Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President

By Hunter, Lloyd A. | Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President


Hunter, Lloyd A., Anglican Theological Review


Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. By Allen C. Guelzo. Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999. xii + 516 pp. $29.00 (cloth).

This biography of the president Allen C. Guelzo describes as an "American Job" (p. 327) deserves a place on the bookshelves of all serious students of American religious and intellectual history. More than any recent Lincoln biographer, Guelzo focuses on Lincoln as "a man of ideas" (p. 19) who grappled with religion and with the role of God in the life of a nation racked with political turmoil and war. Guelzo's aim is to provide a blueprint for a new age in Lincoln studies, one characterized by "the integration of the old political Lincoln with the revived subjective Lincoln, in the overall context of the Whig culture that formed the backdrop for Lincoln's life" (p. 472). To a considerable extent, he successfully attains this goal.

Guelzo's Lincoln is a man on a spiritual journey, the road maps for which may be found at the intersection of those ideas that shaped both Lincoln's inner self and his public life. Crucial among them was the Calvinism with which Lincoln grew up in Kentucky and Indiana. Though he rejected its rigidity, the future president could never throw off its influence on his mind. What Edgar Lee Masters wrote about Mark Twain's relation to the Bible could be said of Lincoln's experience with Calvinism: "it seemed to be attached to a rubber band, and was likely to bounce back into his lap at any time" (Mark Twain: A Portrait, New York, 1966, p. 15). Other ingrained elements of Lincoln's thought were the Enlightenment concepts of John Locke, Thomas Paine, and the poet Robert Burns. Herein were the roots of his lifelong skepticism, a "religious infidelity with a darkly Calvinistic twist" (p. 318). Equally efficacious in molding Lincoln's mind was his unswerving allegiance to the Whig political philosophy. A true ideological son of Henry Clay, he embraced that party's classical liberalism, Benthamite utilitarianism, and support of business, finance and free labor. From these ideas emerged Lincoln's "doctrine of necessity," the idea that people have no free choice but rather are "impelled to action. …

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