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[Library of Congress]
16th President (1861-1865)
Education: largely self educated
Occupation: merchant, postmaster, surveyor, lawyer
Political Affiliation: Whig, Republican
Religious Affiliation: none
Summary of Religious Views:
Abraham Lincoln loved to read the Bible, but he was never a Christian. In his younger days he was described by friends and associates as either an infidel or an atheist, but as he grew older his views moderated, and he came to believe in a providential God. However, even in his later years, he almost never made reference to Jesus or Christ, and never in such a way as to indicate a belief in the divinity of Jesus.
Views on Religion & Politics:
"A charge having got into circulation in some of the neighborhoods of this District, in substance that I am an open scoffer at Christianity, I have by the advice of some friends concluded to notice the subject in this form. That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or any denomination of Christians in particular. It is true that in early life I was inclined to believe in what I understand is called the "Doctrine of Necessity" -- that is, that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control; and I have sometimes (with one, two or three, but never publicly) tried to maintain this opinion in argument. The habit of arguing thus however, I have, entirely left off for more than five years. And I add here, I have always understood this same opinion to be held by several of the Christian denominations. The foregoing, is the whole truth, briefly stated, in relation to myself, upon this subject.
"I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion. Leaving the higher matter of eternal consequences, between him and his Maker, I still do not think any man has the right thus to insult the feelings, and injure the morals, or the community in which he may live. If, then, I was guilty of such conduct, I should blame no man who should condemn me for it; but I do blame those, whoever they may be, who falsely put such a charge in circulation against me." -- Handbill Replying to Charges of Infidelity, 31 July 1846
"I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell." -- Farewell Address, 11 February 1861
"The subject presented in the memorial is one upon which I have thought much for weeks past, and I may even say for months. I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the Divine will. I am sure that either the one or the other class is mistaken in that belief, and perhaps in some respects both. I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal his will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed he would reveal it directly to me; for, unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. And if I can learn what it is I will do it! These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect a direct revelation. I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be wise and right." -- Reply to Emancipation Memorial Presented by Chicago Christians of All Denominations, 13 September 1862
"The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party; and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect his purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true; that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power on the minds of the now contestants, he could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun, he could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds." -- fragment, September 1862
"And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord:
"And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
"It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness." -- Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day, 30 March 1863
"I have not forgotten--probably never shall forget--the very impressive occasion when yourself and friends visited me on a Sabbath forenoon two years ago. Nor has your kind letter, written nearly a year later, ever been forgotten. In all, it has been your purpose to strengthen my reliance on God. I am much indebted to the good Christian people of the country for their constant prayers and consolations; and to no one of them, more than to yourself. The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay." -- letter to Eliza P. Gurney, 4 September 1864
"One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!' If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether'.
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." -- Second Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865
"The only assurance of our nation's safety is to lay our foundation in morality and religion." -- This quotation has not been found anywhere in Lincoln's recorded writings or speeches, as has been acknowledged by David Barton.
"My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them" -- This quotation has not been found anywhere in Lincoln's recorded writings or speeches. It is usually attributed to a letter from Lincoln to Judge J. A. Wakefield, but the letter seems difficult to track down. (See the discussion in Paul F. Boller & John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989, p. 93.) However, contrary to Boller & George, there was a John A. Wakefield who was active in the abolitionist cause & Kansas politics at that time. [see, for example, John Allen Wakefield or John A. Wakefield]
"I do not pretend to be a prophet. But though not a prophet, I see a very dark cloud on our horizon. And that dark cloud is coming from Rome. It is filled with tears of blood. It will rise and increase, till its flank will be torn by a flash of lightning, followed by a fearful peal of thunder. Then a cyclone such as the world has never seen, will pass over this country, spreading ruin and desolation from north to south. After it is over, there will be long days of peace and prosperity: for Popery with its Jesuits an merciless Inquisitions, will have been forever swept away from our country. Neither I nor you, but our children, will see those things." -- This quotation, sometimes called "Lincoln's Warning," was written by Charles Chiniquy, who falsely attributed it to Lincoln. (See the discussion in Paul F. Boller & John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989, pp. 79-80.)
"But when I consider the law of justice, and expiation in the death of the Just, the divine Son of Mary, on the mountain of Calvary, I remain mute in my adoration. The spectacle of the crucified one which is before my eyes, is more than sublime, it is divine! Moses died for his people's sake, but Christ died for the whole world's sake! . . . Now, would it not be the greatest of honors and privileges bestowed upon me, if God in his infinite love, mercy, and wisdom would put me between His faithful servant, Moses, and his eternal Son, Jesus, that I might die as they did, for my nation's sake!" -- This quotation was written by Charles Chiniquy, who falsely attributed it to Lincoln. (See the discussion in Paul F. Boller & John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989, pp. 86-87.)
"When I left Springfield, I asked people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I do love Jesus." -- This quotation, which has not been found anywhere in Lincoln's recorded writings or speeches, appears to have originated in a book by O. H. Oldroyd, who admitted that he couldn't remember where the quotation came from. (See the discussion in Paul F. Boller & John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989, p. 91)
"I know there is a God and that He hates injustice and slavery. I see a storm coming, and I know that His hand is in it. If He has a place and work for me -- and I think He has -- I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. I know I am right because liberty is right, for Christ teaches it and Christ is God." -- There was considerable controversy about this statement at the time it was first published, but it is now generally accepted that it is not an accurate quotation. (See the discussion in Paul F. Boller & John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989, pp. 90-91.)
"I have never known a worthwhile man who became too big for his boots or his bible." -- Although it sounds like something Lincoln might have said, this quotation has not been found anywhere in Lincoln's recorded writings or speeches. (See the discussion in Paul F. Boller & John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989, p. 82.)
"The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next." -- This quotation has not been found anywhere in Lincoln's recorded writings or speeches, as has been acknowledged by David Barton.
References, Links, & Further Reading: Books, Articles, Links
John Coleman Adams, "Lincoln's Place in History," The Century, Vol. 47, Iss. 4, February 1894, pp. 590-596
Robert Green Ingersoll, "On Abraham Lincoln," (Internet Infidels)
James Russell Lowell, "Abraham Lincoln," (World Wide School Library) [alternate site]
Jim Martin, "The Secret Baptism of Abraham Lincoln," Restoration Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 2
Benjamin P. Thomas, "Abe Lincoln, Country Lawyer," The Atlantic Monthly, February 1954, pp. 57-61
Henry Villard, "Recollections of Lincoln," The Atlantic Monthly, February 1904, pp.165-174
Garry Wills, "Lincoln's Greatest Speech?," The Atlantic Monthly, September 1999, pp. 60-70
Douglas L. Wilson, "Keeping Lincoln's Secrets," The Atlantic Monthly, May 2000, pp. 78-88
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