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Abraham Lincoln


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Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
The 16th President of the United States (1861-1865)
United States Flag

Lincoln’s closest associate, William Herndon, while describing the sheer complexity of Lincoln’s religious views, stated that Lincoln was “at times, an atheist”; in describing Lincoln’s unshaking belief in the existence of a form of "providence" of some kind, Eric Hoffer, in his groundshaking book, The True Believer, listed Lincoln as an example of a "positive True Believer"

Abraham LincolnMy 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.
-- Abraham Lincoln, to Judge J S Wakefield, after Willie Lincoln's death (Willie died in 1862), quoted by Joseph Lewis in "Lincoln the Freethinker," also appearing in Remsburg's "Six Historic Americans" (Authenticity questioned by some because it allegedly does not appear in Wakefield's papers [Andrew Lutes, persistent picker of insignificant separationist nits]; authenticity questioned by others who claim that Wakefield did not exist [forgotten web site which also featured all the regular and long-refuted arguments for Lincoln's Christian piety]. Go figure!)

What is to be, will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree.
-- Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Mary Todd Lincoln in William Herndon's Religion of Lincoln, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beleifs of Our Presidents, p. 118

It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to Infidelity.
-- Abraham Lincoln, Manford's Magazine, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 144

The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession.
-- Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Joseph Lewis in "Lincoln the Freethinker"

The only person who is a worse liar than a faith healer is his patient.
-- Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Victor J Stenger in Physics and Psychics

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.
-- Abraham Lincoln, sarcasm in his Second Innaugural Address (1865)

It is an established maxim and moral that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false is guilty of falsehood, and the accidental truth of the assertion does not justify or excuse him.
-- Abraham Lincoln, chiding the editor of a Springfield, Illinois, newspaper, quoted from Antony Flew, How to Think Straight, p. 17

Oh, that [his Thanksgiving Message] is some of Seward's nonsense, and it pleases the fools.
-- Abraham Lincoln, to Judge James M Nelson, in response to a question from Nelson: "I once asked him about his fervent Thanksgiving Message and twitted him with being an unbeliever in what was published." Quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 138

The United States government must not undertake to run the Churches. When an individual, in the Church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest he must be checked.
-- Abraham Lincoln, regarding the Churches, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 143

If there is no military need for the building, leave it alone, neither putting anyone in or out of it, except on finding some one preaching or practicing treason, in which case lay hands on him, just as if he were doing the same thing in any other building.
-- Abraham Lincoln, order relating to a church in Memphis, Tennessee, issued on May 13, 1864, Nicolay and Hay, Works of Abraham Lincoln, chapter on "Lincoln and the Churches," quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 143. In the same chapter Nicolay and Hay state that in order to prevent treasonable preaching, Secretary Stanton appointed Bishop Ames, of the Methodist Church, to be supervisor of all the Churches in a certain southern district. President Lincoln at once countermanded the order.

When the Know-Nothings get control, it [the Declaration of Independence] will read: "All men are created equal except negroes, foreigners and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.
-- Abraham Lincoln, letter to Joshua F Speed, August 24, 1855, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure....
     If today he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, "I see no probability of the British invading us," but he will say to you, "Be silent; I see it, if you don't."
-- Abraham Lincoln, in an 1848 letter to his law partner, William Herndon, criticizing Polk's decision to invade Mexico for the purpose of preventing future war (and, in essence, pointing out some of the flaws in what is now called the "Bush Doctrine of Preventative War"), quoted from a letter published in the Post Crescent by Jack Bradford, quoted from a December 26, 2003, letter to Cliff Walker by Robert Nordlander

There was the strangest combination of church influence against me. Baker is a Campbellite; and therefore, as I suppose with few exceptions, got all of that Church. My wife had some relations in the Presbyterian churches, and some in the Episcopal churches; and therefore, wherever it would tell, I was set down as either one or the other, while it was everywhere contended that no Christian ought to vote for me because I belonged to no Church, and was suspected of being a Deist and had talked of fighting a duel.
-- Abraham Lincoln, letter to Martin M Morris (March 26, 1843), in The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (Nicolay & Hay Edition, volume 1, page 80), quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents (page 112)

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Would God Show His Will For Me To Others and Not To Me?

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 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 that He would reveal it directly to me ... These are not, however, the days of miracles.... I must study the plain, physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible, and learn what appears to be wise and right.
-- Abraham Lincoln, in a speech to an assembly of clergymen regarding the struggles he was having over the Emancipation Proclamation that would soon be issued (1862), quoted from Susan Jacoby, "One Nation, Under Secularism" (January 8, 2004)

I have neither time nor disposition to enter into discussion with the Friend, and end this occasion by suggesting for her consideration the question whether, if it be true that the Lord has appointed me to do the work she has indicated, it is not probable that he would have communicated knowledge of the fact to me as well as to her.
-- Abraham Lincoln, to a Quaker (Friends) clergyman who had given him a message from the Lord, from Allen Thorndyke Rice, ed, Reminiscences of Lincoln, pp. 284-285, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 136

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Gettysburg: 'Under God' Inserted Long After Speech Given

We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
-- Abraham Lincoln, closing the Gettysburg Address, according to the Nicolay Draft (see photo, below), one of two that he wrote on the day he gave the address. Neither draft contains the phrase, "Under God" (quoted from a photo of the Nicolay Draft, below). Delivered at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863

Close of the Gettysburg Address, from the Nicolay Draft

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Ingersoll: Ask Those Who Knew and Loved Him

"In making up my mind as to what Mr. Lincoln really believed, I do not take into consideration the evidence of unnamed persons or the contents of anonymous letters; I take the testimony of those who knew and loved him, of those to whom he opened his heart and to whom he spoke in the freedom of perfect confidence."
-- Robert Green Ingersoll, who fought in the Union Army, "The Religious Belief of Abraham Lincoln," (May 28, 1896)

Mrs. Lincoln: Mr. Lincoln Not a Christian

"Mr. Lincoln's maxim and philosophy were: 'What is to be, will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree.' He never joined any Church. He was a religious man always, I think, but was not a technical Christian."
-- Mary Todd Lincoln in William Herndon's Religion of Lincoln, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beleifs of Our Presidents, p. 118

Mrs. Lincoln: No Hope or Faith in Usual Sense

"Mr. Lincoln had no hope, and no faith, in the usual acceptation of those words."
-- Mary Todd Lincoln, to Colonel Ward H Lamon, in his Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 459, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beleifs of Our Presidents, p. 118

Steiner: Holland Fabricated Lincoln's Piety

"When Dr. Holland asked Mr. Herndon about his partner's religoius convictions, Mr. Herndon replied that he had none, and the less he said on that subject the better. 'Oh well,' replied Dr. Holland, 'I'll fix that.'"
-- Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 112, on Dr. Josiah G Holland, later editor of Scribner's Monthly, having spent only two weeks interviewing Lincoln's friends before preparing his Biography, in which Holland fabricated accounts of Lincoln's piety

Herndon: Threw Religious Book on Table

"No one of Lincoln's old acquaintances in this city ever heard of his conversion to Christianity by Dr. Smith or anyone else. It was never suggested nor thought of here until after his death.... I never saw him read a second of time in Dr. Smith's book on Infidelity. He threw at down upon our table -- spit upon it as it were -- and never opened it to my knowledge."
-- William Herndon, quoted in Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beleifs of Our Presidents, p. 124

Field: Entirely Deficient in Reverence

"Mr. Lincoln was entirely deficient in what the phrenologists call reverence [veneration].... I was once in Mr. Lincoln's company when a sectarian controversy arose. He himself looked very grave, and made no observation until all the others had finished what they had to say. Then with a twinkle of the eye he remarked that he preferred the Episcopalians to every other sect, because they are equally indifferent to a man's religion and his politics."
-- Maunsell B Field, from Memories of Many Men, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beleifs of Our Presidents, p. 137

Nelson: Same Opinion as Ingersoll

"In religion, Mr. Lincoln was about of the same opinion as Bob Ingersoll, and there is no account of his ever having changed. He went to church a few times with his family while he was President, but so far as I have been able to find out, he remained an unbeliever. Mr. Lincoln in his younger days wrote a book, in which he endeavored to prove the fallacy of the plan of salvation and the divinity of Christ."
-- Judge James M Nelson, who had an intimate acquaintance with Lincoln in Washington, in the Louisville Times, in 1887, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beleifs of Our Presidents, p. 137

World: Partially Concealed Infidel, Not a Christian

"While it may be fairly said that Mr. Lincoln entertained many Christian sentiments, it cannot be said that he was himself a Christian in faith or practice. He was no disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. He did not believe in his divinity and was not a member of his Church.
     "He was at first a writing Infidel of the school of Paine and Volney, and afterwards a talking Infidel of the school of Parker and Channing....
     "If the Churches had grown cold -- if the Christians had taken a stand aloof -- that instant the Union would have perished. Mr. Lincoln regulated his religious manifestations accordingly. He declared frequently that he would do anything to save the Union, and among the many things he did was the partial concealment of his individual religious opinions. Is this a blot upon his fame? Or shall we all agree that it was a conscientious and patriotic sacrifice?"
-- The New York World (about 1875), quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beleifs of Our Presidents, pp. 138-39

Globe: Tad's 'Bible' is a Photo Album

"The pretty little story about the picture of President Lincoln and his son Tad reading the Bible is now corrected for the one-hundredth time. The Bible was Photographer Brady's picture album, which the President was examining with his son while some ladies stood by. The artist begged the President to remain quiet, and the picture was taken. The truth is better than fiction, even if its recital conflicts with a pleasing theory."
-- The Boston Globe, quoted in Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 139

Speed: Cautious Not to Offend Christians

"He was very cautious never to give expression to any thought or sentiment that would grate harshly upon a Christian's ear."
-- Joshua Speed, explaining at least some of Lincoln's extremely careful choice of language that was later used by Christians in attempts to "prove" Lincoln's Christian piety, in Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, quoted from A W Furches, personal letter to Cliff Walker (January 10, 2002)

Britannica: Far Removed from the Dogmatist

"The measure of his difference from most of the men who surrounded him is best gauged by his attitude toward the fundamentals of religion. For all his devotion to his cause he did not allow himself to believe that he knew the mind of God with regard to it. He was never so much the mystic as in his later days and never so far removed from the dogmatist. Here was the final flowering of that mood which appears to have lain at the back of his mind from the beginning -- his complete conviction of a reality of a supernatural world joined with a belief that it was too deep for man to fathom. His refusal to accept the 'complicated' statement of doctrines which he rejected, carried with it a refusal to predicate the purpose of the Almighty. Again, that singular characteristic, his power to devote himself wholly to a cause and yet to do so in such a detached, unviolent way that one is tempted to call it passionless. He retained nothing of the tribal forms of religion and was silent when they raged about him with a thousand tongues."
-- Encyclopædia Britannica, 14th ed., quoted in Franklin Steiner, The Religious Views of Our Presidents, p. 139-40

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