Lincoln’s Faith

lincolnWard H. Lamon was a close friend of Lincoln. He knew Lincoln in the days of his poverty and insignificance through the days of his power and presidency. In the biography he wrote about the 16th president, he shared Lincoln’s views on the Bible and Christianity. The following is what Lincoln’s close friend had to say:

Mr. Lincoln was never a member of any church, nor did he believe in the divinity of Christ, or the inspiration of the Scriptures in the sense understood by evangelical Christians… When a boy, he showed no sign of that piety which his many biographers ascribe to his manhood. His stepmother—herself a Christian, and longing for the least sign of faith in him—could remember no circumstance that supported her hope. On the contrary, she recollected very well that he never went off into a corner, as has been said, to ponder the sacred writings, and to wet the page with his tears of penitence…. When he went to church at all, he went to mock, and came away to mimic. Indeed, it is more than probable that the sort of “religion” which prevailed among the associates of his boyhood impressed him with a very poor opinion of the value of the article. On the whole, he thought, perhaps, a person had better be without it.

When he came to New Salem, he consorted with freethinkers, joined with them in deriding the gospel history of Jesus, read Volney and Paine, and then wrote a deliberate and labored essay, wherein he reached conclusions similar to theirs. The essay was burnt, but he never denied or regretted its composition. On the contrary, he made it the subject of free and frequent conversations with his friends at Springfield, and stated, with much particularity and precision, the origin, arguments, and objects of the work. It was not until after Mr. Lincoln’s death that his alleged orthodoxy became the principal topic of his eulogists; but since then the effort on the part of some political writers and speakers to impress the public mind erroneously seems to have been general and systematic. It is important that the question should be finally determined; and, in order to do so, the names of some of his nearest friends are given below, followed by clear and decisive statements, for which they are separately responsible. Some of them are gentlemen of distinction, and all of them men of high character, who enjoyed the best opportunities to form correct opinions.

James H. Matheny says in a letter to Mr. Herndon: “I knew Mr. Lincoln as early as 1834-7; know he was an infidel. He and W. D. Herndon used to talk infidelity in the clerk’s office in this city, about the years 1837-40. Lincoln attacked the Bible and the New Testament on two grounds: first, from the inherent or apparent contradictions under its lids; second, from the grounds of reason. Sometimes he ridiculed the Bible and New Testament, sometimes seemed to scoff it, though I shall not use that word in its full and literal sense. I never heard that Lincoln changed his views, though his personal and political friend from 1834 to 1860. Sometimes Lincoln bordered on atheism. He went far that way, and often shocked me…

From Hon. John T. Stuart: “I knew Mr. Lincoln when he first came here, and for years afterwards. He was an avowed and open infidel, sometimes bordered on atheism. I have often and often heard Lincoln and one W. D. Herndon, who was a freethinker, talk over this subject. Lincoln went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard: he shocked me…The Rev. Dr. Smith, who wrote a letter, tried to convert Lincoln from infidelity so late as 1858, and couldn’t do it.”

William H. Herndon, Esq.: “As to Mr. Lincoln’s religious views, he was, in short, an infidel,… atheist. He did not believe that Jesus was God, nor the Son of God,—was a fatalist, denied the freedom of the will. Mr. Lincoln told me a thousand times, that he did not believe the Bible was the revelation of God, as the Christian world contends.