From The Pastors

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Did Washington and Lincoln Read Swedenborg?

From Rev, Jeremy Simons, Assistant to the Pastor
February 21, 2017

New Church enthusiasts have long claimed that both of these fathers of our country were readers of the Heavenly Doctrines. What is the truth of these claims?

This Wednesday, February 22, will be George Washington’s 285th birthday. He was born in 1732 and died in 1799. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. Both lived at a time when the Writings were available and there are stories connected with each of them about their interest.

Although the first volumes of the Arcana were printed in 1748, none of the books published by Swedenborg are known to have been available in America until 1784, when James Glenn lectured on them in Philadelphia. It was not until 1789 that True Christian Religion was published in Philadelphia by Francis Bailey.

“There is no documentary evidence of George Washington being interested in the Writings beyond a statement made by a member of the Washington family (and reported by the Rev. Philip B. Cabell in the Messenger, vol. 62, p. 75), that the “Father of our Country” in his last years was a reader of the Writings. The New Church people of Baltimore, in 1793, presented Washington with an address and a copy of Hindmarsh’s abridgment of the True Christian Religion…. It is said that just after Washington’s death a copy of Heaven and Hell was found open on the parlor table at Mt. Vernon, and that this was the last book read by him. (N. C. Life, 1897, p. 189.)

There is considerably more evidence of Abraham Lincoln’s interest in the Writings, outlined in several articles in New Church Life, including a full treatment by Raymond Pitcairn in July 1942, and more recently by Jim Lawrence in The Messenger, in April 2014.

These sources describe claims that Lincoln, in his years in Springfield, Illinois, read and discussed the Writings with friends, even participated in a baptismal service led by the Rev. J. R. Hibbard, who was later a member of the Academy movement. But Lincoln famously never joined any religion. Jim Lawrence concludes:

“What seems most likely is that Lincoln certainly appreciated the company of some Swedenborgians and was more acquainted with Swedenborg and Swedenborgians than any president in US history. He took a reasonably thoughtful interest in Swedenborg’s views on Christianity, as he did perhaps in other viewpoints and authors as well, but he certainly did not regard himself as Swedenborgian, but merely as Christian.”

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