WHO’S SIDE ARE YOU ON? DISSECTING A QUOTE

The Ascension by Rembrandt (1606–1669) (from here)
The Ascension by Rembrandt (1606–1669) (from here)

Sticky Note For Today (9-24-2015) by lafayetteangel contains a great quote attributed to President Abraham Lincoln.

Since I enjoyed it so much I left this comment.

Love the quote.

Since there are lots of misattributed quotes out there, I generally look up the ones I think I might use. As funny as it sounds here is the best reference:
http://urbanlegends.about.com/b/2008/09/12/did-palin-misquote-lincoln.htm

Palin used the quote correctly enough.

Where did it come from? The earliest was documented in the eulogy at his funeral.

As a ruler I doubt if any president has ever shown such trust in God, or in public documents so frequently referred to Divine aid. Often did he remark to friends and to delegations that his hope for our success rested in his conviction that God would bless our efforts, because we were trying to do right. To the address of a large religious body he replied, “Thanks be unto God, who, in our national trials, giveth us the Churches.” To a minister who said he hoped the Lord was on our side, he replied that it gave him no concern whether the Lord was on our side or not “For,” he added, “I know the Lord is always on the side of right;” and with deep feeling added, “But God is my witness that it is my constant anxiety and prayer that both myself and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

If only we were worthy that such a man might lead us today!

Here is a link to the funeral address => http://beck.library.emory.edu/lincoln/sermon.php?id=simpson.001.

Although he wrote a superb eulogy, I doubt Rev. Matthew Simpson approached Lincoln’s mastery as an orator. Certainly, his eulogy lacks the brevity of the Gettysburg Address. Yet we must remember that a longer speech, two hours, preceded Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. When a nation’s heart is wounded, even though they may be beautifully appropriate, 271 words are not enough. We need more time to grieve, and we need someone to remind us that this is not all that there is. We need someone to tell us the story of the man: from whence he came, the character he exhibited, and of his final end.

Yet that is not all that Rev. Matthew Simpson did. As strange as it may sound to our ears  — generations without a living memory of that awful war — in addition to honoring Lincoln, Simpson spoke of vengeance.

And now, my friends, in the words of the departed, “with malice toward none,” free from all feelings of personal vengeance, yet believing that the sword must not be borne in vain, let us go forward even in painful duty. Let every man who was a senator or representative in Congress, and who aided in beginning this rebellion, and thus led to the slaughter of our sons and daughters, be brought to speedy and to certain punishment. Let every officer educated at the public expense, and who, having been advanced to high position, perjured himself and turned his sword against the vitals of his country, be doomed to a traitor’s death. This, I believe, is the will of the American people. Men may attempt to compromise, and to restore these traitors and murderers to society again. Vainly may they talk of the fancied honor or chivalry of these murderers of our sons–these starvers of our prisoners–these officers who mined their prisons and placed kegs of powder to destroy our captive officers. But the American people will rise in their majesty and sweep all such compromises and compromisers away, and will declare that there shall be no safety for rebel leaders. But to the deluded masses we will extend the arms of forgiveness. We will take them to our hearts, and walk with them side by side, as we go forward to work out a glorious destiny. (from here)

Fortunately, the leaders of our government did not entirely share Simpson’s passion for punishment. Yet before we deride Simpson, let us reconsider. Do you know the number of funerals where Simpson spoke the words of the eulogy for a soldier who did not return home? Do you know of the grief he saw and felt? I don’t either, but I expect many fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters asked Simpson to speak at a funeral. I suspect Simpson spoke at more than just one funeral.

John 14:1-4 New King James Version (NKJV)

14 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

5 thoughts on “WHO’S SIDE ARE YOU ON? DISSECTING A QUOTE

  1. You are wise to be a little wary of quotes attributed to Lincoln. The circumstances of Lincoln’s death in the week that the great and terrible Civil War ended gave rise to a lot of anecdotal embroidery about the Man and his views. Lincoln, from what we can know about him, was not a conventional church-goer, but seemed to have been extremely well rooted in the King James Bible, whose language he knew well and by which many of this formal utterances appear to be influenced in structure and syntax. (although we can be almost certain, I think, that he did not speak in early 17th century English as quoted by the Reverend Mr. Simpson). A lot of the hagiography that followed Lincoln’s death included efforts to explain around Lincoln’s lack of overt enthusiasm for church-going and trinitarian doctrine.

    Having read as much as most humans my age could possible read about Lincoln in English (I once found in a used book store a biography in Norwegian that I was curious about, but did the only reasonable thing I could do with it – I gave it to a Norwegian friend), the quote strikes me as possibly true, but even if not true, something that is reflective of the way Lincoln thought about things and the way he talked to people. He was quite skilled at turning a phrase around to illustrate a point. He also expressed humility at knowing God’s will. The Second Inaugural Address shows this beautifully when he talks about both sides praying to the same God.

    Given all the phony things attributed to the great man in later years, this one seem like one that we should put in the “highly probable” file.

    Scout

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  2. @novascout

    Thank you for a thoughtful comment.

    17th century English? It seems you are a careful observer of language as well as a Lincoln enthusiast. I suspect the 17th century English was an affectation of Rev. Simpson. Undoubtedly, that man loved and had spent a lot of time immersed in the King James Bible.

    Nevertheless, we have no reason to believe Simpson untruthful. So I believe Lincoln did say those words, at least in 19th century English. Note that lafayetteangel provides the quote on her web page in 19th century English.

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  3. Given Lincoln’s sense of humor, and his extraordinary gift for language, it’s not completely impossible that he may have said “Thanks be unto God, who . . . giveth us the churches.” But, if he said those words, he then would have probably followed them with either a big grin, or, as was his occasional way when his own witticisms amused him, he would have laughed out loud (some described it as almost a cackle), folded his arms across his chest, and scratched his elbows while laughing at his own joke.

    Scout

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    1. Whenever I read a history book, a biography, or literature of any sort, I have learned to do so with skepticism. To get at the truth, we have to set apart the bias of the author. Was Simpson biased? I don’t think he hid that, but those who write history books and biographies are also biased. And such writers often hide or deny their biases.

      Like myself, Abraham Lincoln read Thomas Paine. Like myself, I think Lincoln was confused by Paine. Unlike me, Lincoln learned to pick his battles and state his opinions carefully. Hence, we often wonder what he believed. We can guess, however, that what he believed as a young man was not exactly the same as what he believed near the end of his days.

      This seems to be a fairly good article about the puzzlement we have over Lincoln’s religious views. => http://www.usnews.com/news/history/articles/2009/02/12/abraham-lincolns-religious-uncertainty
      The article observes that over time Lincoln’s views of Christianity changed.

      Precisely what Lincoln thought of churches I don’t know, but history tells us he consulted with the clergy, and some, like Matthew Simpson, actively supported him during the Civil War. Over time, I suspect Lincoln learned that people are not perfect, and churches cannot make us perfect. The good ones just help us to become a bit better than we might otherwise be.

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