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Lincoln and Religion

Ferenc Morton Szasz with Margaret Connell Szasz

Publication Year: 2014

Abraham Lincoln’s faith has commanded more broad-based attention than that of any other American president. Although he never joined a denomination, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, Spiritualists, Jews, and even atheists claim the sixteenth president as one of their own. In this concise volume, Ferenc Morton Szasz and Margaret Connell Szasz offer both an accessible survey of the development of Lincoln’s religious views and an informative launch pad for further academic inquiry. A singular key to Lincoln’s personality, especially during the presidential years, rests with his evolving faith perspective.

After surveying Lincoln’s early childhood as a Hard-Shell Baptist in Kentucky and Indiana, the authors chronicle his move from skepticism to participation in Episcopal circles during his years in Springfield, and, finally, after the death of son Eddie, to Presbyterianism. They explore Lincoln’s relationship with the nation’s faiths as president, the impact of his son Willie’s death, his adaptation of Puritan covenant theory to a nation at war, the role of prayer during his presidency, and changes in his faith as reflected in the Emancipation Proclamation and his state papers and addresses. Finally, they evaluate Lincoln’s legacy as the central figure of America’s civil religion, an image sharpened by his prominent position in American currency.

A closing essay by Richard W. Etulain traces the historiographical currents in the literature on Lincoln and religion, and the volume concludes with a compilation of Lincoln’s own words about religion.

In assessing the enigma of Lincoln’s Christianity, the authors argue that despite his lack of church membership, Lincoln lived his life through a Christian ethical framework. His years as president, dominated by the Civil War and personal loss, led Lincoln to move into a world beholden to Providence.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

Illustrations List

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pp. ix-x

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Series Editor’s Preface

Richard W. Etulain

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pp. xi-xiv

Triumph and tragedy propelled this book. For over forty years, Ferenc Morton Szasz enjoyed a remarkably productive career. A scholarly specialist in American social and cultural history, he produced a number of notable monographs and hundreds of essays and reviews on those subjects. At the University of New Mexico, he was...

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Ferenc Morton Szasz

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pp. xv-xvi

First, I thank my friend and former colleague Richard W. Etulain for inviting me to write this book. I have been teaching a class on the history of religion in America for over twenty years at the University of New Mexico and always include a full class meeting on the faith of Lincoln. This opportunity to expand that lecture into...

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Margaret Connell Szasz

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pp. xvii-xx

Ferenc Morton Szasz completed a handwritten initial draft of this manuscript when he was hospitalized in the early spring of 2010. Despite the unrelenting force of his adversary—leukemia—and his extensive chemotherapy treatment, he vowed to complete a draft while he was still able to do so. After he lost that struggle against...

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Opening: Lincoln’s Faith Perspective

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pp. 1-5

In the bicentennial year of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, 2009, historian Michael Burlingame penned a two-volume, 1,976-page biography titled Lincoln: A Life. This work can only be described as “magisterial.” Toward the end of volume 2, the author came up with a trenchant observation: “Lincoln’s personality was the North’s secret...

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1. The Ohio River Valley: Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois

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pp. 6-28

Although the historical faith of the Lincoln family began in the East Anglia county of Norfolk, where they were Congregationalists, and later shifted to the faith of the Quakers when they migrated through New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century, by the time they had reached Kentucky by way of Virginia’s...

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2. Lincoln as President: 1861–65

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pp. 29-56

Lincoln made his convoluted journey to Washington in 1861 amid a great deal of confusion. The crowds proved overwhelming, and at times they raged out of control. In New York, for example, he shook two thousand hands and bowed twenty-six hundred times. His short speeches varied, and few contained items of substance. In Lafayette...

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3. Lincoln as the Center of America’s Civil Religion

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pp. 57-65

Shortly after the assassination of the president, Ralph Waldo Emerson described Lincoln as “the true historian of the American people in his time.” And throughout the saga of the Civil War, some people pondered whether he would serve his country even more by his death than with his life. That, of course, is exactly what occurred...

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Conclusion: The Enigma—Was Lincoln a Christian?

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pp. 66-72

At Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, on May 4, 1865, Methodist bishop Matthew Simpson delivered a noted eulogy. Admitting that he could not speak “definitely” about Lincoln’s faith, he nonetheless observed that Lincoln had “believed in Christ.” Lincoln’s brother-in-law Ninian Edwards later agreed, and in 1873 James A. Smith, minister of Springfield’s First Presbyterian Church, concurred. Newcomers to the world of Lincoln studies are often surprised at...

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Historiography on Lincoln and Religion by Richard W. Etulain

Richard W. Etulain

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pp. 73-84

In the nearly sixteen thousand books written about Abraham Lincoln, a handful of subjects have captured major attention. Lincoln as a politician active in party politics has undoubtedly gained the most space, but studies of Lincoln and race have become particularly popular since the 1960s. In another area, examinations of Lincoln’s...

Lincoln on Religion: Quotations Compiled by Sara Gabbard

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pp. 85-90


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pp. 91-96


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pp. 97-103

Author Biographies, Series Page

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pp. 104-105

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809333226
E-ISBN-10: 0809333228
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809333219
Print-ISBN-10: 080933321X

Page Count: 120
Illustrations: 10
Publication Year: 2014