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Lincoln: And the American Manifesto Hardcover – March 6, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
In this thorough examination of Abraham Lincoln's ideology, Jayne argues that Lincoln's greatest accomplishments-including his Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address-were heavily influenced by his unbending belief in the Declaration of Independence's primacy among the trappings of United States democracy. Tracing Lincoln's evolving and often contradictory views on slavery and race through pivotal historical moments such as the Dred Scott decision, Jayne demonstrates that Lincoln possessed a complex understanding of the ways slavery was entrenched in his nation, as well as a natural tendency toward prudence. Something of a "religious radical" himself, Lincoln's personal Christian theology-heavily influenced by deist thinkers like Theodore Parker-emphasized God above Jesus and placed great confidence in man's moral capacity; in Lincoln's eyes, that moral capacity formed the bedrock of democracy. Lincoln regarded the Declaration of Independence itself as a kind of national "ancient faith" and looked to it reverently, ultimately concluding that "those who deny freedom for others deserve it not for themselves," and, conversely, "In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free." This volume will appeal as much to Civil War history buffs as to those who simply admire Lincoln as a singular leader and thinker.
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"In this thorough examination of Abraham Lincoln's ideology, Jayne argues that Lincoln's greatest accomplishments — including his Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address — were heavily influenced by his unbending belief in the Declaration of Independence's primacy among the trappings of United States democracy....This volume will appeal as much to Civil War history buffs as to those who simply admire Lincoln as a singular leader and thinker."
- Publishers Weekly
"Jayne's singular contributions are his grounding of Lincoln's thought and purpose in Enlightenment concepts and deism and his insistence that Lincoln was antislavery in philosophy and principles because he rooted his thinking in the Declaration of Independence....his insistence that we look to Lincoln's profound sense of moral obligations and his fealty to basic principles of respecting human decency and working toward human rights will evoke hearty 'Amens!' from readers worried about the misuses of Lincoln by people intolerant of reasoned arguments and eager to claim the U.S. President as a tribal religious totem."
- Library Journal
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Top Customer Reviews
To Dr. Jayne Mr. Lincoln was a rational deist, like Thomas Jefferson, rather than a mainstream Christian. And abolishing slavery was the long sought goal of the man who would become our 16th president, who based his thinking on the clear text of the country's founding document, The Declaration of Independence.
This interesting book reinforces the notion that religious tolerance and equal treatment of citizens are bedrock principles of the successful political society represented by the United States, which is still -- or should be still -- a model for the modern world.
One annoying style habit of the author is to refer the reader back to prior chapters for points made. For example on p. 215 this device is used four times. Also, a jarring note is struck on p. 274 where the author quotes Sean Hannity for a particular point (an actually well made point). Sean Hannity, the often-loud talk-show host, cited in a serious book on Abraham Lincoln?
The author notes that a similar deistic belief system was held by Jefferson (as is well-known, and which was explored in previous works by Dr. Jayne), and that the Declaration of Independence was created and exists quite apart from Christian dogma. Indeed, as one reads the Declaration (provided in the book), it is evident that Christian dogma are not only absent from its text, but are completely unnecessary to convey its purpose. One of Dr. Jayne's points is that a belief only in "nature's God" without dogmatic constraints, along with the intellectual concepts as enunciated by Locke and others, comprised the foundation of thought that led to the Declaration. Dr. Jayne emphasizes the basic roles of reason and morality (not necessarily of Christian origin) in the founding of the United States as enunciated in its manifesto - the Declaration.
Into this framework arises Lincoln, whose spiritual and intellectual make-up were in harmony with those of Jefferson and the other founders. It became Lincoln's mission to fulfill the Declaration by establishing and maintaining freedom for all, while preserving the Union. In the political actions he took to help accomplish these, he often communicated the notion of "God's will" to abolish slavery or to achieve victory. But Lincoln believed this God was universal - and was not necessarily associated with Christianity or any other faith. Dr. Jayne presents strong evidence for this, and establishes an insight into Lincoln that is clear and believable. As an example, the narrative exposes instances of Lincoln's need to phrase statements in such a way to satisfy the Christian constituency, while not allowing them to discover that he was in fact not one of them. As a consequence, Lincoln, already known as a master politician, is shown to be even more so in this study. Dr. Jayne writes well, convincingly, and is supported by solid and exhaustive research. The book is a must-read for the Lincoln scholar, or by anyone with an interest in history.
Jayne goes on to make the not particularly novel argument that Lincoln looked upon the Declaration of Independence (the "American Manifesto"), rather than the Constitution, as the embodiment of America's foundational principles; and that his greatest speeches (the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural, etc.) were an appeal to and elaboration of the principles found in the Declaration.
Asserting correctly that Jefferson's appeal to "Nature's God" and "their Creator" in the Declaration were the words of a Deist, expressing the Enlightenment belief in an impersonal, rational deity rather than the Biblical God of Christianity, he further contends that Lincoln shared Jefferson's Deist beliefs.
From this he proceeds to the conclusion that traditional Christianity played an insignificant role in the founding of the American Republic. As a life long skeptic about matters of religious dogma, I must part company with the author at this point. The United States was founded on both the ideals of the Anglo-American Enlightenment (from John Locke and Adam Smith to Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton), and on Christian teachings (from the Puritans and John Wesley to Henry Ward Beecher and the abolitionists). America has always been a melding of these two intellectual traditions.
But what difference does all this make? Jefferson and Lincoln both appealed to the Divinity to justify their works. It matters not whether they conceived of that deity as the traditional God of Christianity or the Deist's God of Nature. Both held that God was the source of all human rights. Both believed that mankind's unalienable rights come from a divine source, not from Congress or the Supreme Court.
Above all, although Jefferson and Lincoln may have been Deists, they certainly were not atheists. Seeing God as the source and author of man's fundamental rights, they did not seek to destroy his faith in God. They both understood clearly that to destroy man's belief in divine authority would destroy the basis for the unalienable rights of man.
Jefferson and Lincoln would have been dismayed by our contemporary atheists' assaults on religious faith. They would have understood that these attacks are not simply attacks on Christianity or on religion in general, but on man's freedom of conscience, and therefore, on the very foundation of his God given human rights.
It has often been said that "ideas have consequences." So does belief in a divine order (whether in the Judeo-Christian God of Love and Mercy or the Deist God of Reason and Nature). And the absence of faith in a divine order has consequences too - often the worst kinds of consequences. There has never been an atheist state (from the French Revolution to Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union) in which human rights were not trampled in the dust of the Terror and the Death Camps and the Gulag.