There’s no end to books parsing the 16th president, of course, and even Lincoln’s faith has had many thoughtful explorations. The value of Mansfield’s study is its sharp focus, its detail about those who influenced Lincoln and the author’s willingness to let some aspects of the president’s belief remain mysterious or not fully resolved.
“Lincoln’s Battle with God” dismisses those determined to shape Lincoln in their own religious image, whether deeming him godless or a “true Christian.”
“The silencing of Lincoln’s faith by the secular and the exaggerating of Lincoln’s faith by the religious have given us a less accurate and less engaging Lincoln,” Mansfield writes.
Lincoln for a time vehemently and publicly rejected the religious givens of contemporary America. But when he went so far as to write a “little book on Infidelity,” attacking the divinity of Christ and the inspiration of the Bible, and then announced that he hoped to publish it, “friends were mortified,” Mansfield writes. Believing publication would kill a promising career, one admirer “snatched it from Lincoln’s hand” and burned the manuscript.