Friday, December 5, 2014

Did Abraham Lincoln Want to Put God in the Constitution?

The United States Constitution does not mention God.  It never mentioned God.  But this does not mean that everyone in American history is or was happy about it. 

For example, some Anti-Federalists would not ratify the Constitution because (among other things) it did not invoke the Almighty. During the Civil War the Confederates wondered how the Union could claim that God was on their side in the war when the U.S. Constitution did not mention God.  (The preamble of the Confederate Constitution did mention God).  As many of you know, I discussed the relationship between God and the Constitution in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Over at the New York Times "Disunion" blog, Joseph Moore of Gardner-Webb University reminds us that Abraham Lincoln actually considered amending the preamble to the United States Constitution to include a reference to God.  Lincoln was influenced by a small group of Scottish Calvinists known as the Covenanters.  Here is a taste of his piece:

On Dec. 3, 1864, Abraham Lincoln proposed putting God in the Constitution. Preparing to submit his annual address on the state of the union, the president drafted a paragraph suggesting the addition of language to the preamble “recognizing the Deity.” The proposal shocked his cabinet during a read-through. With his re-election secured and the political utility of such a move dubious, the most religiously skeptical president since Thomas Jefferson proposed blowing an irreparable God-size hole through the wall separating church and state. What was Lincoln thinking?

Recalling the meeting in his memoirs, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles wrote that the imprudent idea had been put in the president’s head “by certain religionists” – namely, the Covenanters. A tiny sect from Scotland that had resided in America since before the Revolution, they believed the Constitution contained two crippling moral flaws: its protection of slavery, and its failure to acknowledge God’s authority. With the Emancipation Proclamation poised to fix the one sin, they believed, why not correct the other? At their first meeting with Lincoln in late 1862 (it was much easier for citizens to get an audience with the president at the time), a group of influential Covenanters suggested doing just that.

Read the rest here.