When Barack Obama takes the oath of office Jan. 20, he will place his left hand on Abraham Lincoln's Bible.
Much has been made of the Lincoln connection, with the first black man assuming the presidency in close conjunction with the 200th anniversary of Honest Abe's birthday. The historic alignment has occasioned renewed spasms of idolatrous odes to "The Great Emancipator."
But before we're all swept away in a paroxysm of national ecstasy, a few inconvenient truths must be noted. First, Lincoln's Bible wasn't some well-worn family tome. It was purchased for his first inauguration by William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court.
Lincoln himself wasn't exactly a traditional Christian, or even religious. In his 20s, he wrote a "little Book on Infidelity," which questioned the inspiration of the Bible. Most research suggests that Lincoln believed in some form of providence, but wrestled with the idea of a personal God, despite frequently invoking deity in public utterances.
His thinking on racial matters was truly mainstream for the period. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, for example, he declared:
"I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality.
"I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."
Four years later, in an Aug. 22, 1862, letter to New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote:
"If I could save the union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save the union."
Much like Soviet-era schoolchildren who were indoctrinated to worship Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, a corpus of 16,000 books on Lincoln conditions Americans to believe that the simple country lawyer from Illinois honorably defended his country and freed a race. His ethereal presence at Obama's inaugural ceremonies, and Obama's copious references to him, reinforce this national mythology.
KEN WARD, SCRIPPS TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS.