Sarah Palin was repeating "Abraham Lincoln's words" in discussing the war in Iraq.
Sarah Palin on Thursday, September 11th, 2008 in Fairbanks, Alaska
Not far from Lincoln's sentiment
The questioner was ABC News' Charles Gibson. Gibson asked her, "You said recently in your old church, 'Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.' Are we fighting a Holy War?"
Palin: "That's a repeat of Abraham Lincoln's words, when he said, first he suggested, never presume to know what God's will is, and I would never presume to know God's will or to speak God's words, but what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that's a repeat in my comments, was, let us not pray that God is on our side, in a war, or any other time. But let us pray that we are on God's side. That's what that comment was all about, Charlie."
Gibson then followed up: "But you went on and said, 'There is a plan, and it is God's plan.'"
Here's the rest of their exchange:
Palin: "I believe that there is a plan for this world, and that plan for this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country, to be able to live and be protected within inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie. And I believe those are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That in my worldview is the grand plan."
Gibson: "Then, are you sending your son on a task from God?"
Palin: "I don't know if the task is from God, Charlie. What I know is that my son has made a decision. I am so proud of his independent and strong decision. What he decided to do, in serving for the right reasons in serving something greater than self, and not choosing a real easy path, where he could be more comfortable and certainly safer."
We decided to compare Palin's words and Lincoln's words side-by-side to see if Palin's words were a repeat of Abraham Lincoln's.
Palin made the original comments in June 2007 to the Wasilla Assembly of God. Her visit there had been videotaped and posted to the church's Web site. The video has since been removed, but copies are available on the Internet.
In the video, Palin is speaking informally to a group of students, talking about her family and discussing current events. She offers quotes from the Bible at times, and also makes enthusiastic, casual comments, at one point joking that the students are "a cool-looking bunch of Christians."
"My oldest, my son Track, is a soldier in the United States Army now. ... Pray for our military. He's going to be deployed in September to Iraq. Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."
We think it's important to note that Palin is asking the audience to "pray for" military men and women, and that national leaders are sending troops out "on a task that is from God." She even repeats "that's what we have to make sure that we're praying for." Gibson doesn't mention the words "pray for" when he questions her. Praying for something implies that you don't yet have it or that it there is some uncertainty, so it seems logical that Palin is expressing a hope that something is true, not a certainty.
Meanwhile, we tracked down Abraham Lincoln's words on God's will. The original source appears to be a book titled Six Months in the White House with Abraham Lincoln , written by Francis B. Carpenter and published in 1867, not long after Lincoln's death.
The following is from Page 282 of Carpenter's account:
"No nobler reply ever fell from the lips of a ruler, than that uttered by President Lincoln in response to the clergyman who ventured to say, in his presence, that he hoped 'the Lord was on our side.'
"'I am not at all concerned about that,' replied Mr. Lincoln, 'for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side.'"
In fairness, Lincoln's words do seem to express a greater degree of anxiety about being on God's side than Palin's. Lincoln is also rebuking a clergyman's inflated sense of moral piety, while Palin appears to be expressing solidarity with fellow believers. But Gibson's truncation of her comments — omitting the crucial words "pray for" — change the meaning of her comments from a wish to a certainty. Palin's and Lincoln's words are similar in that they both express a hope that a plan meets with God's favor. Granted, some people find any mention of God's will and warfare to be disturbing. But we find similarities between the two sets of comments. We find Palin's statement Mostly True.