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Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, is perhaps the most studied and written about of all American presidents.  Despite all of the study and attention paid to this figure, he still remains somewhat of an enigma, especially in regard to his religious beliefs. Its easy to see that he spoke of God in his speeches, there can be no question of this.  Lincoln studied the Bible nearly all of his life and had much of memorized.  He used references to the Bible in his speeches, mostly during the Civil War, which has caused many people to believe that he was a devout Christian, however, as is often the case, its not that simple.

Ultimately Abe Lincoln was not a religious man.  He was never a member of any church, and he denied the divine inspiration of the Bible, the existence of a personal God, and the validity of the story of Jesus.  Despite this though Lincoln was very respectful of religion and people's religious beliefs.  This was out of necessity to a degree because the subject of his lack of faith was a very big political issue throughout his career, and nearly cost him his first presidential election.

As the Civil War progressed Lincoln used religious references increasingly in his speeches proving once again that war and religion go hand in hand.  What Lincoln sought to do was to gain strong support from as many people as possible in the fight against the Southern States.  After Lee marched into the North and was able to successfully attack the Northern position there was real fear and worry among the citizens and Lincoln was doing his job as a leader to comfort and inspire the people.  The Civil War was hardly a time for open debate on religion or a time to tell people that God is not real.

Many, many false quotes have been generated in the name of Lincoln of every type and in promotion of every cause.  Lincoln is perhaps one of the hardest people in history to quote because of this.  In fact some quotes that are claimed to have come from him have even made it into Encyclopedias and school texts books only to later be refuted and proven to be false.

Much has been made about Lincoln's Christian beliefs because he died shortly after the Civil War at a time when he was THE American hero, and at the same time that America was undergoing a huge rise in Christianity, largely because of the war.  Because of this Lincoln was made into a religious hero.  In fact he was compared to Christ and Moses themselves, some preachers even called him a new prophet of God, and some called him a saint.  Most people today still believe that he was a Christian, there are even stories about things that he said in church or about his activity in church even though Lincoln himself wrote that he never went to church, and there was much ado in his own time about his lack of religious participation.  Shortly after his death, and after several proclamations of Lincoln's Christianity, several of Lincoln's friends and co-workers wrote letters refuting Lincoln's religious beliefs.  His funeral was also non-religious.

Despite the fact the Lincoln felt that he could not put an end to slavery when he took office because it was supported by the Constitution (Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer and very conscious of legality), he did seek to put a gradual and peaceful end to the institution of slavery.  Upon taking office he proposed to use federal money to buy slaves from their owners and then grant them freedom.  This offer was, however, rejected by Southerners.  At the time that Lincoln took office slavery was an extremely heated subject in the United States.  Much of the conflict of opinion though had little to do with the evil of slavery, and had more to do with economics and politics.  It was becoming difficult to ensure an equal number of slave and free states in the Union with new states joining the Union at a rate rate during that time, and often in odd numbers.  The Southern States were afraid of becoming a political minority which could take away their power in Congress and their ability to set agendas that benefited themselves.  In the North many businessmen liked the ability to buy cheap raw material from the South which was possible because of slavery, and so many Northern politicians pandered to Southern slave owners not only to gain the support of the Southern States, but also of Northern businessmen as well.

In fact, when Lincoln ran for the presidency for his first term he was, and had to be, very firm that he would uphold the institution of slavery.  He barely won the election only taking 39% of the popular vote.  Many feel that he won because he was opposed by three other major candidates, two Democrats and a Constitutional Unionist.  By far Lincoln, and the Republican party were the least favorable towards the issue of slavery.   The issue was downplayed by the Republicans during the campaign process however in order to try and remain moderate. The other candidates however spoke openly in support of the issue.  Lincoln won the election without carrying any Southern States, and shortly after his election, the Southern States announced secession.

Here are a few more quotes from Lincoln:

"It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to Infidelity."

"What is to be, will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree."

"The only person who is a worse liar than a faith healer is his patient."

"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."

"There was the strangest combination of church influence against me. Baker is a Campbellite; the 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."

"In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free." 

"And then there will be some black men who can remember that with silent tongue and clinched teeth and steady eye and well-poised bayonet they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while I fear there will be some white ones unable to forget that with malignant heart and deceitful speech they strove to hinder it."

http://www3.sympatico.ca/n.rieck/docs/lincoln9911.html

http://www.humanismbyjoe.com/Lincoln's_religion.htm

http://www.adherents.com/misc/Lincoln.html

http://www.positiveatheism.org//hist/steiner0.htm#LINCOLN

http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/ingerlinc.htm#SEIP

http://www.iath.virginia.edu/vshadow2/outlines/election.html

http://www.americanpresident.org/kotrain/courses/AL/AL_In_Brief.htm