Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Churching Up Lincoln’s Secular Legacy

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Spirituality, Politics, Obama, Lincoln, bibles, history, secularism,

Lincoln's Second Inaugural AddressBarack Obama’s announcement that he would take the oath of office on Abraham Lincoln’s bible set off a flurry of historical analogies between the two presidents. According to historian Eric Foner, interviewed on Fresh Air, “this whole Lincoln analogy has gone a little too far.”

Any religious analogy would be particularly historically problematic, Foner told Terry Gross, since Lincoln never belonged to a church throughout his life. And, unlike Obama, Lincoln didn’t have a preacher involved in either of his inaugurations. In the 19th century, according to Foner, “it was quite uncommon to have ministers there. You know, they believed in the separation between church and state back then.” In fact, John Quincy Adams didn’t take his oath of office on a bible at all, opting instead for a more secular book of laws.

It should be acknowledged, however, that Obama made strides, at least rhetorically, in the secular realm when he acknowledged “non-believers” in his inaugural address.

Image of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.