I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for; that something even more than National Independence; that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come; I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.
In this remarkable reflection, Lincoln coins a fascinating phrase. America, he argues, is an “almost chosen people.” Lincoln seems to suggest that the original chosen nation, biblical Israel, was formed not merely for a national existence, but for something higher and greater, so that all families of the world would be blessed. America’s story is parallel to, and an imitation of, Israel’s. The story of the birth of the American founding is about more than “national independence”; it is about an “original idea” of liberty and equality, one that holds out “a great promise” for all the world. This imitation of Israel, for Lincoln, is the heart of American exceptionalism.