“There are a couple of arguments about what happens to Lincoln when he is president,” she said. “One is that he employs religious language because it is a language that Americans understand and is reassuring to them. The other is that Lincoln himself undergoes a metamorphosis in terms of his own belief while he is president and is facing the enormous crisis of the Civil War and the loss of his second son — his favorite son — to die in childhood.”
“He may well have come to have a belief in a hard, a vengeful God, given the circumstances he was working under.”
That is the general thrust of Mansfield’s new book, though he concludes the president became a God-fearing Christian. “Though he never joined a church and seldom spoke of Jesus Christ publicly,” Mansfield writes, “he became our most spiritual chief executive, sometimes more prophet than president.”
In his landmark second inaugural address in 1865, Lincoln professed that the Civil War was God’s punishment for the sin of slavery. “Until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said,’The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,’” he said.
But don’t look for any of that to stop people of different religious persuasions from trying to claim Lincoln as a fellow traveler. Earlier this year, in an interview with an Indian newspaper, the evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins claimed Lincoln — and several other presidents — was an atheist.
Weber calls this embrace of the 16th president as a fellow religionist “getting right with Lincoln.”
“If you can claim to have Lincoln on your side, you are golden,” she said. “It gives people an extra sense of legitimacy. It’s sort of like having the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”
That’s why, she continued, we have Lincoln Savings Bank, the Lincoln Continental, the Lincoln Snacks Company, the Lincoln Mattress Company and Lincoln Electric.
“He was a religious man always, I think,” his widow Mary Todd Lincoln reportedly said after his death, “but he was not a technical Christian.”
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