The Illinois State Journal provided the text as written down by the reporters who heard him speak:
“My friends - No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”
Although Lincoln never professed a particular Christian creed, the clarity of his words in 1861 contrasts strikingly with the elusive words presidents use today. Clearly Lincoln believed in God, and depended upon God. “Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended [George Washington], I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail.” The question of human existence is always the question of God. Is there a God, or are we alone on this windswept planet? How much better life would be if there were a God!
Next week about a million people will gather in Lisbon for Pope Francis’ “World Youth Day.” The event’s coordinator, Portuguese Bishop Américo Aguiar, said on July 6 that “we don’t want to convert the young people to Christ or to the Catholic Church or anything like that at all.” He was apparently trying to be welcoming, but it was certainly unfortunate wording from a Catholic bishop. The Portuguese prelate has walked back his words since then, but American bishop Robert Barron wrote that the Church “most certainly does maintain that evangelization is its central, pivotal, most defining work.” If Abraham Lincoln “evangelized” as President of the United States (urging the people of Springfield to trust in God), we can expect Catholic bishops to be even more zealous in spreading the good news that there is a God, in whom alone we find joy, health, and peace.
How much more well-ordered our lives were when most Americans believed in God! Imagine Abraham Lincoln facing the Civil War—or simply his own inner demons—without God. “Trusting in Him,” Lincoln said, “let us confidently hope that all will yet be well.” And all has been well. Without God, we must depend on drugs, sex, and technology, but those things have quite a limited shelf-life. How much better to see what is right before our eyes: that there is a natural order. Cats almost always land on their feet, and the planet continues to turn on its axis. Lincoln tells us from the grave that there is a First Cause and Final Purpose to our existence, and that even if we die, we can trust that all will yet be well.