When, in the summer of 1846, Abraham Lincoln stood for election to the U.S. House of Representatives, running as a Whig in the Seventh Congressional District of Illinois, his opponent was the popular and formidable Methodist circuit rider, Peter Cartwright. During the final days of the campaign, Lincoln discovered that the Democrats were slyly circulating defamatory charges that he was "an open scoffer at Christianity." His private disclaimers failing to stop the smears, Lincoln arranged for the publication of a handbill setting out his religious position. "That I am not a member of any Christian Church is true," he wrote, "but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular." Following his comfortable victory on August 3, Lincoln asked the editor of the Illinois Gazette to publish the text of the handbill as a means of laying Cartwright's claims firmly and finally to rest. [1]

For those seeking to piece into a coherent whole the elements of Lincoln's religious faith, this episode has obvious value. Though the handbill falls far short of a full credal statement, it does provide a unique public expression of the private religious views of a man who was otherwise unyielding in his conviction that they should remain private. Most significant was his concession "that in early life I was inclined to believe in ... the 'Doctrine of Neces- Page  [End Page 27] sity'—that is that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control." Some have taken this as confirmation of the fatalist or determinist aspects of Lincoln's thought, whether deriving from the Calvinist predestinarianism of his mother's Baptist faith or from the philosophic determinism to which he appears to have been attracted while at New Salem and in his early years in Springfield.

Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois. Here is where the
Lincoln family worshipped while living in Springfield.
First Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois. Here is where the Lincoln family worshipped while living in Springfield.

My purpose in alluding to this episode, however, is not to provide a vantage point for exploring Lincoln's personal religion. Rath- Page  [End Page 28] er, it is to show that Cartwright's actions and Lincoln's response possessed more than local significance: they indicated a political cosmos profoundly shaped by popular religious culture and especially by its most powerful element, the forces of evangelical Protestantism. The evangelical religion that blossomed during the so-called Second Great Awakening, far from being fenced off into its own private world, exerted a powerful political influence, encouraging civic responsibility and popular participation in politics, shaping party loyalties, platforms, and agendas, and providing the coin of politics. When Lincoln wrote in the handbill that "I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion," and that "[no] man has the right thus to insult the feelings, and injure the morals of the community in which he may live," he recognized both the social grip of religion and the duty of politicians to respect the religious sensibilities of voters. He had expressed similar sentiments three years earlier, in 1843, when privately explaining his failure to secure the Whig nomination for the congressional seat: "It was everywhere contended that no Christian ought to go for me, because I belonged to no church, [and] was suspected of being a deist." These influences, he judged, might not have been determinative, but "they were very strong" and "levied a tax of considerable per cent upon my strength throughout the religious community." He offered no complaint, however, and, referring to the successful candidate, Edward D. Baker, a Campbellite, he wrote tellingly: "As to his own church going for him, I think that was right enough." [2]

Lincoln's words invite us to consider how evangelical religion shaped American political culture, not only in the immediate context in which they were written—the era of mature party competition between Whigs and Democrats—but in the subsequent decade, the years of the emergent "third party system," when the continuing but southern-oriented Democratic party faced an insurgent, crusading Republican party. This necessarily brief examination will be followed by a look at Lincoln's bid for the presidency in 1860. Page  [End Page 29] Lincoln himself remained silent during that campaign, but Republican publicists, sensitive to evangelicals' influence, proved as alert as any of their predecessors to the electoral benefits of addressing the fears and aspirations of that powerful constituency. In the process, they elevated a mute candidate into a moral talisman.

Over the first thirty years of the nineteenth century—the era of the Second Great Awakening—American evangelical Protestantism enjoyed a period of dramatic numerical growth. By 1850, the largest Protestant denominational families—Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists—claimed a communicating membership of nearly three million and a total "population" (which embraced regular "hearers" as well as members) three times as large. At mid-century one out of every three Americans came within the orbit of the major evangelical churches. It was no wonder that one foreign visitor concluded that "the spirit of the evangelical system is in sufficient power to give to religious opinion and sentiment the complete ascendant in society." [3]

The climactic years of the Second Great Awakening coincided with the emergence of a recognizably modern mass democratic political system. Evangelicals sought to come to terms with the new order and establish the proper limits to their civic duty. A minority of political quietists, stressing personal holiness, tried to keep the world of the spirit firmly separated from that of politics. Many of them regarded politics in general and voting in particular as a supreme irrelevance in an era of millennialist expectation, when Christ was expected at any moment to make his return "to cleanse his sanctuary." [4] But the majority of evangelicals drew on a Calvinist understanding of politics as a means of introducing God's kingdom and perceived the state as a moral being. As postmillennialists who believed that Christ's return would follow the inauguration of a glorious millennium brought about by burgeoning human efforts, these evangelicals stressed the public responsibilities of Christians. They urged them to vote to secure the election of good men and to lobby for laws appropriate to a Christian republic. They were anxious about many of the political innovations in Jacksonian Page  [End Page 30] America, particularly the threat to republicanism represented by professional politicians, tight party discipline, the subordination of principle to spoils of office, and the tumult of mass elections. But whatever their anxieties, "Calvinist" evangelicals were determined to purify political life, not withdraw from it.

By mid-century, indeed, most male evangelical Protestants were deeply involved in politics. They attended rallies, avidly read political papers, and canvassed for particular candidates. As the revivalist Charles Finney explained: "No one can possibly be benevolent or religious without concerning himself to a greater or lesser extent with the affairs of human government." John Wentworth of Illinois made the same point more colorfully in 1844, quoting a letter to a bookseller from a Whig clergyman who was passionate for Henry Clay's victory in the presidential election:


Please send ... 1 dozen Village Hymns, 6 Bibles, 1 dozen Church Psalmodies, [and] 2 dozen Clay Minstrels [the Whig campaign songbook],

Your affectionate Christian brother,

Rev. N.B.C.

PS. Send the Clay Minstrels by all means—the others I can wait for till after the election."

The letter was no doubt apocryphal, but Wentworth's story contained a solid kernel of truth: ministers were often energetic partisans. Few were as blindly enthusiastic as the Methodist local preacher, William Gannaway Brownlow of Knoxville, who regarded Henry Clay as "the greatest man now living" and would, as he put it, have "willingly voted for Clay's last pair of pantaloons stuffed with straw"; but there were plenty who shared his commitment to a party and were even moved, like Peter Cartwright, to run for office. [5] Page  [End Page 31]

The new political arrangements were themselves deeply influenced by the revivalist culture of the Second Great Awakening—by evangelicals' language, modes of operation, religious sensibilities, and moral imperatives. [6] The party managers who fashioned and sustained the so-called "second party system" from the 1820s to the 1850s sought to build national political coalitions out of elements whose primary loyalties were local and regional. Churches showed how local enthusiasm could be channeled to build a sense of community extending beyond the locality. Party strategists recognized that religious passions might provide a basis for political loyalty. They invited ministers to offer prayers at party conventions; they ran political gatherings along the lines of camp and protracted meetings; their songs often echoed Protestant hymnody; they played "recognition" politics by running candidates known to be attached to those denominations whose members' votes were pivotal; and they replicated the evangelicals' mind-set of a world sharply divided between irreconcilable forces.

Under the mature second party system, both Whigs and Democrats annexed the support of elements within evangelical Protestantism, but each party projected itself differently toward that variegated constituency. Democrats offered a home to a variety of "outsider" religious groups, including evangelical Protestants who had suffered at the hands of the recently disestablished churches. In contrast, Whigs made a bid for the support of evangelicals who, while committed to the classic Protestant virtues of self-control and self-discipline, also welcomed an interventionist government that would regulate social behavior and maintain moral standards in public life. The party's publicists presented it as the friend of educational provision, temperance, and the humane treatment of those who stood in a dependent relationship to the state, including Native Americans. They commonly portrayed their opponents as atheists and religious perverts, the allies of Mormons, freethinkers, and Roman Catholics. In successive elections in the 1840s, Whigs made much of their credentials as "the Christian party." Page  [End Page 32]

Whig publicists in 1844, for example, tried with stunning audacity to turn the old reprobate Henry Clay into an upright, God-fearing citizen. Clay, the son of a Baptist minister, had twice dueled with pistols and had a passion for gambling. At their rallies Democrats flourished banners that bore the legend "No Duellist or Gambler" and portrayed Clay with a pack of cards in one hand and a pistol in the other. They judged that voters would be less forgiving than his wife, who, when asked if she was upset by her husband's gambling, replied, "Oh no, he almost always wins." It was not easy for Whigs, the self-proclaimed party of Christian respectability, to sustain convincingly the idea of Clay's piety and moral probity. Wentworth sneered that the Whigs were "for religion, but they want Clay first." Seeking to square the circle, the party chose as Clay's running mate the most illustrious lay evangelical in the country, Theodore J. Frelinghuysen, a man more at home on the religious platform than the political hustings. At a time when many evangelicals were particularly fearful of what they saw as a Catholic threat to Bible reading in common schools (fears that provoked bloody riots in Philadelphia in the summer of 1844), who could better assert the Whigs' claims to be the "Protestant party" than the stalwart of the American Bible Society, Frelinghuysen himself?[7]

At this point we can return to Lincoln's explanation of his failure to win the Whig nomination in 1843, for it was entirely consistent with this portrayal of Whig political culture. Lincoln did not blame Christian influence alone for his defeat, but he was certain that Baker had been preferred at least in part because he was a known Campbellite, a member of a socially powerful and numerous Protestant denomination, while he, Lincoln, belonged to no church and was understood to hold unorthodox beliefs. Lincoln also judged that his involvement in an absurd duel with James Shields—an episode about which he seems to have felt considerable embarrassment, even shame—had alienated necessary Christian support. It may even be, as William Wolf suggests, that Lincoln's temperance address to the Washingtonians of Springfield in 1842, with its criticism of pharisaical Christians, had "rubbed many church members the wrong way" and acted as an additional lia- Page  [End Page 33] bility at the Whig convention in 1843. [8] Lincoln's experience did not mean that there was no room in the party for those tainted with religious heterodoxy. After all, Lincoln won the Whig nomination and the subsequent congressional election in 1846. But there were enough Whigs of conventional piety to make an issue of a candidate's religious orientation and moral standing.

Lincoln also reflected on the likelihood that Baker, as a member of the Disciples, had "with few exceptions got all that church." Moreover, he noted, Mary Todd Lincoln and some of her relatives were Presbyterians, while others were Episcopalians, "and therefore, wherever it would tell, I was set down as either the one or the other."[9] Lincoln was uncomfortable with religious sectarianism but he knew that interdenominational conflict was an inseparable part of the sociopolitical experience of central Illinois. [10] His remarks draw attention to one of the important realities of antebellum voting: religious loyalties and antagonisms were a major, and sometimes the main, determinant of party attachment. Interdenominational conflicts and differing views on the proper role of government in sustaining a Christian republic helped determine party affiliation. Though the devout were to be found in all parties and though local context proved enormously important, certain denominations showed much stronger support for one party over another. During the second party system, New School Calvinists were strongly Whig; the Democrats' particular strength lay among Catholics, Antimission Baptists, and "ritualist" Protestants. Many Methodists, Baptists, and Old School Calvinists rallied to Whiggery, though vast numbers in these churches remained loyal to a Democratic party rooted in Jeffersonian tolerance of religious pluralism and wary of the cultural and social influence of formerly established Protestant churches. [11]

Lincoln's Republican party absorbed from Whiggery many lessons about marshaling the energy of religious enthusiasts. Repub- Page  [End Page 34] lican managers knew the advantages of presenting candidates and platforms as embodiments of Christian virtue. These considerations contributed to their projection of Lincoln in 1860. Of course, for many supporters of the Republican ticket the party's candidate was far less important than its platform and its unequivocal commitment to antislavery principles. Charles B. Johnson recalled that, as a young man of seventeen, he hungrily read the Illinois weekly press and attended every rally in Bond County. By his own admission, his enthusiasm was for the Republican cause, not for Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin as candidates. The average voter, he judged, felt that Lincoln did not measure up to any of the other parties' candidates in political and executive experience.[12] But this did not make the presentation of Lincoln unimportant, as was evident in the speed with which the first nationally read biography appeared in the Chicago Press and Tribune, on the day after his nomination, and by the appearance of eighteen separate biographies during the campaign itself.[13] In three particular ways, Lincoln (or at least those who spoke for him) was well placed to reach out to devout northern Protestants and be seen, in the language of the Chicago Press and Tribune, as a standard bearer "worthy of the holy cause": he represented sound religion; he was incorruptibly honest; and his antislavery credentials were beyond reproach.[14]

First, Republicans presented Lincoln as a candidate rooted in sound Protestant orthodoxy. As John Locke Scripps's biography explained: "He is a regular attendant upon religious worship, and though not a communicant, is a pew-holder and liberal supporter of the Presbyterian church in Springfield, to which Mrs. Lincoln belongs." Lincoln was extolled in the press as one who had "always held up the doctrines of the Bible, and the truths and examples of the Christian religion, as the foundation of all good." He enjoyed the confidence of the religious community and was a staunch believer in Sabbath schools: indeed, the Albany Evening Journal exulted that an opinion poll of Sunday-school excursionists from Ogdensburgh, New York, overwhelmingly supported Page  [End Page 35] him. Party publicists also celebrated Lincoln as a man of blameless behavior: he never used profane language; he did not gamble; and he avoided all intoxicating liquor, even wine.[15]

In this portrait, there was enough truth to defend Republican editors against the charge of perjury: Lincoln had indeed attended the First Presbyterian Church since the death of his son, Eddie, in 1850. He had the reputation among his neighbors, including the Baptist minister Noyes W. Miner, of being one who was "never known to profane the name of God" and was "a temperance man, out and out," refusing to offer wine at his home even to the Republican committee sent to notify him of his nomination for the presidency.[16] But Lincoln was hardly a pious evangelical Protestant. Though historians remain understandably cautious about Lincoln's private religion, they generally agree that it was scarcely Christ-centered (though Christ's atonement for all mankind was an essential element of his seemingly universalist theology). Even Miner, well disposed toward his neighbor, judged that at the time of his election Lincoln was not "what is termed an experimental christian. I used to see him sometimes at the funerals of his old neighbors, but he was not constant in his attendance at public worship." [17]

The reality of Lincoln's private beliefs, however, mattered less than that his promoters kept him clear of the taint of infidelity, so troublesome for him in the 1840s, and projected him as a leader destined to deliver the nation "from the rule of a Godless ... Administration."[18] Republicans, as had the Whigs before them, castigated Democrats for their moral shortcomings and particularly for their subordination to Catholic influence. This is not to suggest that Lincoln personally sought to take political advantage of religious sectarianism, but among the Republican editors who upheld his Page  [End Page 36] Christian integrity were those who also deliberately branded Stephen Douglas with the mark of the Beast. The Little Giant was a renegade: born in Vermont, he emigrated "early enough to avoid contracting many of the Puritan virtues which add luster to the character of that people." [19] A moral leper and a drunkard (according to one mischievous campaign report, he had had to be helped, inebriated, out of his railroad car), Douglas "trifle[d] with the law of Sinai as freely as a hoary-headed gambler would ... throw dice on a New Orleans sugar barrel for 'pig tail' tobacco!" Having abandoned his family's Calvinism in favor of close ties with the Catholic hierarchy, he had visited Rome and (it was claimed) submitted to the Pope, receiving absolution and "the right hand of fellowship." His marriage to a Catholic woman and the support he secured from Illinois Romanist voters in 1858 pointed to a "secret understanding between him and the leading men of ... [the Catholic Church] in America, whereby he is to have their votes ... for a consideration." The "troop of wild Irish" would surely support Douglas again in 1860 and, with their man in the White House, make Archbishop John Hughes "the keeper of the conscience of the King." But vote for Lincoln, insisted the Cincinnati Rail Splitter, "and this Government [would] still remain in Protestant control." [20]

Republicans' anti-Catholicism played upon a number of related but distinct fears: the theological-ecclesiastical anxieties of staunch Protestants who regarded Rome as the antichrist and the murderer of religious liberties; the social phobia of nativists who equated Catholicism with Irish immigrants and a dramshop culture of "blackguardism,... riot and soul-sickening blasphemy"; and the political antipathy of antislavery reformers who believed the Roman Church to be minted from the same metal as a slave Power equally hostile to republican freedoms. The Republican platform did not directly address the issue of Catholicism; indeed, aware of the need to extend its influence among immigrant voters, especially Germans, the party explicitly condemned legal efforts to abridge the rights of citizens and included a homestead plank offering benefits to newcomers. But Republicans' anti-Catholic posture had been well established through the late 1850s, and many of their speakers and candidates in 1860 were known nativists and anti-Romanists. Page  [End Page 37]

"Catholicism and Republicanism are as plainly incompatible as oil and water," declared Charles Ray's Chicago Press and Tribune early in the campaign, recognizing that Republican success depended on the party's winning voters in the lower North who in 1856 had sustained Millard Fillmore's American party.[21] Lincoln himself would have been alert to this priority, not least because "Protestant American" influence had made Springfield and Sangamon County Fillmore territory in 1856.[22] When a possible fusion of ex-Fillmorites (in the guise of John Bell's Constitutional Union party) and Douglas Democrats threatened to weaken Lincoln's prospects in New York and elsewhere, Republicans stressed the unnaturalness of the combination of "the Puritan and the Black-leg," of the Irish and "Sam," of "rowdyism and conservatism," and of "seditionists and law-abiders": "Come out from them Old Line Whigs!, Come out from them Americans!" demanded the Rail Splitter, a Republican sheet whose circulation lay principally in areas of Fillmorite strength.[23] In the event, Republicans won enough of these votes to give the presidency to Lincoln, who thus benefited from an anti-Catholic animus that he had done nothing to inflame and of whose political exploitation he almost certainly disapproved.[24] But, as in the case of his earlier disapproval of Know-Nothingism, Lincoln kept his views private. In this he was assisted by the Democrats' either missing or choosing to ignore the ambiguities in his religious past—a curious omission in view of their creative storytelling in 1856, when they had regaled voters with imaginative tales of John Frémont's alleged Catholicism.

Closely related to the Republicans' use of anti-Romanist sentiment was their stress on corruption in the national administration. The party took over much of the language of purification that Whigs had used in an earlier era, and especially in 1840, when it had presented William Henry Harrison as the embodiment of that Protestant integrity that alone could cleanse Washington of its Jack- Page  [End Page 38] sonian abuses. In 1860 the Democrats, after forming three of the last four national administrations, were again vulnerable to the charge of carrying the nation to the brink of moral crisis. The Republicans' promise to encourage "a revival of moral honesty and integrity, in all departments of life" took on even greater urgency after June 1860, when the congressional Covode Committee exposed the dishonesty of the Buchanan administration in Kansas affairs and in its handling of government contracts. The Democratic party, claimed Republican editors, in language whose extravagance represented anxious moral outrage as much as cynical calculation, was "the rendezvous of thieves, the home of parasites and bloodsuckers, the enemy of God and man, the stereotyped fraud, the sham, the hypocrite, the merciless marauder, and the outlawed renegade and malefactor." Composed of "knaves, plunderers, and political mountebanks, that sell themselves to the highest bidder for power, place, or pelf," the administration had "sunk the nation into a gulf of corruption and misrule." The New York Tribune feared that "the very existence of the Republic is at stake." [25] The times demanded a new Martin Luther.

Lincoln met that need. Across the North, Republican speakers and writers seized on his reputation for integrity. Joshua Giddings told a ratification meeting at Oberlin that "every beat of 'honest Abe's' heart was a throb of sincerity and truth." The Chicago Press and Tribune insisted that he was "above all, religiously honest." His legal career, explained the Ohio State Journal, showed "no crooked turns, no evasion, no duplicity in his past life, official or private. All is plain, manly, straightforward and consistent." A Hartford, Connecticut, newspaper maintained that he "always conducts his argument on high moral ground. Is this right or wrong, is the first, last, and only question he asks." [26] Pertinently, the Rail Splitter's masthead comprised a likeness of Lincoln's "homely but honest face" above the legend, "An Honest Man's the Noblest Work of God." Democrats' efforts to counter these Republican thrusts invoked the testimony of Charles Hanks that his cousin was an ambitious, unprincipled party-switcher who, having been a Democrat when he first arrived in Illinois, had jumped ship because he lived in a Whig district and subsequently joined the Republicans through the lure of office. Douglas's paper in Springfield, though not chal- Page  [End Page 39] lenging claims of Lincoln's honesty in his private life, lamented the "vulgarity" and "impurity" of his jokes ("His qualifications for side-splitting are quite as good as for rail-splitting ... but neither vocation is supposed to be carried out extensively in the white house") and dryly added that, politically, it could be assumed that "Mr. Lincoln's honesty is about on a par with the scheming office-hunters generally of his class and party." But his opponents found it hard seriously to shift the widespread understanding of Lincoln as "the very soul of integrity." [27]

Lincoln as conspicuous opponent of slavery joined Lincoln the orthodox Christian and Lincoln the incorruptible statesman to complete the Republicans' appeal to the community of devout Protestants. Addressing evangelicals' worries, as expressed in their sermons and church resolutions, about the "steady and tireless march" of aggressive slaveholders, the Republican program stood unequivocally against the extension of slavery and the revival of the African slave trade. Party spokesmen set the antislavery battle in a gospel context, appealing for Christian soldiers to take up arms in what George Washington Julian described as "a fight ... between God and the Devil—between heaven and hell!" According to William Burleigh, the belief in an irrepressible conflict between free and slave labor was "Christ's doctrine of righteousness conflicting with evil." [28] As for Lincoln's own views, they were variously and even ambiguously represented by Republican speakers, some radical, some conservative, who stumped the country on his behalf. But portions of Lincoln's 1858 debates with Douglas were reprinted in campaign biographies, and his Cooper Union speech of February 1860 had also found its way into print, ensuring little ambiguity over his resolute commitment to restricting slavery within its current boundaries. The memorable peroration to his New York address, in which he set out Republicans' moral responsibilities, ensured that the ethical underpinnings of his hostility to slavery were widely understood: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."[29]

Republicans addressed a range of other questions during the campaign, most notably the protective tariff and a homestead act, Page  [End Page 40] issues thought to have a bearing on the fate of pivotal states like Pennsylvania and Illinois. But slavery, political corruption, and Catholicism were the three principal issues through which the party sought to establish itself as the godly party engaged in a crusade for righteousness. As in 1856, Republicans flavored their conventions with prayer and encouraged clergy to take a salient role in the political campaign: although some of the most radical antislavery evangelicals demanded still higher ground, many influential religious editors and prominent ministers were active supporters. In contrast to 1856, however, when allegations about Frémont and the Catholic church proved a damaging diversion, the party now had a presidential candidate who on each of the critical issues could be promoted to the party's advantage. The consequence was that Republicans fought the campaign with supreme ideological confidence. According to one of their newspapers, the Chicago platform embodied "the moral instincts and feelings of the nineteenth century ... [and] the principles ... tried by our civilization and Christianity, that will sweep out of existence" those "Democratic Jacobins" who had aroused "the ... moral sentiment of the nation[,] ... the pulpit, the church, [and] the academy." The Quincy Whig and Republican put it more succinctly when it declared that the hearts of Republicans who gathered for the great Springfield meeting in August were filled with the prayer: "May God speed the right." [30]

A few Democrats responded in kind by pointing to ministerial celebrities who had endorsed their own party: they included Jedediah Burchard, the Presbyterian revivalist; the Methodist, Henry Clay Dean, who was on the Democrats' slate of presidential electors in Iowa; and Peter Cartwright.[31] But in general, Democrats and Constitutional Unionists jeered at the Republicans for claiming to be "the decency, moral and Christian party." Thus when Springfield Republicans rushed to peal church bells on news of Lincoln's nomination at the Chicago convention, the town's Douglasite paper protested: "Black republicanism has ever recognized pulpits and church bells as party adjuncts, but yesterday's performance runs the thing a little beyond the line of decency." In the nearby town of Pana, the Democrats asserted that Lincoln's supporters reacted Page  [End Page 41] to events in Chicago by singing "Old Hundred" and "Pisgah" and calling for prayer—in the shade of "the sainted [John] Brown." Democrats derided Republicans as "a religious Sect" with a "holy zeal for its one idea," the natural allies of "blue light puritans" and "fanatical Sabbatarians," who were working to unite church and state and to impose New England morality on the whole society: if the party "had not slavery for a hobby, it would be vexing us about some other questions of morals or of social arrangement." This was the party of "ultra and fanatical" ministers: Ichabod Codding; George Barrell Cheever, who aimed to turn Lincoln into one of God's "instrumentalities" in the great battle against slavery; and Owen Lovejoy, "the old nigger stealer," "great negroite," and abolitionist, whose "sacred drippings" (stump speeches) aimed to secure the election of his like-minded friend. [32] Responding with ridicule to what it considered Republican sanctimony, the Campaign Plain Dealer of Cleveland, Ohio, proffered "A Political Sermon. By the Rev. Hardshell Pike," a satirical riposte to the jeremiads of Lincolnite ministers. Taking as his "tex'" the reading "He split some rails in Illinoy and bossed a roarin' flat-boat," the Douglasite preacher developed his theme:

The pizin crew who oppose us tell us to come to ABRAHAM's buzzum, when the fact is he hain't got no more buzzum than a chest of jiner's tools has.... Maybe he's a good man. I'm not here to maline him, my Brethering. No doubt he kin split a fair rail. Probly he's a kind man in his family & pays his grocer's bill promptly, but my Brethering, he can't keep a hotel. He's too small a man—too weak a sister—to be President.
Commending Douglas for his "righteious mootiny" against the Buchanan administration, the sermon ended with the instruction: "Let us all sing 'Git out of the Wilderness'—short metre." [33]

If Republicans in 1860 promoted themselves and their candidate as the embodiment of uncorrupted Protestantism, the question aris- Page  [End Page 42] es: how far did the members of northern evangelical denominations cleave to that party? Did Republicans, as "the Christian party," manage to attract the bulk of evangelical churchgoers? There is little doubt that Republicans inherited from Whiggery the majority of Congregationalist and New School Presbyterian voters and enjoyed the support of the smaller, earnestly antislavery denominations, including Quakers, Freewill Baptists, Wesleyan Methodists, and Free Presbyterians; they also won over large numbers of Methodists and Baptists. But northern evangelical churches were far from uniformly Republican. Quite apart from those ex-Whig and ex-Know-Nothing churchgoers who turned to John Bell in 1860, large numbers of traditionally Democratic evangelicals remained true to the party of Jackson by voting for Stephen Douglas or John Breckinridge.[34]

Lincoln himself was well aware of this more complex picture. In one of his conversations with Newton Bateman, the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Illinois, whose room in the state capitol adjoined his own campaign headquarters, Lincoln produced the results of a recent canvass of Springfield voters, which included the names of the city's clergy. According to Josiah Holland, the candidate told Bateman: "Here are twenty-three, ministers of different denominations, and all of them are against me but three; and here are a great many prominent members of the churches, a very large majority of whom are against me." The precise substance of this conversation would become a matter of notorious dispute between Holland and William H. Herndon. Yet both men agreed that Lincoln had noted bitterly that all but three of the Springfield clergy opposed his election. [35] Page  [End Page 43]

Inevitably we are drawn to speculate on the significance that Lincoln attached to the Springfield evidence, beyond recognizing his obvious frustration that self-proclaimed God-fearing men could so have misread their Bible as not to care whether slavery was voted up or down.[36] Historians quite properly celebrate Lincoln's "seismographic" political sense and capacity for reading public opinion. He well understood the character of Illinois's electoral geography and political subcultures, as Douglas complained during the joint debates of 1858, when the Little Giant rebuked the Republicans for tailoring their message according to their location. What did Springfield tell him about the wider electoral picture?

Illinois was typical of the Northwest in its broad patterns of settlement. Like Indiana and Ohio, its northern counties had been colonized by migrants from New England and the wider Northeast; further south the settlers had migrated largely from the border slave states. The upshot was a clash of cultures. Drawn from the ranks of non-slaveholders, the southern folk, as Governor Thomas Ford described them, were "a very good, honest, kind, hospitable people, unambitious of wealth, and great lovers of ease and social enjoyment." They regarded the much wealthier farmers and merchants of the northern areas with great suspicion, judging that the "genuine Yankee was a close, miserly, dishonest, selfish getter of money, void of generosity, hospitality, or any of the kindlier feelings of human nature." For their part, northerners regarded the southerner as "a long, lank, lean, lazy, and ignorant animal, but little in advance of the savage state; one who was content to squat in a log-cabin, with a large family of ill-fed and ill-clothed, idle, ignorant children." Such conceptions (or misconceptions) affected political stances. Southerners, for instance, opposed the building of a canal from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River "for fear it would open a way for flooding the State with Yankees." The Reverend William Kinney complained that "the Yankees spread everywhere. He was looking daily for them to overrun [Illinois].... They could be found in every country on the globe."[37]

Sectional chauvinism drew nourishment from religious antagonism. An important element of conflict during the early years of statehood was the clash between the rough, uneducated gospel pioneers, traveling on foot or by horse, unpaid and ready to suf- Page  [End Page 44] fer chronic physical hardship in the cause of Christ, and a new breed of college-trained, well-dressed, more sophisticated ministers, settled urbanites, who set about establishing Bible, tract, and missionary societies, Sunday Schools, and other benevolent and educational operations. The conflict took on a sectional character since these more polished and intellectual preachers, men like John Mason Peck, came largely from the North and East. At issue were religious experience and Yankee cultural imperialism. The preacher "Daddy" Briggs typified the hard-shell Baptists of southern counties; speaking of the richness of God's grace, he declared that "it tuck in the isles of the sea and the uttermost parts of the 'yeth.' It embraced the Esquimaux and the Hottentots, and some, my dear brithering, go so fur as to suppose that it takes in these poor benighted Yankees; but I don't go that fur." Where such Yankee-hating reached its most intense, people's politics were most staunchly Democratic, with Whigs and then Republicans perceived as the parties most open to New England influence. Kinney was known as "a whole hog, thorough-going original Jackson man," as was "Daddy" Briggs. [38]

Lincoln well understood the conflicting outlooks associated with these two cultures, which coexisted in the central counties of the state. Not least as an attender of Springfield's First Presbyterian Church, he would have regularly encountered the conservative sociopolitical views of those communities with the strongest ties to the South, while the antislavery origins of the Second Presbyterian Church proffered firsthand evidence of the more radical outlook of New Englanders and their descendants.[39] He surely grasped the relationships among these views, church loyalties, and voting behavior.

We can easily identify two of Lincoln's three Republican clergy in Springfield: Albert Hale, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, and Lincoln's Baptist neighbor and friend, Noyes W. Miner. We should not be surprised to discover what Lincoln would certainly have seen as significant: both were Connecticut-born, college-trained Yankees. Hale's Yale education had been followed by a period as a home missionary in Georgia, after which he had been Page  [End Page 45] offered his Springfield pastorate; like Lincoln, he had taken a stand against the Mexican War. [40] Miner, after graduating from Trinity College, Hartford, and Newton Theological Seminary, had become a Baptist pastor in his home state, before accepting a call from Springfield's Baptist Church in 1854.[41] As a determined opponent of slavery, he had an uneasy relationship with the conservatives in his congregation. One southern-born older lady whose relatives still lived in the South told him, "Mr. Miner, I like your sermons but your prayers almost kill me." [42] Appropriately, Miner was to spend election day in 1860 at the polls working for Lincoln, doing "the hardest day's work he ever did challenging votes and trying to keep things straight."[43]

That most of the Springfield clergy were aligned with the Constitutional Unionists or Democrats did not mean that Republicanism was uniformly weak within evangelical Protestant churches throughout Illinois. The party was particularly well supported by New School (though not Old School) Presbyterianism as well as by most of the state's two hundred Congregational churches; these latter included some that had been established by activists like Zebina Eastman, refugees from Presbyterian churches that continued to sustain fellowship with slaveholders. [44] Equally significant was the considerable commitment to Lincoln among Illinois Meth- Page  [End Page 46] odists, especially in the northern counties. This was the largest denomination in the state, with some 100,000 members. There are several indications of Methodists' Republican allegiance. We can point to the endorsement of free-soil principles in much of the Methodist press, especially the Northwestern Christian Advocate, published in Chicago. The paper's editor, Thomas M. Eddy, was known as a staunch Republican. When, during the course of the campaign, Anthony Bewley, a northern Methodist preacher in the Arkansas Conference, was seized and lynched by a Texas mob, Eddy took up the case as the most recent and most flagrant violation of Americans' constitutional rights by a slave power deaf to republican imperatives. In an open letter to President Buchanan, he pointed out that northern Methodists, appalled by the "reign of terror" against their people in the South, were now driven to ask: "Can an administration be found which will protect the rights of conscience and the freedom of worship?" Previously divided in their voting loyalties, Methodists would cast their "united suffrage" for the man able to uphold their rights. Eddy's threat caused no small stir. His thinly veiled endorsement of Lincoln was reprinted in the columns of the Chicago Press and Tribune (where the Methodist John Locke Scripps proved an important bridge to his denomination) and other Republican papers throughout the free states. [45]

A measure of likely Republican strength among Illinois Methodists exists in the memorials sent to the general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Buffalo in 1860. These concerned the "extirpation" of slavery from the denomination. This demand, in the context of a church still embracing in its communion hundreds of border state slaveowners, was a radical one; the prima facie case for regarding its supporters as Republicans and Republican sympathizers is overwhelming. In New England and the upper North, memorials for change easily outnumbered those supporting the status quo; in the lower North and the border slave Page  [End Page 47] states the position was reversed. This pattern held in Illinois. From the Southern Illinois Conference emerged no demands for extirpation. The Illinois Conference, representing Methodists in the center of the state, including Springfield, forwarded memorials that by nine to one similarly favored the status quo. In the two northerly conferences, however, Peoria and Rock River, memorials for extirpation exceeded those sustaining an unchanged discipline by twenty to three, and by ten to one, respectively.[46]

This strength of Republican feeling in the northern counties of Illinois, as in other western states, explains why the Methodist minister Benjamin F. Crary, who was reporting his church's general conference for the Chicago Press and Tribune, judged that western Methodists found Lincoln's nomination by the concurrent Republican convention "entirely satisfactory."[47] Moreover, even though relatively weak, the minority of Methodist Republicans in central Illinois made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in numbers. Leonard F. Smith, for instance, a young, Canada-born, itinerant preacher, experienced on August 8 one of the most memorable days in his life: rising at 3:00 A.M., he and a fellow Methodist had traveled from beyond Jacksonville by horse-drawn wagon and railroad to attend the great Lincoln ratification meeting in Springfield; stunned by the numbers, he marveled at the color and pageantry, especially the torchlight procession of 2,000 Wide-Awakes, and eventually arrived back home after 5:00 A.M. the following morning fortified in his political creed. Though his senior fellow ministers included Peter Cartwright, "old Father Gillham," and other southern-born Democrats, Smith resolutely attended Republican rallies, barbecues, and pole-raisings, firm in his conviction that to work for Lincoln's victory over a party "characterized by a noisy dirty ignorant rabble" was a proper expression of his religious faith. [48] Page  [End Page 48]

Lincoln's lament over the weakness of Republicanism in the Springfield churches may properly act as a corrective to a vision of evangelical uniformity within his party, but it should not be taken to mean that he regarded the situation in Springfield as representative of Illinois or the wider North, where in fact Republicans significantly extended their influence within Protestant churches. Unlike Frémont in 1856, Lincoln ran impressively among German Reformed and other German Protestant voters. Even more telling were the evangelical accessions from the American party, vital to Lincoln's victory in Illinois, Indiana, New York, and Pennsylvania. (Lincoln's showing in the southern counties of Illinois and Indiana was much stronger than Frémont's in 1856 and was largely secured by winning over Fillmore's votes at Bell's expense: Lincoln's southern birth seems to have been of some advantage to him among transplanted southerners, though a majority of these remained opposed.) Lincoln also made converts among long-standing evangelical Democrats, though these were probably less instrumental in his victory than the accession of first-time voters into what William Seward described as "a party chiefly of young men." Smith, at twenty-two, was voting in his first presidential election. So, too, was John Wanamaker, secretary of the Philadelphia YMCA and a Lincoln enthusiast after the joint debates with Douglas in 1858. [49]

Lincoln"s Republican party may not have fashioned a monolithic evangelical vote, but even so its achievement was extraordinary, for it regimented the moral energies of evangelical churches more effectively than ever before in the cause of political antislavery and civic purification. It was, after all, the Republican party that most successfully focused the moral energy of postmillennialist Protestants and exploited the public discourse they had elaborated over three decades. In part, the party's was a negative discourse of anxiety, even paranoia, that played on fears of Freemasons and Catholics as conspirators against the Christian republic and that contributed to Free Soilers' and Republicans' elaboration of a hated slave power. But evangelical perceptions also brought into politics Page  [End Page 49] a more positive stress on conscience and disciplined obedience to the higher law, Calvinistic duty, and social responsibility—a creed that reached its apogee in the early Republican party. For some this meant securing the slaves' liberty above all else; but many others linked this to emancipating free white men from the despotism of the slave power. These pious Republicans went further than previous American evangelicals in identifying the arrival of God's kingdom with the success of a particular political party. Ministers who in the campaigns of 1856 and 1860 took part alternately in revival meetings and Republican rallies gave notice that religion and politics had fused more completely than ever before in the American republic.

Twenty years ago the historian Eric Foner adopted a dismissive attitude to the writings on antebellum history of the so-called "new political historians." Of their determination to interpret political divisions primarily as an expression of ethnocultural and religious conflict, he wrote: "The view of the Republican party as the political expression of pietistic Protestantism can hardly encompass a figure like Lincoln, who was southern-born and whose religious beliefs were akin to the deism of that infidel Thomas Paine.... According to the aggregate data, Lincoln should have been a pro-slavery Democrat. At best he was a historical accident, an ecological fallacy." [50] Avoiding a debate about Lincoln's mature religious views, we can nonetheless agree that the Republican party was not simply or even principally an instrument of the reform-minded, optimistic evangelicalism unleashed by the Second Great Awakening. Economic interest and bitter antisouthern feeling were important elements of the Republican mix. A party that wins a presidential election has to do so as an institutional coalition and philosophical amalgam. But Foner's remarks rather miss the point that without the moral imperatives of evangelical Protestantism the Republican party would have been less energetic, less visionary, less indignant, less self-righteous—and less successful. Moreover, Lincoln's candidacy, far from being in tension with the party's Protestant morality, served its purposes well. The party was in no simple sense "the Christian party in politics," but in the eyes of northern antislavery evangelicals it both deserved that mantle more than any other political force they had ever known and had in Lincoln an admirable standard-bearer. Page  [End Page 50]

Soon after his election Lincoln was told by Julian Sturtevant, the Congregationalist minister and president of Illinois College, that "thousands and tens of thousands of religious men," refusing to "bow down and worship the image which Nebuchadnezzar has set up," spoke the new president's name "with affection and hope."[51] In the face of the racking experience of civil war, that hope wavered before it ultimately triumphed, while the affection, too, survived. The consolidation of the alliance between the Union's chief executive and evangelical opinion is a compelling story beyond the scope of this essay. But its broad outline may serve as a postscript.

The experience of war, which visited both public and personal tragedies on Lincoln, inevitably brought the president face-to-face with questions of ultimate reality. His essential religious views, rooted in Calvinism but unconcerned with the evangelical's demand for immediate repentance from sin, perhaps did not change, but they certainly deepened. If theologically he seems to have tended toward fatalism, as in his reiteration that he was "subject to the control of a Higher Power," he nonetheless understood God's ultimate sovereignty, as William Sutton has put it, "as a call to arms, not an excuse for passivity or complacency."[52] Noyes Miner offered some sense of this when he recalled Lincoln's private words to him a few days after the battle of Shiloh:

You know I am not a man of a very hopeful temperament.... But believing, as I do, that our cause is just, and relying on God for help I firmly believe we shall conquor [sic] in the end; but the struggle will be protracted and severe, involving a great loss both of property and life.... I am sometimes astonished at the part I am playing in this terrible drama. I can hardly believe I am the same person I was a few months ago when I was living my humble way with you in Springfield.... I would gladly, if I could, take my neck from under the yoke, and go home with you to Springfield and live as I was accustomed to, in peace with my friends.... But ... "It has pleased Almighty God to put me in my present position, and looking up to him for divine guidance, I must work out my destiny as best I can." Page  [End Page 51]
From this, Miner drew conclusions shared by many other evangelicals: that "if Mr. Lincoln was not a christian he was acting like one"; that he was looking to God for help in time of need; and that, believing in the efficacy of prayer, "it was his custom to read the Bible and pray himself." [53]

We cannot be sure how far Lincoln's cultivation of the company and support of prominent evangelicals had to do with his own spiritual journeying. But we can be confident that he recognized that church leaders provided him with a way of both reaching and reading a wider public opinion. Mainstream evangelicals like Matthew Simpson, the widely influential bishop of the politically powerful Methodist Episcopal Church and one of Lincoln's favorite preachers, could act as a two-way channel: as a broadcaster of the administration's purposes and as a sounding board to listen to the voice of the people in what the president himself described as a people's war. When that voice was one of Christians praying for the Union, it brought him a degree of comfort, which we should not dismiss as mere sentimentality. During the dark days of 1862, when Miner told him that "Christian people all over the country are praying for you as they never prayed for a mortal man before," Lincoln replied: "This is an encouraging thought to me. If I were not sustained by the prayers of God's people I could not endure this constant pressure. I should give up hoping for success."[54]

From his many connections with evangelicals, Lincoln learned that their concerns were very largely his own. With the exception of a radical minority, most evangelicals held an exalted view of the Union and the Constitution, regarding them as instruments of the moral government of God and treating disunion and secession as sins in the eyes of the Lord. Lincoln, too, believed America's republican institutions, defenses of civil and religious liberty, to have been divinely inspired; in his insistence that "those nations only are blest whose God is the Lord," he aligned himself with those evangelicals most convinced of their nation's millennial role and of the moral obligation involved in defending the Union. These evangelicals, whether radical or conservative, were also committed to securing the end of slavery; even those who had shunned abolitionism before the war came largely to explain Union setbacks Page  [End Page 52] in the field as a judgment on the nation's greatest sin. Lincoln found himself repeatedly under fire from the radicals for his timidity and pragmatism, especially in response to John Frémont's and David Hunter's military proclamations and in his dallying with plans for colonization. But the overwhelming majority of Union evangelicals outside the border states heartily welcomed his Emancipation Proclamation.[55]

Having in Lincoln a president who appeared committed to their agenda, northern evangelicals generally sustained him with their messages of support throughout the low months of 1862–63. In 1864 the Republicans, now running under the name of the Union party, incorporated into their platform the two matters on which there was broad evangelical consensus—the promise of a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery and a determination to continue hostilities until all Confederates were brought back under the federal government. Though radical antislavery evangelicals such as Charles Finney and George B. Cheever had hoped to replace Lincoln with Frémont, Salmon P. Chase, or Benjamin F. Butler, once Lincoln had been nominated those evangelicals who intervened publicly in the campaign proved thoroughly one-sided. After Sherman's success at Atlanta, Gilbert Haven believed:

The Church should unite as one man in this exigency.... She did more to develop the sentiment that was crowned in the elections of 1860 than all other influences combined.... Let her once more march to the ballot-box, an army of Christ, with the banners of the Cross, and deposit, as she can, a million of votes to her true representative, and she will give the last blow to the reeling fiend.[56]
The outcome was an increase over 1860 in the proportion of evangelicals who supported Lincoln, a vindication of the claim of the principal Methodist newspaper: "There probably never was an Page  [End Page 53] election in all our history into which the religious element entered so largely, and nearly all on one side."[57]

Lincoln as political candidate traveled a long way between 1843, when his religious deficiencies had cost him the Whig nomination, and 1864, when evangelicals toasted him and played their part in his reelection. But in that presidential campaign there was an echo of the 1840s for—as Lucius E. Chittenden, one of Lincoln's Treasury officials, recalled—"there were sullen whisperings that Mr. Lincoln had no religious opinions nor any interest in churches or Christian institutions."[58] Precisely to what Chittenden alluded is not clear. In general, Lincoln's Democratic opponents, who did not lack substantive issues on which to attack the president, focused principally on the administration's policies relating to emancipation and the use of black troops: exploiting the racial antipathies of the electorate, they charged the Republicans with seeking to turn the United States into a "New Africa." It is true that such race-baiting could take a religious turn. According to one of their more scurrilous pamphlets, the Lincoln Catechism, the first commandment of the Republican decalogue was "Thou shalt have no other God but the negro," while the catechumen's answer to the question "What is to be the established religion of New Africa?" was "Infidelity." [59] But in this case, the issue was the alleged departure of the nation Page  [End Page 54] from traditional moral, Christian values, and not Lincoln's personal faith.

The charges to which Chittenden alluded may perhaps have been aired first in 1864 in an assault on Lincoln by the Reformed Presbyterians, or Covenanters. The context for that attack was the collapse of the National Reform Association, an interdenominational body established in 1863 to secure a Christian amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would explicitly recognize the nation's dependence on God. When first established, the association had enjoyed the support of mainstream evangelicals who, pondering why the Union's fortunes had not immediately improved following the Emancipation Proclamation, found the answer in the godless Constitution. A delegation met Lincoln in February 1864 and took heart when he gave them a seemingly sympathetic hearing. The movement's popularity waned, however, over the passing months, as a variety of radical evangelicals, Jews, and non-Christians expressed their opposition and as battlefield successes appeared to make redundant the demand for a Christian amendment. When Lincoln failed to act purposefully for constitutional change, Thomas Sproull, the editor of the Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, denounced the president as a deist who had never distinctly recognized Christianity and had "refused to honor the Son." Sproull appealed to all "who believe in Christ" to prevent the infidel's reelection. [60]

In practice, however, the candidate suffered little damage: he might not have won the votes of all "who believe in Christ" but he won a telling number. It is only one of several ironies associated with Lincoln that a man, whose earlier political career had been held back by religious unorthodoxy and whose faith was at the very least unconventional, should, even before his martyrdom, have been elevated by those Union evangelicals, whose postmillennialism and triumphalism he did not in fact share, to the role of "Father Abraham," of prophet and agent of American mission. Page  [End Page 55]


  1. Benjamin P. Thomas, Abraham Lincoln: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952), 100–109; Abraham Lincoln, "Handbill Replying to Charges of Infidelity," July 31, 1846, and Lincoln to Allen N. Ford, Aug. 11, 1846, in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols., ed. Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, N.J., 1953–55), 1:382–84. The Tazewell Whig, Aug. 22, 1846, delighted with Lincoln's margin of victory (14 percentage points), printed the handbill and maintained, unconvincingly, that "none believed" Cartwright's charges. return to text
  2. William J. Wolf, The Almost Chosen People: A Study of the Religion of Abraham Lincoln (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959), 59–62, 69–74; Lincoln to Martin S. Morris, Mar. 26, 1843, in Collected Works, 1:319–21. Following his immersion and entry into membership of the Disciples of Christ in 1831, Baker had become a part-time Campbellite preacher, which gave him scope to develop his considerable talents in extempore speaking. Harry C. Blair and Rebecca Tarshis, Lincoln's Constant Ally: The Life of Colonel Edward D. Baker (Portland, Ore.: Oregon Historical Society, 1960), 8–9. return to text
  3. James Dixon, Personal Narrative of a Tour through a Part of the United States and Canada (New York: Lane & Scott, 1849), 143 and passim. For an elaboration of the themes presented here, see Richard J. Carwardine, Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univeristy Press, 1993), 1–132. return to text
  4. Western Christian Advocate [Methodist; Cincinnati], quoting from Signs of the Times, Aug. 28, 1840; Jonathan K. Peck, Luther Peck and His Five Sons (Cincinnati: Curts & Jennings, 1897), 216. return to text
  5. Charles G. Finney, The Necessity of Human Government (n.c.: n.p., 1841); John Wentworth, Speech of Mr. Wentworth of Illinois [U.S. House of Representatives, April 1844] (n.p., [1844]); E. Merton Coulter, William G. Brownlow, Fighting Parson of the Southern Highlands (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1937), 119; William G. Brownlow, A Political Register, Setting Forth the Principles of the Whig and Democratic Parties in the United States (Jonesborough, Tenn.: From the press of the "Jonesborough Whig," 1844), v, vii. In 1835 Cartwright pleaded guilty to formal charges of using "excited and unguarded" language on the stump and engaging in "conversations on political subjects at religious meetings" (Disciplinary proceedings, Illinois Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Oct. 7, 1835 [typescript], Illinois State Historical Library [original in Illinois Conference Historical Society]). return to text
  6. Richard J. Carwardine, "Religious Revival and Political Renewal in Antebellum America," in Revival and Religion since 1700: Essays for John Walsh, ed. Jane Garnett and Colin Matthew (London: Hambledon Press, 1993), 127–52. The discourse of electoral politics was suffused with the vocabulary of religion. When during the Log-Cabin campaign of 1840 Lincoln took the stump in southern Illinois, the Democratic press sneeringly described him as one of the "travelling missionaries" sent to deliver "incontrovertible sermons" to "Democratic sinners" in the "benighted region." Paul Simon, Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness: The Illinois Legislative Years (1965; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 216–17. return to text
  7. Clay or Polk: By an Adopted Citizen, having twenty-one years residence in the United States (New York: [n.p.], 1844), 9–10; Albany Argus, July 16, 1844; Ohio State Journal, June 22, 1844; Nathan Sargent, Brief Outline of the Life of Henry Clay (Washington, D.C.: From the press of the "Whig Standard," 1844), 80. return to text
  8. Wolf, Almost Chosen People, 59–62, 69–70; Lincoln, "An Address, delivered before the Springfield Washington Temperance Society, on the 22d February 1842," in Collected Works, 1:271–79. return to text
  9. Lincoln to Martin S. Morris, Mar. 26, 1843, in Collected Works, 1:320. return to text
  10. John M. Palmer, like Lincoln, was born in Kentucky and moved to central Illinois in the 1830s. His reactions are revealing: "Religious controversies raged in every neighborhood to an extent that seemed to me to be absolutely unaccountable." Palmer, Personal Recollections of John M. Palmer: The Story of an Earnest Life (Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1901), 13. return to text
  11. Carwardine, Evangelicals and Politics, 97–132. return to text
  12. Charles B. Johnson, "The Presidential Election of 1860," Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the Year 1927, 115–21. return to text
  13. William E. Baringer, Lincoln's Rise to Power (Boston: Little, Brown, 1937), 324–25. The most influential of the campaign biographies was that published in July by John Locke Scripps, a Methodist and a moving spirit of the Chicago Press and Tribune. Scripps's grandfather was a Methodist preacher and sometime editor of the Western Christian Advocate. Scripps, Life of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler and Lloyd A. Dunlap (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1961), 15–18. return to text
  14. Chicago Press and Tribune, May 15 and 16, 1860. return to text
  15. Scripps, Life of Abraham Lincoln, 165; Chicago Press and Tribune, May 21 and 23, 1860. return to text
  16. William E. Barton, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln (New York: George H. Doran, 1920), 76–7; Noyes W. Miner, "Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln," 14–20, Illinois State Historical Library. Miner lived across the street from the Lincolns, on the corner of 8th and Jackson. James T. Hickey, "Lincoln Sites in Springfield" [typescript], 9, Illinois State Historical Library. Springfield Democrats responded by hinting that Lincoln had kept a dramshop in his New Salem days and by insisting that he deserved no more credit for eschewing the sale of "ardent moisture" than "other folk" (by implication, solid Democratic citizens) "who never drew liquor for a profit." Illinois State Register (Springfield), June 4, 1860. return to text
  17. Miner, "Personal Recollections," 37. return to text
  18. Wolf, Almost Chosen People, 59–62, 69–70; Lincoln, "An Address, delivered before the Springfield Washington Temperance Society, on the 22d February 1842," in Collected Works, 1:271–79. return to text
  19. Lincoln to Martin S. Morris, Mar. 26, 1843, in Collected Works, 1:320. return to text
  20. Illinois State Register, June 4 (quoting the Quincy Whig) and Oct. 22, 1860; Rail Splitter, Aug. 1 and 15, 1860; Daily Times and Herald (Chicago), Oct. 27, 1860. return to text
  21. Chicago Press and Tribune, July 17, 1860, quoted in William E. Baringer, "Campaign Technique in Illinois—1860," Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the Year 1932, 267; Jay Monaghan, The Man Who Elected Lincoln (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956), 185–86. return to text
  22. W. Jayne to J. M. Palmer, July 11, 1856, J. M. Palmer Papers, Illinois State Historical Society. return to text
  23. Rail Splitter, Sept. 12 and Oct. 3, 1860. return to text
  24. William E. Gienapp, "Who Voted for Lincoln?" in Abraham Lincoln and the American Political Tradition, ed. John L. Thomas (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), 50–97. return to text
  25. Cincinnati Gazette, Mar. 26, 1858; New York Tribune, May 16 and June 25, 1860. return to text
  26. Chicago Press and Tribune, May 23 and July 13 (for Ohio State Journal), 1860; Hartford Press, quoted in New York Tribune, May 21, 1860. return to text
  27. Campaign Plain Dealer (Cleveland), July 28, 1860; Chicago Press and Tribune, May 19, 1860; Illinois State Register, June 5 and July 14, 1860. return to text
  28. Albany Argus, Sept. 26, 1860; New York Tribune, June 12, 1860; Albany Evening Journal, Sept. 22, 1860; Ohio State Journal, June 25, 1860. return to text
  29. Lyman Abbott, Reminiscences (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1915), 180–81. return to text
  30. Rail Splitter, Aug. 29, 1860; Quincy Whig and Republican, Aug. 18, 1860. return to text
  31. Campaign Plain Dealer, July 28, 1860; Rail Splitter, Aug. 29, 1860; Daily Chicago Times, July 22, 1860. Republicans were contemptuous of these double standards: "It makes a great difference whether your bull goes my ox, or my bull goes your ox." Quincy Whig and Republican, Aug. 18, 1860. return to text
  32. Illinois State Register, June 14 (quoting the Joliet Signal), July 14, Aug. 4 and 14, Oct. 13, 16, and 24, 1860. return to text
  33. Illinois State Register, May 19 and 28 (quoting the Pana Democrat), June 25, 1860; Campaign Plain Dealer, Aug. 11, 1860. For further sneers about Republicans as Know-Nothings and anti-Catholics who wore their piety on their sleeves and followed "dull," temperate habits, see, for example, Illinois State Register, May 21, June 1 and 12, July 23, Aug. 1 (quoting the Belleville Democrat), Aug. 6 and 10, and Oct. 6, 22, and 27, 1860. return to text
  34. Carwardine, Evangelicals and Politics, 296–307. return to text
  35. Barton, Soul of Abraham Lincoln, 114–27. Williams' Springfield Directory: City Guide and Business Mirror, for 1860–61, comp. C. S. Williams (Springfield, 1860) lists twenty-eight ministers in the town in 1860. The discrepancy with the Lincoln-Bateman figure may be variously explained. At least one minister (Fred Myers, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) was ineligible to vote; the Republicans' canvass may have missed some eligible voters; Bateman may have misremembered the actual figure. Not all twenty-eight were active pastors of Springfield churches. Some were retired and several were teachers. Of those whose denominational affiliation I have been able to discover, five were Presbyterian, four Lutheran, four Methodist, three Baptist, two Protestant Episcopalian, two Christian, two Catholic, and one Universalist. The historian Harry E. Pratt's analysis of the polling data for 1860 indicates that eleven of the twenty-eight did not vote: these included both Catholic priests, the Universalist minister, three Methodists (including Fred Myers), a Baptist, a Christian, and a Lutheran. File, Illinois State Historical Library. return to text
  36. Paul M. Angle, ed., Herndon's Life of Lincoln: The History and Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln as Originally Written by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik (New York: Charles Boni, 1942), 377. return to text
  37. Thomas Ford, A History of Illinois from Its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847 (Chicago: S. C. Griggs , 1854), 279–82. return to text
  38. Joseph Gillespie, Recollections of Early Illinois and Her Noted Men (Chicago: Fergus Printing Company, 1880), 6; Ford, History of Illinois, 105. return to text
  39. For the roots of Springfield Presbyterian churches and particularly the crucible of new school revival and antislavery sentiment that fashioned Albert Hale's Second Church, see Clinton L. Conkling, Historical Data concerning the Second Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Illinois (typescript, 3 vols., Illinois State Historical Library), 1:133–41, 176–79. return to text
  40. Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, eds., Illinois Historical (Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company, 1910), 215; Palmer, Personal Recollections, 48–51; Conkling, Historical Data, 3:8–22. return to text
  41. Biographical sketch of Noyes W. Miner, in Mary Hill Miner Papers, Illinois State Historical Library. The third member of Lincoln's Republican triumvirate is less easily identified. It was probably John F. Brooks, another Yale-trained Presbyterian of New England stock, who had been sent to Illinois under commission by the American Home Missionary Society in the early 1830s. With illness forcing his retirement from the active ministry, he settled in Springfield, where he taught and filled vacant pulpits as his health permitted. John C. Power, History of the Early Settlers, Sangamon County, Illinois (1876; Springfield, Ill.: Phillips Brothers, reprint, 1970), 144–45. Brooks certainly cast his vote in the presidential election, as did Hale and Miner. return to text
  42. Mary Hill Miner, "Recollections" (typescript), Mary Hill Miner Papers, 4, Illinois State Historical Library. return to text
  43. Miner, "Recollections," 6. return to text
  44. In 1860 there were over 13,000 members in 206 Congregational churches in Illinois; the 168 New School Presbyterian churches embraced 9,021 members. Northwestern Christian Advocate (Chicago), Oct. 3, 1860. The pastor of the First Congregational Church in Chicago, William W. Patton, opened the second day's proceedings at the Republican National Convention in 1860. Chicago Press and Tribune, May 21, 1860. The representative figure of Old School Presbyterians was Cyrus H. McCormick, for whom his denomination and the Democratic party were "the two hoops that held the Union together." William T. Hutchinson, Cyrus Hall McCormick, 2 vols. (New York: Appleton-Century, 2 vols., 1930–35), 2:37–47. return to text
  45. Northwestern Christian Advocate, Sept. 12, 1860. The Chicago Press and Tribune was especially alert to the capital to be made out of Methodist anxieties. Benjamin F. Crary reported on the Buffalo General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the newspaper (May 7, 19, and 25, 1860). Democrats represented the Bewley hullabaloo as "a mere electioneering trick" and urged readers not to fall for a Republican hoax. The Illinois State Register insisted that Bewley was alive and reminded readers of similar false reports emanating from Kansas during the 1856 campaign. In each instance, the news had originated suspiciously beyond the reach of the telegraph. "Mr. Lincoln's friends have felt it safe to hang Mr. Bewley in Texas not dreaming that he would turn up alive and well on the borders of Missouri" (loc. cit., Oct. 5, 1860). See also the attacks on Methodist Republicans in Cyrus H. McCormick's Presbyterian-Democratic Daily Times and Herald (Chicago), Sept. 18, 1860. return to text
  46. For the proceedings of the Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference, see the New York Christian Advocate and Journal for May-July 1860. Democratic papers were not slow to criticize Methodist antislavery radicals at the general conference for trying to carry their church "further than either morals or religion will sustain them." Cincinnati Press, reprinted in Illinois State Register, May 11, 1860. return to text
  47. Chicago Press and Tribune, May 7 and 25, 1860. return to text
  48. Leonard F. Smith, "Diary," Aug. 8 and 29, Sept. 3 and 10, and Oct. 9, 15, and 18, 1860, Illinois State Historical Library. For the flavor of the Springfield ratification meeting and of other Republican rallies, see Baringer, "Campaign Technique in Illinois," esp. 253–56. The Irish-born Methodist James Shaw, who traveled the Decatur circuit of the Illinois Conference in 1860, was another enthusiastic Republican; for his presence at the Republican State Convention on May 9 and 10, which nominated Lincoln for the presidency, see Shaw, Twelve Years in America: Being the Observations on the Country, the People, Institutions and Religion; with Notices of Slavery and the Late War (London: Hamilton, Adams, 1867), 114–15, 286. return to text
  49. Gienapp, "Who Voted for Lincoln?" 66–67, 74–76; Herbert A. Gibbons, John Wanamaker, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1926), 1:30–39. See also New York Tribune, Aug. 9, Sept. 19, Oct. 3 and 26, and Nov. 6, 1860; Albany Evening Journal, Sept. 26, 1860; William C. Smith, Pillars in the Temple; or, Sketches of Deceased Laymen of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1872), 245; Carlos Martyn, William E. Dodge: The Christian Merchant (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1890), 178–79; William E. Griffis, John Chambers: Servant of Christ and Master of Hearts and His Ministry in Philadelphia (Ithaca, N.Y.: Andrus & Church, 1903), 16–17. return to text
  50. Eric Foner, "The Causes of the American Civil War," Civil War History, Sept. 1974, 201. return to text
  51. Julian Sturtevant to Lincoln, Dec. 2, 1860, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress. return to text
  52. William Sutton, "Seeing through a Glass Darkly: Abraham Lincoln and the Northern Evangelical Clergy, 1860–1865" (unpublished typescript, University of Illinois, 1985), 5. return to text
  53. Miner, "Personal Recollections," 46–48. return to text
  54. Robert D. Clark, The Life of Matthew Simpson (New York: Macmillan, 1956), 221–44; Miner, "Personal Recollections," 45–46. return to text
  55. Sutton, "Seeing through a Glass Darkly"; James H. Moorhead, American Apocalypse: Yankee Protestants and the Civil War, 1860–69 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1978), 96–112; John R. McKivigan, The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984), 188–94; James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964), 52–307. return to text
  56. Moorhead, American Apocalypse, 157. return to text
  57. New York Christian Advocate and Journal, quoted in Moorhead, American Apocalypse, 156. Dale Baum's estimates of denominational support for Lincoln in Massachusetts suggest a relative increase between 1860 and 1864 among Congregationalists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Unitarians, Universalists, and Quakers but a relative decline among Baptists and Roman Catholics. Catholics were the only denomination to give McClellan a majority of their votes. However, nonvoting among evangelicals remained at a significant level. Baum, The Civil War Party System: The Case of Massachusetts, 1846–1876 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 91, 95–100. Stephen Hansen appears to argue that the division in Illinois between revivalist Protestants and "liturgicals" (that is, Catholics and antirevivalist Protestants) grew sharper in 1864 and that Democrats enjoyed increased support among the latter. Hansen, The Making of the Third Party System: Voters and Parties in Illinois, 1850–1876 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1978), 142–43. return to text
  58. Lucius E. Chittenden, Recollections of President Lincoln and His Administration (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1891), 446–51. Chittenden, a Vermonter, had stumped Pennsylvania for the Republicans in 1860 and secured the Treasury post in reward; it seems unlikely that he misremembered the issues of the 1864 canvass. Harry L. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Lincoln and the Patronage (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943), 5. return to text
  59. The Lincoln Catechism (New York, 1864), in Union Pamphlets of the Civil War, 1861–1865, 2 vols., ed. Frank Freidel (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2 vols, 1967), 1:981–1015. return to text
  60. Sutton, "Seeing through a Glass Darkly," 24–25; Moorhead, American Apocalypse, 141–42. return to text