The 16th President of the U.S., was born in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky on February 12, 1809. Widely considered one of America’s most influential presidents, he is memorialized in stone on Mount Rushmore. Lincoln was homeschooled and learned to read from the Bible, and used Bible phrases extensively in his speeches throughout his Presidency. He is considered the most eloquent writer of any American president in history thus far, and one of the very few whose faith developed and grew while holding high public office. Maintaining integrity and good character was his high objective, and “Honest Abe” became his nickname. He led his country through its greatest crisis, the American Civil War, abolished slavery and built a Republican Party coalition that dominated the Third Party System. By his inauguration in March, 1861 seven Southern states had seceded from the Union. At first, Lincoln made the war about maintaining the union so as not to offend the loyal slave states. But eventually, he shifted the cause to abolishing slavery and on January 1st, 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot the president at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C.
Excellent bio at Conservapedia
In 1836, he qualified as a lawyer and went to work in a law practice in Springfield, Illinois. He sat in the state legislature from 1834 to 1842 and in 1846 was elected to Congress, representing the Whig Party for a term. In 1856, he joined the new Republican Party and in 1860 he was asked to run as their presidential candidate. Honesty was so important to him that he once advised aspiring attorneys:
[R]esolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.
In the presidential campaign, Lincoln made his opposition to slavery very clear. His victory provoked a crisis, with many southerners fearing that he would attempt to abolish slavery in the South. Seven southern states left the Union to form the Confederate States of America, also known as the Confederacy. Four more joined later. Lincoln vowed to preserve the Union even if it meant war.
Fighting broke out in April 1861. Lincoln always defined the Civil War as a struggle to save the Union, but in January 1863 he nonetheless issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in areas still under Confederate control. This was an important symbolic gesture that identified the Union’s struggle as a war to end slavery. In the effort to win the war, Lincoln assumed more power than any president before him, declaring martial law and suspending legal rights. He had difficulty finding effective generals to lead the Union armies until the appointment of Ulysses S Grant as overall commander in 1864.
On 19 November 1863, Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address at the dedication of a cemetery at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, a decisive Union victory that had taken place earlier in the year. In 1864, Lincoln stood for re-election and won. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered less than 6 weeks before his assassination, eloquently summed up his beliefs. These were that the underlying cause of the war had been slavery, the war was God’s punishment on the nation for its failure to remove slavery from the land, and it was every American’s duty to not only eliminate slavery, but to re-unite the nation, forgive his or her fellow man, and build a lasting peace among all nations.
Five days after the surrender of Confederate commanding General Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was shot while watching the play Our American Cousin with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. and he passed away the next morning. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth was a strong supporter of the Confederacy.
In 1841, Lincoln had a flatboat trip down the Mississippi, and he saw sitting on board another boat a group of slaves chained together. He described the sight in a letter to Joshua Speed in 1855: “You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border.”
Though a gradualist, Lincoln hated slavery. “I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself,” he declared. “I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world; enables the enemies of free institutions with plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites.” Lincoln often penned fragments on slavery. He would begin it by starting a hypothetical vested interest in slavery, and end it with the only logical conclusion, that is was a great moral wrong.
If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B.—why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A?
You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.
You do not mean color exactly? You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.
But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest; you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you.
- (Fragment on Slavery, April, 1854)
constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even, though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere.
Lincoln was elected on a platform which pledged no interference with slavery where it had already existed, and he was hesitant to adopt an abolitionist policy. He was concerned about the reaction of the border states should such a policy be enacted. He was concerned about four million newly freed blacks being incorporated into the country’s social, economic, and political life. Some individuals, such as General John C. Freemont, made it a point to proclaim freedom in districts which they had conquered; Lincoln revoked those proclamations. In a letter to Horace Greely, Lincoln plainly stated
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”
Lincoln was willing to play a major part in removing slavery altogether during the war. He first proposed an idea in which slaves were to be freed gradually by the actions of the states, with the federal government sharing the cost of compensation. None of the border states were willing to implement it, and no prominent African-American leader was willing to see newly freed blacks sent to Africa, as part of the idea called for.
But with the victory at Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln brought out an idea which he read before his cabinet, that slaves held in the Confederate States were declared to be free. He would declare it formally with his Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Although it did not include those areas under Union control, and officially it was a war measure, it had a great deal of significance as a symbol, and European countries who had toyed with the idea of recognizing the Confederacy abandoned it and supported the Union.
Lincoln also felt that the freed slaves would be put back in chains at war’s end, as the Proclamation itself was not constitutional. But Lincoln was prepared for something else: he drafted the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which stated slavery was illegal except for crimes committed. He also urged the Republican Party to add the proposed amendment as a plank to the 1864 presidential campaign, stating slavery was the cause of the war, and that the Proclamation had aimed “a death blow at this gigantic evil;” only by a constitutional amendment could slavery be rendered extinct. After the election, Lincoln did not wait for the new Congress. He got the two-thirds needed for ratification before the year was over, and rejoiced when his state of Illinois led the way.
“In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just – a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.” Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862.
Lincoln routinely acknowledged that a clear majority of the Founding Fathers condemned slavery. In his sixth debate with Steven Douglass, Lincoln argued that the Founding Fathers considered slavery wrong, and firmly expected it to die a natural death. In Lincoln’s Cooper Union Speech, as well as in Lincoln’s “Peoria Speech”, where he pointed out that “only argument they ever admitted in favor of slavery” was necessity, that they blamed the “British King for having permitted its introduction”.
In 1794, they prohibited an out-going slave-trade – that is, the taking of slaves from the United States to sell.In 1798, they prohibited the bringing of slaves from Africa, into the Mississippi Territory – this territory then comprising what are now the States of Mississippi and Alabama. This was ten years before they had the authority to do the same thing as to the States existing at the adoption of the constitution.
In 1800 they prohibited American citizens from trading in slaves between foreign countries – as, for instance, from Africa to Brazil.
In 1803 they passed a law in aid of one or two State laws, in restraint of the internal slave trade.
In 1807, in apparent hot haste, they passed the law, nearly a year in advance to take effect the first day of 1808 – the very first day the constitution would permit – prohibiting the African slave trade by heavy pecuniary and corporal penalties.
In 1820, finding these provisions ineffectual, they declared the trade piracy, and annexed to it, the extreme penalty of death.
While all this was passing in the general government, five or six of the original slave States had adopted systems of gradual emancipation; and by which the institution was rapidly becoming extinct within these limits. Thus we see, the plain unmistakable spirit of that age, towards slavery, was hostility to the principle, and toleration, only by necessity.
Rev. Dr. Phineas Densmore Gurley, one of Lincoln’s pastors, was an Old School Presbyterian (read Conservative – Old Princeton Theology) who had been called in 1853 to pastor the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, or NYAPC. Today the website of this church, now part of the Presbyterian Church USA, accurately describes the nature of some of the Old School/New School controversies in the Presbyterian Church at the time: “The New School was ardently evangelistic and revivalist, and abandoned strict Calvinism for a theology of free will; the Old School was more doctrinally rigid.” Dr. Gurley had graduated from Old School Princeton in 1840, later served as a moderator for the Old School Presbyterians in their general assemblies in 1867 and 1868.
President Lincoln worshiped regularly at NYAPC during the American Civil War. Lincoln and Rev. Gurley developed a relationship in which they frequently discussed theology, and those discussions and Gurley’s sermons likely influenced Lincoln’s perception of the war and its meaning for the nation. Gurley presided over the funeral of Lincoln’s son, William Wallace Lincoln, in 1862, and then over the funeral of Lincoln himself in 1865.
So if Lincoln was an unbeliever, and a non-Christian (as some would suggest), we would want to understand why he is found “regularly attending” the preaching and prayer meetings of an Old School Presbyterian Calvinist like Dr. Gurley. Surely he could have found something a little more generically Christian if he wished to give the world a false pretense while he and his family were in Washington. And why did he develop a deep and abiding friendship with this pastor? And why have him preach at the funeral of your son? And why would his own family allow this orthodox Calvinist to preach at their loved one’s funeral?
We gain some insight to the nature of their friendship when we discover that, “In February 1862, Mrs. Gurley helped the Lincoln family nurse, Rebecca Pomeroy, care for Tad Lincoln after Willie’s death.”
From this it appears that the Gurley’s and the Lincolns were trusted family friends. Upon his death, Mrs. Lincoln arranged to have her late husband’s hat sent to Dr. Gurley. This is quite a gesture showing the close personal familiarity between these two families. These were not mere casual acquaintances; this is something you would do for your one of your deceased husband’s closest friends.
According to historian Allen C. Guelzo, Pastor Gurley’s “preaching was confined with remarkable closeness to the great central doctrines of the cross.”
Once when accosted as he left the White House after an early morning meeting, Dr. Gurley explained that he and the president had “been talking of the state of the soul after death. That is a subject of which Mr. Lincoln never tires. This morning, however, I was a listener. Mr. Lincoln did all the talking.”
So we must deduce from this that Dr. Gurley and Lincoln had spoken about the state of the soul after death on numerous occasions. What kind a minster, and graduate of Old Princeton, would Dr. Gurley be if he had not explained the gospel to Lincoln in these conversations relative to the state of the soul after death if he believed Lincoln to be lost and in need of salvation? Pastor Gurley also said prayers at the Capitol and the Washington train station and again at the graveside in Springfield, Ill., after the assassination. He also composed an original funeral hymn, “Rest, Noble Martyr.”
Now we are compelled to ask, surely Dr. Gurley knows that a martyr is a deceased Christian believer? Why would he mislead the American people who would read his funeral hymn “Rest, Noble Martyr” if he judged that Lincoln was not a believer? And who, pray tell, would be in a better position to know the state of Lincoln’s soul than his pastor and one of his dearest friends? Would an Old School Calvinist, who preached the great central doctrines of the cross, knowingly mislead the American people and those who would come after them who would read his funeral hymn on this central question?
The second Old School Presbyterian minister who was an earlier influential force in the life of Abraham Lincoln from his time in Springfield, Ill., was the Scotsman Dr. James Smith, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield. He was a native of Glasgow and described himself as an “old light Presbyterian” ordained first in the Cumberland Presbyterian church in Kentucky in 1825; later he moved to Springfield to become the pastor of The First Presbyterian Church, this time as an Old School Presbyterian. He was noted as the author of an important and hefty apologetic work, “The Christian’s Defense,” in 1843. Lincoln requested a copy from the author after he had found it on the shelves of a family member during a trip to Kentucky.
When the Lincolns lost their child Eddie in Springfield in 1850, their usual Episcopal pastor was away, and they got connected with Dr. James Smith to conduct the burial services. This meeting started a lifelong friendship between the Lincolns and Dr. Smith. Mary Lincoln was admitted to membership in Dr. Smith’s church on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1852. Their son Thomas (Tad) was baptized there on Saturday, April 4, 1856. Abraham was circuit riding much of the time during this period and did not immediately become a member on the same occasion as his wife.
Havlik considers it “inconceivable” however, that Lincoln was not present when Tad was presented by his parents for baptism, as this was also Tad’s second birthday. The family continued to attend services, renting pew number 20 for $50 per year, until they left for Washington nine years later in February 1861. According to one of the Elders in the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Thomas Lewis, “I have not known of Lincoln not occupying that pew every Sunday he was in the city, until he left [for Washington].”
On April 26, 1853, the session of the church made a motion to retain the services of Abraham Lincoln in a church legal proceeding in Presbytery. For those unfamiliar with such practices, Presbyterians take seriously Paul’s admonition: “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?” (1 Corinthians 6:1-2)
The idea is that the church should be competent to try its own cases, and they should not do this in front of unbelievers. The case for which Lincoln was retained had to do with an alleged unpaid debt on the church organ purchased from another church in the presbytery. This dispute was not something to be paraded before unbelievers. So if Lincoln was judged an unbeliever by Dr. Smith or by his session, why would they retain Lincoln as their counsel for this action that was to be tried, not in civil court – in front of unbelievers – but in the Presbytery?
The elders of the church in Springfield clearly had a high regard for Lincoln. According to elder Lewis again, they invited him to deliver a lecture on the veracity of the Bible to the congregation, and this brought a packed house of church members and fellow townspeople. Afterwards Lewis said, “It was the ablest defense of the Bible ever uttered in that pulpit.”
An important clue about when Lincoln’s thinking about Christianity changed came after the Lincolns returned to Springfield after their visit to Mary’s relatives in Kentucky in October 1849. Here Lincoln first encountered the important apologetical book, “The Christian’s Defense.” According to Elder Lewis, Lincoln told him, “I read it about half through, and wanted to get hold of it to finish reading it.”
Upon returning to Springfield he “sought out Dr. Smith to talk over some of the religious doubts he had entertained,” according to the Times-Herald. “Dr. Smith tells us that as a result of these extensive talks, Lincoln’s doubts were shattered and from that time on he was a believer in the Christian faith. Thus began their close and lasting friendship.”
Dr. Smith had an associate who occasionally provided pulpit supply while he was on vacation. While away, the Rev. William Bishop, D.D. often preached for Dr. Smith in Springfield. Bishop says that he was a young minister at the time and “not a little intimidated” seeing Lincoln in attendance, as Lincoln was well known as a great man in the West at this time, after the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates of 1858, and this being just a year before he went to Washington as president. He and Lincoln struck up a bit of a friendship while he was in Springfield. Lincoln encouraged his preaching. Bishop was very interested in the charismatic parishioner, and upon the return of Dr. Smith urged him to tell him more about the man and his spiritual state.
Dr. Smith explained to him how he provided Lincoln with a copy of his book and during this time Smith had been praying for a period of weeks that “the Spirit of Truth might lead him into the kingdom of Truth. And such was the result … Lincoln came forth from this examination … a believer in God, in His Providential government, in His Son, the way, the truth and the life. And from that time [nearly seven years] to this day, Lincoln’s life has proved the genuineness of his conversion to the Christian faith.”
For this great work of grace, Smith humbly ascribed the honor and the glory to his heavenly father. Soon after Lincoln’s assassination a controversy broke out about the nature of Lincoln’s faith, when William H. Herndon, his old law partner, who frequently suffered from financial trouble, began lecturing and writing for publication allegations that the Lincoln whom he had known earlier was not a Christian believer, so he began claiming Lincoln’s Christian faith must not have been genuine. Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln’s son, responded: “Mr. Wm. H. Herndon is making an ass of himself.”
Dr. Smith, now back in Scotland, wrote in a somewhat hostile tone, with barbs at the end, in reply to an inquiry from William Herndon in January 1867: “Your letter of the 20th of December was duly received, in which you ask me to answer several questions in relation to the illustrious President, Abraham Lincoln. With regard to your second question, I beg leave to say it is a very easy matter to prove that while I was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Mr. Lincoln did avow his belief in the divine authority and inspiration of the Scriptures. And I hold that it is a matter of greatest importance, not only to the present but to all future generations of the great Republic and to all advocates of civil and religious liberty throughout the world, that this avowal on his part and the circumstances attending it, together with very interesting incidents illustrative of the excellence of his character in my possession should be made known to the public. My intercourse with Abraham Lincoln convinced me that he was not only an honest man, but preeminently an upright man, ever seeking, so far as was in his power, to render unto all their due. It was my honour to place before Mr. Lincoln’s arguments [in the form of his book discussed above] designed to prove the divine authority and inspiration of the Scriptures, accompanied by arguments of infidel objectors in their own language. To the arguments on both sides, Mr. Lincoln gave a most patient and searching investigation. To use his own language, he examined the arguments as a lawyer who is anxious to reach the truth investigates testimony. The result was the announcement by himself that the argument in favour of the divine authority and inspiration of the Scriptures was unanswerable. I could say much more on the subject, but as you are the person addressed, for the present I decline. The assassin Booth, by his diabolical act, unwittingly sent the illustrious martyr to glory, honour, and immortality, but his false friend [i.e. Herndon] has attempted to send him down to posterity with infamy branded on his forehead, as a man who, notwithstanding all he suffered for his country’s good, was destitute to those feelings and affections without which there can be no excellency of character.”
From this letter, by another Old School Presbyterian minister, Dr. James Smith, we have a second testimony. Smith trusted Abraham Lincoln to represent his church as legal counsel in a Presbytery legal proceeding and to give lectures on the divine inspiration of the Scripture in his church. This wise old minister is now claiming that Lincoln had been persuaded by his apologetic book of the divine authority and inspiration of the Scriptures. Then he proclaims, in no uncertain terms, that John Wilkes Booth “unwitting sent the illustrious martyr to glory, honor and immortality.” Again the word martyr is used and the language of glory, honor and immortality most certainly can only refer to the heavenly afterlife reserved only for the elect of God in the Old School Presbyterian understanding. So here is a second clear testimony, strong though implicit, from an Old School Presbyterian minister, one who was in a position to know, because he served as the family pastor for nine years in Springfield, that Abraham Lincoln was indeed a bona fide believer.
There seems no honest way to evaluate this evidence other than to conclude that these two friends of Lincoln, both of them Old School Presbyterian pastors, first in Springfield and then in Washington, both considered him saved.
To continue this column on the faith of Lincoln, please read the rest on Leben’s website.