CREDOS: Great wisdom — V

After Lincoln’s election as president in 1860 and the secession crisis that followed, what he described as a “process of crystallisation” began in his mind on the subject of faith. Pressed by burdens, he turned his gaze to powers greater than he. When his friends in Springfield urged him to beware of assassination, he replied: “God’s will be done. I am in his hands.” He called himself an “instrument” of a larger power — which he sometimes described as the people of the US, and other times as God — and said he had been charged with “so vast, and so sacred a trust” that “he felt that he had no moral right to shrink; nor even to count the chances of his own life, in what might follow.”

When the Civil War broke out just after Lincoln’s inauguration, he faced grave tests of his faith. These were punctuated by the wrenching death of his 11-year-old boy Willie Lincoln, in February 1862. Mary Lincoln said that, though Lincoln “was a religious man always,” around this time his ideas about “hope” and “faith” began to change.

After Willie was interred, Lincoln is said to have gone several times to look at his body in its tomb. He asked an army officer, “Did you ever dream of a lost friend and feel that you were having a direct communion with that friend and yet a consciousness that it was not a reality?” The man said yes; he thought, “all may have had such an experience.” Lincoln said, “So do I dream of my boy Willie,” sobbing and shaking with emotion. —