of our human sides sometimes try to bring God onto our side. When people and groups are sure they are right, they want to confidently say that God agrees with them. … The much harder task, and the more important one, is to ask how to be on God’s side, as Lincoln is suggesting.”

JIM: This is really the first time I’ve focused a book on the common good, which is such an old idea and yet is almost forgotten today. In our various traditions, the common good really is a powerful notion that we are all accountable for each other. If we can restore that sense of the common good, we can move forward. In the book’s subtitle I say that politicians don’t learn about serving the common good anymore. Now that I am touring the country and talking about this book with readers, I actually wish I could go back and make that subtitle even stronger: Now, I’d say “Politics is the Enemy of the Common Good.”

DAVID: In the new book, you’re also saying something quite provocative about the nature of your own Christian faith. You’re saying that Christianity is not about each person grabbing a ticket to heaven. More than that, you argue that the purpose of religion is not to prove that we’re right and then to impose our slate of pre-determined values on others. You write that Jesus’s “better way of life wasn’t meant to benefit just Christians, but everybody else, too.” Am I fairly summarizing this?

JIM: Yes, you’re doing well in explaining it. We are called for the sake of other people, not just ourselves. That’s the point of the whole thing. We live in a  pluralistic society—religiously and politically—so I’m asking: How do we evoke our faith in a context that is democratic? The whole idea is that we cannot lead by control, by imposing our control on others. But we can lead others by example, by lifting up the values we can all hold for our common good. This is a servant posture, not a posture of campaigning to impose our will on everyone. Dr. Martin Luther King never said: I get to win because I’m a Christian. He never said that. He said: We have to win the debate about the common good. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were not just good for blacks or for Baptists. These laws were a part of restoring and protecting the common good. King understood that.


DAVID: In the second chapter of your book, you shift from Lincoln and your critique of the sorry state of American politics to the heart of your own faith—Christianity. You put it bluntly: Christians disagree about the main message of Christianity. You write: “If Jesus is mostly a private figure for our individual lives, our faith will be primarily personal and not much engaged in the societies in which we live. If Jesus just provides us a pathway to heaven, we won’t be much concerned with what happens on this earth. Or if we create a Jesus mostly in our own image, he won’t be very useful to ‘others’ who are unlike us.” Then, you add a crucial “But”!

You continue: “But if Jesus came because ‘God so loved the world,’ he will be a different Jesus for us. … If Jesus came to create a new community and not just save people, then that community’s collective life in the world will be of crucial importance. And if we as individuals are so drawn to Jesus that we want to learn the ways he would have us live, he becomes the Living Teacher who walks among us. All of which brings me to a lion.”

That’s how you introduce the section on Aslan. So, Jim, tell us about your encounter with Aslan the Lion.

JIM: I devote a whole chapter to that story. I began the sabbatical I took to write this new book by taking a retreat with a monastic community overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I’ve always loved Lewis’s stuff; I own all of his books. I’ve read the Chronicles of Narnia to our boys. We’ve seen the movie versions. I’ve been very familiar with the stories for years. But, there in this isolated retreat, I found some old copies of the Narnia novels in a little library they had organized for guests. I pulled out The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first Narnia novel, and decided I would re-read just that one.

DAVID: In describing this dramatic new encounter with Narnia, you write: “Sometimes I felt like Aslan was walking beside me, up and down the coastal hills to the sea, teaching me again what it means to be a Narnian. The lion helped inspire my hope to write a biblical and theological defense of the common good, something that has been almost lost in an age of selfishness.”

JIM: As you know, I didn’t stop with the first novel. In my retreat, I wound up going through all the novels. Aslan struck me as the archtypical leader for the common good in Narnia, particularly for the most vulnerable creatures. What is so very important is the ongoing personal relationship that Aslan has with many of Lewis’s main characters—the children who travel to Narnia and also some of the creatures from Narnia. They could walk along side him. They could reflect with Aslan about their own decisions and challenges and choices.

Sometimes, walking among the redwoods and along the ocean on that retreat, I did feel that Aslan was walking along side me. This really got me thinking about the image of Jesus as the loving teacher who walks among us in an ongoing way—rather than Jesus as a remote Savior who many traditionalists like to describe as having gone off to Heaven to prepare a place for us. I don’t want to sound overly judgmental in describing two extreme images of Jesus like this. What I’m trying to explain is how important I think it is to realize that Jesus is a living teacher who walks among us, reminding us of the common good we need to restore and protect in this world.


DAVID: That’s Aslan’s message and purpose in Narnia. Yes, I think Narnia fans will understand your point here, right away. But you go an important step further—because the truth is that we can’t all go off on intense retreats all the time and feel Aslan walking with us in a paradise landscape. You point to one of my own favorite characters in Narnia—the “marsh-wiggle” known as Puddleglum who appears in The Silver Chair. When I was growing up in the early 1960s, my father’s hardback copy of The Silver Chair was the first Narnia novel I ever read—and I loved this strange half-amphibian-half-human sort of figure. He lives in the marshes and can easily blend into the green landscape.

You actually quote nearly as much of Puddleglum in your new book as you do of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.

JIM: Yes, the real question is: When we return from these intense periods, like the one I experienced on the retreat, how you keep believing in things even on days you don’t feel it? How do we keep the vision of the common good in front of us?

DAVID: For readers who don’t know Narnia—or have forgotten Puddleglum—the young heroes of the Narnian stories encounter him way out in a remote part of the C.S. Lewis landscape. Then, in the Narnia novel called The Silver Chair, they wind up trapped in a deadly underworld kingdom where they are completely locked away from real life up on the surface of the world. The deadly temptation is to forget about Narnia, to doubt that Narnia even exists and to turn away from Aslan’s vision for Narnia. But, in the midst of this terrible darkness and temptation, Puddleglum does something absolutely heroic, right?

JIM: I quote Puddleglum on the first page of that chapter and then again in the heart of the chapter. My question is: How do we keep believing in things, even on days when we don’t feel like it? Or on days when our belief may be fading? Well, Puddlegum is a great model for us. He courageously declares: “I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”

I have to say: Thank you for asking me about this portion of the book. In all the interviews I’ve done so far about the new book, the interviewers just ask about politics, Washington, Barack Obama and the common good. Reporters seem to have a very narrow political focus on this book. But the truth is that writing the chapter on Lewis, the Lion and Puddleglum was the one I enjoyed the most. You know, the only real piece of art in my house is of a South African lion. It’s a beautiful piece of art I got years ago and this big lion has eyes that seem to be watching you wherever you stand—much as I imagine Aslan looking into our souls.

DAVID: As a reader, I found this book inspiring and full of fresh perspectives. Did you intend this book to be hopeful? Do you feel hopeful?

JIM: One of my mentors, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, helped me to see the difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is about how you look at things today, your mood at the moment and your assessment of the latest news. Optimism is about your immediate response to how things are going and your personality plays a big part in that. But, hope is not a feeling or a mood. Hope is a decision that you make because of a thing called faith, whatever faith may mean to you. Hope is really a decision that people like Arcbhishop Tutu make that shaped his whole life and the world, as well. Many years ago, he decided that there was going to be a free South Africa—long before anyone could imagine how that could happen. He made his decision to hope for a free South Africa—and he bet his life on it. Am I hopeful about our future? Yes, I am, and I’m betting my life on that hope, too.

Care to read more about Jim Wallis,
‘On God’s Side’ and the Common Good?

VISIT OUR VALUES FOR MORE: This interview focuses mainly on Part 1 of Jim Wallis’s new On God’s Side, called Inspiring the Common Good. In this week’s OurValues series, sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker looks at the book’s Part 2, Practices for the Common Good.

OTHER LINCOLN LINKS: 2013 is packed with 150th-anniversary milestones from Lincoln’s life. Here is a convenient Index to many of our most popular Lincoln-themed stories this year.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)