Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

The Mystical Statesman
Lincoln's final emergence was a deeper thing than merely the consolidation of a
character, the transformation of a dreamer into a man of action. The fusion of the outer
and the inner person was the result of a profound interior change. Those elements of
mysticism which were in him from the first, which had gleamed darkly through such
deep overshadowing, were at last established in their permanent form. The political
tension had been matched by a spiritual tension with personal sorrow as the connecting
link. In a word, he had found his religion.
Lincoln's instinctive reticence was especially guarded, as any one might expect, in the
matter of his belief. Consequently, the precise nature of it has been much discussed. As
we have seen, the earliest current report charged him with deism. The devoted Herndon,
himself an agnostic, eagerly claims his hero as a member of the noble army of doubters.
Elaborate arguments have been devised in rebuttal. The fault on both sides is in the
attempt to base an impression on detached remarks and in the further error of treating all
these fragments as of one time, or more truly, as of no time, as if his soul were a
philosopher of the absolute, speaking oracularly out of a void. It is like the vicious
reasoning that tortures systems of theology out of disconnected texts.
Lincoln's religious life reveals the same general divisions that are to be found in his
active life: from the beginning to about the time of his election; from the close of 1860 to
the middle of 1862; the remainder.
Of his religious experience in the first period, very little is definitely known. What
glimpses we have of it both fulfill and contradict the forest religion that was about him in
his youth. The superstition, the faith in dreams, the dim sense of another world
surrounding this, the belief in communion between the two, these are the parts of him that
are based unchangeably in the forest shadows. But those other things, the spiritual
passions, the ecstacies, the vague sensing of the terribleness of the creative powers,--to
them always he made no response. And the crude philosophizing of the forest
theologians, their fiercely simple dualism--God and Satan, thunder and lightning, the
eternal war in the heavens, the eternal lake of fire--it meant nothing to him. Like all the
furious things of life, evil appeared to him as mere negation, a mysterious foolishness he
could not explain. His aim was to forget it. Goodness and pity were the active elements
that roused him to think of the other world; especially pity. The burden of men's tears,
falling ever in the shadows at the backs of things--this was the spiritual horizon from
which he could not escape. Out of the circle of that horizon he had to rise by spiritual
apprehension in order to be consoled. And there is no reason to doubt that at times, if not
invariably, in his early days, he did rise; he found consolation. But it was all without
form. It was a sentiment, a mood,--philosophically bodiless. This indefinite mysticism
was the real heart of the forest world, closer than hands or feet, but elusive, incapable of
formulation, a presence, not an idea. Before the task of expressing it, the forest mystic
stood helpless. Just what it was that he felt impinging upon him from every side he did