Taken at face value, such a question would seem to quickly generate an easy answer.
After all, Lincoln never joined a church and seldom spoke of Jesus Christ. In fact, he was an atheist in his early years, and Lincoln’s religious statements were typically greeted with skepticism.
In fact, Mansfield shares evidence that he says indicates Lincoln labored to that end…to follow the deathbed plea of the mother he adored: “Worship God.”
That said, if Lincoln’s pursuit of God was a struggle—indeed, a battle—there were more than a few significant reasons for the spiritual tug-of-war:
- His mother died a painful death before Abe’s 10th birthday.
- When his father wasn’t absent, the man was abusive.
- Lincoln was so hampered by depression that he neared suicide on numerous occasions.
- He lost one son when the boy was three. A second was 11 when he died—less than a year after Lincoln assumed the presidency of a fractured nation.
Check out the excellent video trailer for Lincoln’s Battle with God:
Despite his trials—or perhaps because of them—Lincoln yearned for comfort beyond the mortal world, Mansfield notes. He took counsel with ministers. He read voluminously. And he prayed.
Lincoln struggled, too, with God’s will in the Civil War—an unimaginably bloody conflict that pitted brother against brother…and one Lincoln couldn’t prevent. But Mansfield insists that Lincoln’s spiritual wrestling regarding the war led to benevolent treatment of Confederate enemies when it ended…and ultimately to the sentiments Lincoln conveyed in arguably the greatest of American sermons, his Second Inaugural Address.
Check out this excerpt that shines a light on Lincoln’s spiritual inclinations in what Mansfield writes could have been his final words:
The figure at the door now stepped silently into the president’s box. He paused and took stock of the mere four feet between himself and the president. Slowly, smoothly, the man pulled a .44-caliber Derringer pistol from his pocket and waited. He was listening for lines from the play on the stage below. They would signal his next move.
“We will visit the Holy Land,” Lincoln continued, leaning toward Mary so as not to disturb the others.
Now, hearing what he had been waiting for in an actor’s words, the stranger—himself an actor named John Wilkes Booth—stepped forward and lifted his pistol toward the president’s head.
In the sacred seconds that remained, Lincoln spoke again—before the assassin’s shot entered his brain just inches behind the left ear, before the blood and the confusion and the manhunts and the grief, before the ages took him and the great soul left its earthly home to hover over a nation still struggling to be born. Lincoln spoke once more.
“We will visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footsteps of the Savior,” the president said.
And then, nearly as the Derringer ball cracked the air, “There is no place I so much desire to see as Jerusalem.”
Lincoln’s Battle With God challenges both accepted views of Lincoln’s faith: the atheist and the passionately religious leader. Mansfield instead presents Lincoln as continually journeying in his faith…a journey cut short by an assassin and obscured by scholarly bias and conflicting evidence.
Here’s Mansfield delving deeper into what he learned writing this book: