Abraham Lincoln was hopeful as inauguration day, March 4, drew near in the spring of 1865. The Confederacy was splintered if not shattered. The president, who had been besieged by critics for much of the war, was finally beginning to receive recognition for his leadership. But beneath the outward celebrations lay a different emotion. Many citizens were filled with anger as much as hope. Death and despair reached into nearly every home. An estimated 620,000 men died in the Civil War, almost equal to the number killed in all subsequent wars.

Noted photographer Alexander Gardner was poised to record the event for posterity. The Second Inaugural Address would be the only occasion in which Lincoln was photographed delivering a speech. (He was assassinated 41 days later.) Police estimated between 30,000 and 40,000 people gathered at the east entrance of the Capitol. The correspondent for The Times of London estimated that "at least half the multitude were colored people." In the crowd, Lincoln recognized Frederick Douglass, the articulate African-American abolitionist and newspaper editor. The actor John Wilkes Booth, seething with hatred, stood up behind the right buttress. When Lincoln was introduced, the crowd exploded in expectation. He rose from his chair and stepped from underneath the shelter of the Capitol building and out past the magnificent Corinthian columns. At 56, he looked older than his years.

The separation of church and state in the United States has never meant the separation of faith and politics. But how are they to be put together? Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address opens up windows into his own faith as he attempted to make sense of the tragedy of the Civil War. The precise nature of his faith is contested; ...

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