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Investigating Lincoln's Faith

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John Paul Yun

on 8 August 2014

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Transcript of Investigating Lincoln's Faith

Investigating Lincoln's Faith
Second Inaugural Address, March 4th, 1865
The Political Rail Splitter (1860)

"The President's Inaugural,"

Guiding Questions:
"Lincoln the Railsplitter"
by Norman Rockwell (1965)
Abraham Lincoln's Classroom

A. Lincoln: Philosopher in Chief

"Abraham Lincoln's Religion"
“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad.
That's my religion."
William H. Herndon (1818-1891) was a law partner and close friend of Abraham Lincoln in which he called, "my man always above all other men on the globe". He also composed the first biography of Lincoln in 1889.
What are some conclusions you can make about his faith and how it affected his presidency?
Was it beneficial or hurtful to his presidency?
Did his personal views get in the way of his public duties?
By John Paul Yun
and how it affected his presidency.
For middle school learners!
Through the lens of primary and secondary sources
1. What do the sources say
about Lincoln's belief in God?
2. According to the source(s), how did his beliefs affect his presidency?
3. What are some conclusions
you can make about
his faith?

“I am not a member of any Christian Church...; but I have never denied the truth of the Sciptures..."
- Handbill on Infidelity, July 31, 1846.
-Abraham Lincoln, quoted in William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik Herndon's
Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life
"Mr. Lincoln’s religion is too well known to me to allow of even a shadow of a doubt; he is or was a Theist - a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary -– supernatural inspiration or revelation,"
-William H. Herndon wrote in a letter dated February 11, 1866, to Edward McPherson, clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Meditation of Divine Will
"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 can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time."
-Abraham Lincoln, September 2, 1862?
Personal Views
Public Duties
Doctrine of Necessity
-Abraham Lincoln in the
Handbill of Infidelity,

July 31, 1846
Meditation on the Divine Will
Close Readings on Document
Links to sources:
Lincoln's parents were Calvinist Baptists which influenced his strong belief in fatalism which suggests that all things are determined by fate, "all things were fixed, doomed one way or the other, from which there was no appeal...no efforts or prayers of ours can change, alter, modify, or reverse the decree". (1)

1. Isaac Arnold, The Life of Abraham Lincoln (1884; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 81; Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1892), 267, 276; William H. Herndon to Jesse Weik, Feb. 6, 1887, Herndon-Weik Papers, Group 4 [reel 10], #2031–34, Library of Congress; Herndon, "Lincoln's Philosophy and Religion," in The Hidden Lincoln from the Letters and Papers of William H. Herndon, ed. Emmanuel Hertz (New York: Viking, 1938), 406.

"If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong...If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall ay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God".
-Letter to Albert Hodges, April 4, 1864.
Moral philosophy
Lincoln would make it a priority in his presidency to pass legislation or laws against slavery, which he expressed was morally wrong, such as the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitutionof 1865.
"as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to ind up the nation's wounds;...to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations".
Link to documents
Portrayals of the President
by J. Leach, Lithograph, New York
Description: Republican presidential Abraham Lincoln stands on top of a copy of the Constitution. With a Negro-headed mallet, he prepares to split the Union in half with a wedge titled “Irrepressible Conflict”.
New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley sprawls on the ground in the background: “I’ll give Bill Seward a taste of his higher law.”
Senator William H. Seward, who once had spoken of an irrepressible conflict, backs backward as he says: “Call you this backing your friend?”
What do the following political cartoons tell us about how people viewed Lincoln's belief, presidency, or character?
"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..."
New York Illustrated News, March 23, 1861.
This is the way the North receives it and this is the way the South receives it.
The Apotheosis

Concluding questions or thoughts to consider:
Some resources and sites of substance
Top 150 Lincoln Documents

Collected works of Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln Papers at Libary of Congress

The Lincoln Log
Lincoln is assasinated on Good Friday, April 14th, 1865 at Ford's theatre, Washington D.C.
Issued in Harper's Weekly May 6, 1865
Currier and Ives, 1865.
Full transcript