Paralleling Lincoln: Chiasmus in David O. McKay’s Inaugural Address

davidomckay_ldsdotorg
David O. McKay (lds.org)

David O. McKay served as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from April 1951 until his death in January 1970. Prior to this, he served as a counselor in the First Presidency beginning in 1934 and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles beginning in 1906. Professionally, David O. McKay was an educator, serving as a teacher and principal at Weber Stake Academy (the forerunner of Weber State University) in Ogden, Utah.

President McKay is remembered for his prophet-esque physical appearance and countenance, the growth and expansion of the Church that occurred during his two-decade tenure, and his teachings: “Every member a missionary” and “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”

On April 9, 1951, David O. McKay was sustained by the Church’s worldwide membership as president of the Church, replacing President George Albert Smith who had passed away a week earlier. In his inaugural address, President McKay expressed his humility at his new responsibility, dedication to the work of the Lord, and need for the sustaining faith and prayers of Church members.

Abraham_Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln (1863)

To aid his expression President McKay paraphrased Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address, which was delivered on February 11, 1861 at the Great Western Railroad station in Springfield, Illinois before Lincoln departed for Washington D.C. to assume his duties as President of the United States. Lincoln biographer, Gabor Boritt, considers the Farewell Address Lincoln’s “finest poetry” up to that point in his life and Harriet Beecher Stowe considered it one of Lincoln’s three most beautiful addresses (The Gettysburg Gospel, 92, 159).

Chiasmus and parallelisms are distinctive features in both President McKay’s inaugural address and President Lincoln’s Farewell Address.* This article presents a diagram and detailed analysis of Lincoln’s brief Farewell Address, followed by a diagram and detailed analysis of the relevant paraphrasing passages from McKay’s inaugural address. For an in-depth explanation of our methodology read our article, “Recognizing Parallelisms and Chiasmus in the Scriptures,” under the Methodology tab.

[*Note: Chiasmus is a well-documented feature of Abraham Lincoln’s writings and speeches. For example, the chapter on “Chiasmus” in Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric references Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (1863), speech at Cooper Institute (1860), debate with Stephen Douglas at Ottawa (1858), letter to A. G. Hodges (1864), and letter to James Hackett (1863).]


Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address (1861)

#1: In this parallelism Abraham Lincoln attempts to express his “feeling of sadness” at leaving Springfield, Illinois. David O. McKay also had difficulty expressing his feelings in his inaugural address.

My friends —
No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting.
A: To this place, and the kindness of these people,
B: I owe every thing.
A: Here
B: I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man.
A: Here
B: my children have been born, and one is buried.

A=A: “[T]his place” equals “Here” and “Here,” referring to Springfield, Illinois and the community that had been his neighbors for “a quarter of a century.”

B=B: “[E]very thing” complements “lived a quarter of a century” and “my children have been born, and one is buried.” Abraham Lincoln lived nearly half of his life in Springfield, Illinois. This was long enough to put down deep roots, raise a family, and develop close relations. Following his assassination in 1865, President Lincoln was buried in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery.


#2: This chiasm expresses a sense of foreboding doom for President Lincoln, but also evidences his courage and patriotism in the face of serious personal danger.

A: I now leave,
B: not knowing when,
B: or whether ever,
A: I may return,

A=A: “[L]eave” contrasts with “return.” In departing from home, Lincoln naturally contemplates his eventual return.

B=B: “[W]hen” complements “ever.” Perhaps a premonition of his assassination, Lincoln does not know if he will ever return to Springfield. With the Civil War weeks away from beginning and several states having already left the Union, an ominous black cloud hung over the nation. President Lincoln would give his life to preserve the Union.


#3: In this parallelism Abraham Lincoln compares his task to preserve the Union with that of George Washington’s task to create or found the Union.

A: with a task
B: before me
A: greater than that which
B: rested upon Washington.

A=A: “[T]ask” compares to “greater than that.” Lincoln considers his “task” as president to be “greater than that” of any previous president.

B=B: “[M]e” compares to “Washington.” Lincoln specifically compares himself to George Washington, “Father of our Country,” General of the Continental Army, and first President of the United States. Instead of founding the nation, Lincoln would be preserving it — a task he considered to be “greater” or more difficult. Later, in his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln would once again draw a comparison to the nation’s founding and call for “a new birth of freedom.”


#4: This parallelism expresses Abraham Lincoln’s humility and complete reliance upon God. David O. McKay paraphrases this passage in his inaugural address.

A: Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him,
B: I cannot succeed.
A: With that assistance
B: I cannot fail.

A=A: “Without the assistance” contrasts with “With that assistance.” Lincoln refers to the “Divine Being” who oversaw the founding of the nation. His “assistance” was vital for both the founding and the preserving of the nation.

B=B: “I cannot succeed” contrasts with “I cannot fail.” Lincoln declares his complete dependence upon God. This parallelism is closely paraphrased by President McKay.


#5: This chiasm optimistically references God’s omnipresent nature.

A: Trusting in Him
B: who can go with me,
B: and remain with you
B: and be every where for good,
A: let us confidently hope that all will yet be well.

A=A: “Trusting” equals “confidently hope.” After declaring his complete dependence upon God for his task of preserving the nation, Lincoln encourages the people of Springfield to optimistically place their trust in God.

B=B: “[G]o with me” complements “remain with you” and “be every where for good.” Lincoln refers to the omnipresent nature of God.


#6: To conclude his Farewell Address, this parallelism expresses his desire that the people of Springfield pray for him as he prays for them.

A: To His care
B: commending you,
A: as I hope in your prayers
B: you will commend me,
I bid you an affectionate farewell.

A=A: “His care” complements “your prayers.” Lincoln will be praying for the people of Springfield and hopes they will be praying for him, as well.

B=B: “[C]ommending you” complements “commend me.” Through the power of their prayers, God will watch over both President Lincoln and the people of Springfield.


David O. McKay’s Inaugural Address (1951)

#1: This parallelism echoes the opening of Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address where he states, “No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting.” Both Lincoln and McKay had difficulty expressing their feelings on these momentous occasions and were humbled by their new responsibilities.

My beloved fellow workers, brethren and sisters
A: I wish it were
B: within my power of expression
C: to let you know
D: just what my true feelings are on this momentous occasion.
A: I would wish that
B: you might look into my heart
C: and see there for yourselves
D: just what those feelings are.

A=A: “I wish” equals “I would wish.” This parallelism expresses the “wish” of President McKay’s heart.

B=B: “[M]y power of expression” contrasts with “you might look into my heart.” Acknowledging his own lack of expressive abilities, President McKay wishes that his audience (the world-wide membership of the Church) would be able to discern for themselves what is in his heart.

C=C: “[L]et you know” contrasts with “see there for yourselves.” While he can’t communicate effectively, he wishes they could see for themselves. He desires for them to gain their own spiritual witness of his feelings and intentions.

D=D: “[M]y true feelings” equals “those feelings.” President McKay’s sincerity is evident from his desire for complete personal transparency.


#2: This complex chiasm is constructed of a chiasm (CDEEDC) and a parallelism (FGFG) framed by a chiasm (ABBA). The chiastic structure of this passage makes it clear that President McKay is speaking from the perspective of the First Presidency, not just his own.

A: The Lord has said that the three presiding high priests chosen by the body appointed and ordained to this office of presidency
B: are to be “upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the Church.”

C: No one can preside over this Church without first being in tune with
D: the head of the Church,
E: our Lord and Savior,
E: Jesus Christ.
D: He is our head.
C: This is his Church.

F: Without his divine guidance and constant inspiration,
G: we cannot succeed.
F: With his guidance, with his inspiration,
G: we cannot fail.

B: Next to that as a sustaining potent power, comes the confidence, faith, prayers, and united support of the Church.
A: I pledge to you that I shall do my best so to live as to merit the companionship of the Holy Spirit, and pray here in your presence that my counselors and I may indeed be “partakers of the divine spirit.”

mckay_conferencereport1951april_157
Conference Report, April 1951 (archive.org)

A=A: “[T]hree presiding high priests” equals “my counselors and I.” President McKay refers to the First Presidency, the highest governing body of the Church, which consists of the President of the Church and his counselors (see D&C 107:22). The new First Presidency, consisting of David O. McKay, Stephen L Richards, and J. Reuben Clark, will do their best to “merit the companionship of the Holy Spirit.”

B=B: “[C]onfidence, faith, and prayer of the Church” equals “confidence, faith, prayers, and united support of the Church.” The First Presidency are sustained by the membership of the Church (see D&C 107:22).

C=C: “[T]his Church” equals “His Church.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s authorized church (see D&C 1:30).

D=D: “[H]ead of the Church” equals “He is our head.” While the First Presidency is the highest governing body of the Church, Christ is the “head of the Church” and directs its affairs through revelation.

E=E: “Lord and Savior” equals “Jesus Christ.” The same Jesus Christ testified of in the New Testament and to whom the Christian world prays is the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

F=F: “Without his divine guidance and constant inspiration” contrasts “With his guidance, with his inspiration.” Paraphrasing Lincoln, President McKay acknowledges the needed “guidance” and “inspiration” that comes from God, who also inspired and guided Washington and Lincoln.

G=G: “[W]e cannot succeed” contrasts with “we cannot fail.” Like Lincoln, President McKay expresses his and his counselors’ complete dependence on God, their need for His “sustaining potent power,” and gives Him the credit for any success that may come during their tenure.


Conclusion:

With a professional background as an educator, David O. McKay was a widely and well-read individual. This is apparent from his paraphrasing of Abraham Lincoln to express his feelings at a parallel moment in his life. Although the sense of foreboding doom is absent from President McKay’s inaugural address, he is aware that his calling will only end with his death (which happened of natural causes at age 96). Retirement is not an option. Hence, McKay is also expressing courage and commitment. While McKay’s paraphrasing of Lincoln can be identified and appreciated without a knowledge of chiasmus, recognizing the presence of chiasmus in both addresses provides a more precise and nuanced understanding of their words and how they relate to each other.

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