Lincoln & First Church
Abraham Lincoln's association with the church began in 1850 and continued until he left Springfield to assume the duties of President in 1861, encompassing the period of his emergence on the national scene and his rise to greatness.
The First Presbyterian Church of Springfield was organized in the home of Mary Todd Lincoln's uncle, Dr. John Todd. Mrs. Lincoln was brought up in Lexington, Kentucky, as a Presbyterian, although when she became a member of the Springfield household of her sister, Mrs. Ninian Edwards, she attended the Episcopal Church with the Edwards family, and she continued to do so for some time after her marriage.
On February 1, 1850, Abraham and Mary Lincoln's second son, Edward, died. The minister of the First Presbyterian Church, Reverend Dr. James Smith, was asked to conduct the funeral. His service made a deep impression on both of the bereaved parents.
Shortly after Edward's death Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln made a visit to Lexington, and while there Mr. Lincoln found a thick volume entitled The Christian's Defence in the Todd library. He became particularly interested when he discovered that the author was Dr. James Smith, the pastor who had conducted his son's funeral. When Mr. Lincoln returned to Springfield from Lexington he sought Dr. Smith to talk over some of the religious doubts he had entertained. Dr. Smith tells us that as a result of these talks Lincoln's doubts were shattered and from that time on he was a believer in the Christian faith. Thus began a close and lasting friendship.
These two circumstances led Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln to First Presbyterian Church. They rented a pew and regularly attended church services, and thereafter Dr. Smith stood in the close relationship to the pastor who "buried their dead, baptized their living and was admitted to their full confidence." He was a welcome neighbor and dropped in at least twice a month to spend a pleasant evening in the midst of the Lincoln family circle.
Dr. Smith and Mr. Lincoln had long conversations when the latter came to see him. Mr. Lincoln, however, never formally joined the church, although his wife became a member on October 13, 1852. Thomas (Tad) Lincoln was baptized in the church on April 4, 1855. During their tenure in Washington D.C., the Lincoln family attended New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Top right: First Presbyterian Church building that the Lincoln family knew. It was located on the corner of Third and Washington Streets and faced Washington Street. Thomas (Tad) Lincoln was baptized in the First Presbyterian congregation in 1855 - in the Third and Washington building.
Center Left: Rev Dr. James Smith, pastor of First Presbyterian Church and friend of the Lincoln family.
Center Above: The Lincoln pew is now displayed in the narthex of the current church building.