Long-lost letter sheds light on Lincoln's faith

April 12, 2011

(RNS) On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War,
a long-lost letter has surfaced that describes President Abraham
Lincoln's belief in God.


The Raab Collection of Philadelphia plans to sell a recently
discovered letter written in 1866 by William Herndon, a Springfield,
Ill., lawyer and Lincoln confidant.


"Mr. Lincoln's religion is too well known to me to allow of even a
shadow of a doubt; he is or was a Theist & a Rationalist, denying all
extraordinary -- supernatural inspiration or revelation," wrote Herndon
of the nation's 16th president.


"At one time in his life, to say the least, he was an elevated
Pantheist, doubting the immortality of the soul as the Christian world
understands that term. He believed that the soul lost its identity and
was immortal as a force. Subsequent to this he rose to the belief of a
God."


The collection estimates the letter is worth $35,000.


Lincoln's faith has long been an elusive topic for historians. He
was never baptized, did not join a church and usually did not discuss
his beliefs.


"In rare instances, he divulged his true feelings to one close
friend, longtime confidant and law partner, William Herndon," said
Nathan Raab, vice president of the Raab Collection. "He did believe in
God, however difficult it might be to easily define those beliefs."