A persistent legend says the ghost of Abraham Lincoln roams the halls of the White House. Many, including Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge, claim to have seen the 16th President. Mrs. Coolidge said she saw him standing at a window in the Oval Office, hands clasped behind his back, looking out over the Potomac … possibly still remembering the bloody battles that took place just beyond.
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, a guest of President Franklin Roosevelt, reported being awakened one night by a knock on her bedroom door. Believing it must be something important, she got up and opened the door … to see the tall, top-hatted figure of President Lincoln standing just outside in the hallway. The queen fainted. When she came to she was lying on the floor. Lincoln had vanished.
Others, including First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Lady Bird Johnson, believed they felt Lincoln’s presence at various times. These are but a few of the many people who claim to have had such experiences in the White House.
I am in no position to say what these people saw, felt or experienced. I wasn’t there. Biblically speaking, it doesn’t square with what I understand to be true about the afterlife … but that’s for another blog, another time.
Not just a ghost story
This is not just a ghost story. Here’s the point: every President since Lincoln has claimed, rightly in my judgment, to revere Abraham Lincoln as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of all American Presidents. Shortsighted, shallow contemporary wokeness ideological assessments aside, he was possessed of the greatest magnanimity of character of all 45, soon-to-be 46 men who have risen to that position. (Just my opinion, but the only one who truly rivals him is our first President, George Washington.)
Perhaps the clearest and most compelling example of Lincoln’s magnanimity was his instruction to his generals on the terms of surrender for the Confederate soldiers, including their officers. Lincoln instructed his generals to offer the most generous of terms:
Let them surrender and go home …. Let them all go, officers and all. Let them have their horses to plow with and … their guns to shoot crows with …. Give them the most liberal and honorable of terms.
The defeated Confederate soldiers were to be paroled immediately and allowed to return home. They would be provided rations and, in some cases, transportation. They would not go to prison or be prosecuted for treason. This, Lincoln believed, was the surest way to end the war quickly, honorably and with the least amount of bloodshed.
Do you grasp the enormity of that? After four years of the bloodiest war this country has ever endured: 625,000 dead, countless others maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of farms and homes in ruins, millions of dollars of property destroyed … instead of exacting revenge and retribution on his enemies, Abraham Lincoln instructed his military leaders to tell the vanquished Confederate armies to simply lay down their weapons of war, go home, and help rebuild this nation. Incredible.
“Well, Kent, that’s fascinating. Thank you for yet one more … interesting … little tidbit of American history. I believe you said something about there being a point?”
This nation seems about as bitterly divided as it has been at any time since the Civil War. Other periods may rival it, like the mid-to-late 60’s when the biggest issue was the attitude toward the Viet Nam War … but in my opinion this current rift is every bit as intense as that. Consider the conflicts over:
- The recent Presidential and other “down ballot” elections.
- The runoff elections in Georgia.
- The storming of and desecration of the Capitol Building, the shrine of our constitutional republic.
- The law enforcement officers and rioters injured and killed.
- The (second) impeachment of the current President.
Americans are incredibly polarized and angry. What will it take to put an end to the bitterness and divisiveness? What needs to happen to prevent another Civil War?
What it will take
I’m not a politician, pollster or pundit. I’m not a member of the media or someone trained in the art (?) of political science. But I humbly submit that if the outgoing President and the incoming one would summon up Lincoln’s spirit – not his ghost – put aside their personal grievances and animosity toward one another, and genuinely put the interests of this nation, this hurting, bleeding, divided nation, ahead of their own, and say together:
Stop the fighting. Lay down your arms, literally and figuratively. Go home, and help us rebuild this nation.
I submit that might take the wind out of the sails of the hate-mongers and political opportunists who callously, cynically seek to use this conflict to advance their own selfish interests … and move this wounded nation a long way in the direction of healing, peace and unity.
Will that happen?
Probably not. I hope, and I pray, that it will … but probably not.*
And 100 years from now, if this republic still stands, in all likelihood the ghost of Abraham Lincoln will still prove more substantial, larger and greater, than the living, breathing manifestations of all the others who follow him … and still haunt the White House as the greatest President ever.
*I do want to add: regardless of what our President does, or Congress or the courts or the protesters / rioters do; regardless of what anyone else does, we as Christians – who pledge our ultimate allegiance to the Prince of Peace – can and must do our part to seek peace and reconciliation in the place of our earthly citizenship.
I take seriously Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.
That is my sincere aim and intention. I hope it is yours as well.