Monday, February 17, 2014

The faith of Washington and Lincoln

President's Day traditionally commemorates the two greatest presidents of our nation, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  The religious beliefs of both men have been the subject of a great deal of commentary and speculation. Thomas Kidd, one of the best evangelical scholars when it comes to the religious history of early America, provides a solid overview of the religious views of both of those presidents, noting the controversy around both Washington's religious practice and Lincoln's early religious beliefs: The Enigmatic Faith of Washington and Lincoln. Well worth a read this holiday.


JMS said...

Mark - excellent post from Professor Kidd. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The fight to Christianize Lincoln after his death was even more extensive than after Washington's.

"For a great many years it was impossible to secure the "Life of Lincoln," as written by his intimate friend and law partner, William H. Herndon. And yet it was to Herndon, that Lincoln on becoming President, said that he wished his own name associated with that of Herndon's until death.

It seems that the religious world took exception to this "Life of Lincoln." It was found to contain too many truths that were not in harmony with the notions of a number of clergymen.

The story goes that every available copy of Herndon's "Life of Lincoln" was purchased by the clergy, some paying as high as one hundred dollars for a copy. They did not spend this money for the book because of its intrinsic value; they did not want its facts known to the public. For nearly twenty-five years this work on Lincoln was held at a premium, and I believe it was only last year, in response to an overwhelming demand, that the descendants of Herndon decided upon a republication of the volumes, and they are, fortunately, once more available to the general public.

Herndon's "Life of Lincoln" is conceded by all fair-minded persons to be the most accurate picture of the life of the sixteenth President of this country that has ever been written..."

Mark D. said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Tom. The efforts to undercut Lincoln's early skepticism and his later lack of orthodox piety is a critical part of the construction of the Lincoln mythos after his assassination.