On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States of America. So began a stressful four years of his presidency.
On April 12, the first shot of the American Civil War was fired at Charleston, South Carolina, only 39 days into his presidency. Meanwhile, domestic political problems diverted much of his energy from the prosecution of the war. In forming his Cabinet, he had created a somewhat unstable coalition of conservative and radical advisors, creating a constant friction among them.
As the war dragged on, sentiment in the north began to shift against him because of high casualty rates, conscription and war requisitions. The Confederate forces had defeated Union armies in West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and threatened Washington.
Enter Eliza Gurney
Eliza Gurney was a renowned Quaker minister of the Burlington Friends Meeting, Burlington Township, New Jersey. On Oct. 16, 1862, she along with John Whitall, James Carey, and Hanna Mott entered the White House to offer spiritual comfort to the president.
John Whitall recalled the moment when Eliza addressed him: “To see the tears run down the face of our beloved President.” In her prayer she referred to Lincolns’ future stressful times as “thy wilderness journey.” She continued, “my heart has rejoiced in the noble effort which our honored President has made to loose the bands of wickedness, to let the oppressed go free, and I assuredly believe that for this magnanimous deed the children yet unborn will rise up and call him blessed in the name of the Lord.”
This is only a portion of the prayer that Eliza Gurney offered. Lincoln was so moved by this Quaker visit that he wrote Eliza a letter expressing his gratitude. In part he wrote, “We are indeed going through a great fiery trial and 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.”
After the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln wrote another letter to Eliza in August of 1863. On Aug. 18, 1863, Eliza replied to Lincoln, “Many times since I was privileged to have an interview with thee, nearly a year ago, my mind turned towards thee with feelings of sincere and Christian interest, I feel inclined to give the assurance of my continued sympathy in all thy heavy burdens and responsibilities and to express not only my own earnest prayer, but I believe the prayers of many thousands whose heart thou hast gladdened by thy phrase worthy and successful effort to burst the bands of wickedness and let the oppressed go free. That the Almighty may strengthen thee to accomplish all the blessed purposes.”
Lincoln placed this last letter from Eliza in his breast pocket and carried it with him through the end of the war. This letter was found in his suit pocket on the night he was shot April 14, 1865.