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5 Things You May Not Know About Abraham Lincoln, Slavery and Emancipation

Abraham Lincoln did believe that slavery was morally wrong, but there was one big problem: It was sanctioned by the highest law in the land, the Constitution. The nation’s founding fathers, who also struggled with how to address slavery, did not explicitly write the word “slavery” in the Constitution, but they did include key clauses protecting the institution, including a fugitive slave clause and the three-fifths clause, which allowed Southern states to count enslaved people for the purposes of representation in the federal government. 

In a three-hour speech in Peoria, Illinois, in the fall of 1854, Lincoln presented more clearly than ever his moral, legal and economic opposition to slavery𠅊nd then admitted he didn’t know exactly what should be done about it within the current political system.

Abolitionists, by contrast, knew exactly what should be done about it: Slavery should be immediately abolished, and freed enslaved people should be incorporated as equal members of society. They didn’t care about working within the existing political system, or under the Constitution, which they saw as unjustly protecting slavery and enslavers. Leading abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison called the Constitution 𠇊 covenant with death and an agreement with Hell,” and went so far as to burn a copy at a Massachusetts rally in 1854. 

Though Lincoln saw himself as working alongside the abolitionists on behalf of a common anti-slavery cause, he did not count himself among them. Only with emancipation, and with his support of the eventual 13th Amendment, would Lincoln finally win over the most committed abolitionists.

How many sons did Abraham have?

Abraham’s first son was Ishmael through Hagar, his wife’s Egyptian maid (Genesis 16:1&ndash4).

Abraham’s second son was Isaac through Sarah, his wife (Genesis 21:1&ndash3). Isaac was the son God had promised Abraham (Genesis 15:4&ndash5).

After Sarah died, Abraham had six sons through Keturah, another concubine: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah (Genesis 25:1, 6). Keturah’s sons became the fathers of Arabian tribes living east of Israel.

Some people claim that the Bible makes an error in regards to the number of Abraham’s sons. In Genesis 22:2, God speaks to Abraham after the birth of Ishmael, referring to Isaac as “your son, your only son, whom you love.” Then Hebrews 11:17 identifies Isaac as Abraham’s “one and only son.” And Galatians 4:22 mentions only Isaac and Ishmael: “It is written that Abraham had two sons.” How could Abraham be said to have an “only son” and “two sons,” when in reality he had eight sons?

There is no true contradiction in the above passages. Isaac was the only son who was promised to Abraham and through whom Abraham would become the father of many nations (Genesis 12:1&ndash3 17:1&ndash8 21:12). Also, Isaac was the only son of Sarah and Abraham&mdashSarah being specifically mentioned in the prophecies of Genesis 17:16&ndash21 and 18:10. In addition, Isaac is the only son born in an official marriage: Hagar and Keturah were both concubines. While God blessed the concubines’ sons for Abraham’s sake, those sons had no part in the inheritance. Isaac was the one and only rightful heir to the promise (Genesis 15:4&ndash5 25:5).

Genesis 22:2 and Hebrews 11:17 both refer to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son” because those passages concern God’s promise and covenant. Since Abraham’s other seven sons are not part of the covenant, they are irrelevant to the issue and not mentioned as sons. Abraham had other sons, but only one son of promise.

The main theme in Galatians is justification by faith, apart from the Law. Galatians 4:22 mentions only two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, in an allegory to highlight the contrast between the old covenant of law and the new covenant of grace. The former leads to bondage while the latter to freedom and life. Paul’s reasoning is as follows: Ishmael was the son of Hagar, a slave, and thus symbolizes bondage and slavery to the Law. Ishmael was the product of a human effort to bring about God’s blessing Ishmael equals the works of the Law. Isaac was born to the free woman, Sarah, and thus symbolizes freedom and life. Isaac was born in God’s time, according to God’s promise, without the scheming or interference of man Isaac equals the gift of grace. This passage in Galatians 4 is meant to teach a spiritual lesson (verse 24), not to give a detailed account of Abraham’s life and how many actual sons he had. Mentioning the other six sons would not have served any meaningful purpose in Paul’s allegory.

Spiritually speaking, Abraham has many, many sons. The Bible points to the faith of Abraham (Genesis 15:6) and states that “those who have faith are children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7 cf. verse 9). Those who exercise the same faith that Abraham had are showing themselves to be like him, spiritually, and so can be rightly called his “children.” All who trust in Christ, as Zacchaeus did, become true sons of Abraham (Luke 19:9). “The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring . . . to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).

Abraham or Abram

Abram means ’high father’ which is ironic as for much of his life Abram was childless. Abraham is generally said to mean father of many nations from the two words Ab and Hamon, but these contain no letter ‘r’.J. Halévy’s ‘Revenue des Études Juives’ points to the first part coming from ‘abbir’ meaning strong leader. The middle part of the name Abraham, however, means ‘to make a covenant’ which is what God and Abraham did.

According to Bishop Ussher’s 17th-century chronology Abraham lived from about 1996 BC to 1821 BC. He is named by both Matthew and Luke in their genealogies of Jesus. Matthew wanting to set Jesus in history and also to prove his Jewish lineage traces the line back to Abraham, while Luke, writing from a Gentile point of view, goes on through Abraham to Adam.

Abraham was born in the city Ur of Chaldea, in what is now modern day Iraq, but left there with his family and eventually settled in what is now Israel having traveled as a nomad west along the fertile crescent because he felt this was what God wanted him to do. He eventually reached the land God had promised to him and his descendants. Jewish tradition says his father was an idol maker and Abraham destroyed the idols.

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Formerly called Abram, his name was lengthened at the time of God’s covenant with him.

He is revered for his faith in one god, monotheism, at a time when polytheism was the norm, by members or the Jewish faith and by Muslims, both of whom claim him as their ancestor through his two sons Isaac and Ishmael and also by Christians who see him as a spiritual ancestor. Muslims believe that he and Ishmael built the ancient site of Mecca, their holy city. Altogether this means that some 3 billion people place importance upon this one man. Although a great man of faith he also had his failings. He did not doubt God’s plan but unsuccessfully tried his own way to achieve it. The book of Genesis traces his story, and that of his family, in detail from chapter 11 to 25. Hi s wife Sarah was sterile and he was an old man when God made a covenant with him and promised that through him would come a great nation. He tried to do this with his maidservant, but eventually, though Hagar did have a son, it was through Sarah and her son Isaac and his son Jacob that the twelve tribes of Israel came into being. Abraham had many difficulties and at times made some wrong decisions, but ultimately was a man of great faith as is acknowledged by the writer of Hebrews in chapter 11 who says that Abraham was faithful because God was faithful to him.

In his lifetime trade was conducted using fixed weights and measures, cuneiform writing was being engraved into clay tablets, the Babylonian kingdom was founded by Amraphael, Cheops ruled Egypt and in China the silk industry began and the bronze age began there also. On Crete, the Minoan palaces were being built. At about this period, the horse became domesticated for the first time and the first farmers settled in Kenya.

Further reading

Further reading

Genesis, Robert Alter (Ed), pub: W W Norton (1998)

Voices from Genesis: Guiding us through the stages of life, Norman J Cohen, pub: Jewish Lights Publishing (1999)

Abraham: A journey to the heart of three faiths, Bruce Feiler, pub: William Morrow and Company (2002)

The Pentateuch - A story of beginnings, Paula Gooder, pub: Continuum International Publishing (2000)

The Oxford Guide to People and Places of the Bible, Bruce Metzger George L Collard Michael Coogan (Eds), pub: Oxford University Press (2001)


February 12 – Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Sinking Spring Farm in Hardin County, Kentucky, now La Rue County. He was the second child of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks.

Brother Thomas is born but died during infancy.

His father lost all his land due to lack of land surveying and unclear property titles and had to move to Spencer County, then Perry County, Indiana.

Abraham’s mother, Nancy, died of milk sickness or tremetol. Older sister Sarah had to look after the household, she was 11 years old.

Thomas Lincoln married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children. Abraham developed a deep bond with her stepmother.


Worked the land and helped his father. Abraham attended school occasionally, few months at a time.

Sister Sarah died while in labor.

Employed by Denton Offutt, Abraham took a flatboat and transported goods to New Orleans. For the first time he experienced slavery first hand, he observed a slave auction.

The Lincoln family moved west to Macon Country, Illinois.

The family decided to move to Coles County, Illinois but Abraham did not follow his family. Instead he moved to New Salem where he worked as a shopkeeper. During this time he learned math, read literature and participated in the debate club.

The store where he worked went bankrupt. Abraham partnered with William Berry and opened a new store in New Salem.

The Black Hawk War broke out and Lincoln volunteered to serve.

Abraham was a very popular young man, everyone grew fond of him, his sense of humor, storytelling and anecdotes were famous and soon the entire town became his most enthusiastic admirers. People insisted he ran for the Illinois General Assembly. He finished 5 th out of 13 candidates. He had the support of New Salem with 277 of the 300 casted votes.

The store was not profitable and had to shut down. He was left with heavy debt.

Abraham Lincoln was appointed Postmaster in New Salem and Deputy County Surveyor.

Began teaching himself law.

For the second time he run for the Illinois state legislature and this time he won the elections as a Whig.

Former store partner, William Berry, died leaving him with a debt of $1000.

Ann Rutledge, a woman Lincoln was courting, died, leaving him devastated.

Abraham was admitted to the bar. The Illinois Supreme Court licensed him to practice law.

August 1 – Lincoln was reelected to the Illinois General Assembly.

Lincoln moved to Springfield, Illinois where he started practicing law as a junior partner with John T. Stuart. They opened an office at Number 4 Hoffman’s Row.

August 6- Abraham was reelected to the Illinois General Assembly for the third consecutive term.

Lincoln started traveling on the 8 th Judicial Circuit that included nine counties in central and eastern Illinois.

Abraham met Mary Todd at a dance at the house of her sister Elizabeth Edwards.

Abraham was reelected to a fourth term to the Illinois General Assembly.

He became engaged to Mary Todd.

Abraham in a bout of insecurity broke the engagement with Mary Todd.

March 1 – Stephen Logan offered Lincoln to start a partnership, “Logan and Lincoln”.

Lincoln decided not to seek another term to the legislature.

September – Abraham accepted a challenge to a duel by Democrat James Shield over satirical letters published in newspapers. The duel did not proceed. An explanation of the letters was published.

November 4 – Abraham and Mary married and moved to a rental room in the Globe Tavern on Adams Street.

The couple had their first child, Robert Todd Lincoln and moved to a rental house on South Street.

Abraham and Mary bought their first house on Eight and Jackson Street. The house belonged to the Episcopal minister who married them, Charles Dresser.

Logan and Lincoln dissolved their partnership as Logan wanted his son to join the business.

Lincoln started a partnership with William Herndon, “Lincoln and Herndon” this time Lincoln was the senior partner.

March 10 – Edward Baker Lincoln, second son of Abraham and Mary, was born.

May 1 – Lincoln was nominated the Illinois Whig candidate for congress.

August 3 – Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives.

Abraham and his family moved to Washington DC and settled at the boarding house of Ann G. Sprigg. Dissatisfied with the arrangements, Mary and the boys went to Lexington to her father’s house.

February – The Wilmot Proviso was reintroduced, it passed the House but failed to pass the senate. Lincoln voted for its passage.

Lincoln campaigned for General Zachary Taylor for president.

Lincoln accused President James Polk of unconstitutionally invading Mexico.

November – Zachary Taylor won the election and became the 12 th president of the United States.

Lincoln’s end of appointment in congress. He declined offer of governorship of the Oregon territory.

February 1 – Eddie, the second born, died of tuberculosis when he was three years old.

December 21 – William Wallace Lincoln, third child of Abraham and Mary, was born.

September – The Compromise of 1850 gave the country a pause in the controversy of expansion of slavery.

“Lincoln and Herndon” represented Alton & Sangamon Railroad in a lawsuit. Abraham Lincoln became one of the most prominent practitioners of railroad law in the state of Illinois.

January 17 – His father, Thomas Lincoln, died.

April 4 – Thomas Lincoln III was born. His father nicknamed him Tad because he wiggled as a tadpole when he was an infant.

May 30 – The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by congress.

The Republican Party was organized in the northern states attracting Whigs, antislavery supporters, foreign citizens, Know Nothings and specially Kansas-Nebraska opponents.

Lincoln helped organize anti Kansas-Nebraska coalition.

Lincoln helped organize the Republican Party in Illinois and campaigned for Republican presidential candidate John Frémont.

March 5 – The Supreme Court decided on the Dred Scott case. It declared that slaves or their descendants could not be US citizens and had no rights to sue in a Federal court.

June 26 – Lincoln addressed a crowd speaking against the Dred Scott decision.

June 16 – The Republican Convention voted for Lincoln as a Republican candidate for the senate against Democrat Stephen Douglas. In accepting the nomination Lincoln gave his memorable “House Divided” speech.

The Illinois legislature elected Stephen Douglas as US Senator for Illinois. Douglas received 54 votes while Lincoln 46.

Lincoln wrote his first autobiography for Jesse Fell who published it in the Chester County Times in Pennsylvania. The autobiography was reprinted several times by Republican newspapers across the country.

Follet, Foster and Co. of Columbus, Ohio published “Political Debates between Honorable Abraham Lincoln and Honorable Stephen Douglas, in the Celebrated Campaign of 1858 Illinois.

February – Lincoln was invited by the Young Men’s Central Republican Union to give a lecture in Cooper Union, Manhattan.

Matthew Brady took Lincoln’s first photographic portrait.

May 18 – Lincoln was elected Republican presidential candidate at the Republican Convention in Chicago. The candidates were William Seward, Salmon Chase, Edward Bates and Simon Cameron.

June – Lincoln wrote a second longer autobiography for John L. Scripps of the Chicago Press and Tribune.

November 6 – Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States.

December 20 – South Carolina became the first state to declare secession from the Union.

January – Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana followed South Carolina in seceding from the Union.

An attempt to reinforce Fort Sumter failed when the ship Star of the West was fired by Confederate forces. South Carolina seized all federal property in Charleston except for Fort Sumter.

February 1 – Texas seceded from the Union.

February 11 – President-elect Abraham Lincoln and his family departed Springfield on a 12 day journey to the Nation’s Capital.

February 14 – Jefferson Davis was elected Provisional President of the Confederation and Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President.

US surrendered all military posts in Texas.

March 4 –Inauguration of the 16th US President. Abraham Lincoln delivered his 1 st Inaugural Address.

April 12 – Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederate forces and Major Anderson was forced to surrender. The American Civil War had begun.

April 15 – The president issued a Proclamation Calling Militia and Convening Congress. He called for the recruitment of 75,000 men.

April 17 – Virginia seceded from the Union.

April 27 – President Lincoln suspended the privilege of habeas corpus, the emergency situation of war required the president to act before authorization.

May 6 – Arkansas seceded from the Union.

May 20 – North Carolina followed Arkansas.

June 3 – Stephen Douglas, long time Democratic rival, died.

July 21 – Union Army was defeated at Bull Run in Northern Virginia.

July 27 – General McClellan was selected as Commander of the Army of the Potomac.

April 16 – Lincoln signed an Act abolishing slavery in Washington DC.

September 22 – President Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that was introduced to congress.

January 1 – The final Emancipation Proclamation was issued freeing slaves in territories held by Confederates.

February 25 – Lincoln signed a bill creating the national banking system.

March 3 – Lincoln signed the Conscription Act. It called for males between the ages of 20 to 45 for service in the war instead of assigning quotas to each state.

July 3 – Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the American Civil War.

August 10 – Lincoln and Frederick Douglass met to talk about equality in Union troops.

October 3 – Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November.

November 9- Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address during the dedication of a cemetery in the Gettysburg battlefield.

February 1 – President Lincoln signed the 13 th Amendment.

April 8 – The Senate passed the 13 th Amendment. The House passed it on January 1 st , 1865 and it was adopted on December 6, 1865.

March – Ulysses Grant was appointed as General-in-Chief of the Union Army.

June 8 – Abraham Lincoln was nominated for a second term by a coalition of Republicans and War Democrats.

November 8 – Lincoln was reelected for a second term. He defeated Democratic candidate George B. McClellan getting 55% of the popular vote and 212 of 233 electoral votes.

March 4 – Inauguration ceremonies took place and the president delivered his second inaugural address. It was the shortest inaugural speech at 703 words.

March 20 – John Wilkes Booth failed to kidnap the President when he changed plans and did not show up.

April 9 – Confederate General Robert Lee surrendered at Appomattox marking then end of the Civil War.

April 11 – President Lincoln gives his final public address outside the White House. For the first time he let know his plans for African American suffrage.

April 14 – President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while attending the play “Our American Cousin” at the Ford Theater. He was shot in the back of the head.

April 15 – President Abraham Lincoln died at 7:20. He was 56 years old.

April 28 – John Wilkes Booth is found and killed in Virginia.

May 4 – President Lincoln was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois.

The Abraham Myth

E vangelicals are debating the historicity of Adam, but they are too timid. It is time to reject fundamentalist distortions of the Abrahamic narrative just as decisively as we have abandoned literalistic readings of Genesis 1–3.

Clinging to discredited biblical accounts of Abraham as if these events actually happened makes us look like Neanderthals, undermines the plausibility of our witness, and ultimately overturns the Gospel. To defend the Gospel and uphold the authority of the Bible, we need to reckon with the myth of Abraham.

The historical evidence is overwhelming and need not be rehearsed here. It is sufficient to point the curious reader to Hans Georg Unglauber’s definitive study, popularly known as Die Suche nach dem historischen Abraham but originally published as Abraham: Historie oder Pferd-Geschichte? Unglauber shows that there is not a shred of independent evidence for the existence of Abraham, much less for any of the events recorded in Genesis.

But our faith does not stand or fall on the uncertain deliverances of historical scholarship. Scripture is our rule. The biblical writers deployed the full arsenal of ancient literary conventions, and their texts are full of sly authorial signals that they are not supposed to be taken literally. We can summarize briefly:

*The story of Abraham’s exodus (Gen. 12:10–20) is obviously modeled on Israel’s Egyptian sojourn and exodus (which most likely never happened either). By shaping this narrative to mimic later myths, the author indicates that the episode is not to be taken seriously as history. Genesis 12, like the exodus narrative, teaches that God delivers. It does not matter whether or not God has ever actually delivered anyone. The moral stands: God is our deliverer.

*When Yahweh cuts covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:17–21), he appears as a “smoking oven and a flaming torch” (v. 17) passing through split pieces of animals. The writer knows that God is infinitely more unlike a torch than he is like one. He deliberately strains the metaphor to the point of absurdity. The very assertion that God appeared as an oven is proof enough that he did not.

*Genesis 18 is mythological on its face. Yahweh strolls to Mamre, chats with Abraham, and eats a meal of curds, milk, and veal. Abraham negotiates the fate of an entire city with a malleable divine Judge. The author does not even provide a definitive name for the “God” character. Sometimes he is “Yahweh,” sometimes there are three who are described as “men.” This is not confusion or a sign of multiple sources. It is literary subtlety on the order of genius.

*Fundamentalists believe Isaac’s birth is miraculous. Liberals mock the narrative as evidence of the pre-scientific naivete of archaic peoples. Both are mistaken. The ancient author knows that ninety-year-old women cannot bear children. Under the guise of the well-established miracle-birth type-scene, the author exhibits a timeless truth: Even if God has never actually cut or kept covenant with any actual person, he is the God of covenant faithfulness.

T he chronological snobbery of classical criticism cannot be sustained. The authors of the biblical texts were just as sophisticated as we. The latest scholarship has conclusively demonstrated that biblical writers were brilliant performers with the generic conventions of “history-like myth.” As ancient writers, they had no concern with what we call “facts,” and they would be aghast at how fundamentalists like Augustine, Thomas, Luther, and Calvin have twisted their texts. Should we ignore the authors’ own infallible indicators of their intention and impose our own literalist readings on the text? We must defend the Bible from those who obsess over the literal meaning of its text.

Hidebound evangelicals worry that giving up the historical Abraham undermines Christian doctrine. Convictions about covenant, promise, and justification by faith are rooted in Paul’s use of Genesis. As we have seen, such fears are unfounded. Justification is by faith even if there was never an Abraham to have faith God keeps his covenant promises whether or not he ever gave and kept promises to Abraham.

As Johann G. Nosticher has shown in his monograph, Die mythologischen Grundlagen der paulinischen Theologie, Paul himself did not regard Genesis as an historical document. In Galatians 4, he describes the account of Hagar, Sarah, Ishmael, and Isaac as an “allegory.” If Paul can theologize with an allegorical Abraham, can’t we?

After we dispose of Adam and Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, and Jeremiah are next. And why stop there? Like Genesis, the Gospels are ancient literature. The Evangelists were no more concerned about facts than the authors of the Pentateuch, and for those enlightened enough to see, the Gospels are replete with hints that they are mythic symbolizations of profound, enduring truth.

Only when it is stripped of the mythology of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus will the Bible be firmly established as our inerrant rule of faith. We must die to our modern demand to know “what happened” and recognize that Scripture is infallible only when it is thoroughly de-historicized. Then we will arrive finally at the fullness of Christian faith, the Church of Christ Without Jesus.

Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute. He is the author most recently of Gratitude: An Intellectual History. His previous articles can be found here.

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The Tyranny of Idolatry

He was born in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq and Iran. His father Terach was a merchant who sold idols. Selling idols was big business in those days. There was a different one for every mood, temperament and personality.

The masses believed in paganism. They were frightened of it. However, the more sophisticated people knew it was nothing, but as far as they could see they was no other alternative. There was no other philosophy in the world. They did not have the tools to go beyond it.

Abraham provided the leadership to change all that.

He traveled a number of times from Mesopotamia to what would become the Land of Israel. He was not alone in his travels. It was a time of great movement and migration. Great cities and city-states were springing up, each with their own unique culture and deities.

Jerusalem was called Shalem (Salem) at the time. According to the Oral Tradition, Noah&rsquos son Shem, and his grandson Eber, started and headed an academy located there dedicated to the traditions of the Creator and morality. The knowledge and philosophy of monotheism were developed there. However, it did not have a large following. It was an ivory tower that did not influence society. One had to go to it it was not exported to others.

Abraham changed that. Every place he went he opened an &ldquoinn&rdquo and offered people a free meal. When people came to thank him he told them, &ldquoDon&rsquot thank me. Thank the One who gave us everything.&rdquo

Likewise, wherever he settled he opened a school. In our terms, we would say he established institutions of social welfare and education. Through those institutions he was able to reach thousands and thousands if not millions of people.

Historians say that a number of the Pharaohs were essentially monotheists. Not coincidentally, those Pharaohs lived around and after the time of Abraham. His visit to Egypt (Genesis 12) made an impression. The idea of monotheism took hold in the highest echelons of Egyptian society. However, they had no way to sell it to the masses because there was a tremendous bureaucracy of idol worship. None of the priests in the temples were going to give it up. Egyptian society remained pagan because the infrastructure of idol worship was so strong that the Pharaoh himself could not turn it around. Whether they believed it or not, the priests were not going to give up their jobs.

Outside of Egypt, however, Abraham&rsquos name spread rapidly among the masses. His ideas, character and personality became the talk of the civilized world. He roused the world from the slumber of paganism. Now there was an echo within countless individual families that there is a God, morality and a greater purpose to life.

Abraham Woodhull was born in 1750 in Setauket, a town on Long Island, New York. He was the son of a prominent judge who supported colonial independence.

Woodhull began spying for the Continental Army in late 1778, as part of the Culper Spy Ring. Following the directions of Benjamin Tallmadge, his childhood friend and General George Washington’s director of military intelligence, Woodhull operated under the code name "Samuel Culper." He traveled regularly from Setauket to Manhattan, ostensibly to visit his sister. However, the British quickly suspected him of spying they even went to Setauket to arrest him in June 1779, although he avoided trouble since he wasn&apost at home. The near-miss left him shaken, but he was compelled to find another way to continue spying.

Woodhull enlisted Robert Townsend, a merchant who conducted business in Manhattan, to gather intelligence about British military plans. Under the alias "Samuel Culper Jr.," Townsend sent information by courier to Woodhull’s farm in Setauket. After collecting the messages, Woodhull waited for signals from his neighbor and fellow conspirator, Anna Strong, who communicated by hanging specific laundry out on her line. Woodhull was thereby able to locate and relay messages to whale boatꃊptainꃊleb Brewster, who then delivered them to Tallmadge.

The Culper Ring was probably Washington’s most successful spy operation. Their reports are believed to have uncovered Benedict Arnold’s treason, and led to the capture of British Major John Andre, who was working with Arnold to undermine the Continental Army. In addition, the Culper Ring likely helped prevent a British attack against French forces that had arrived in Rhode Island to assist the colonists.

Woodhull and the Culper Ring continued spying until the war&aposs official end in 1783, although it appears they did not gather much useful intelligence during their final years.

History Crash Course #4: Abraham's Journey

More than one hundred years ago author Mark Twain posed a fascinating question concerning the Jews:

If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of smoke lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning, are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all ages: and has done it with his hands tied behind him.

All things are mortal but the Jew all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?(1)

The answer to this question can be found in the remote beginnings of the Jewish people, in the earliest stories in the Bible.

As mentioned previously, history is a guidebook for the future. The early lessons of Jewish history reveal a pattern, so we have to pay extra special attention to anything that happens at this period of time. We also have to pay special attention to the characters themselves. Just as these early stories are the paradigm for future events, so too are the earliest personalities in Genesis the model for the collective nature of the Jewish people throughout history.

If this is the case, then from the Jewish perspective, the most important Biblical character to understand is Abraham. This is why I call Abraham "the proto-Jew." He personifies everything that could be characterized as the "Jewish personality." His strengths, mission, drive and idealism are reflected in all the generations of the Jewish people that come after him.(2)

Abraham was certainly one of the great truth-seekers of all time. He was also famous for his kindness and hospitality(3). But the attribute that probably stands out more than any other and truly epitomizes the essence of what Abraham, and therefore the Jewish people, is all about is drive. To stand alone for thousands of years against the entire world to dedicate oneself, heart and soul, to the ultimate cause of perfecting the world requires tremendous strength of character. This drive is an outstanding feature of Abraham's personality and we see its manifestation in every generation of the Jewish people. From Abraham onward, we see this idealism -- an uncompromising drive to "change the world" -- in the collective Jewish personality.

It is because of this drive that the Jews have historically been tremendous over-achievers and have been at the forefront of virtually every major advance, cause, or social movement in world history. (Jews have not only been awarded a disproportionate number of Nobel prizes for their intellectual contributions, but have led movements such as communism, socialism, feminism, civil rights, labor unions, etc.)(4) Notes professor of Social Philosophy Ernest Van den Haag:

Asked to make a list of the men who have most dominated the thinking of the modern world, many educated people would name Freud, Einstein, Marx and Darwin. Of these four, only Darwin was not Jewish. In a world where Jews are only a tiny percentage of the population, what is the secret of the disproportionate importance the Jews have had in the history of Western culture? . The Jews have invented more ideas, have made the world more intelligible, for a longer span and for more people than any other group. They have done this indirectly, always unintentionally and certainly not in concert, but never the less comprehensibly. Jews continue to feel the yoke, the task, the moral mission of being Jews-of preserving themselves as such, and to the surprise, scorn, and at times hatred of the rest of the world, of refusing to become anything else. Jews may call themselves humanists, or atheists, socialists or communists. they may even dislike Jewishness and deny it in scientific terms. But, rarely do they refuse to carry it. They won't give up being Jewish even when they consciously try to, when they change their names, intermarry, and do everything to deny Jewishness. Yet they remain aware of it, and though repudiating it, they cling to it they may repress it, but do act it out symptomatically. Their awareness of their Judaism is shared by others simply because their denial is so ambivalent. Unconscious or not, at least some part of every Jew does not want to give up its Jewishness(5).

The answer to Van den Haag's question lies in understanding the personality of Abraham.


If the Bible is our paradigm for Jewish history and if Abraham is the model for generations of Jews then we must pay special attention to the earliest descriptions of Abraham in Genesis. By examining just the first few sentences in Genesis 12 we can identify several sweeping and unique patterns that will characterize all future Jewish history.

God said to Abram, "Go from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)

We know that the Bible isn't like the writings of Charles Dickens. Dickens got paid by the word, and he would be as verbose as possible. God is the exact opposite. Instead of filling the text of the Bible with pages of details and minutia, the narrative is limited to the bare minimum of relevant information that we need to know. So the question we have to ask is: Why does God, Who uses words so sparingly throughout the whole Bible, repeat this command so emphatically? "Separate yourself completely, not just from your land, but from your birthplace, from your father's house."

If you grew up in a specific house for a period of time, that place will always be home for you. When you think of home, no matter where you've lived after that and how comfortable you've been, you'll always think about it as home. There's a very deep connection. So God is saying to Abraham: "Separate yourself on the most basic emotional level."

More importantly, from the macrocosmic, historical perspective, God is saying to Abraham, and therefore the Jewish people: "Separate yourself completely and go in a different direction."

The journey that God is directing Abraham to undertake is not just a physical journey it's a journey through history that is going to be different from anyone else's. Abraham is going to become a father to a unique nation with a unique destiny. ". a nation that dwells alone and is not reckoned among the rest of the nations." (Numbers 23:9) As already mentioned, we see this concept of the Jews as a unique nation manifest itself in the double standard constantly applied to modern Israel.

This is the first unique characteristic of Jewish history.

In this first sentence we see that God not only commands Abraham to leave his homeland, but to go to a specific piece of real estate which will later be know as the Land of Israel. This is the first promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants. From this point on we will see that there is a special relationship between the Land of Israel and the Jews. This special relationship is the second unique aspect of Jewish history. We will discuss this relationship in more detail in the next chapter.

The third unique aspect of Jewish history we see in the next verse:

"I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12:2)

This verse conveys God's promise that He will be actively involved in Jewish history: "I will make you . "

In the 17th century when Blaise Pascal, the great French enlightenment philosopher, was asked by Louis XIV for proof of the supernatural, he answered, "The Jewish people, your Majesty." Why? Because he knew Jewish history and he realized that for the Jewish people to survive to the 17th century, violated all the laws of history. Can you imagine what he'd say seeing the Jews made it to the 20th century?! Jewish history is a supernatural phenomenon.

The Jewish people should never have come into existence. With Abraham's wife Sarah being barren, that should have been it. Abraham would have died childless, and his mission would have died with him. But it didn't. A miracle happened.

Many scholars and well-known personalities have taken note that Jewish history is in fact unique, that it violates all the laws of history. Writes Professor Nicholai Berdyaev (Russian philosopher 1874-1948):

Their [the Jews] destiny is too imbued with the "metaphysical" to be explained either by material or positive historical terms. Its survival is a mysterious and wonderful phenomenon demonstrating that the life of this people is governed by special predetermination. The survival of the Jews, their resistance to destruction, their endurance under absolutely peculiar conditions and the fateful role played by them in history all these point to the particular and mysterious foundations of their destiny. (6)

Thus we learn that the Jewish people come into being miraculously and survive all of human history miraculously, outlasting even the greatest empires.

Things happen to the Jews that don't happen to other peoples. This is so because the Jews are a nation with a unique mission, a nation with a unique history-A nation whose role is so essential that they cannot be allowed to disappear.

To live for 2000 years as a nation without a national homeland is not normal. It's unique in human history. To re-establish a homeland in the place that was yours 2000 years ago is not normal. It's unprecedented in human history.

The fourth unique aspect of Jewish history is found in the second half of the same sentence: ". and you will be a blessing." The tiny Jewish nation that should never have come into existence and should certainly never have survived will profoundly impact all of humanity. This point refers back to what was already mentioned: the unique mission of Abraham and his descendants as "a light to the nations."(7) More than 3,700 years after the birth of Abraham, there is no doubt that the world has been profoundly blessed by the Jews. In the words of John Adams, second president of the United States:

I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. They are the most glorious nation to ever inhabit this earth. They have given religion to three quarters of the Globe and have influenced the affairs of Mankind, more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.(8)

You can see the incredibly positive impact the Jews have had on the world. The most basic of all is that the Jews have contributed the values that are now linked with democracy -- the values that come from the Torah -- respect for life, justice, equality, peace, love, education, social responsibility etc.

"I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you, and through you, will be blessed all the families of the earth." (Genesis 12:3)

God is saying here to Abraham that he and his descendants -- the Jews -- will be under God's protection. The empires, nations and peoples that are good to the Jews will do well. Empires, nations and peoples that are bad to the Jews will do poorly. And the whole world is going to be changed by the Jewish people.

That is one of the great patterns of history. You can literally chart the rise and fall of virtually all the civilizations in the western world and the Middle East Spain, Germany, Poland, America or Turkey etc, by how they treated the Jews. (Ironically, most nations have treated the Jews both benevolently and malevolently. It is an oft repeated pattern that the Jews are first invited into a country and then later persecuted and expelled from the same country) We will see this pattern time and time again as we go through the history of the Jews in Diaspora.

Part of this phenomenon, by the way, is not so supernatural, because if you have a group of people living within your country -- an educated, driven, dedicated, loyal, creative, well-connected people -- and you're nice to them and you allow them to participate and contribute in a meaningful way, your country is going to benefit. If you crush those people and expel them, you're going to suffer, because of the economic fallout. But, of course, there's much more going on than just that. In the words of Thomas Newton (1704-1782), the Bishop of Bristol:

The preservation of the Jews is really one of the most signal and illustrious acts of Divine Providence. and what but a supernatural power could have preserved them in such a manner as none other nation upon earth hath been preserved. Nor is the providence of God less remarkable in the destruction of their enemies, than in their preservation. We see that the great empires, which in their turn subdued and oppressed the people of God, are all come to ruin. And if such hath been the fatal end of the enemies and oppressors of the Jews, let it serve as a warning to all those, who at any time or upon any occasion are for raising a clamor and persecution against them(9).

So we have a final pattern -- the rise and fall of nations and empires is going to be based on how they treat the Jews, which is an amazing idea, and one you can clearly demonstrate in human history.

So from these three verses in Genesis we see the key underlying patterns of all of Jewish history.

Abraham's journey is the paradigm. His personal life and the life of his immediate descendants are going to be a mini-version, a microcosm, of what Jewish history is all about.

Abraham Lincoln and Failure

MIXTURE OF ACCURATE AND INACCURATE INFORMATION-->The unsourced “Abraham Lincoln Didn’t Quit” list reproduced below is a ubiquitous piece of American historical glurge that has been printed in countless magazines and newspaper columns over the decades, including an appearance in a 1967 Reader’s Digest collection of humor and anecdotes:

Example: [Canfield, 1993]

  • 1816: His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them.
  • 1818: His mother died.
  • 1831: Failed in business.
  • 1832: Ran for state legislature – lost.
  • 1832: Also lost his job – wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in.
  • 1833: Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt.
  • 1834: Ran for state legislature again – won.
  • 1835: Was engaged to be married, sweetheart died and his heart was broken.
  • 1836: Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.
  • 1838: Sought to become speaker of the state legislature – defeated.
  • 1840: Sought to become elector – defeated.
  • 1843: Ran for Congress – lost.
  • 1846: Ran for Congress again – this time he won – went to Washington and did a good job.
  • 1848: Ran for re-election to Congress – lost.
  • 1849 Sought the job of land officer in his home state – rejected.
  • 1854: Ran for Senate of the United States – lost.
  • 1856: Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention – got less than 100 votes.
  • 1858: Ran for U.S. Senate again – again he lost.
  • 1860: Elected president of the United States.

It is now a favorite feature of inspirational e-mail lists, web sites, and Chicken Soup for the Soul-type books, and it exemplifies what is so very wrong about turning history into glurge. Abraham Lincoln is the mythical, towering figure of American history, and whatever one thinks of his accomplishments, he was indeed a fascinating character. He truly fulfilled the “anyone can make it in America” ethos he was the man of little means or education, born in a one-room log cabin, honest and hard-working, who overcame numerous obstacles and failures to become President of the United States when the nation was confronted with its gravest crisis.

One would think the facts of Lincoln’s life should be a good enough story for anyone, but no, apparently the truth isn’t sufficiently inspirational it has to be shaped and molded into glurge that depicts Lincoln as a man who endured constant failure and defeat from the time he was born until he was elected President. Lincoln certainly survived his fair share of hardship and setbacks, but he also was remarkably successful in many different endeavors throughout his lifetime. Let’s take a look at what this glurge leaves out:

1816: His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them.

Life on the American frontier in the early 19th century was no picnic for anyone it required hours of back-breaking toil and drudgery day in and day out. In the context of their time, however, the Lincolns lived under rather unremarkable circumstances.

The statement that the Lincolns were “forced out of their home” in 1816 isn’t completely false, but it is somewhat misleading because it implies they were suddenly and involuntarily uprooted from their home, with no warning and no place to go. Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas, had owned farmland in Hardin County, Kentucky, since the early 1800s, and he left Kentucky and moved his family across the Ohio River to Indiana in 1816 for two primary reasons:

  • Kentucky was a slave state, and Thomas Lincoln disliked slavery — both because his church opposed it, and because he did not want to have to compete economically with slave labor.
  • Kentucky had never been properly surveyed, and many settlers in the early 1800s found that establishing clear title to their land was difficult. Thomas Lincoln (and other farmers in the area) were eventually sued by non-Kentucky residents who claimed prior title to their lands.

With plenty of land available in neighboring Indiana, a territory where slavery had been excluded by the Northwest Ordinance and the government guaranteed buyers clear title to their property, Thomas Lincoln opted to move rather than to spend time and money fighting over the title to his Kentucky farm. So, in a moderate sense the Lincolns could be said to have been “forced out of their home,” but it did not happen abruptly, and they opted to leave because better opportunities awaited them.

The other part of this statement, that a seven-year-old Abraham Lincoln “had to work to support” his family, is also misleading. Young Abraham did not have to take an outside job lest his poor family sink into financial ruin. Like nearly all farm children of his era, Lincoln was expected to perform whatever chores and tasks he was physically capable of handling around the farm. If Abraham worked harder and longer than most other children, it was not because the Lincolns’ circumstances were extraordinarily difficult, but because Lincoln was exceptionally tall and strong for his age.

This, at least, is no embellishment. Lincoln’s mother, Nancy, did die of “milk sickness” in 1818, when Abraham was only nine years old. A mother’s death is a tragedy for any child, and it was a special hardship for a struggling farm family.

1831: Failed in business.

The statement that Lincoln “failed in business” in 1831 is another misleading claim, because it implies that he was the owner or operator of the failed business, or at least was otherwise responsible for its failure. None of this is true. Lincoln left his father’s home for good in 1831 and, along with his cousin John Hanks, took a flatboat full of provisions down the Mississippi River from Illinois to New Orleans on behalf of a “bustling, none too scrupulous businessman” named Denton Offutt. Offutt planned to open a general store, and he promised to make Lincoln its manager when Abraham returned from New Orleans. Lincoln operated the store as Offutt’s clerk and assistant for several months (and by all accounts did a fine job of it) until Offutt, a poor businessman, overextended himself financially and ran it into the ground. Thus by the spring of 1832 Lincoln had indeed “lost his job,” but not because he had “failed in business.”

1832: Ran for state legislature – lost.

Lincoln did run for the Illinois state legislature in 1832, although as Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald noted, “the post he was seeking was not an elevated one … [legislators] dealt mostly with such issues as whether cattle had to be fenced in or could enjoy free range.” Lincoln finished eighth in a field of thirteen (with the top four vote-getters becoming legislators). However, this same year Lincoln also achieved something of which he was very proud, when the members of a volunteer militia company he had joined selected him as their captain. Lincoln said many years later that this was “a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since.” (He also noted later in his career that his defeat in the 1832 legislative election was the only time he “was ever beaten on a direct vote of the people.”)

1832: Also lost his job – wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in.

As noted above, Lincoln actually “lost his job” in 1831, and the notion that in 1832 Lincoln “wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in” (why he couldn’t get in remains unspecified) is both inaccurate and an anachronism. Lincoln did eventually become a lawyer, and he accomplished the feat in the manner typical of his time and place: not by attending law school, but by reading law books and observing court sessions. He was indeed interested in becoming a lawyer as early as 1832, but, as Lincoln biographer Donald wrote, “on reflection he concluded that he needed a better education to succeed.”

1833: Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt.

Lincoln and William F. Berry, a corporal from Lincoln’s militia company, purchased a general store in New Salem, Illinois, in 1833. (Lincoln had no money for his half he didn’t technically “borrow the money from a friend” but instead signed a note with one of the previous owners for his share.) Lincoln and Berry were competing against a larger, well-organized store in the same town their outfit did little business, and within a short time it had “winked out.”

The debt on the store became due the following year, and since Lincoln was unable to pay off his note, his possessions were seized by the sheriff. Moreover, when Lincoln’s former partner died with no assets soon afterwards, Lincoln insisted upon assuming his partner’s half of the debt as well, even though he was not legally obligated to do so. Exactly how long it took Lincoln to pay off this debt (which he jokingly referred to as his “national debt”) in its entirety is unknown. It did take him several years, but not seventeen nor, as this statement implies, was he completely financially encumbered until it was paid in full. Within a few months of the store’s failure Lincoln had obtained a position as the New Salem postmaster, and by 1835 he was earning money both as a surveyor and as a state legislator.

1834: Ran for state legislature again – won.

In 1834 Lincoln was again one of thirteen candidates running for a seat in the state legislature, and this time he won, securing the second-highest vote total among the field.

1835: Was engaged to be married, sweetheart died and his heart was broken.

Much of Lincoln’s relationship with New Salem resident Ann Rutledge remains a mystery, and several aspects of it — including whether or not they were actually engaged (at the time they met, Ann was betrothed to someone else) — are based more on speculation than documented fact. Whatever the exact nature of their relationship, however, her death in the summer of 1835 appears to have affected Lincoln profoundly.

1836: Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.

Whether Lincoln experienced a “total nervous breakdown” in the aftermath of Ann Rutledge’s death is debatable, but the notion that he somehow found time to stay “in bed for six months” is not. After Ann’s funeral he spent a few weeks visiting an old friend, and within a month of her death he had resumed his occasional surveying duties. He surveyed the nearby town of Petersburg in February 1836, undertook a strenuous two-month campaign for re-election during the summer, and served in the state legislature throughout the year. All of this would have been difficult for a man who spent “six months in bed.”

1838: Sought to become speaker of the state legislature – defeated.

By the time of the 1838-39 legislative session, Lincoln had twice been an unsuccessful Whig candidate for the position of speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. This was a relatively minor political setback, however, and no mention is made here of the fact that by 1838 he was one of the most experienced members of the legislature, or of any of the other notable successes he achieved between 1834 and 1838, namely:

  • He was re-elected to the state legislature in 1836 and 1838, both times receiving more votes than any other candidate.
  • The Illinois Supreme Court licensed him to practice law in 1837.
  • He became the partner of “one of the most prominent and successful lawyers in Springfield” (where he now lived).

1840: Sought to become elector – defeated.

This statement is erroneous. Lincoln was named as a presidential elector at the Illinois state Whig convention on 8 October 1839, and he campaigned as a Whig elector during the 1840, 1844, 1852, and 1856 presidential elections (skipping the 1848 campaign because he was serving in Congress).

1843: Ran for Congress – lost.

One could claim this as a Lincoln failure in that he wanted to be a Congressman and failed to achieve that goal, but it is technically inaccurate to claim that he “ran for Congress” in 1843 and lost: The election was held in 1844, and Lincoln was not a candidate in that election. Lincoln’s failure to achieve his party’s nomination at the May 1843 Whig district convention is undoubtedly what is referred to here.

1846: Ran for Congress again – this time he won – went to Washington and did a good job.

Lincoln won a seat as an Illinois representative to the U.S. Congress in 1846.

1848: Ran for re-election to Congress – lost.

Lincoln did not “lose” the 1848 election. He did not run for re-election because Whig policy at the time specified that party members should step aside after serving one term to allow other members to take their turns at holding office. Lincoln, a faithful party member, complied.

1849: Sought the job of land officer in his home state – rejected.

The position referred to here was commissioner of the General Land Office, a federal position, not a state one, and one that came with a fair amount of power and patronage. Since Lincoln’s term in Congress was about to expire, his friends urged him to apply for this post, but Lincoln was reluctant to give up his law career. He finally agreed to apply for the job when the choice was deadlocked between two other Illinois candidates and it looked like the appointment might therefore go to a compromise candidate from outside of Illinois. Whigs from northern Illinois then decided that too many appointments were going to party members from other parts of the state and put up their own candidate against Lincoln. The choice was left to the Secretary of the Interior, who selected the other candidate.

1854: Ran for Senate of the United States – lost.

In Lincoln’s time, U.S. senators were not elected through direct popular vote they were appointed by state legislatures. In Illinois, voters cast ballots only for state legislators, and the General Assembly of the state legislature then selected nominees to fill open U.S. Senate seats. So, in 1854 (and again in 1856) Lincoln was not technically running for the Senate he was campaigning on behalf of Whig candidates for state legislature seats all throughout Illinois. Nonetheless, after the 1854 state election, Lincoln made it known that he sought the open U.S. Senate seat for Illinois. The first ballot of a divided General Assembly was taken in February 1855, and Lincoln received the most votes but was six votes shy of the requisite majority. When the process remained deadlocked after another eight ballots, Lincoln withdrew from the race to lend his support to another candidate and ensure that the Senate seat did not go to a pro-slavery Democrat.

1856: Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention – got less than 100 votes.

This is both misleading and inaccurate. Lincoln did not “seek” the vice-presidential nomination at the 1856 Republican national convention in Philadelphia his name was put into nomination by the Illinois delegation after most national delegates were already committed to other candidates. (Lincoln himself was back in Illinois, not at the convention, and did not know he had been nominated until friends brought him the news.) Nonetheless, in an informal ballot, Lincoln received 110 votes out of 363, not at all a bad showing for someone who was little known outside his home state.

1858: Ran for U.S. Senate again – again he lost.

Again, Lincoln was not directly campaigning for a Senate seat, although it was a foregone conclusion that he would be the Republicans’ choice to take Stephen Douglas’ U.S. Senate seat if his party won control of the Illinois state legislature. Lincoln actually bested Douglas in the sense that Republican legislative candidates statewide received slightly over 50% of the popular vote, but the Republicans failed to gain control of the state legislature, and Douglas therefore retained his seat in the Senate.

1860: Elected president of the United States.

And again in 1864. A pretty good ending for someone who wasn’t quite the perennial failure this glurge makes him out to be.