Search      Hot    Newest Novel
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 Of no other American have so many biographies been written as of Abraham Lincoln. No other question concerning his life has evoked more interest than that of his religious faith and experience. What Abraham Lincoln believed has been told by many who knew him and whose varied relations to him during his lifetime rendered it not unreasonable to suppose that they could give some assured answer to the question of his belief. The answers are not only varied, but hopelessly contradictory. It is stated on apparently good authority that in his young manhood he read Volney's Ruins and Paine's Age of Reason, and it is affirmed that he accepted their conclusions, and himself wrote what might have been a book or pamphlet denying the essential doctrines of the Christian faith as he understood them. Friends of his who knew him well enough to forbid the throwing of their testimony out of court have affirmed that he continued to hold these convictions; and that, while he became more cautious in the matter of their expression, he carried them through life and that they never underwent any radical change. On the other hand, there are declarations, made by those who also knew Lincoln well, that these views became modified essentially, and that Lincoln accepted practically the whole content of orthodox Christian theology as it was then understood; that he observed daily family worship in his home; that he carried a Bible habitually upon his person; and that he was in short in every essential a professed Christian, though never a member of a Christian church. There is more than a conflict of testimony; there is posi[Pg 20]tive chaos. Every recent biographer has felt the inherent difficulties involved in it. One or two of them have passed it over with practically no mention; others have become fierce partisans of the one extreme or the other.
Besides the formal biographies, a literature of this special topic has grown up. Entire books and many pamphlets and magazine articles have been written on this one question. The Chicago Historical Society and the Chicago Public Library have each devoted a principal division in the Lincoln material to the literature relating to his religion. It has been the writer's privilege to examine in both these libraries and in several others the whole known body of literature of the subject.
In this investigation the writer came face to face with utterly contradictory testimony from men who had known Abraham Lincoln intimately.
Of him Mr. Herndon, for twenty years his law partner, said:
"As to Mr. Lincoln's religious views, he was, in short, an infidel.... Mr. Lincoln told me a thousand times that he did not believe the Bible was the revelation of God as the Christian world contends."—Lamon: Life of Lincoln, p. 489.
The direct antithesis of this statement is found in a narrative of Hon. Newton Bateman, who knew Mr. Lincoln from 1842 until Mr. Lincoln's death, and whose office was in the State House at Springfield next-door to that which, for a period of eight months from the time of his nomination till his departure for his inauguration, was occupied by Mr. Lincoln. He affirmed (or at least was so quoted by Holland) that Mr. Lincoln said to him:
"I know there is a God, and that He hates injustice and slavery. I see the 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 I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God."—J. G. Holland: Life of Lincoln, p. 237.
[Pg 21]
Popular oratory has carried even farther these two extremes of irreconcilable contradiction. On the one hand are to be found scurrilous publications, shockingly offensive against all good taste, declaring Lincoln to have been an atheist, a mocker, a hypocrite, a man of unclean mind, and a violator in his speech of all canons of decency. We will not quote from any of these at present; but of the length to which the other extreme can go, has gone, and continues to go, let the following incident, gleaned from a recent English book, serve as an illustration:
"In the year 1861 the Southern States of America were filled with slaves and slaveholders. It was proposed to make Abraham Lincoln president. But he had resolved that if he came to that position of power he would do all he could to wipe away the awful scourge from the page of his nation's history. A rebellion soon became imminent, and it was expected that in his inaugural address much would be said respecting it. The time came. The Senate House was packed with people; before him was gathered the business skill and the intellectual power of the States. With one son lying dead in the White House, whom he loved with a fond father's affection; another little boy on the borders of eternity; with his nation's eternal disgrace or everlasting honor resting upon his speech, he speaks distinctly, forcefully, and without fear. Friend and foe marvel at his collected movements. They know of the momentous issues which hang on his address. They know the domestic trials that oppress his heart. But they do not know that, before leaving home that morning, the President had taken down the family Bible and conducted their home worship as usual, and then had asked to be left alone. The family withdrawing, they heard his tremulous voice raised in pleadings with God, that He whose shoulder sustains the government of worlds would guide him and overrule his speech for His own glory. Here was the power of this man's strength."—G. H. Morgan: Modern Knights-Errant, p. 104; quoted in Hastings' Great Texts of the Bible, volume on "Isaiah," pp. 237-38.
This incident is now an integral part of the best and most recent homiletic work in the English language, and will be[Pg 22] used in thousands of sermons and addresses. It is a story that carries its own refutation in almost every line. Mr. Lincoln had no son either sick or dead and lying in the White House or anywhere else at the time of his first inaugural, nor had he as yet entered the White House; and the hours of that day are fairly well accounted for; but this and similar incidents illustrate the length to which the oratorical imagination may carry a speaker either in the pulpit or on the platform, and not only be preserved in books but pass the supposedly critical eye of a careful compiler of material for sermons and lectures.
If another book is justified, it should be one that does more than compile that part of the evidence which appears to support a particular theory. The compilation should be as nearly complete as is humanely possible. But it must do more than plunge the reader into this swamp of conflicting testimony. It must somehow seek to evaluate the evidence and present a reasonable conclusion.
Moreover, in the judgment of the present writer, religion is more than opinion, and cannot be considered as a detachable entity. Lincoln's religion was more than his belief, his conjecture, his logical conclusion concerning particular doctrines. It can only be properly appraised in connection with his life. While, therefore, the writer does not now undertake a complete biography of Lincoln, though cherishing some hope that he may eventually write a book of that character, this present work endeavors to study the religion of Lincoln not in detachment, but as part and parcel of his life.
A word may be said concerning the author's point of view and the experience which lies behind it. In his early manhood he had an experience of several years which he considers of value as affording a background for the interpretation of the Lincoln material. For several years the author taught school and afterward preached in the mountain region of Kentucky and Tennessee amid social conditions essentially parallel to those in which Mr. Lincoln was born and amid which he spent his manhood up to the time of his going to Washington. The same kind of preaching that Lincoln heard, not only in[Pg 23] Kentucky but in the backwoods of Indiana and the pioneer villages of central and southern Illinois, the present author heard in his own young manhood as a teacher in district schools far back beyond the sound of the locomotive's whistle or the inroads of modern civilization. How that kind of preaching affected the inquiring mind of the young Lincoln, the author is sure he knows better than most of Lincoln's biographers have known. The fierce theological controversies that waged between the old-time Baptists and the itinerant Methodists, together with the emphatic dogmatism of the Southern type of Presbyterianism as it was held and preached in the Kentucky mountains forty years ago and in southern Illinois and Indiana eighty years ago are part of the vivid memory of the present writer. A young man who refused to accept this kind of teaching might be charged with being an infidel, and might easily suppose himself to be one; but whether that would be a just or fair classification depends upon conditions which some of the controversialists appear not to have known or to have been capable of appreciating through lack of experience of their own.
This book attempts, therefore, to be a digest of all the available evidence concerning the religious faith of Abraham Lincoln. It undertakes also to weigh that evidence and to pass judgment, the author's own judgment, concerning it. If the reader's judgment agrees with the author's, the author will be glad; but if not at least the facts are here set forth in their full essential content.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved