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.

 

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

By ELEANOR JONES HARVEY for the SMITHSONIAN

Photography and the American Civil War

By JEFF ROSENHEIM for the NEW YORK METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART

Winslow Homer The Veteran in a New Field and two Civil War art booksYOU 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.

REVIEWED by ReadTheSpirit EDITOR DAVID CRUMM

Abe. A Novel of the Young Lincoln

By RICHARD SLOTKIN

LINCOLN

By DAVID HERBERT DONALD

Click the book cover to visit its Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit its Amazon page.

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)

Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit its Amazon page.

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.

REVIEWED by DUNCAN NEWCOMER

Lincoln: The Biography of A Writer

By FRED KAPLAN

Click the cover to visit its page in Amazon.

Click the cover to visit its page in Amazon.

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.

REVIEWED by DUNCAN NEWCOMER

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 readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Abraham Lincoln and American Values Resource Page

5.1.2

White House portrait of President Abraham Lincoln, completed in 1869 by George Peter Alexander Healy. (Image in public domain; you may repost this image.)

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.

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CELEBRATING
LINCOLN IN
‘SEASON OF GRATITUDE’

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.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN LIFE AND LEGACY

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.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN OUR VALUES

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.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN BOOKS

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.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN TV AND MOVIES

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 readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)