What surprises you about Lincoln's religious views and moral vision?
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Compare them with those of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. One modern writer has called Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address "the most eloquent response to the virus of religious self-importance ever written. By the time he delivered it in , how had Lincoln come to understand God's role in the Civil War and in American history? What do you hear in his rhetoric about the need for the war and at the same time the need for forgiveness and reconciliation?
Historian Allen Guelzo says that many came to believe God was "doing something new in this war. Why did freedom for African Americans mean freedom for everyone? What role did evangelical Christianity play in the abolitionist movement? The "Battle Hymn of the Republic" can still be found in many church hymnals. Its words continue to be sung, and they are also heard in sermons and patriotic speeches.
How do you think they speak to Americans today? Themes of sacrifice and redemption were important during the Civil War. What did it mean then to understand death and suffering in a theological way? How and why did the war come to take on a transcendent meaning, or a "holy quality," as David Blight calls it? Do you agree that America was and is a chosen nation, special in the eyes of God?
In , on the way to his inauguration in Washington, Lincoln said in a speech: "I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.
Compare Lincoln's words with Stephen Prothero's concluding observation that "we have not achieved what we should have achieved" and that America's special destiny is "always out in front of us. Miller, Harry S. Stout and Charles Reagan Wilson. As Northern abolitionists and Southern slaveholders clashed over the question of slavery, each side turned to the Bible to argue its cause.
Frederick Douglass, a former slave and abolitionist newspaper editor, despaired that people who called themselves Christians could defend the evils of slavery.
Protestant denominations fractured, with each side declaring God was on its side. Meanwhile, Lincoln, who had put his faith in reason over revelation, confronted the mounting casualties of the war and the death of his young son. In his anguish, he began a spiritual journey that transformed his inner life and changed his ideas about God and the ultimate meaning of the Civil War. Yale historian Harry Stout has characterized these lines by Lincoln as "a moment of disturbed meditation" about whose side God was really on in the Civil War, while Mark Noll has described the president's private meditation as "the most remarkable theological commentary of the war" -- a combination of "confidence in Providence along with humble agnosticism about its purposes": "The will of God prevails.
In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party; and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect his purpose. It was all too easy for them to associate these evils with the immigrants, who seemed always to be at the center of this or that dilemma.
Kallen did their best to explain immigrant culture to their fellow old-stock Americans and to guide the newcomers in acceptable American ways. They organized their own newspapers, theaters, social clubs, night classes, and self-help societies. These, while keeping the old-country languages and folkways alive, steadfastly preached and practiced assimilation and urged members and readers to rush into citizenship and respectability, which the great majority of them did.
Single men skimped and struggled to bring over families. Families sacrificed to send children to school. And the children found different paths to Americanization.
Some joined political machines and parties; some worked in the union movement; others forged their own steps to success in business. And some never graduated beyond the streets and dead-end jobs. It was a reprise of earlier nativist struggles. As early as Congress was prevailed upon to exclude Chinese from entry and citizenship.
In the s an Immigration Restriction League was formed. No action was taken on the report when it appeared in But racist feeling was on the rise. The Ku Klux Klan was revived in In Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act, which remained the cornerstone of national immigration policy for the next forty-one years. Starting in , there would be an overall yearly limit of , on immigrants from outside the Western Hemisphere. The , was to be divided into quotas, assigned to nationalities in the proportion that they bore, by birth or descent, to the total population as of What that meant was clear.
The longer a national group had been here, the more of its descendants were in the population and the larger would be its quota. When the first shares were announced, half of all places were reserved for British residents, whereas only 5, Italians, 6, Poles, and 2, Russians could be admitted. Groups like Syrians or Albanians fared worse, with fewer than places per year.
And Asians were excluded altogether. The national origins quota system of was a landmark, ending centuries of open admission. It was also a victory for ethnic stereotyping. Yet it was not without its ironies. For one thing, it did not impose limits on a Hispanic in-gathering from Mexico and Puerto Rico that was just gaining steam. Nor did it deal with the internal migration of Southern blacks into Northern cities. Anglo-Saxon superiority was therefore left unprotected on two fronts. Like a good many pieces of social policy legislation, the Johnson-Reed Act began to be outdated from the moment it took effect.
One of its objectives—cutting down on immigration overall—was brutally affected by the Great Crash. In the deepest year of the Depression, , only 34, immigrants arrived to take their chances in a shuttered and darkened economy. The totals did not rise dramatically in the next seven years, but they were important weather vanes of change.
Fascist and Communist dictators, and World War II, gave new meaning to the word refugee and a new scale to misery. Millions of victims of history would soon be knocking at our closed gates. First came those in flight from Hitler, primarily Jews. Their claim to asylum was especially powerful, considering the savagery that they were fleeing and no one suspected yet that extermination would be the ultimate threat.
This was a special kind of exodus, heavy with intellectual distinction. Thousands of scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and managers were hit by the Nazi purge of independent thinkers in every part of German life.
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The weapon was first proposed to the American government by the superstar of all the refugees, Albert Einstein. World War II came—and more signals of change. In the sixty-one-year-old-Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed, because China was now an American ally. The gesture was small, and the quota tiny , and it could hardly be said to mark the end of anti-Asian prejudice when , American citizens of Japanese descent were behind barbed wire. But it was a beginning, a breach in the wall.
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So the groundwork was laid for the future admission of nonwhite immigrants from the crumbling European empires in Africa and Asia—especially when, as it turned out, many of them were highly educated specialists. A world in conflict was a world once more ready to swarm. And in the United States an economic boom was reopening the job market, Attitudes toward immigration were changing as well.
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The children of the great migration had come of age. They were powerful in the voting booths; political scientists credited them with a major role in supporting the New Deal. And the best-selling writers and dramatists among them were delving the richness of their experience in a way that wiped out the stereotypes of the old restrictionism.
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So the walls began to crumble. First there were special enactments to clear the way for the wives and children of servicemen who had gotten married while overseas. Some , women and children entered under a War Brides Act of 5, of them Chinese. In came the Displaced Persons Act, spurred by the misery of millions of homeless Eastern Europeans who had survived deportations, forced labor, bombings, and death camps.