Lincoln’s Religious Values
Abraham Lincoln is a very well known figure of American History. He represents America, as well as many of its accomplishments. Almost every person in the in country knows about Lincoln. He was the 16th president of the United States of America. Some of his identifiers include the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves. He is known for being influential and having strong speeches. Something that people do not know much about is his personal life. He was raised a Christian, and more specifically with religious beliefs. Many of Lincoln’s speeches include religious references but he personally is not very religious. Lincoln has also believed in things that go against his religion. The question of Abraham Lincoln’s religion has been controversial on whether he was genuine or used it as a technique to win people over. People also wondered if he was not Christian, then what was he? Learning more about this aspect of Lincoln’s life helps give a better understanding of who he really was. There is more to the former president then is really known.
Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in Hardin County, Kentucky. He was born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln. Abraham and his siblings are said to have been named after Christian names. This is because at the time parents were required to give their children spiritual names. His other brother’s names were Isaacs, John, Thomas, and Jacob, all names from the bible. It was tradition that children were baptized with the names of those from the Old Testament. Whoever they were named after where said signify what we they would do in the future, in relation to the Lord. Growing up Lincoln’s family was apart of a Baptist church. Some of the morals of the church included opposing alcohol and slavery. Lincoln’s family was deeply involved in their church and spent much time helping out there. As a child he moved around a lot, and not everyplace he lived had a church, which could have affected him in the future. His mother also died when he was a child, and he greatly depended on his older sister. This disrupted what was considered a normal family life. His mother was the one who was the most religious in the family, and without her Lincoln seemed to change. His sister also died a short time after. Abraham’s father remarried, and then he had to deal with a stepfamily. Lincoln did form a close relationship with his new family, especially his stepmother. It is unknown what religion they were. Later in life Lincoln followed traditional values and got married, and then had his children. As an adult Abraham Lincoln never joined a church. After the death of his son, it is said that he lost faith. Some sources say that Lincoln wrote a paper that challenged the views of the Christian faith, but it was later destroyed for fear of it coming up in the future. It is possible that his lack of religion is derived from all deaths that occurred in his family. He lost most of the people that were close to him.
Although it is uncertain whether or not Lincoln was religious, it is a fact that he was spiritual. Lincoln was less caught up with the specifics of the bible and more into plain faith. People close to him said that he never went to church or said grace. At the time not saying grace was a bit uncommon. Lincoln even spoke in a more spiritual way. One famous quote that shows his spirituality was said during the civil war. Lincoln said, “I am not at all concerned about that…But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side” (Abraham Lincoln). He hints that there is a predetermined destiny that cannot be avoided. That does not go along with Christian views, but does show that he believes in a higher power. There are some reports and Lincoln was apart of activities that go against a Christian religion. It has been recorded that Lincoln once dabbled in the occult. This was said to have happened after his son died, and Lincoln and his wife tried to communicate with him. If Lincoln did actually believe in this, he would not be the person he was made out to be. There are even some reports that have claimed Lincoln was psychic and predicted his own death, but there is no credibility to this.
The occult is linked to the belief of the paranormal. Some of the things that occultism deals with include alchemy, spirituality, and magic. In some extreme cases the occult can be linked to types of devil worship, but the president was not involved in that. Lincoln turned to this in an attempt to contact one of deceased sons. It was reported that this all started because of his wife Mary Todd. After Mary lost a second son she became very depressed. Their son Willie died at the age of 12 of tuberculosis. Nine years later their son Thomas died at the age of 18 of heart failure. In the White House she had séances, which is done in attempt to communicate with the dead. She tried to communicate with Willie. She talked to many different mediums. To their dismay they were never able to contact their deceased son. Lincoln did get involved, Mary needed Lincoln’s support, and he did not disappoint. Although Lincoln was skeptical about all of it, Mary believed in it her whole life. Mary was at one point put into a mental hospital. Even though Lincoln was only supporting his wife, if he were a strong Christian he would not have let his wife try it al all. According to Christian beliefs ghosts do not exists, so trying to communicate with them is not possible. Although this showed his lack of faith, it also showed that Lincoln was a caring family man.
In order to become successful in the political business Lincoln knew that Religion was necessary. In an election for congress Lincoln ran against Peter Cartwright. As part of the campaign Lincoln was accused of not being religious, which hurt him in the polls. He never confirmed or denied it. Later on he made changes in his campaigns. References to God were greatly present in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. His speech consisted of him saying how both the North and South pray to same God and read the same bible, and that God has specific purposes. His speech given at Gettysburg also used the expression “under God” multiple times. At his time of presidency the expression “In God We Trust” was engraved on the coins. It is evident that almost every speech he delivered somehow incorporated religion. Later on in 1864 as a present for granting freedom to slaves, some slaves gave him a Bible. He gratefully accepted it, and uttered words praising the bible about how important it is. In return some competitors were upset by his statement claiming he was faking his sincerity. They said he was too grateful by it, and he was a phony. Even today some books about him are not sure exactly how religious he was. Some published books claim he was extremely religious, while other claim quite the opposite. Sincere or not his speeches were successful.
Lincoln has been apart of many controversies during his life. His most famous was probably about slavery, but there is one that is less known. People speculate whether or not Lincoln was actually religious. Many people say that he was genuine and believed what he wrote and said, dealing with the bible and God. Other people argue that he was not at all religious at all, and that he manipulated people. He referenced the bible because he knew that it was what people wanted to hear. He knew that people would have more trust in him if he seemed to have a strong connection with God. Without all of the religion in his speeches, the election could have turned out differently. It is hard to imagine what his speech would be like if he did instill the faith on God to the American people. If that it true that the things said were not genuine, Lincoln would be seen in a different light, and possibly lose some of his credibility. When referring to Lincoln most people do not bring up religion because of how controversial it is. People like to think of Lincoln as the all American man and do not want to take away from his accomplishment with stories of silly controversies. Unfortunately Lincoln did not have the luxury of dying of natural causes, he was assassinated and killed. Since he was murdered it is hard to look at Lincoln in a negative light. People find it disrespectful to talk about him in a bad way considering he was murdered.
So what would Abraham Lincoln be considered? Lincoln could be what is considered deist, or had a belief in deism. According to TheFreeDictionary deism is “the belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life”. Basically deism is belief that uses observations but does not necessary include a specific religion. Contrary to popular belief deists are not the same thing as atheists. Deists do believe that there is a God, but do not think that he controls the world. The God or creator does not get involved in people’s lives, and miracles do not exist. Deism is more associated with spirituality. It was not uncommon for presidents or strong political figures to have this belief. In American history the founding fathers of the constitution were considered to believe in deism. This is because of the idea of freedom of religion that is apart of the constitution. It would not be impossible to consider that Lincoln may also have had this belief. There is also the idea of spiritual deism, which states the universe is a mystery. Abraham Lincoln considered himself a spiritual person, and fits the description of a deist. Although it cannot be proven, much evidence does point to this.
Lincoln has somewhat hinted about how he feels about Christianity. According to “The collective works of Lincoln” Lincoln has made statements on his beliefs. After being accused of lying Lincoln said, “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 of any denomination of Christians in particular”. He basically stated that he is not religious, but he has nothing against religion. It seems that he does somewhat believe in the Christians views, just not as much as others do. He was very smart not bring attention to his doubts. He would have lost a lot of respect if he disrespected Religion in any way. It appears that Abraham has no problem with Christian views or people that strongly believe in it, he just has a different outlook. It is this difference from other that made him the strong, influential person he was.
A lot has happened in Lincoln’s life that could have caused him to not have a specific religion. He had to suffer with the death of many people that were close to him, his mother, and even his children. After a loss like that it could have caused him to question a higher power. The reasons for his lack of faith are only speculation. His beliefs become a big deal because he was a famous person in the public eye, and there are always people who want to criticize. It is not uncommon for people to question the beliefs of a religion, but Lincoln had to live up to a certain images that previous presidents created for him. He was not a bad person. He did not believe in any satanic arts, or advertise his paranormal activities. Lincoln also did not enforce his personal views about religion upon anyone. He did what he had to do in order to become successful. Many people do it in politics. Some of what are the greatest accomplishments in American history could not have been possible without Lincoln. If Lincoln publically announced his beliefs he may not have been able to make a difference.
People’s ideas of Lincoln are very strong. If it were true that Lincoln was not Christian would people see him differently? I interviewed a college student from Illinois State University. Her name is Kathy Costis, and she has an interest in history. After talking about the controversy dealing with Lincoln’s religion I asked her opinion. When asked if her views of him changed, she said no. She said, “I don’t really care about what religion he was, he was a good president.” “He accomplished a lot, and should be remembered for that”(Costis). So even in today’s time the public likes to remember people how the media wanted them too. In school a lot is taught about Lincoln, but his religion is never mentioned. I also asked my father, Sam Perricone about Lincoln’s religious affiliation and he said, “I consider myself to know a lot about history, and even Lincoln, but I don’t have the slightest idea of what kind of beliefs he had”. When he was asked whether his views about Lincoln were changed he said, “No, but I do find it interesting that I have never thought about it before.” It is fascinating to find that most people have no knowledge about the controversy-surrounding president Lincoln. Prior to this assignment I had no idea about Lincoln’s religious values either.
Lincoln’s religious values are not as well known as other aspects of his life. The truth of his beliefs and intentions may never be known. Although he was born and raised a Baptist by his family, he did not continue the tradition in adulthood. His speeches were greatly influenced by the Bible. In his life Abraham Lincoln has done many things that proved he was religious, and well as things that prove he was not. It is no doubt that he was in a spiritual person. There are some arguments on how spiritual he was, and what he believed in. Many even consider him a deist. People will always argue that Lincoln was a fake when it came to Religion, and that he used it to gain trust. Publically people know who Lincoln was, but his private life is still a mystery. In some cases people do not want to know the truth, because it could taint the memory of prominent figure of American history. When the subject is brought up most people do not even know how to respond. Unless talking to an expert on Abraham Lincoln, chances are most Americans have no idea about the controversy on his religion. Regardless of the issues Lincoln will always be famous, and it all started in a little town in Kentucky.
Perricone, Sam. Personal interview. 25 November 2011.
Costis, Kathy. Personal interview. 30 November 2001.
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