Today is Abraham Lincoln’s 211th birthday, in honor of which, according to the custom of my blog, I re-post this post about Lincoln’s religious beliefs, such as they were. Enjoy!
In 1920, William E. Barton published The Soul of Abraham Lincoln, a now classic study of the development of Lincoln’s faith. “Lincoln’s religious was an evolution,” Barton wrote, “both in its intellectual and spiritual qualities.”
Lincoln’s religious identity seems to have moved through three stages: (1) a Calvinist Baptist in childhood; (2) a skeptical, freethinker in young adulthood; and (3) and a not-altogether-orthodox Christian in mature adulthood.
“Too much of the effort to prove that Abraham Lincoln was a Christian,” Barton wrote, “has begun and ended in the effort to show that on certain theological opinions he cherished correct opinions.” Lincoln didn’t. For example, he evidently believe in evolution and universal salvation, and he had doubts about Christ’s virgin birth.
“Abraham Lincoln was not a theologian,” Barton went on to say, “and several of his theological opinions may have been incorrect; but there is good reason to believe that he was a true Christian.” By this, Barton meant that Lincoln had “a right attitude toward spiritual realities and practical duties.” (In my opinion, Lincoln was neither an infidel nor an orthodox Christian, but something in between.)
Barton concluded his study with “a series of short quotations [of Lincoln’s] from documents, letters, and addresses, certified authentic and touching directly upon points of Christian doctrine.” He organized these quotations into what he called “The Creed of Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words.”
In honor of Lincoln’s birthday—he was born on February 12, 1809—I’ve posted that creed below, adding footnotes that link individual phrases to their sources in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. This is the online version of Roy P. Bassler’s authoritative series of the same name.
The Creed of Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words
I believe in God, the Almighty Ruler of Nations, our great and good and merciful Maker, our Father in Heaven, who notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our heads.
I believe in His eternal truth and justice.
I recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history that those nations only are blest whose God is the Lord.
I believe that it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, and to invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.
I believe that it is meet and right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father equally in our triumphs and in those sorrows which we may justly fear are a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins to the needful end of our reformation.
I believe that the Bible is the best gift which God has ever given to men. All the good from the Saviour of the world is communicated to us through this book.
I believe the will of God prevails. Without Him all human reliance is vain. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail.
Being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, I desire that all my works and acts may be according to His will; and that it may be so, I give thanks to the Almighty, and seek His aid.
I have a solemn oath registered in heaven to finish the work I am in, in full view of my responsibility to my God, with malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives me to see the right. Commending those who love me to His care, as I hope in their prayers they will commend me, I look through the help of God to a joyous meeting with many loved ones gone before.
 William E. Barton, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 300. This book is a reprint of the 1920 first edition published by George H. Doran Co. Chapter XXIII is titled, “The Creed of Abraham Lincoln.”
 “First Inaugural Address—Final Text,” March 4, 1861.
 “To John D. Johnston,” January 12, 1851.
 “First Inaugural Address.”
 “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day,” March 30, 1863.
 “Proclamation of Thanksgiving,” July 15, 1863.
 “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day.”
 “Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible,” September 7, 1864.
 “Meditation on the Divine Will,” [September 2, 1862?].
 “To the Friends of Union and Liberty,” May 9, 1864.
 “Farewell Address at Springfield, Illinois,” February 11, 1861.
 “Reply to Eliza P. Gurney,” October 26, 1862.
 “First Inaugural Address.”
 “Second Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1865.
 “Message to Congress,” March 6, 1862.
 “Second Inaugural Address.”
 “Farewell Address at Springfield, Illinois.”
 “To John D. Johnston.”