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Dreaming in the White House

by Robert Moss


Barack Obama pays attention to night dreams and isn’t shy about saying so. In Dreams from My Father he recounts two powerful dreams, in one of which he achieved a reconciliation with his father a year after his father’s death.

Obama is not the first elected President of the United States who has found guidance in dreams and been willing to share them. The Founding Fathers were dreamers of the day in the sense that they grew the vision of a new kind of democracy. They included dreamers of the night like John Adams, the second president of the United States.

After Adams left the White House, his friend Dr Benjamin Rush proposed that – given the keen interest in dreams that they shared – they should send each other dream reports by letter on a regular basis. Adams agreed to match Dr Rush "dream for dream". The remarkable epistolary dream-swapping that followed demonstrated how dreams guided John Adam’s thinking on many political issues. One of his dreams was instructive about the consequences of the French Revolution. Adams dreamed he was in front of the palace of Versailles, trying to lecture on the requirements for a civilized democracy to a vast mob of wild beasts. They howled him down and tried to tear him limb from limb.

In 1809, when Adams was no longer on speaking terms with his former friend Thomas Jefferson, Rush sent Adams a dream containing a summary of a page from a "future history of the United States". In this future history, it was stated that Adams and Jefferson reconciled and eventually "sank into the grave nearly at the same time." Every part of this dream was fulfilled. Adams and Jefferson died within hours of each other, an astounding synchronicity, seventeen years after this dream, on July 4, 1826.

Abraham Lincoln was another dreamer in the White House. He believed that we can have knowledge of the future through dreams and "presentiments" and that such knowledge is in no way supernatural but is rather "preternatural" – beyond what we ordinarily know, but not above nature.

It’s well-known that Abraham Lincoln dreamed of his assassination a couple of weeks before he was shot. Few of us know the fuller story of how this dream haunted Lincoln, and how he tried to get a second opinion on it. The source is Lincoln’s friend and aide Colonel Ward Hill Lamon, who was present when he told the dream.

Early in April, 1865, Mary Lincoln pressed her husband to explain his prevailing sadness and "want of spirit." Lincoln responded in a roundabout way, talking about how the Bible is full of dreams and visions. "If we believe the Bible, we must accept the fact that in the old days God and His angels came to men in their sleep and made themselves known by dreams."

Lincoln then revealed that he had been oppressed by a terrible dream and had used the Bible to try to get a reading on whether the dream was true or false. He opened his Bible at random and found the huge dream vision of Jacob’s ladder in chapter 28 of Genesis. He tried again and again. It seemed that every time he opened his Bible, he found yet another account of a true dream or a divinely inspired vision. "I turned to other passages and seemed to encounter a dream or vision wherever I looked."

In using the Bible as a book oracle in this way, Lincoln was doing something well understood by the "simple people" of his time, reading "signs" and dreams together. In the dream that troubled him, Lincoln seemed to awaken into a deathly stillness. Then he heard sobbing. He roamed the White House, trying to understand what was going on. The rooms were all brightly lit but he found no one until he entered the East Room and met with a "sickening surprise". Soldiers stood guard over a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. When Lincoln demanded, "Who is dead in the White House?" one of the soldiers replied, "The President - he was killed by an assassin!" A great howl of grief rose from mourners in the room. Waking, Lincoln was unable to sleep for the rest of the night and turned to the Bible for help.

After he shared his dream with his wife and friend, Lincoln decided that, despite his feelings and the biblical reminders about dream prophecy, his assassination dream was "only a dream" and should be forgotten. But it haunted him. A few days later, he was still struggling with it, trying to reason that (as he told Lamon) it could hold no dangers for him because it was "some other fellow" that was killed.

We can’t know whether Lincoln could have escaped his appointment with his assassin in Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865 had he done more with his dream. We do know that in at least one of those Bible stories he studied – the story of how Joseph counseled Pharaoh on his dream – clarifying the facts of a dream about the future and then taking appropriate action changed the future for the better.

If we can read "future history" in our dreams, as John Adams’ friend did, then maybe we can use that information to navigate towards the future we want. It’s good to imagine that in the Obama White House they may be open to reading the "future pages" that open in dreams.

Based on the book The Secret History of Dreaming © 2009 Robert Moss. Printed with permission. www.mossdreams.com  

Robert Moss is the author of The Secret History of Dreaming and The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination. His website is www.mossdreams.com.


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