Alan Keyes
From Civil War, a victory for all?
The superintendence of God is the decisive factor in events
By Alan Keyes
October 10, 2016

Late last night, I read the article "The logic behind Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation," in which Bill Federer recounts interesting details of the interplay of war and political perception that made that Proclamation one of the Civil War's most decisive events.

What I particularly appreciate about Mr. Federer's glimpses of American history is that he never fails to take account of the fact that, at the most telling moments in our history, key figures acknowledged the superintendence of God as the decisive factor in events, and in their own judgments about them. So it was with President Lincoln in the weeks after the Battle of Antietam:
    Three weeks after the battle of Antietam, President Lincoln met on Oct. 6, 1862, with Eliza Gurney and three other Quaker leaders, saying: "We are indeed going through a great trial – a fiery trial. In the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out His great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to His will, and that it might be so, I have sought His aid...."

    Lincoln continued: "But if, after endeavoring to do my best in the light which He affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. If I had my way, this war would never have been commenced. If I had been allowed my way, this war would have ended before this. But we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of His own, mysterious and unknown to us...."

    Lincoln concluded: "...and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that He who made the world still governs it."
"He who made the world still governs it." With this simple statement, President Lincoln remembered and applied the key premise of the understanding that informed the heart, soul, mind, and strength of the American people when they declared, and then through years of battle vindicated, the justice of their claim to be an independent nation. The key thing to notice here is that Lincoln did not just speak God's name, to thank Him for blessing the Union's arms, or ask Him to bless the plan and policy he was undertaking.

Instead, he expressed the desire to act according to God's will, while acknowledging the likelihood that he could not claim with certainty to know His will. He foresaw, in consequence, his own shortcomings, acknowledging the failure of his own too human will when it came to determining the course events had already taken.

The politicians of our day have become incapable of speaking in this way, even when it would otherwise serve their purposes. Somewhere in all their rhetoric, in all their policies, plans, and stratagems, they accept the need to assume, in effect, that there is no God – only the random, forceful interplay of meaningless events that, without rhyme or reason beyond our momentary whims, constitute the objects of our fears, our passions, our self-willed and fabricated hopes.

Openly or tacitly, seemingly all of them accept such a notion, inculcated in various ways by the philosophies and ideologies that inform the sensibilities of today's would-be "kings of the earth," rulers who "take counsel together against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 'Let us burst their bonds asunder and cast away their cords from us'" (Psalm 2). No matter what their words profess, they are willing to calculate, strategize, and stake their aspirations on the success of this rebellion against God.

Of course, in the end, it turns out to be an implacable war against humanity. Humanity can no more understand itself without the preserving determinations of their Creator than the sun can shine without distinguishing itself from darkness. But without understanding, what is the distinctive substance of human existence? Why, it is less than nothing at all.

Apparently, there was a moment when people distinguished by little else than their claim to humanity influenced the course of human history, despite the contempt of princes. So in this account of the logic of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Bill Federer reports that "approval of the Proclamation by the working classes of England made it impossible thereafter to recognize a slave-holding people as a nation."

The "working classes": those whom the elitists once called common, but whom today they describe as "masses," not all that different from piles of sand or stone. But in the event we are considering, they displayed a self-conscious understanding of the truth that honoring a nation in which some people live by forcibly extorting work from others, without agreement or remuneration, implies a world in which all who work may be considered slaves. They just haven't yet been forced to realize it yet.

In the course of his political career, Lincoln counted upon a similarly self-conscious understanding among the working people of the United States. Of course, in the context of our constitutional self-government, that term encompassed the overwhelming majority of voters in the states where slavery remained, as it were, a non-indigenous species. Even in the so-called "slave states," the elites whose way of life depended upon it did not appeal for political support by promoting the cause of slavery. They mostly did so by abusing the name of liberty, as though the freedom to enslave others does not, in the end, equate freedom with superior power, making liberty the prerogative of those who wield power.

Some like to pretend that the outcome of the Civil War was an inevitable consequence of the North's superior material strength. But the war's bloodiest day of battle suggests otherwise. Though listed, with some reason, as a victory for the Union, at Antietam Confederate forces actually fought their erstwhile brethren to a standstill. On both sides, combatants held out against a toll of slaughter far beyond the supposed limits of cohesion. It was a battle of moral will and spirit, of liberty diversely wrested, battling against itself.

Lincoln would later say, in his Second Inaugural address, that both sides "read the same Bible, and pray to the same God...." But one side staked its all on the "freedom" that means superior power. The other staked the very meaning of humanity itself upon the freedom, justly used, that bears the name of an unalienable right. Why did the latter triumph? Because the greatest power imaginable condescended in human form to stake His all upon the Cross of Christ in order to proclaim the victory available to who are willing to do likewise. In this sense, both sides won. All humanity won. Why, today, do all our politicians forget that? Could it be because, like the elitists of old, they represent a faction that now holds themselves above the mere title of humanity?

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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