By most accounts, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t terribly interested in organized religion. But that’s not to say he wasn’t spiritual.
As president, his work was his prayer. Lincoln rooted his policies in a faith in the idea of union and democracy, in a hope that the divisions of a bitter, brother-against-brother war could be healed, and in a charity that refused to see those in rebellion as anything other than fellow Americans.
His speeches often rose to the level of civic prayer.
At Gettysburg, he concluded his short remarks with words that redefined the national identity:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Those words honored the Union dead. But, a year and a half later, when Lincoln ended his second inaugural address, he was speaking to and about all Americans:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Patrick T. Reardon