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Lincoln's Christianity by Michael Burkhimer
10-27-2015, 08:00 PM
Post: #29
RE: Lincoln's Christianity by Michael Burkhimer
Quote: Lincoln wanted to see his son Willie again so badly that he had him exhumed once or twice just so he could see his face.

In 40-plus years of reading about Lincoln, not once have I ever come across this in any of the main biographies or books about the aspects of his life. Doing a quick Google search, I saw this mentioned on various websites but none gave a source. I looked through four main Lincoln biographies (Burlingame, Donald, White and Oates) and not one mentions this ever happening. I would be interested in knowing a verifiable source for this outside of the internet.

Lincoln's religion has always held especial interest for me, given my own skepticism and atheism. Mike Burkhimer's take on the subject is well-informed and knowledgeable and deserves to be in the library of any serious student of Lincoln. Unlike many skeptics I don't doubt that in the last years of his life Lincoln's faith grew. Given the death of Willie, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of deaths as a result of the war, Lincoln's attempt to find comfort in faith seems like a no-brainer. But I also believe had Lincoln died in his bed on the corner of Eighth and Jackson as a popular retired attorney or judge who never left Springfield and never held any higher office than a single term as a Congressman, his adherence to faith would not have been as strong. Why Lincoln never formally joined a church is a question without an easy answer, but I think part of it stems from his personal experience as a youth and growing up on his own. Tragedy like Lincoln experienced can either bring one closer to faith or push one further away. I think it had the latter effect on him, at least in his early years. I think after the death of Ann Rutledge Lincoln was as close to atheism as he ever got. Three of the most important women in his life were taken away. He had to be asking "what kind of deity would allow that to happen?"

Although I would question Herndon's claims about Lincoln dying as an unbeliever--"Simply a Theist"--I think before the war and the presidency, Herndon was closer to the truth than most want to admit. Lincoln's path changed when he began to bear the burden of civil war. The death of Willie only solidified what had started after Sumter.

Trying to parse Lincoln's religion in a single, simple post is impossible. There are numerous articles and books (including Mike Burkhimer's) that do a better job than I have in how I explain Lincoln's religious outlook. Allen Guelzo, Douglas Wilson, Samuel W. Calhoun and Lucas E. Morel, Stewart Winger and even one as old as William E. Barton have done more complete jobs in a much better form than I ever could, but even they do not have the last word. To hold faith that anyone has the last word in Lincoln studies is nothing more than a will-o'-the-wisp.


Abraham Lincoln is the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell

I want the respect of intelligent men, but I will choose for myself the intelligent.
--Carl Sandburg
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RE: Lincoln's Christianity by Michael Burkhimer - Rob Wick - 10-27-2015 08:00 PM

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