What a week this has been, celebrating the 4th of July and praising God that our flag is flying.
Monday I was reading excerpted words from Jenny Rae Armstrong’s book “Words Matter.” She wrote about Abraham Lincoln, saying, “He tops the polls as the most popular U.S. president of all time. That would probably shock him, since he was also the most embattled president, presiding over our nation that was at war with itself.”
Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809, in a log cabin in the backwoods of Kentucky, in Hardin County, now LaRue County. He was the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. The homeplace until Abraham was two was the Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville, 175 miles west of my own roots in the heart of Appalachia. The family moved from Nolin Creek to Knob Creek where they lived until Abraham Lincoln was 7 years old.
Nancy, Abraham’s mother had a sad disposition like her second son. She read her Bible constantly, looking forward to going Home to live with Jesus in heaven. Abraham’s dad Thomas, after losing his home on Knob Creek, moved the family across the Ohio River to live in Indiana on the banks of Pigeon Creek.
Life was seldom without grief and loss for this man who would become our 16th president. Lincoln was just 9 when his mother suddenly died at age 35. He buried his grief reading the Bible and other books avidly, and carving, among other things, the wooden pegs to seal his mother’s coffin lid shut. By the time he was 20, he had also buried an aunt, uncle, sister, and a newborn brother. Abraham was not close to his father.
Ann Rutledge was Abraham Lincoln’s first true love. They planned to be married after Ann finished her schooling. In August 1835, Ann became sick and died. With Ann’s death, Abraham fell into a deep depression. Lincoln stopped carrying his pocketknife because he thought of killing himself. Lincoln would walk 6 miles to her gravesite and lie down next to it. He would put his arm over the mound of dirt that covered her body and weep. With a nervous breakdown, his neighbors set up suicide watches over him. The standard treatment for Abraham’s breakdown was aggressive body purging, drawing blood, swallowing mercury and toxic substances to induce vomiting and diarrhea, plus starving the patient. Abraham Lincoln endured one shocking “treatment” consisting of immersion in ice cold water up to his neck.
When he took office in March 1861, he had won with only 39.8% of the popular vote. Reactions were so negative that on the eve of Lincoln’s inauguration, he had to be smuggled into the capital during the dead of night in a disguise. Lincoln married Mary Todd, after surviving a terrible breakup with her, due to his depression. Mary said constant deluges of insults came to her husband. That wears on any man. The commander of the U.S. standing army, George McClellan called his 6’4” president the “original gorilla.” Millions in America called him a fool as president. Southerners hated and resented him for trying to abolish slavery, declaring their secession from the Union on Feb.y 4, 1861. Northerners weren’t all fond of him, either. Sadness kept its relentless surge on his life. Three of the four boys born to the Lincolns died before they were 19; only Robert, their first-born child, lived to adulthood.
Historians declare his personal suffering made him the president God used to keep the Union together. He inherited a nation in crisis. Both the North and the South blamed Lincoln for everything going wrong in the country. He refused to take his criticisms too much to heart. He won reelection as president in 1864, and led the North to victory on April 9, 1865. Lincoln was tragically shot by John Wilkes Booth six days later. That was when Lincoln became popular, beloved to Americans. Edwin Stanton said then, “Lincoln was relinquished to the ages.”
It was out of his deep depression that God brought Lincoln to a deep heart of compassion for the downtrodden. When Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Lincoln ordered General Ulysses S. Grant to make sure that the surrendering Southern soldiers had adequate provisions to return home. God used that kind of true compassion to pull our divided nation back together.
Oh, that that miracle would happen again! Dear God, bring our nation back together — one nation under God.
Richard Carlson is the pastor of the Rock Springs Evangelical Free Church. Of his 51 plus years in ministry, he has pastored locally for the last 42 years.