The name Abraham Lincoln is entwined with American history at one of its biggest turning points. He was the president at the time of Civil War in the United States. There are people who loved him and people who hated him—and still do.
Readers around the world may not realize the impact Lincoln had on the condition of the United States, and how that affects people around the world still today. For instance, he set in motion affairs that led to slavery (an institution inherited from England after the Revolutionary War) being abolished in the United States. The abolition of slavery was a precursor to Civil Rights both domestically and subsequently abroad. Many of these issues are related to the truthfulness of the Bible.
Interestingly, Abraham Lincoln was born the same day and year as Charles Darwin. Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species By Means Of Natural Selection For The Preservation of Favored Races was released in 1859. While it was making waves in Europe, the United States was anything but united but instead preparing battle lines that didn’t end until 1865.
Abraham Lincoln is often regarded as one of America’s greatest Presidents. He appears on the U.S. one cent penny and on the $5 bill and is one of four presidents carved into Mount Rushmore. He is the only U.S. President to hold a U.S. Patent where he invented a device to help steamboats pass over sand shoals. Although he was never in combat, he served in the Blackhawk War. Lincoln was also famous for moving the capitol of Illinois to Springfield from Vandalia; prior to Vandalia, it used to be Kaskaskia. Kaskaskia, as an interesting side note, repeatedly flooded and the Mississippi River shifted and left part of Kaskaskia and Illinois on the Missouri side of the river to this day.
Lincoln is usually ranked alongside George Washington as the two most prominent and well-loved U.S. presidents. Indeed, since his birthday (February 12) and George Washington’s (February 22 on the Gregorian calendar) are close together, they are in many states celebrated together on President’s Day, the third Monday of the month.
For those of us at Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum, and the Ark Encounter, we can’t help but think of the resemblance to Lincoln of our founder and CEO Ken Ham, who has often been told he looks like Abraham Lincoln, particularly in his younger years. Judge for yourself by checking out his “Honest Abe” photo here.
Birth and Early Life
On February 12, 1809, in the small town of Hodgenville, Kentucky, about 55 miles due south of Louisville (or about 125 miles southwest of the Ark Encounter or 160 miles southwest from the Creation Museum) Abraham Lincoln, who would become the 16th President of the U.S. was born. Although born in Kentucky, Abraham’s family moved to Indiana when he was seven and then to Illinois in 1830 when he was 21. That’s why Indiana claims to be “Lincoln’s Boyhood Home” and Illinois is the “Land of Lincoln.
Lincoln grew up in a poor one-room cabin in Kentucky. His parents were devout baptists, and although Lincoln was strongly influenced by their faith, especially as he grew older, he chafed at some of the strictness of their faith in his boyhood and teenage years. But many of those who judge him by his early life of religious discontent and try to make him out as a skeptic or Deist ignore much of what he wrote or said in his later years. We will come back to this subject later.
Early Political and Legal Careers
It was in Illinois that Lincoln entered into politics. Beginning in 1834, Lincoln served four successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives as a Whig. Without getting into the complicated history of early American politics, the Whig party was one of the two prominent parties (along with the Democratic Party) that fought for votes in state and national elections in the 1830s–1850s.
In 1836 Lincoln began to practice law in his new home of Springfield, Illinois. In 1846 he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served a two-year term, but in 1848, he returned to his law practice after becoming disillusioned with politics.
When the Whig party started to collapse in 1854–1855 and the Republican party began to form, Lincoln was again engaged. In 1858, he was nominated for and accepted the recently formed Republican party’s candidacy for senator. Lincoln ran against incumbent Stephen Douglas for U.S. senator (Illinois) and engaged in seven debates which are now considered legendary. Lincoln was straightforward in claiming that Douglas had perverted the Declaration of Independence’s statement that “all men are created equal” by pushing for the expansion of slavery. Though Lincoln narrowly lost the election to Douglas, the debates had put him in the public eye.
Lincoln as President
In 1860, Lincoln accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president, running against three other political parties (one of which included Stephen Douglas as their nominee) in that year’s election. Lincoln and running mate Hannibal Hamlin won decisively, especially due to the fragmented and divided political parties that were running for election. Shortly into his first term of office, the U.S. Civil War broke out and the remainder of Lincoln’s time as president was consumed by wartime politics and policy. While the war and the loss of life in it was a great source of grief for Lincoln, it also seemingly brought him closer to God. He read Scripture, prayed, and repeatedly sought God’s will for his decisions during the war,1 and mentioned this in several private letters and public speeches.
Lincoln was a staunch believer in “all men are created equal” as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, and vociferously fought with those who tried to deny freedom to slaves.3
Lincoln appeared to hold to the principles of AiG’s “one race one blood” concept, and we do know that he read and quoted Scripture2 and abhorred slavery. Lincoln was a staunch believer in “all men are created equal” as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, and vociferously fought with those who tried to deny freedom to slaves.3 Lincoln understood that, regardless of skin color (or as we would rightly say— skin shade), all mankind was created by God and that subjecting anyone to slavery was a violation of God’s commands. Contrary to Darwin, who in The Descent of Man argued that caucasians are the highest-evolved race, Lincoln stated “[L]et us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man---this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position---discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.”4 See also this sampling of quotes from speeches Lincoln gave:
This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.
I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
Now I confess myself as belonging to that class in the country who contemplate slavery as a moral, social and political evil. . .
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.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.5
It is the eternal struggle between these two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, 'You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.' No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.
Every advocate of slavery naturally desires to see blasted, and crushed, the liberty promised the black man by the new constitution.
We have, as all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed. There is more involved in this contest than is realized by everyone. There is involved in this struggle the question whether your children and my children shall enjoy the privileges we have enjoyed.6
Lincoln as a Christian?
Lincoln did not just talk the talk, but broke social norms of the times. When President Lincoln was gifted a Bible from freemen (former slaves, or descendants of former slaves) from Baltimore who visited the White House, Lincoln was grateful and commented on the excellence of the written Word, acknowledging Christ as the author.
In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it. To you I return my most sincere thanks for the very elegant copy of the great Book of God which you present.7
In the middle of the Civil War, the likelihood of Lincoln’s Christian faith became more and more plausible. Lincoln asked for a day of prayer to be set aside, and uncharacteristically for most presidents before or since.
In the middle of the Civil War, the likelihood of Lincoln’s Christian faith became more and more plausible. Lincoln asked for a day of prayer to be set aside, and uncharacteristically for most presidents before or since, called on people to beseech them to invoke the Holy Spirit to change hearts and to guide the government.
Now, therefore, be it known that I do set apart Thursday the 6th. day of August next, to be observed as a day for National Thanksgiving, Praise and Prayer, and I invite the People of the United States to assemble on that occasion in their customary places of worship, and in the forms approved by their own consciences, render the homage due to the Divine Majesty, for the wonderful things he has done in the Nation's behalf, and invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit to subdue the anger, which has produced, and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion, to change the hearts of the insurgents, to guide the counsels of the Government with wisdom adequate to so great a national emergency . . . [Proclamation given July 15, 1863].8
Lincoln spent much of the first few months of 1865 looking forward to the end of the war and reunifying the country. He delivered a speech on April 11, and at the beginning of it again urged people to thank God for the recent events, namely the surrender of Confederate General Lee’s armies to General U.S. Grant. “In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared and will be duly promulgated.”9 But as the Civil War was ending, Lincoln was shot in the head on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer. Lincoln died early the next morning at the age of 56.
Answering Questions About Lincoln’s Christian Faith
It is now common to hear some skeptical historians, many of whom have a vested interest in expunging any semblance of the importance of Christian personalities and influences from history, claim that Lincoln was merely accommodating his listeners with religious-infused overtones, which he himself did not believe. I believe that hypothesis is unlikely in light of the numerous letters, speeches, and proclamations he wrote or delivered while president. In fact, two historians who studied Lincoln’s writings and speeches in depth made the following statement:
If the much-admired Lincoln so believed, it would raise troubling implications: maybe Lincoln is not so admirable after all, or, conversely, perhaps one’s own rejection of a personal, sovereign God needs to be reevaluated. These factors create a powerful incentive to deny that Lincoln believed any such thing.
Anyone seriously interested in Lincoln’s religious beliefs should squarely face the evidence. This includes those who do not desire or cannot imagine Lincoln’s having believed in a personal, sovereign God. But it also includes those, like us, who do believe in such a God. We too must guard against the risk of concluding that Lincoln believed like us just because we would like that outcome. This article is an effort to show that the facts, if confronted head-on, demonstrate that Abraham Lincoln, by the end of his life, believed in a personal, sovereign God.10
While we can’t know for sure the religious convictions of any historic figure outside of Scripture, it seems that many signs point to genuine Christian faith, at least in the latter years, on the part of President Lincoln. And his contributions, historically, still are relevant worldwide in his declarations on the importance of assuring freedoms for all peoples as God’s own image-bearers, exemplary for any who claim the Christian faith and authority of Scripture (Genesis 1:27; Acts 10; Galatians 3:28).
Although much more could be said, my hope was to give you a glimpse of the Lincoln that is often forgotten. So I hope you will remember the contributions of Lincoln on his birthday or the President’s Day holiday. And as he likely would have urged,11 to give thanks to God for the liberties we enjoy, especially the ones that Christ purchased for us (John 8:34–38).