Saving the Last Best Hope of Earth
Like George Washington’s, Lincoln’s faith has been closely scrutinized, hotly debated, and often misunderstood. Both men attributed their success in war to divine providence, proclaimed days of public thanksgiving and prayer as president, rarely mentioned Jesus, and were intensely private about their personal beliefs. Lincoln was never baptized, never received communion, and never joined a church, but he had a thorough knowledge of the Bible and peppered his speeches with biblical references and allusions. Lincoln cited the Scriptures and discussed theologically significant questions in his addresses more than the avowedly Christian statesmen of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some friends and associates claimed he remained an unbeliever all his life who attended church and employed religious language to win voters, gain support for policies, and convince Americans to trust him. Others who knew the 16th president equally well contended that he became an orthodox Christian who regularly read the Bible, prayed habitually, and frequently used scriptural passages and illustrations to express his personal convictions. Many investigators conclude that in his later years Lincoln had a profound sense of God’s presence, accepted many central scriptural tenets, and valiantly strove to follow Christian ethics. Through years of wrestling with God, Lincoln developed a deep but unconventional faith. Although he did not become a born-again evangelical, he became increasingly receptive to Protestant orthodoxy. More than any other 19th-century president, he became known for seeking to base public policies on scriptural principles. Lincoln’s religious views helped shape his political philosophy and actions, most notably the way he dealt with slavery and interpreted the Civil War. After his assassination, Lincoln was deeply mourned and frequently eulogized as a martyr who offered a redeeming sacrifice for the nation’s sins. He became the second great hero of the nation’s civil religion.
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