Vital Signs

Lincoln and God

Before the first shots were fired in the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln had begun to style himself as an instrument of the Lord.  But as William H. Herndon, a law partner and Lincoln biographer, wrote, “[t]he very idea that he was in the hands of an invisible, irresistible, and inevitable deaf power which moved as an omnipotent force evidently harassed and worried him.”  At the same time, “the very idea” afforded Lincoln immunity from responsibility for the acts he had committed or would commit.  Addressing the New Jersey Senate at Trenton on February 21, 1861, Lincoln declared:

I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be a humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle [the Revolutionary War].

This was all the more remarkable because Lincoln was a nonbeliever.  His first law partner, John T. Stuart, stated that Lincoln

was an avowed and open infidel . . . and sometimes bordered on atheism. . . . [He] went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard; he shocked me.

Ward Lamon, another law partner and friend of Lincoln, relates that,

[a]s he grew older, he grew more cautious. . . . The imputation of Infidelity had seriously injured him in several of his earlier...

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