Scarcely two years before his inauguration, Abraham Lincoln had discouraged political supporters from suggesting his name for president, stating “I must, in candor say, I do not think myself fit for the presidency.” Whether feigned or real, his self-effacing remark was ignored by a multitude of followers, most of whom, captivated by the moral strength and the intellectual might of Lincoln’s attack on slavery, viewed him as a champion of liberty.

Being president brought little reward to Lincoln, who could not escape the weight of war, which once bore so heavily upon him that he declared, “If there is a place worse than hell, I am in it.” The strain was increasingly evident in his gaunt and saddened visage. Lincoln found some solace in his belief that neither side, the North nor the South, controlled events. He believed that God, having willed the removal of a great wrong, was extracting payment for the complicity of both sides in that wrong.