Abraham Lincoln Bible surfaces, offers clues to his religious beliefs

Bible that once belonged to President Abraham Lincoln resurfaced 150 years after his death, pointing to the faith he clung to at a pivotal moment in American history and when he was growing more overtly religious.

Lincoln's faith has long been debated over the years. He was known as the "village atheist" as a young man but he gave one of the most explicitly religious speeches ever by a president during his second inaugural address. Scholars say the new discovery helps solidify his faith in his later years.

President Abraham Lincoln's 150-year-old Bible was gifted to his neighbor, Rev. Noyes W. Miner, by his widowed wife, Mary. Miner's family has passed it down and recently donated it so the public can now view it.

President Abraham Lincoln's 150-year-old Bible was gifted to his neighbor, Rev. Noyes W. Miner, by his widowed wife, Mary. Miner's family has passed it down and recently donated it so the public can now view it. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum)

On Thursday, the Bible will go on display for the first time at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.

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The 16th president was given the Holy Book on June 16, 1864, during a rare wartime trip to Philadelphia raising money for wounded soldiers, where Lincoln donated 48 signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation that were sold for fundraising. He was gifted the 18-pound, gilted Bible decorated with the words "faith," "hope," and "charity" by the hospital that treated wounded and ill soldiers during the Civil War.

The cover of the Bible reads: “Presented to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by the Ladies of the Citizens Volunteer Hospital of Philadelphia.”

Exterior of the hospital that gave the Bible to President Lincoln in 1864.

Exterior of the hospital that gave the Bible to President Lincoln in 1864. (Free Library of Philadelphia, Print and Picture Collection)

A few months later, upon receiving another copy of the Bible as a gift, Lincoln wrote, "In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it, we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it."

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Mary Lincoln, a widow after Lincoln's assassination, gave the Bible, the sixth known to historians that was owned by the Lincoln family, to their neighbor who lived across the street.

The neighbor was the Rev. Noyes W. Miner, a Baptist minister who read the book of Job at the Republican president's funeral. On the back, the first lady inscribed: “Mrs. Abraham Lincoln to N.W. Miner, D.D., Oct. 15, 1872.”

On Thursday, the Bible will go on display for the first time at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.

On Thursday, the Bible will go on display for the first time at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum)

She wrote that Miner was "a friend very much beloved by my husband" and historians speculate the former first lady gave the Bible to Miner as a way to protect her husband's legacy as she had angrily rejected assertions that he was an atheist.

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Miner once wrote that Lincoln “believed not only in the overwhelming Providence of God, but in the divinity of the Sacred Scriptures" and that the first lady told him at Ford's Theater that Lincoln was planning a post-White House visit to Jerusalem to “see the places hallowed by the footsteps of the Saviour.”

Mary Lincoln gifted the Bible to their neighbor who lived across the street, Rev. Noyes W. Miner, a Baptist minister who read the book of Job at the Republican president's funeral.

Mary Lincoln gifted the Bible to their neighbor who lived across the street, Rev. Noyes W. Miner, a Baptist minister who read the book of Job at the Republican president's funeral. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum)

On Oct. 15, 1881, Miner wrote: "the bullet from the pistol of the assassin entered his brain, and the soul of the great and good President was carried by the angels to the New Jerusalem above."

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Another Bible owned by Lincoln was used by former President Barack Obama at his 2009 and 2013 inauguration and it was also used by President Trump at his 2017 inauguration.

The recently unveiled Bible will go on public display at the request of Miner's family, who passed the keepsake down from generation to generation.

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“The donation of this Bible offers a new opportunity to reflect on Lincoln’s religious beliefs,” Ian Hunt, head of acquisitions for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, said in a statement. “It’s a tangible connection to the fascinating question of what Lincoln believed and how those beliefs evolved as he endured tragedy after tragedy.”