Every U.S. president has been a church member, except for one: Abraham Lincoln.
Perhaps ‘Spiritual’ at Best
Abraham Lincoln is often described as a profoundly spiritual, but whether he was a Christian is debatable.
Lincoln’s religious beliefs evolved. He was raised in a Baptist family, but he was known to be skeptical of organized religion as a young man. In his early years, he was not a regular churchgoer, and he sometimes doubted the divine inspiration of the Bible.
There Are no Atheists in Foxholes
However, Lincoln’s views on religion became more nuanced as he grew older. He often referred to God in his speeches and writings and frequently quoted from the Bible. In his famous second inaugural address, delivered in 1865, he spoke of the need for “malice toward none” and “charity for all,” invoking biblical imagery and suggesting that the Civil War might be God’s punishment for the sin of slavery.
Some historians have argued that Lincoln’s religious beliefs were more in line with the deism of his day than with traditional Christianity. Deists believed in a God who created the universe but did not intervene in human affairs, and many of Lincoln’s statements about religion seem to reflect this worldview. However, others have argued that Lincoln’s faith was more complex than this and that he may have had a personal relationship with God that defies easy categorization.
Talking to the Dead
Lincoln certainly allowed seances and attempts to communicate with the dead in the White House when God strictly forbids this in scripture. Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Lincoln, was interested in spiritualism and participated in seances during her time in the White House. The Lincolns had lost their son Willie to typhoid fever in 1862, and Mary was devastated by his death. She reportedly turned to spiritualism to cope with her grief and seek comfort by attempting to communicate with her deceased son.
Mary Todd Lincoln was one of many in her interest in spiritualism during this period. Many people in the United States and Europe were fascinated by communicating with the dead, and seances were popular entertainment.
There are conflicting reports about how much Abraham Lincoln participated in seances or whether he believed in spiritualism. Some reports suggest that he attended at least one séance with his wife, while others suggest that he was skeptical of the practice.
However, on the afternoon of his assassination, Lincoln expressed to Mary his desire to visit the Holy Lands, the historic geographic locations mentioned in the Bible.
Ultimately, whether Lincoln was a Christian is difficult to answer definitively. While he expressed a belief in God and drew on Christian imagery in his public speeches, he also seemed to question certain tenets of Christian doctrine. He may have held beliefs not strictly in line with traditional Christian teaching.
President Lincoln’s last words were “She won’t think anything about it.” The Lincolns had drawn close together and were holding hands. Lincoln’s words were in response to Mary asking, “What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you so?” Approximately five minutes later he was assassinated.