Abraham Lincoln, the Quakers, and the Civil War: “A Trial of Principle and Faith”

Abraham Lincoln, the Quakers, and the Civil War: “A Trial of Principle and Faith”

by William C. Kashatus

180 pages, illustrations, bibliography, notes, index
ISBN 978-1-4408-3319-9  $37.00 hard cover, 2014.
EBOOK also Available: 978-1-4408-3320-5


This unique addition to Civil War literature examines the extensive influence Quaker belief and practice had on Lincoln’s decisions relative to slavery, including his choice to emancipate the slaves.

An important contribution to Lincoln scholarship, this thought-provoking work argues that Abraham Lincoln and the Religious Society of Friends faced a similar dilemma: how to achieve emancipation without extending the bloodshed and hardship of war. Organized chronologically so readers can see changes in Lincoln’s thinking over time, the book explores the congruence of the 16th president’s relationship with Quaker belief and his political and religious thought on three specific issues: emancipation, conscientious objection, and the relief and education of freedmen.

Distinguishing between the reality of Lincoln’s relationship with the Quakers and the mythology that has emerged over time, the book differs significantly from previous works in at least two ways. It shows how Lincoln skillfully navigated a relationship with one of the most vocal and politically active religious groups of the 19th century, and it documents the practical ways in which a shared belief in the “Doctrine of Necessity” affected the president’s decisions. In addition to gaining new insights about Lincoln, readers will also come away from this book with a better understanding of Quaker positions on abolition and pacifism and a new appreciation for the Quaker contributions to the Union cause.


  • Explains the critical role Quakers exercised in Lincoln’s prosecution of the Civil War
  • Reveals how Quakers employed their historic commitments to abolitionism and pacifism to convince Lincoln of the necessity of emancipation, freedmen’s relief and education, and conscientious objection
  • Highlights Lincoln’s interactions and correspondence with individual British and American Quakers and Quaker groups
  • Provides readers with important context necessary to understand one of the nation’s most respected humanitarian groups
  • Includes nearly two dozen period photographs that provide a fascinating glimpse into long-ago history
  • Examines the Quakers’ 150-year crusade against slavery, their efforts to improve the conditions of free blacks, and the religious beliefs that informed those activities


“Kashatus brings fresh insights into the interior life of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and shows that Quaker-established schools for free blacks were outstanding and necessary models for the work of Reconstruction that lay ahead.”—Linda B. Selleck, Author of Gentle Invaders: Quaker Women Educators and Racial Issues During the Civil War and Reconstruction

“I believe strongly in the message of this thorough study. In addition to their warm and practical interactions; Abraham Lincoln, the British, and the American Quakers experienced the same divine calling for the nation to become a people unified by the pain, doubts, and the depression of war.”—Hugh Barbour, Author of The Quakers in Puritan England and Coauthor of The Quakers

“William Kashatus’s Abraham Lincoln, the Quakers, and the Civil War is an excellent piece of historical writing by an author who has deep insight into American Quakers. He offers fascinating insights into Lincoln’s presidency, his anguish, and his spirituality while also illuminating a little-known aspect of the Great Emancipator’s own fascination with Quakers.”—Max L. Carter, Professor of Religious Studies, Guilford College, Greensboro, North Carolina

“This is a fascinating look at an intriguing, long neglected subject—how Abraham Lincoln sought counsel and inspiration from the anti-war Quakers in the midst of the bloodiest war in world history.”—Harold Holzer, Roger Hertog Fellow, New-York Historical Society

Abraham Lincoln, the Quakers, and the Civil War is a balanced treatment of Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with the Society of Friends, showing his respect for and attention to the Quaker delegations that came to talk with him during the Civil War.” – James M. McPherson, Emeritus Professor, Princeton University and Author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

“Building on past scholarship including a 1973 work by Quaker philosopher D. Elton Trueblood, under whom the author studied, Kashatus dispels the myths that have cropped up regarding this connection yet also makes a credible case of reciprocal influence. Helpful endnotes, a bibliography, and an index are provided. VERDICT: Kashatus offers an intriguing study of the interplay of Lincoln’s spiritual and political life. – Library Journal