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Letter to Eliza Gurney

Just as Abraham Lincoln's letter suggests, Eliza Gurney, the widow of the English Quaker Joseph J. Gurney, visited President Lincoln about two years earlier, assuring him of her prayers during a difficult period in the Civil War. About this time, Lincoln also had written an unpublished memorandum relating the war to the will of God. His 1864 reply to Mrs. Gurney reveals a continuing thread of interest in that topic, which would reach its height in his Second Inaugural Address the next spring.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, September 4, 1864.

Eliza P. Gurney.
My esteemed friend.

I have not forgotten--probably never shall forget--the very impressive occasion when yourself and friends visited me on a Sabbath forenoon two years ago. Nor has your kind letter, written nearly a year later, ever been forgotten. In all, it has been your purpose to strengthen my reliance on God. I am much indebted to the good Christian people of the country for their constant prayers and consolations; and to no one of them, more than to yourself. The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.

Your people--the Friends--have had, and are having, a very great trial. On principle, and faith, opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war. In this hard dilemma, some have chosen one horn, and some the other. For those appealing to me on conscientious grounds, I have done, and shall do, the best I could and can, in my own conscience, under my oath to the law. That you believe this I doubt not; and believing it, I shall still receive, for our country and myself, your earnest prayers to our Father in heaven.

Your sincere friend
A. Lincoln.


Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.

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