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The religious world of Abraham Lincoln

That I am not a member of any Christian church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular.

Abraham Lincoln, 1846

In recent years I have had the privilege of researching the role of religion in the life of Abraham Lincoln for exhibits at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. Last summer my research focused on religion in the early decades of Springfield’s history through the period of Lincoln’s residency there, which had a formative impact on Lincoln’s own religious faith. Some of the relevant highlights in my report to the National Park Service include:

  • The religious history of Springfield both exemplifies and deviates from the broader religious history of the US during the antebellum period. Most influential were the evangelistic revivals of Protestant Christianity commonly known as the Second Great Awakening; numerous churches in Springfield and surrounding areas began or were bolstered by revivals. Immigration also was an important factor during this period, although Springfield did not receive large numbers of European Catholics like other cities in the US.
  • Like much of the rest of the nation, Springfield, Illinois, witnessed the contentious efforts of a variety of social reform movements. Two in particular that Lincoln took personal interest in were public education and slavery. The abolitionist movement of course would have profound implications for Lincoln’s own political fortunes; at the local level, abolition was controversial and even split congregations.
  • In regard to the religious communities active by 1860, evangelical Protestant congregations dominated Springfield’s religious landscape, especially Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Baptists. This is not surprising and reflects patterns in the religious history of the nation as a whole. Often overlooked, though, is how religious diversity also figured in to Springfield’s early religious landscape as a variety of competing faiths were also active and flourishing during Lincoln’s residency there. Among these were Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Universalists, and Spiritualists.

My complete 43-page report is on file in the office of the Historian at the headquarters of Lincoln Home National Historic Site, and it’s also available in the Sangamon Valley Collection of the Lincoln Library, Springfield’s main public library. Alternatively, you can contact me for a copy.

Church House, New Salem
Church House, Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, Petersburg, Illinois (Photo by T.S. Bremer, 2018)

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