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Early Lincoln on Christianity and Religion

In 1846 Abraham Lincoln wrote the following about his religious outlook:

 

To the Voters of the Seventh Congressional District.

FELLOW CITIZENS:
A charge having got into circulation in some of the neighborhoods of this District, in substance that I am an open scoffer at Christianity, I have by the advice of some friends concluded to notice the subject in this form. That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or any denomination of Christians in particular. It is true that in early life I was inclined to believe in what I understand is called the “Doctrine of Necessity” — that is, that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control; and I have sometimes (with one, two or three, but never publicly) tried to maintain this opinion in argument. The habit of arguing thus however, I have, entirely left off for more than five years. And I add here, I have always understood this same opinion to be held by several of the Christian denominations. The foregoing, is the whole truth, briefly stated, in relation to myself, upon this subject.

I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion. Leaving the higher matter of eternal consequences, between him and his Maker, I still do not think any man has the right thus to insult the feelings, and injure the morals, or the community in which he may live. If, then, I was guilty of such conduct, I should blame no man who should condemn me for it; but I do blame those, whoever they may be, who falsely put such a charge in circulation against me.

A. Lincoln

July 31, 1846

We see that Lincoln was at times accussed of either not being religious or even being hostile to religion. While he admits to not belonging to a church, he also does not express any particular belief. Instead, he denies having ever spoken poorly of scripture or religion in general. Essentially, he denies ever having denied it.

 

In the second paragraph, Lincoln expresses tolerance for religion. I think that Lincoln, who will later use Christian references and symbols in his speeches, largely values religion as a mechanism for expressing humanistic philosophical concepts.

 

Was Lincoln, like Jefferson before him, not a “scoffer” of religion because he was religious or because it would not have been very wise politically? I will come back to that question.

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Comments

  1. I don’t know how I missed this post. I like your thoughts, and look forward to any additional posts on the subject.

    On an unrelated note, I was in Rexburg last weekend and wish I would’ve looked you up to grab lunch or something. My brother’s roommate is a freshman polisci major (and annoyingly conservative). I recommended he be sure to take a class from you. 🙂

  2. I can’t believe I missed you. We do need to meet sometime.

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