William Lincoln, Lincoln’s third son, died of typhoid in February, 1862. He had been born in 1850 the same year their second son died. In an article in the Atlantic Magazine concerning "Lincoln", the movie, the author writea about Lincoln’s cross. "Over time, Lincoln came to view the war as God’s divine punishment for the sin of slavery, and in some fashion, he saw Willie’s death as the personal cross that he must bear to atone for that crime.
Lincoln’s religion is hard to pin down. He rejected the Baptist heritage of his ancestors as too emotional and did not like the denominational battles that afflicted the Methodists as well as Baptists, and Universalists in his early years. He was hounded in the 1840’s because he wasn’t associated with any church. Lincoln changed, however. Lincoln started attending Presbyterian services in 1850, following the death of his 4-year-old son, Edward which continued when he entered the White House. It was conservative, non-revivalistic brand that focused on "God’s in charge. Though he never joined that church, his faith became more deeply felt.
The battlefield led his confidence to be shaken which was taken by increasing in relying on God as leading the direction of the war. As one writer has suggested a "providential, interventionist God who had something up his sleeve, and that something was Emancipation. "
When he announced his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet on the heels of the much-needed Union victory at Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln said he was honoring a promise he made to God in exchange for a battlefield win. "God had decided this question in favor of the slaves," Lincoln told them, according to one account. A stunned cabinet member asked the ever rational Lincoln to repeat himself.
Lincoln’s God was closer to that of Isaiah calling the nations to repentence. Thus he was called with the death of Willie to repentence.
It is most evident in his second inaugural address in 1865. That argument was that the Civil War was America’s divine punishment. "If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which . . . He now wills to remove," Lincoln told a war-weary nation, "and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?"
Emancipation at the begining of the war was not the prime reason for the war. He wrote in a published letter to Horace Greeley that he would not free the slaves if it meant saving the Union, that he would free the slaves if it meant saving the Union, and that he would free some and leave others in bondage if it meant saving the Union. His duty, as he saw it, was to reconcile the seceded states to the Union.
In 1861, when the President entered into war with the Confederacy, his aim, then, was not to disrupt the system of slavery in the South, but rather to repair the fractured nation. Still, in the early years of his presidency, as Lincoln worked toward reconciliation, he was also forced to contend with the question of how best to deal with the issue of slavery and, more broadly, with the expanding black population in the Union.
Of primary concern was the question of whether to open the Union army to African-American troops. At first, Lincoln denied black entry into the military, in part because of his anxiety over the prospect of losing northern white support. By the summer of 1862, though, with mounting deaths and desertions and declining enlistments of white soldiers, the President reconsidered his position.
By the end of the war, more than 186,000 black men had enlisted in Lincoln’s army, some 134,000 of whom came from slave-holding states. Some were freed blacks who had made lives for themselves in the South, but many more were slaves who, when troops marched through the Confederacy, took it upon themselves to claim their freedom and sign up for the Union cause.
And as black soldiers entered the military, the relationship between the war and the institution of slavery became more intertwined. As Lincoln saw it, with the inclusion of African-Americans in the conflict, the fight had become defined by the question of slavery.
Clearly, Lincoln had taken up the cross. He kept many of his personal opinions private seeking to conclude the war quickly which led him to conclude that the freedom of slaves would tip the balance.
This comes out in the struggle for the 13th amendment which in Dec. 1865 abolished slavery. Typically as a former Whig he stayed out of congressional politics. Was it slavery or the need to end the war ? He entered the fray.
Lincoln argued that emancipation would so undermine the morale of the Confederacy that it would weaken their military and bring about a swift end to the war. The President undertook his own campaign for passage of the amendment, and his political allies and cabinet members helped to further the cause, convincing constituents and state legislatures to appeal directly to their congressmen for passage of the amendment.
The amendment became as radical as the war was harsh. By prohibiting the institution of slavery and by outlawing individual citizens from owning slaves, the legislature in the wake of the Civil War created the first constitutional provision to directly limit the rights and freedoms of American citizens.