cover image Lincoln’s God: How Faith Transformed a President and a Nation

Lincoln’s God: How Faith Transformed a President and a Nation

Joshua Zeitz. Viking, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-1-98488-221-9

In this intriguing yet inconclusive account, historian Zeitz (Lincoln’s Boys) reevaluates Abraham Lincoln’s religious convictions. Tracing Lincoln’s development from a young man “eager to escape his parents’ stern religiosity,” through his period as someone “who openly questioned the divinity of Christ,” to his maturation into a seasoned lawyer and politician who knew how “to bite his tongue,” Zeitz contends that Lincoln’s increasing invocation of Christian language and imagery during the Civil War was not borne out of spiritual conviction so much as necessity: “the Bible was simply a useful reference point for his audience.” Nevertheless, Lincoln’s rhetoric pointed toward an unprecedented “alignment of church, state, and party” that happened during the conflict. While acknowledging that Lincoln’s “brand of Christian faith was not evangelical by common definition,” Zeitz claims that Lincoln’s mobilization of the engines of evangelicalism on behalf of the Union arguably made him “the nation’s first evangelical president.” Though Lincoln fades far into the background at times and Zeitz’s suggestion that the “muscular Christianity” of the Civil War helped pave the way for the emergence of the religious right in the 1970s isn’t entirely convincing, he provides valuable context on the intermingling of faith and politics in American history. The result is a fresh and thorough take on an overlooked aspect of Lincoln’s presidency. (May)