My previous posts for Law and Liberty examining Abraham Lincoln’s use of the Bible in the Gettysburg and Second Inaugural addresses generated interest that far exceeded my expectations (and those of the editor). These were primarily descriptive rather than critical assessments of the propriety of Lincoln’s references or allusions to Scripture in these celebrated orations. Space constraints did not allow me to explore other issues of interest to me, such as the perils of deploying religion in political—often partisan—rhetoric.
A hundred and fifty years ago today, as the sun broke through the clouds shortly after noon on a wet Washington day, Abraham Lincoln, with one hand raised and the other on an open Bible, took the presidential oath of office for the second time. The speech he just gave had been received by an enthusiastic crowd on the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol. It took about six minutes. Then the oath. Then he said, “So help me God,” bent forward, and kissed the Bible to conclude the solemn ceremony.
On the afternoon of November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a brief address at the dedication of a national cemetery on Gettysburg’s battlefield. The solemn ceremony took place four and a half months after Union forces turned back the army of the Confederate States on July 1-3 in the bloodiest engagement of the Civil War. The battle claimed the lives of nearly eight thousand soldiers. Lincoln’s carefully crafted address was barely 272 words in length and required approximately two minutes to deliver. It is widely acclaimed as one of the most poignant and eloquent speeches in American letters.
Possibly no figure out of the American past today enjoys a greater prestige than Roger Williams – and for none is esteem based on so little familiarity with his deeds or so comprehensive an ignorance of his words. – Perry Miller  Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and champion of religious liberty, is one of those figures in American history the biographies of whom almost always reveal more about the biographer or the times in which they were written than about the subject. An enigmatic character, Williams’s biographers have tended to treat him as if he were of a…