Lincoln's Battle with God: A President's Struggle with Faith and What It Meant for America
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Abraham Lincoln is the most beloved of all U.S. presidents. He freed the slaves, gave the world some of its most beautiful phrases, and redefined the meaning of America. He did all of this with wisdom, compassion, and wit.
Yet, throughout his life, Lincoln fought with God. In his early years in Illinois, he rejected even the existence of God and became the village atheist. In time, this changed but still he wrestled with the truth of the Bible, preachers, doctrines, the will of God, the providence of God, and then, finally, God’s purposes in the Civil War. Still, on the day he was shot, Lincoln said he longed to go to Jerusalem to walk in the Savior’s steps.
What had happened? What was the journey that took Abraham Lincoln from outspoken atheist to a man who yearned to walk in the footsteps of Christ?
In this thrilling journey through a largely unknown part of American history, New York Times best-selling author Stephen Mansfield tells the richly textured story of Abraham Lincoln’s spiritual life and draws from it a meaning sure to inspire Americans today.
was only seven, though it is likely that memories of the wider world passing by on the Cumberland Trail near his home stuck in his mind. He would have remembered more of Indiana, of course. The woods, the years learning his father’s carpentry trade and the awakening of his love of learning and books would have filled his memory. So, too, would his sufferings. The death of his mother was too horrible to contemplate for long. Then, years later, there was the loss of his best friend—his sister,
have been little more than his depression driving his perceptions of spiritual things. Whatever the cause, believing himself cursed made God his enemy, the cause of his sufferings, the unjust deity who punished a man without even explaining why. A battle had begun, then, between Lincoln and this capricious God who caused him so much pain. If Herndon was right about this feature of his friend’s thinking—and there is good reason to believe he was—it explains much about Lincoln’s tortured journey of
president, which was dry and frequently interrupted by giggling women, late-coming senators, and the great ordeal of seating Mrs. Lincoln in the gallery. Andrew Johnson was next, and he did not speak long before everyone in the room realized he was drunk; he had been suffering an illness and had medicated himself with whiskey. It was an embarrassment that ended with a boozy kiss of the Bible on which he had just taken the oath of office. A humiliated Lincoln turned to a marshall and whispered,
believe they had heard correctly. Lincoln had come close to prosecuting the South but had turned, instead, to prosecuting the nation. The president insisted the war was no accident and was not caused by either North or South alone. Instead, God gave the war. Yes, God, and he did so as payment for sin—the sin of American slavery. And isn’t this just what we know of God’s justice and righteous judgments? Nonetheless, Lincoln said, Americans should pray the season of judgment passed quickly—“that
1:212. 39. Hertz, Hidden Lincoln, 409. 40. Nicolay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln, 212. 41. Author interview with James M. Cornelius of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, Illinois, August 16, 2011. 42. Hertz, Hidden Lincoln, 103. 43. William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon’s Lincoln, Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, eds. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 290. 44. Brooks, Washington in Lincoln’s Time, 220–22. 45. Temple, From Skeptic to Prophet, 140.