No Sorrow like Our Sorrow: Northern Protestant Ministers and the Assassination of Lincoln

By David B. Chesebrough | Go to book overview

2
The Character of Abraham Lincoln

There is something greater than greatness itself.

-- JOSEPH P. THOMPSON

NORTHERN PREACHERS WERE effusive in their praise of Lincoln's character, in some instances elevating him to an almost superhuman status. Edward Searing, a Congregationalist from Milton, Wisconsin, proclaimed that Lincoln was "one of the most faultless examples of true manhood ever prominently exhibited to the world.... while he possessed all virtues he was free from all vices." George Dana Boardman, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia, announced that Lincoln"was absolutely incorruptible.... that never trod the earth a more sympathetic, unselfish, large-hearted, forgiving man than he." On April 19, Charles Carroll Everett compared the traits of Lincoln's character with the eight beatitudes enumerated by Jesus ( Matthew 5:1-12). A more realistic, yet noble, ascription was pronounced by Seth Sweetser, pastor of the Central (Congregational) Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, when he said that Lincoln's "mistakes were as few and as venial as could reasonably be expected from a short-sighted mortal."1

The preachers were nearly unanimous in proclaiming that Lincoln was a truly great man. Abram N. Littlejohn, from New York City, preached that "If he was not great, then, by some strange fortune, it fell to his lot to achieve results hitherto deemed possible only to the highest order of faculty. If he was not great, history will have its most startling wonder to record." Littlejohn than went on to list the tests of greatness and demonstrate how Lincoln more than met these tests.2 And on April 30 in the Broadway Tabernacle Congregational Church in New York City, Joseph R. Thompson exclaimed that "great" was an inadequate word to describe the martyred president. Lincoln was "something greater than greatness itself" Thompson said.

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