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Journal Features Lincoln Group Scholarship

By Wendy Swanson

Washington, D.C.

Friday, April 5, 2024

The Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (JALA) is the preeminent source for new studies about the life and legacy of the 16th President of the United States. The Spring 2024 issue is out and features the work of two former presidents of the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia. The issue is an excellent reminder of the expertise that our organization has long enjoyed. 

John O’Brien has been researching the relationship between Lincoln and his pastor in Washington, Rev. Dr. Phineas D. Gurley. John's paper published in the Fall 2021 ALA provided extensive details about this little-known association. Now John has analyzed a private note Lincoln had written to himself and traced its theological tone and implications to Rev. Gurley’s sermons about Old School Presbyterian dogma.

 “On Lincoln’s Instrumentality to End Slavery:

Meditation on the Divine Will and the Emancipation Proclamation” appears on page 17 of the current issue. Using faith principles that were widely understood but uniquely observed by the Old School believers, Lincoln constructed a faith-based rationale for his decision to alter the Union War that aims to be consistent with “God’s will” for the United States. John argues that this was a seminal document for Lincoln’s decision to proceed with the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. He further joins the debate over the correct date for the document by tracing it to a conversation Lincoln had with Rev. Gurley on July 18, 1862.   


The JALA Spring issue also contains a review of Gordon Leidner’s new book titled Abraham Lincoln and the Bible: A Complete CompendiumEditor and author Ian T. Iverson complimented Gordon for living up to his promise of providing “a sound introduction to the study of Lincoln’s use of the Bible.” Leidner wanted his book to “facilitate more thorough investigations into Lincoln’s leadership and how he was personally transformed by his lifelong study of scripture.” Iverson credits Gordon’s extensive review of Lincoln’s biblical references, along with an appendix that organizes all Lincoln’s Bible quotations and allusions according to their Bible and Collected Works references. This positive review reinforces the many plaudits that Leidner’s Abraham Lincoln and the Bible has already received.   


Iverson notes that Gordon‘s analysis leads to the question of Lincoln’s personal faith. Many authors have tried to place Lincoln in a specific faith tradition, which was so important to many Christian leaders during the Civil War era. Leidner asserts that Lincoln demonstrated a growing biblical faith and, as president, believed in the Bible’s truths and that “God answers prayers.” This conclusion aligns with the thinking of such scholars as Ronald White and Richard Carwardine. They all differ from Allen Guelzo. Participants in the Lincoln Study Forum recently met with Guelzo, who continues to believe that Lincoln’s unwillingness to join a specific denomination left him, in John Nicolay’s judgment, demonstrating no change in his faith over the course of his presidency. 

It is notable that Leidner and O’Brien disagree on John’s topic, the date of the “Meditation” document. Gordon sides with Douglas Wilson, who contends that the language is very similar to Lincoln’s letter to Kentucky editor Albert Hodges, so that it was likely written in April 1864. Careful readers will have an interesting time assessing the arguments. 

O’Brien and Leidner join our President David Kent as recently published writers on the 16th President. Kent has published two books, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America (2017) and Lincoln: The Fire of Genius (2022). 

JALA is the official journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. The journal is published in print by the University of Illinois Press and distributed to all members and subscribers. It is made freely available to read online by Michigan Publishing six months after the print version.                   


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