Lincoln’s Last Words

Stephen Mansfield, author of Lincoln's Battle with God, details "the final, surprising words of Abraham Lincoln," spoken to his wife immediately prior to his assassination at Ford's Theater: "We will visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footsteps of the Savior. There is no place I so much desire to see as Jerusalem." For a president whose words are so studied, why aren't these last statements better known?

The words are rarely included in accounts of Lincoln’s assassination. Schoolchildren do not learn them as they do the other facts of Lincoln’s life. Indeed, the sentiments are too religious for most teachers to dare include in their lessons. Scholars tend to exclude this episode also, usually because of a similar hesitation about religion.

It is understandable. Lincoln was, after all, a religious oddity. He never joined a church. In fact, he went through periods in his life when he was openly antireligion—even anti-God. In his later years, he spoke often of God but rarely of Jesus Christ. That he was attending a bawdy play on Good Friday—the day Christians set aside to contemplate the crucifixion of their Savior—seems perfectly consistent with the image of Lincoln that has come to us through the years. It is reasonable to doubt that he would call Christ the Savior and declare himself eager to see the Holy Land in the last moments of his life.

Mansfield goes on to list the Lincoln scholars – a veritable who's who of the field – affirming the validity of the president's final remarks.