Abraham Lincoln, Deist,
and Admirer of Thomas Paine
To read this work in Microsoft Reader, Click Here.
To Download Microsoft Reader for free, Click Here.
Taken fromReligious Beliefs of Our Presidents -- Franklin Steiner
In 1865, following the assassination of Lincoln, a number of histories of his career were published. From a literary standpoint, the best of these was written by Dr. Josiah G. Holland, then a widely read American author, and afterwards, and until his death, the editor of Scribner's Monthly. Concerning Lincoln's religious views, Dr. Holland made the following comments:
"He was a religious man. The fact may be stated without any reservation -- with only an explanation. He believed in God, and in his own personal supervision of the affairs of men. He believed himself to be under his control and guidance. He believed in the power and ultimate triumph of the right, through his belief in God. This unwavering faith in a Divine Providence began at his mother's knee, and ran like a thread of gold through all the experiences of his life. His constant sense of human duty was one of the forms by which his faith manifested itself. His conscience took a broader grasp than the simple apprehension of right and wrong. He recognized an immediate relation between God and himself, in all the actions and passions of his life. He was not professedly a Christian -- that is, he subscribed to no creed -- joined no organization of Christian disciples. He spoke little then, perhaps less than he did afterwards, and always sparingly, of his religious belief and experiences; but that he had a deep religious life, sometimes imbued with superstition, there is no doubt. We guess at a mountain of marble by the outcropping ledges that hide their whiteness among the ferns." (Pages 61, 62.)
"Moderate, frank, truthful, gentle, forgiving, loving, just, Mr. Lincoln will always be remembered as a Christian President; and the almost immeasurably great results which he had the privilege of achieving, were due to the fact that he was a Christian President." (Page 542.)
"Mr. Newton Bateman, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Illinois, occupied a room adjoining and opening into the Executive Chamber. Frequently this door was open during Mr. Lincoln's receptions; and throughout the seven months or more of his occupation Mr. Bateman saw him nearly every day. Often when Mr. Lincoln was tired, he closed this door against all intrusion, and called Mr. Bateman into his room for a quiet talk. On one of these occasions Mr. Lincoln took up a book containing a careful canvass of the city of Springfield, in which he lived, showing the candidate for whom each citizen had declared it his intention to vote in the approaching election. Mr. Lincoln's friends had, doubtless at his own request, placed the result of the canvass in his hands. This was toward the close of October, and only a few days before the election. Calling Mr. Bateman to a seat by his side, having previously locked all the doors, he said: 'Let us look over this book. I wish particularly to see how the ministers of Springfield are going to vote.' The leaves were turned, one by one, and as the names were examined Mr. Lincoln frequently asked if this one or that one were not a minister, or an elder, or the member of such and such a Church, and received an affirmative answer. In that manner they went through the book, and then he closed it and sat silently and for some minutes regarding a memorandum in pencil which lay before him. At length he turned to Mr. Bateman with a face full of sadness, and said: 'Here are 23 ministers, of different denominations, and all of them are against me but three; and here are a great many prominent members of the Churches, a very large majority of whom are against me. Mr. Bateman, I am not a Christian -- God knows I would be one but I have carefully read the Bible, and I do not understand this book'; and he drew from his bosom a pocket New Testament. 'These men well know,' he continued, 'that I am for freedom in the territories, freedom everywhere as far as the Constitution and the laws will permit, and that my opponents are for slavery. They know this, and yet, with this book in their hands, in the light of which human bondage cannot live a moment, they are going to vote against me. I do not understand it at all.'
"It was one of the peculiarities of Mr. Lincoln to hide these religious experiences from the world. In the same State House where this conversation occurred, there were men who imagined -- who really believed -- who freely said -- that Mr. Lincoln had probably revealed himself with less restraint to them than to others men who thought they knew him as they knew their bosom companions -- who had never in their whole lives heard from his own lips one word of all these religious convictions and experiences. They did not regard him as a religious man. All this department of his life he had kept carefully hidden from them. Why he should say that he was obliged to appear differently to others does not appear; but the fact is a matter of history that he never exposed his own religious life to those who had no sympathy with it. It is doubtful whether the clergymen of Springfield knew anything of these experiences."
At present, I have no comments to make on these statements of Dr. Holland, and will permit the reader to form his own opinions. A few unquestioned facts will not be out of place in explanation. When Dr. Holland's book reached Springfield, Ill., where Lincoln had lived and practiced law, all his old neighbors and friends were surprised to read these passages, and many of them smiled. There it was well known that Abraham Lincoln did not profess religion, though he occasionally accompanied Mrs. Lincoln to the First Presbyterian Church, of which she was a member. It was well known among his intimate fiends that he was a Deist, after the manner of Thomas Paine, and that in early life he had written a pamphlet criticizing the Bible and Orthodoxy. This, while yet in manuscript, was thrown in the fire by one of his friends, who feared it would injure him professionally and politically. In those days he was outspoken in his unbelief. Later he became more cautious.
In 1846, when he was a candidate far Congress against a Methodist minister, the Rev. Peter Cartwright, his opponent openly accused him of being an unbeliever, and Lincoln never denied it. A story is told of Mr. Cartwright's holding a revival meeting while the campaign was in progress, during which Lincoln stepped into one of his meetings. When Cartwright asked the audience, "Will all who want to go to heaven stand up?" all arose except Lincoln. When he asked, "Now, will all who want to go to hell stand up?" Lincoln still remained in his seat. Mr. Cartwright then said, "All have stood up for one place or the other except Mr. Lincoln, and we would like to know where he expects to go." Lincoln arose and quietly said, "I am going to Congress," and there he went.
On March 26, 1843, at the time Lincoln was attempting to obtain the nomination for Congress, he wrote to Martin M. Morris, of Petersburg, Ill.:
|"There was the strangest combination of church influence against me. Baker is a Campbellite; and therefore, as I suppose with few exceptions, got all of that Church. My wife had some relations in the Presbyterian churches, and some in the Episcopal churches; and therefore, wherever it would tell, I was set down as either one or the other, while it was everywhere contended that no Christian ought to vote for me because I belonged to no Church, was suspected of being a Deist and had talked about fighting a duel." (Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Nicolay & Hay edition, vol. 1, p. 80.)|
It is only fair to say that Dr. Holland had never had any personal knowledge of Lincoln. In preparing his Biography, he had visited Springfield, where he spent two weeks among Lincoln's old friends, collecting information. Chief of those he had consulted was William H. Herndon, who had been the great Emancipator's law partner for 22 years, and was in that relationship to Lincoln at the time of the assassination. When Dr. Holland asked Mr. Herndon about his partner's religious convictions, Mr. Herndon replied that he had none, and the less he said on that subject the better. "Oh well," replied Dr. Holland, "I'll fix that."
After the "Bateman interview" had been read by Herndon, he walked over to the Capitol, where Bateman, as Superintendent of Public Instruction, had his office, and held a conversation with him. He refused to either affirm or deny the accuracy of the interview. Later he told Herndon something in confidence, which has never been revealed. He did go so far, however, as to admit that he and Mr. Lincoln were talking politics and not religion.
Throughout this work it has been my object to state facts and avoid argument as much as possible. Yet I must give an account of the controversy, one of the most bitter in American History, which raged over the question of Lincoln's position in regard to religion. Personal, religious and political animosity, almost resulting in libel suits, was involved.
In 1872, Colonel Ward H. Lamon published his Life of Abraham Lincoln. Colonel Lamon had the advantage over Dr. Holland of being Lincoln's friend and acquaintance of years. When the President-elect started for Washington, Colonel Lamon had charge of the arrangements. Lincoln appointed him Marshal of the District of Columbia. When the body of the martyred President was carried back to Springfield, Colonel Lamon was in charge of the funeral train. In addition to being qualified by knowledge to write the life of his chief and friend, he had another advantage. He had the benefit of the collection of manuscripts pertaining to Lincoln gathered by William H. Herndon, who knew the real Lincoln better than any other man. Lamon was not so brilliant a writer as Dr. Holland, but he knew his subject, and he waited seven years to publish his book, giving great attention to accuracy.
Colonel Lamon tells what he personally knew of Lincoln's religious belief, and reinforces his own statements by the testimony of the 10 following witnesses, who knew Lincoln equally well: William H. Herndon, Judge David Davis, Colonel James H. Matheny, John T. Stuart, Dr. C. H. Ray, Wm. H. Hannah, James W. Keyes, Jessie W. Fell, Colonel John. G. Nicolay, and Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln. Mr. Lamon was himself a religious man, and tells what he does about Lincoln as a matter of truthful history, though he did not agree with his views.
Colonel Lamon says:
|"Any analysis of Lincoln's
character would be defective that did not include his religious opinions. On
such matters he thought deeply, and his opinions were positive. But perhaps
no phase of his character has been more persistently misrepresented and
variously misunderstood, than this of his religious belief. Not that the
conclusive testimony of many of his intimate associates relative to his
frequent expressions on such subjects has ever been wanting; but his great
prominence in the world's history, and his identification with some of the
great questions of our time, which, by their moral import, were held to be
eminently religious in their character, have led many people to trace in his
motives and actions similar convictions to those held by themselves. His
extremely general expressions of religious faith called forth by the grave
exigencies of his public life, or indulged in on occasions of private
condolence, have often been distorted out of relation to their real
significance or meaning to suit the opinions or tickle the fancies of
individuals or parties.
"Mr. Lincoln was never a member of any Church, nor did he believe in the divinity of Christ, or the inspiration of the Scriptures in the sense understood by evangelical Christians." (Life of Lincoln, p. 486.)
"When a boy, he showed no sign of that piety which his many biographers ascribe to his manhood. When he went to church at all, he went to mock, and came away to mimic." (Ibid, pp. 486, 487.)
"When he came to New Salem, he consorted with Freethinkers, joined with them in deriding the gospel story of Jesus, read Volney and Paine, and then wrote a deliberate and labored essay, wherein he reached conclusions similar to theirs. The essay was burned, but he never regretted nor denied its composition. On the contrary, he made it the subject of free and frequent conversations with his friends at Springfield, and stated, with much particularity and precision, the origin, arguments, and objects of the work." (Ibid., p. 487.)
"The community in which he lived was preeminently a community of Freethinkers in matters of religion; and it was no secret, nor has it been a secret since, that Mr. Lincoln agreed with the majority of his associates in denying the authority of divine revelation. It was his honest belief, a belief which it was no reproach to hold in New Salem, Anne Domino, 1834, and one which he never thought of concealing. It was no distinction, either good or bad, no honor, and no shame. But he had made himself thoroughly familiar with the writings of Paine and Volney -- the Ruins by the one, and The Age of Reason by the other. His mind was full of the subject, and he felt an itching to write. He did write, and the result was a little book. It was probably merely an extended essay, but it is ambitiously spoken of as 'a book' by himself and by the persons who were made acquainted with its contents. In this work he intended to demonstrate --
"'First, that the Bible is not God's revelation.
"'Second, that Jesus was not the son of God.'
"No leaf of this volume has survived. Mr. Lincoln carried it in manuscript to the store of Samuel Hill, where it was read and discussed. Hill was himself an unbeliever, but his son considered his book 'infamous.' It is more than probable that Hill, being a warm personal friend of Lincoln, feared that the publication of the essay would some day interfere with the political advancement of his favorite. At all events, he snatched it out of his hand, and threw it into the fire, from which not a shred escaped." (Ibid, pp. 157, 158.)
"As he grew older, he grew more cautious; and as his New Salem associates, and the aggressive Deists with whom he originally united at Springfield, gradually dispersed, or fell away from his side, he appreciated more and more keenly the violence and extent of the religious prejudice which freedom in discussion from his standpoint would be sure to arouse against him. He saw the immense and augmenting power of the Churches, and in times, past had practically felt it. The imputation of Infidelity had seriously injured him in several of his earlier political contests; and, sobered by age and experience, he was resolved that the same imputation should injure him no more. Aspiring to lead religious communities, he foresaw that he must not appear as an enemy within their gates; aspiring to public honors under the auspices of a political party which persistently summoned religious people to assist in the extirpation of that which it denounced as the 'nation's sin,' he foresaw that he could not ask their suffrages whilst aspersing their faith. He perceived no reason for changing his convictions, but he did perceive many good and cogent reasons for not making them public." (Ibid, pp. 497, 498.)
"But he never told anyone that he accepted Jesus as the Christ, or performed a single one of the acts which necessarily follow upon such a conviction. At Springfield and at Washington he was beset on the one hand by political priests, and on the other by honest and prayerful Christians. He despised the former, respected the latter, and had use for both. He said with characteristic irreverence that he would not undertake to 'run the Churches by military authority'; but he was, nevertheless, alive to the importance of letting the Churches 'run' themselves in the interest of his party. Indefinite expressions about 'Divine Providence,' the 'Justice of God,' and 'the favor of the Most High,' were easy and not inconsistent with his religious notions. In this, accordingly, he indulged freely; but never in all that time did he let fall from his lips or his pen an expression which remotely implied the slightest froth in Jesus as the son of God and the Saviour of men." (Ibid, p. 502.)
Speaking of Lincoln's letter to his dying father, Colonel Lamon says:
|"If ever there was a moment when Mr. Lincoln might have been expected to express his faith in the Atonement, his trust in the merits of a Living Redeemer, it was when he undertook to send a composing and comforting message to a dying man. But he omitted it wholly. He did not even mention the name of Jesus, or intimate the most distant suspicion of the existence of a Christ." (Ibid, p. 497.)|
Speaking of Lincoln's mental characteristics, Lamon says:
|"Mr. Lincoln was by no means
free from a kind of belief in the supernatural ... He lived constantly in
the serious conviction that he was himself the subject of a special decree,
made by some unknown and mysterious power, for which he had no name." (Ibid,
"His mind was filled with gloomy forebodings and strong apprehensions of impending evil, mingled with extravagant visions of personal grandeur and power. His imagination painted a scene just beyond the veil of the immediate future, gilded with glory yet tarnished with blood. It was his 'destiny' splendid but dreadful, fascinating, but terrible. His case bore little resemblance to those of religious enthusiasts like Bunyan, Cowper and others. His was more like the fatalist conscious of his star." (Ibid, p. 475.)
After giving his own testimony, Colonel Lamon gives that of John T. Stuart. Mr. Stuart, who was at one time a member of Congress from Illinois, and Lincoln's first law partner, says:
|"Lincoln went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard: he shocked me. I don't remember the exact line of his argument -- suppose it was against the inherent defects, so called, of the Bible, and on grounds of reason. Lincoln always denied that Jesus was the Christ of God, as understood and maintained by the Christian Church. The Rev. Dr. Smith, who wrote a letter, tried to convert Lincoln from Infidelity so late as 1858, and couldn't do it." (Lamon's Life of Lincoln, p. 488.)|
The next witness quoted by Colonel Lamon was Colonel James H. Matheny, who was not only a friend of Lincoln, but for a while his political manager. He said:
|"I knew Lincoln as early as
1834-7; knew he was an Infidel. He and W. D. Herndon used to talk Infidelity
in the Clerk's office in this city, about the years 1837-40. Lincoln
attacked the Bible and the New Testament on two grounds: first, from the
inherent or apparent contradictions under its lids; second, from the grounds
of reason. Sometimes he ridiculed the Bible and the New Testament, sometimes
seemed to scoff at it, though I shall not use that word in it's full and
literal sense. I never heard that Lincoln changed his views, though his
personal and political friend from 1834 to 1860. Sometimes Lincoln bordered
on Atheism. He went far that way and shocked me. I was then a young man, and
believed what my good mother taught me. Stuart and Lincoln's law office was
in what is called Hoffman's Row, on North Fifth Street, near the public
square. It was in the same building as the Clerk's office, and on the same
floor. Lincoln would come into the Clerk's office, where I and some young
men -- Evan Butler, Newton Francis and others -- were writing or staying,
and would bring the Bible with him; would read a chapter, argue against it.
Lincoln then had a smattering of geology, if I recollect it. Lincoln often,
if not wholly, was an Atheist; at least bordered on it. Lincoln was
enthusiastic in his Infidelity. As he grew older he grew more discreet,
didn't talk much before strangers about his religion; but to friends, close
and bosom ones, he was always open and avowed, fair and honest; but to
strangers, he held them off from policy. Lincoln used to quote Burns. Burns
helped Lincoln to be an Infidel, as I think; at least he found in Burns a
like thinker and feeler.
"From what I know of Mr. Lincoln and his views of Christianity, and from what I know as honest, well-founded rumor; from what I have heard his best friends say and regret for years; from what he never denied when accused, and from what Lincoln has hinted and intimated, to say no more, he did write a book on Infidelity, at or near New Salem, in Menard County, about the year 1834 or 1835. I have stated these things to you often. Judge Logan, John T. Stuart, yourself, know what I know, and some of you more.
"Mr. Herndon, you insist on knowing which you know I possess, and got as a secret, and that is, about Lincoln's little book on Infidelity. Mr. Lincoln did tell me that he did write a little book on Infidelity. This statement I have avoided heretofore; but, as you strongly insist upon it -- probably to defend yourself against charges of misrepresentation -- I give it to you as I got it from Lincoln's mouth." (Lamon's Lincoln, pp. 487, 488.)
The next witness is Dr. C. H. Ray, a personal friend of Lincoln, and at one time editor of the Chicago Tribune. Dr. Ray says:
|"You knew Lincoln far better than I did, though I knew him well; and you have served up his leading characteristics in a way that I should despair of doing, if I should try. I have only one thing to ask: that you do not give Calvinistic theology a chance to claim him as one of its saints and martyrs. He went to the old school church; but, in spite of that outward assent to the horrible doctrines of the sect, I have reason from himself to know that his 'vital purity,' if that means belief in the impossible, was of the negative sort." (Lamon's Lincoln, pp. 489, 490.)|
Next there follows the testimony of William H. Hannah, a member of the Bloomington, Ill., bar, and a man of high standing, to whom Lincoln expressed his view of eternal punishment:
|"Since 1856, Mr. Lincoln told me that he was a kind of an immortalist; but that he could never bring himself to believe in eternal punishment; that man lived but a little while here, and that, if eternal punishment were man's doom, he should spend that little life in vigilant and ceaseless preparation by never ending prayer." (Life of Lincoln, p. 489.)|
James W. Keyes, an old resident of Springfield, who knew Lincoln from the time he moved to Springfield, and who talked to him on the question of religion, says:
|"As to the Christian theory, that Christ is God, and equal to the Creator, he said that it had better be taken for granted; for, by the test of reason, we might become Infidels on that subject, for evidence of Christ's divinity came to us in a somewhat doubtful shape." (Life of Lincoln, p. 490.)|
Jesse W. Fell was Secretary of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee in the Lincoln-Douglas campaign, and was instrumental in bringing Lincoln forward as a candidate for President in 1860. It was for him that Lincoln wrote the well-known, biographical sketch which formed the basis of his campaign biographies. Mr. Fell himself was a Unitarian and had talked with Lincoln many times on the subject of religion. This is what he wrote to Colonel Lamon:
|"Though everything relating
to the character of this extraordinary personage is of interest, and should
be fairly stated to the world, I enter upon the performance of this duty --
for so I regard it -- with some reluctance, arising from the fact that, in
stating my convictions on the subject, I must necessarily place myself in
opposition to quite a number who have written on this topic before me, and
whose views largely preoccupy the public mind. This latter fact, whilst
contributing to my embarrassment on this subject, is, perhaps, the strongest
reason, however, why the truth in this matter should be fully disclosed; and
I therefore yield to your request. If there were any traits of character
that stood out in bold relief in the person of Mr. Lincoln, they were those
of truth and candor. He was utterly incapable of insincerity, or professing
views on this or any other subject he did not entertain. Knowing this to be
his true character, that insincerity, much less duplicity, were traits
wholly foreign to his nature, many of his old friends were not a little
surprised at finding, in some of the biographies of this great man,
statements concerning his religious opinions so utterly at variance with his
known sentiments. True, he may have changed or modified those sentiments
after his removal from among us, though this is hardly reconcilable with the
history of the man, and his entire devotion to public matters during his
four years residence at the national capital. It is possible, however, that
this may be the proper solution of this conflict of opinions; or, it may be,
that, with no intention on the part of any one to mislead the public mind,
those who have represented him as believing in the popular theological views
of the times may have misapprehended him, as experience shows to be quite
common where no special effort has been made to attain critical accuracy on
a subject of this nature. This is more probable from the well-known fact
that Mr. Lincoln seldom communicated to anyone his views on this subject.
But, be this as it may, I have no hesitation whatever in saying that, whilst
he held many opinions in common with the great mass of Christian believers,
he did not believe in what are regarded as the orthodox or evangelical views
"On the innate depravity of man, the character and office of the great head of the Church, the Atonement, the infallibility of the written revelation, the performance of miracles, the nature and design of present and future rewards and punishments (as they are popularly called) and many other subjects, he held opinions utterly at variance with what are usually taught in the Church. I should say that his expressed views on these and kindred subjects were such as, in the estimation of most believers, would place him entirely outside the Christian pale. Yet to my mind, such was not the true position, since his principles and practices and the spirit of his whole life were of the very kind we universally agree to call Christian; and I think this conclusion is in no wise affected by the circumstance that he never attached himself to any religious society whatever.
"His religious views were eminently practical, and are summed up, as I think, in these two propositions: 'the fatherhood, of God, and the brotherhood of man.' He fully believed in a superintending and overruling Providence that guides and controls the operations of the world, but maintained that law and order, not their violation or suspension, are the appointed means by which this Providence is exercised.
"I will not attempt any specification of either his belief or disbelief on various religious topics, as derived from conversations with him at different times during a considerable period; but as conveying a general view of his religious or theological opinions, will state the following facts: Some eight or 10 years prior to his death, in conversing with him on this subject, the writer took occasion to refer, in terms of approbation to the sermons and writings generally of Dr. W. E. Channing; and, finding, he was considerably interested in the statement I made of the opinions held by that author, I proposed to present him a copy of Channing's entire works, which I soon after did. Subsequently the contents of these volumes, together with the writings of Theodore Parker, furnished him, as he informed me, by his friend and law-partner, became naturally the topics of conversation with us; and though far from believing there was an entire harmony of views on his part with either of these authors, yet they were generally much admired and approved by him.
"No religious views with him seemed to find any favor, except of the practical and rationalistic order; and if, from my recollections on this subject, I was called upon to designate an author whose views most nearly represented Mr. Lincoln's on thin subject, I would say that author was Theodore Parker.
"As you have asked from me a candid statement of my recollections on this topic, I have thus briefly given them, with the hope that they may be of some service in rightly settling a question about which -- as I have good reason to believe -- the public mind has been misled. Not doubting that they will accord, substantially, with your own recollections, and that of his other intimate and confidential friends, and with the popular verdict after this matter shall have been properly canvassed, I submit them." (Life of Lincoln, pp. 490-492.)
Colonel John G. Nicolay, who was Lincoln's private secretary while President, and who knew him also in Illinois, makes the following statement in which he denies that Lincoln changed his religious views after he went to Washington:
|"Mr. Lincoln did not, to my knowledge, in any way, change his religious ideas, opinions or beliefs, from the time he left Springfield till the day of his death. I do not know just what they were, never having heard him explain them in detail, but I am very sure he gave no outward indication of his mind having undergone any change in that regard while here." (Life of Lincoln, p. 492.)|
The most important of all the witnesses cited by Colonel Lamon is David Davis, a judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Illinois, afterwards a United States Senator, and finally a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He and Lincoln traveled over the same circuit, rode in the same vehicle and often slept in the same bed. Judge Davis says:
|"I enjoyed for over 20 years the personal friendship of Mr. Lincoln. We were admitted to the bar at about the same time, and traveled for many years what is known in Illinois as the Eighth Judicial Circuit. In 1848, when I first went to the bench, the circuit embraced 14 counties, and Mr. Lincoln went with the Court to every county He [Lincoln] had no faith, in the Christian sense of the term -- had faith in laws, principles, causes and effects -- philosophically.... The idea that Lincoln talked to a stranger about his religion or religious views, or made such speeches, remarks, etc., about it as are published, is to me absurd. I knew the man too well. He was the most reticent, secretive man I ever saw, or expect to see." (Life of Lincoln, p. 489.)|
The last witness quoted by Colonel Lamon is Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the martyred President. She says of her husband's religious views: "Mr. Lincoln had no hope, and no faith, in the usual acceptation of those words." (Life of Lincoln, p. 459.) She also made the following statement to Mr. Herndon: "Mr. Lincoln's maxim and philosophy were: 'What is to be, will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree.' He never joined any Church. He was a religious man always, I think, but was not a technical Christian." (Herndon, Religion of Lincoln.)
When Holland's Life of Lincoln, representing him as a staunch Christian believer, made its appearance it caused no controversy. The Christian people were pleased, while those who had known Lincoln and knew that what Holland said was not true, only smiled and acted indifferently. When Lamon's Life appeared, in 1872, the situation was different. It has been the habit of Christian advocates to declare that all great and good men have been believers in Christianity. Lincoln was a great and good man. That following Holland's Life, another should appear asserting that Lincoln was an "Infidel," was considered an insult by the pious. They felt that their idol had been shattered. A storm arose. Dr. Holland, in the magazine he edited, Scribner's Monthly, made a fierce, almost savage attack on Lamon's book. The basis of Holland's animosity was that it was a rival of his book, and that it directly contradicted his own statements. He called Lincoln's Freethought friends, "heathens," "barbarians," "savages," and said the book was an "outrage on decency."
Another who was greatly perturbed was the Rev. J. A, Reed, minister of the First Presbyterian Church, of Springfield, Ill. His first maneuver was an attempt to induce Lamon's 10 witnesses to Lincoln's religious views to retract their statements. He partially succeeded with two of them, John T. Stuart, and Colonel James Matheny. But the manner of the retraction was hardly creditable either to these gentlemen or to the Rev. Mr. Reed. Neither Mr. Stuart nor Colonel Matheny denied one statement of fact they had made in the book. Both, however, said they had never written a word of the testimony quoted. This was a quibble, as no one claimed that they did. They dictated their testimony to Mr. Herndon, who wrote it down, and both gentlemen signed it. The other eight witnesses, all of whom were approached by the Rev. Mr. Reed with a request that they retract or modify their evidence, stood firm.
Then the Rev. Mr. Reed delivered in Springfield a lecture entitled, "The Later Life and Religious Experience of Abraham Lincoln," which Dr. Holland published in Scribner's Monthly. Mr. Herndon replied, and the reply was published in the Springfield Register. The Rev. Mr. Reed then began a personal attack on Mr. Herndon, for, as in other controversies involving religion, "mud slinging" was brought into requisition. The battle extended from the prairies of Illinois to the Atlantic Coast, where the New York World, in the interest, as it believed, of truth and justice, summed up the merits of the case as follows:
|"Mr. Ward H. Lamon is the
author of one Life of Lincoln, and Dr. J. G. Holland is the author of
another. Mr. Lamon was the intimate personal and political friend of
Lincoln, trusting and trusted, from the time of their joint practice in the
Illinois Quarter Sessions to the moment of Mr. Lincoln's death in
Washington. Dr. Holland was nothing to Mr. Lincoln, neither known nor
knowing. Dr. Holland rushed his Life from the press before the disfigured
corpse was fairly out of sight, while the public mind lingered with horror
over the details of the tragedy, and, excited by morbid curiosity, was
willing to pay for its gratification. Mr. Lamon waited many years, until all
adventitious interest had subsided, and then with incredible labor and pains
produced a volume founded upon materials which for their fullness, variety,
and seeming authenticity are unrivaled in the history of biographies. Dr.
Holland's single volume professed to cover the whole of Mr. Lincoln's
career. Mr. Lamon's single volume was modestly confined to part of it. Dr.
Holland's was an easy, graceful, off-hand performance, having but the one
slight demerit of being in all essential particulars untrue from beginning
to end. Mr. Lamon's was a labored, cautious, and carefully verified
narrative which seems to have been accepted by disinterested critics as
"Dr. Holland would probably be very much shocked if anybody should ask him to bear false witness in favor of his neighbor in a court of justice, but he takes up his pen to make a record which he hopes and intends shall endure forever, and in that record deliberately bears false witness in favor of a public man whom he happens to admire, with no kind of offense to his serene and 'cultured' conscience. If this were all -- if Dr. Holland merely asserted his own right to compose and publish elaborate fictions on historical subjects -- we might comfort ourselves with the reflection that such literature is likely to be as evanescent as it is dishonest, and let him pass in silence. But this is not all. He maintains that it is everybody's duty to help him to deceive the public and to write down his more conscientious competitor. He turns up the nose of 'culture,' and curls the lip of 'art' at Mr. Lamon's homely narrative of facts, and gravely insists that all other noses and all other lips shall be turned up and curled because his are. He implores the public, which he insulted and gulled with his own book, to damn Mr. Lamon's, and he puts his request on the very ground that Mr. Lamon has stupidly gone and narrated undeniable truths, whereby he has demolished an empty shrine that was profitable to many, and broken a painted idol that might have served for a god.
"The names of Lamon and Holland are not of themselves and by themselves illustrious; but starting from the title pages of the two lives of Lincoln, and representing, as they do, the two schools of biographical writers, the one stands for a principle and the other for the want of it."
The World then takes into consideration Messrs. Reed, Stuart and Matheny:
|"This individual testimony is clear and overwhelming, without the documentary and other evidence scattered profusely through the rest of the book. How does Mr. Reed undertake to refute it? In the first place, firstly, he pronounces it a 'libel,' and in the second place, secondly, he is 'amazed to find' -- and he says he has found -- that the principal witnesses take exception to Mr. Lamon's report of their evidence. This might have been true of any or all of Mr. Lamon's witnesses without exciting the wonder of a rational man. Few persons, indeed, are willing to endure reproach merely for the truth's, sake, and popular opinion in the Republican party of Springfield, Ill., is probably very much against Mr. Lamon. It would, therefore, be quite in the natural order if some of his witnesses who find themselves unexpectedly in print should succumb to the social and political terrorism, of their time and place, and attempt to modify or explain their testimony. They zealously assisted Mr. Herndon in ascertaining the truth, and while they wanted him to tell it in full they were prudently resolved to keep their own names snugly out of sight. But Mr. Reed's statement is not true, and his amazement is entirely simulated. Two only out of the 10 witnesses have gratified him by inditing, at his request, weak and guarded complaints of unfair treatment. These were John T. Stuart, a relative of the Lincolns and Edwardses, and Jim Matheny, both of Springfield, whom Mr. Lincoln taught his peculiar doctrines, but who may by this time be deacons in Mr. Reed's church. Neither of them helps Mr. Reed's case a particle. Their epistles open, as if by concert, in form and words almost identical. They say they did not write the language attributed to them. The denial is wholly unnecessary, for nobody affirms that they did write it. They talked and Mr. Herndon wrote. His notes were made when the conversation occurred, and probably in their presence. At all events, they are both so conscious of the general accuracy of his report that they do not venture to deny a single word of it, but content themselves with lamenting that something else, which they did not say, was excluded from it. They both, however, in these very letters, repeat emphatically the material part of the statements made by them to Mr. Herndon, namely, that Mr. Lincoln was to their certain knowledge, until a very late period of his life, an 'Infidel,' and neither of them is able to tell when he ceased to be an infidel and when he became a Christian. And this is all Mr. Reed makes of his re-examination of the two persons whom he is pleased to exalt as Mr. Lamon's 'principal witnesses.' They are but two out of the 10. What of the other eight? They have no doubt been plied and tried by Mr. Reed and his friends to no purpose: they stand fast by the record. But Mr. Reed is to be shamed neither by their speech nor their silence."|
Mr. Remsburg describes the characteristics of Holland's and Lamon's books in the following language:
|"In Lamon's work, Lincoln's character is a rugged oak, towering above its fellows and clothed in nature's livery; in Holland's work, it is a dead tree with the bark taken off, the knots planed down, and varnished." (Abraham Lincoln: Was He a Christian? p. 146.)|
Was Abraham Lincoln Converted? One thing this controversy had made manifest -- that Lincoln had been an "Infidel" in Illinois up to the time he went to Washington. It would be a waste of time to present further evidence. The testimony of eight of Lamon's witnesses has not been impugned, while the other two, Messrs. Stuart and Matheny, did not alter their testimony in any material point. Dr. Holland, the only one who ever denied it, was obliged to admit his error and retreat from his position. (See Scibner's Monthly, vol. 4, p. 506.)
One thing only remained for those who maintained Lincoln's orthodoxy. It was to admit these well-known facts, to which any number of people who knew Lincoln could testify; then to assert that he was afterwards converted. As this has been said of every well-known Freethinker from Paine and Voltaire to Ingersoll, and proved to be untrue in nearly all cases, it would not look otherwise than suspicious. A prominent Presbyterian journal has been obliged to admit the untruth of this general statement made of Infidels, so far as Paine and Voltaire were concerned, although an offer of one thousand dollars was made it if it proved the truth of the statement.
In the case of Ingersoll, his family has many times denied the allegation that he changed his views, yet the story is periodically revived by ministers in the rural districts.
The Rev. J. A. Reed, who was at all times ready to leap into any breach in behalf of Lincoln's orthodoxy, bravely undertook the task of proving that he was converted. True, he had no knowledge of the alleged conversion himself, but he was better at finding witnesses than was Dr. Holland. It is a well-recognized principle of law, that where a certain condition of affairs is known to have once existed, it is supposed to continue to exist, unless, by a preponderance of evidence, it can be proved that a change has occurred. Then, to establish any fact, the time and place of its occurrence must be proved. Lincoln was once an "Infidel." If he changed his views and became orthodox, it must be established by his own testimony, or the unquestioned testimony of those who knew of it. And the time and place where it occurred must likewise be substantiated.
Mr. Reed summons as witnesses, the Rev. Dr. James Smith, his predecessor as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Niniam W. Edward, a brother-in-law of Lincoln, Thomas Lewis, a deacon in Dr. Smith's church, Noah Brooks, then somewhat known as a writer, the Rev. Dr. Sunderland, the noted Presbyterian minister, of Washington, D. C., the Rev. Dr. Miner, a Universalist clergyman of Boston, and the Rev. Dr. Gurley, minister of the Presbyterian church in the Capital, where Lincoln and his wife sometimes attended. The Rev. Dr. Smith claims to be the minister who converted Lincoln, snatched him as a brand from the burning, convinced him that his objections to the Bible were groundless, and made of him a stern Presbyterian. He was one of the three Springfield ministers who supported Lincoln for the Presidency in 1860, and was rewarded by receiving the consulship at Dundee, Scotland.
Dr. Smith says:
|"It is a very easy matter to prove that while I was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Mr. Lincoln did avow his belief in the divine, authority and inspiration of the scriptures, and I hold that it is a matter of the last importance not only to the present, but all future generations of the great Republic, and to all advocates of civil and religious liberty throughout the world, that this avowal on his part, and the circumstances attending it, together with very interesting incidents illustrative of his character, in my possession, should be made known to the public.... It was to my honor to place before Mr. Lincoln arguments designed to prove the divine authority and inspiration of the scriptures accompanied by arguments of Infidel objectors in their own language. To the arguments on both sides, Mr Lincoln gave a most patient, impartial and searching investigation. To use his own language, he examined the arguments as a lawyer who is anxious to reach the truth investigates testimony. The result was the announcement by himself that the argument in favor of the divine authority and inspiration of the Scriptures was unanswerable."|
Next, comes the testimony of Mr. Edwards:
|A short time after the Rev. Dr. Smith became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of this city, Mr. Lincoln said to me, 'I have been reading a work of Dr. Smith on the evidence of Christianity, and have heard him preach and converse on the subject, and I am now convinced of the truth of Christianity."|
Thomas Lewis testifies as follows:
|"Not long after Dr. Smith came to Springfield, and I think very near the time of his son's death, Mr. Lincoln said to me, that when on a visit somewhere, he had seen and partially read a work of Dr. Smith on the evidences of Christianity which had led him to change his views about the Christian religion; that he would like to get that work to finish the reading of it, and also to make the acquaintance of Dr. Smith. I was an elder in Dr. Smith's church, and took Dr. Smith to Mr. Lincoln's office and introduced him; and Dr. Smith gave Mr. Lincoln a copy of his book, as I know, at his own request."|
Mr. Brooks writes Mr. Reed from New York City, on December 31, 1872, as follows:
|"In addition to what has appeared from my pen, I will state that I have had many conversations with Mr. Lincoln, which were more or less of a religious character, and while I never tried to draw anything like a statement of his views from him, yet he freely expressed himself as having 'a hope of blessed immortality through Jesus Christ.'... Once or twice, speaking to me of the change which had come upon him, he said, while he could not fix any definite time, yet it was after he came here, and I am positive that in his own mind he identified it with about the time of Willie's death In many conversations with him, I absorbed the firm conviction that Mr. Lincoln was at heart a Christian man, believed in the Saviour, and was seriously considering the step which would formally connect him with the visible Church on earth."|
The next witness is the Rev. Byron Sunderland, D. D.:
|"After some conversation, in which he seemed to have his joke and fun, he settled down to a serious consideration of the subject before his mind, and for one half hour poured forth a volume of the deepest Christian philosophy I ever heard."|
The Rev. Dr. Miner:
|"All that was said during that memorable afternoon I spent alone with that great and good man is engraven too deeply on my memory ever to be effaced. I felt certain of this fact, that if Mr. Lincoln was not really an experimental Christian, he was acting like one. He was doing his duty manfully, and looking to God for help in time of need; and, like the immortal Washington, he believed in the efficacy of prayer, and it was his custom to read the Bible and pray himself."|
The last of Mr. Reed's witnesses, the Rev. Dr. Gurley, states:
"I have had frequent and intimate conversations with him on the subject of the Bible and the Christian religion, when he could have no motive to deceive me, and I considered him not only sound on the truth of the Christian religion but on all its fundamental doctrines and teachings. And more than that, in the latter days of his chastened and weary life, after the death of his son, Willie, and his visit to the battlefield of Gettysburg, he said, with tears in his eyes, that he had lost confidence in everything but God, and that he now believed his heart was changed, and that he loved the Saviour, and, if he was not deceived in himself, it was his intention soon to make a profession of religion."
Had Mr. Reed been a lawyer, instead of a clergyman, it is possible that he might have observed the contradictory character of the testimony of his witnesses. Not being one, he takes all these statements seriously, and does not perceive the lack of harmony that pervades them. When Dr. Smith said "It is very easy to prove" that under his influence Lincoln "did avow his belief in the divine authority and inspiration of the scriptures," he states what is not apparent from the facts and circumstances in the case.
If it were "a very easy matter to prove," how does it happen that Mr. Reed could only find, with great effort in a city of nearly 10,000 people, but two witnesses to the alleged fact, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Lewis? Then in a city of this size every one would have heard of Lincoln's conversion had it been a fact. The letter he received from Edwards was dated, December 24, 1872. On January 8, 1873, Lewis wrote his letter, so after securing one witness it required two weeks to find another, to a fact which Dr. Smith said was well known and easy to prove. Then, when Dr. Holland came to Springfield in 1865, combing the city to obtain evidence of Lincoln's orthodoxy, no one ever heard that Dr. Smith had converted him, and all Mr. Holland could obtain was the shady "Bateman interview."
A few pertinent questions may be properly asked. If Dr. Smith convinced Mr. Lincoln of the truth of the Bible and the Christian religion, why did he never announce the fact to the world during Lincoln's life time? Why was it that Lincoln never announced it himself? How does it happen that none of Lincoln's friends, for instance, Mr. Herndon, Mr. Speed, Colonel Lamon, and Mrs. Lincoln, ever heard of it? Why, for perhaps 20 years, was it sealed up in the brains of Mr. Edwards and Mr. Lewis? Why did not Mr. Lincoln join Dr. Smith's church? It is a queer coincidence that no one knew of it until after Lincoln's death, and when the Rev. Reed had occasion to make use of it.
When did Dr. Smith convert Lincoln? Edwards and Lewis say it was soon after Dr. Smith came to Springfield, and after the death of Lincoln's little boy, Willie. Both of these events occurred in 1848. Dr. Smith does not in his statement give any date, only saying that it happened "while I was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield." This might mean any time between 1848 and 1861. On another occasion he has stated that it was in 1858. If this were true, the statements of both Lewis and Edwards contradict him. In 1848, Lincoln was a member of Congress, and taking an active part in the Presidential campaign. In 1958, he was a candidate for the United States Senate, and holding debates with Douglas. It is not likely that during either of these years when he was immersed in politics did he have any time to study theological problems.
Lewis claims 'the honor of bringing Dr. Smith and Lincoln together, when the reverend doctor gave Lincoln the book which they say converted him. Stuart, in his attempted disclaimer of his evidence, says that Dr. Smith's first visit to Lincoln was "at the suggestion of a lady friend." Then, what has become of this book? Any work which would cause the conversion of a man of the type of Lincoln would have lived, and been made use of to convert other "Infidels." It is now unknown.
Amidst all these contradictions there is but one thing which we may truthfully say happened -- Dr. Smith visited Lincoln and presented him with a book, or pamphlet, dealing with the evidences of Christianity. Dr. Smith says Lincoln read it and was convinced. Mr. Herndon says: "No one of Lincoln's old acquaintances in this city ever heard of his conversion to Christianity by Dr. Smith or anyone else. It was never suggested nor thought of here until after his death.... I never saw him read a second of time in Dr. Smith's book on Infidelity. He threw at down upon our table -- spit upon it as it were -- and never opened it to my knowledge."
As Lincoln was, during this decade, 1850 to 1860, deeply in politics, a candidate for the United States Senate twice, and already suggested for the Presidency, he did not want to get into any controversy with the preachers. He therefore possibly said something complimentary of Dr. Smith's book, but had the reading of it converted him, we would have heard more of it from Dr. Smith himself, as well as by Lincoln and many others.
I believe that Carl Sandburg, in his Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, vol. 1, pp. 413-414, tells the exact truth about this alleged "conversion" of Lincoln by the Rev. James Smith, D. D.:
|"The Lincoln's rented a pew
in the church. Mrs. Lincoln took the sacrament, and joined in membership.
(She had formerly been an Episcopalian.) The Rev. Mr. Smith presented
Lincoln with a copy of his book, The Christian's Defense, a reply to
Infidels and Atheists; it argued that the creation of the world, as told in
the book of Genesis, the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the flood which
ended with Noah's ark on Mount Ararat were true events, that the books of
the Old Testament are not forgeries, that a number of profane authors
testify to the truth of the New Testament evangels, that only an Atheist can
deny divine inspiration; the divine authority of the Scriptures is proved
from prophecy and its fulfilment.
"Lincoln read The Christian's Defense, said he was interested, later attended revival meetings held in the First Presbyterian Church. But when asked to join the Church, he said he 'couldn't quite see it.'"
Colonel Lamon correctly diagnosed Dr. smith's case when he said of him:
|"The abilities of this gentleman to discuss such a topic to the edification of a man like Mr. Lincoln seem to have been rather slender; but the chance of converting so distinguished a person inspired him with a zeal which he might not have felt for the salvation of an obscurer soul. Mr. Lincoln listened to his exhortations in silence, apparently respectful, and occasionally sat out his sermons in church with as much patience as other people." (Life of Lincoln, p. 498.)|
Mr. Reed does not realize that the testimony of Mr. Brooks nullifies that of Dr. Smith. Mr. Brooks makes the date of Lincoln's conversion, as "after he came here (Washington) and I am positive that in his own mind he identified it with about the time of Willie's death." Willie died in 1862. If Brooks is right, the alleged conversion of Lincoln by Dr. Smith collapses. Lewis and Edwards both say the conversion occurred about 1848, Smith, about 1858, Brooks, in 1862. Then others have said it took place in 1863, when Lincoln visited the battlefield of Gettysburg. Altogether they have assigned five dates for this event. Therefore it must be admitted that the time, a very necessary legal point, has not been established. Neither is the place established, for some say, Illinois, while others the City of Washington.
As to Thomas Lewis, his reputation for truth and veracity in Springfield was under a cloud. Mr. Herndon, in his reply to Mr. Reed, published in the Springfield Register, thus speaks of the gentleman:
|"Mr. Lewis's veracity and integrity in this community need no comment. I have heard good men say they would not believe his word under any circumstances, especially were he interested. I hate to state this of Tom, but if he will obtrude himself in this discussion, I cannot help but say a word in self-defense. Mr. Lincoln detested this man, I know. The idea that Mr. Lincoln would go to Tom Lewis and reveal to him his religious convictions, is to me, and to all who know Mr. Lincoln and Tom Lewis, too absurd."|
The Rev. Dr. Sunderland says that in his hearing Mr. Lincoln "poured forth a volume of the deepest Christian philosophy I ever heard." As we read what Dr. Sunderland says Lincoln said, in the July, 1873, Scribners Monthly, we are tempted to remark that the reverend doctor wrote this out 10 years after he had talked with President Lincoln, and we must make allowances for lapses of memory. But let it stand as written, because it contains nothing which commits Lincoln to a belief in orthodox Christianity, and only makes him say what any Deist or Unitarian might say without doing violence to his principles.
The Rev. Dr. Miner nowhere gives a report of what Lincoln said on "that memorable afternoon," and he seems to be uncertain as to whether Lincoln was "an experimental Christian," or some other kind. That he believed in the efficacy of prayer, in the orthodox sense, or that he prayed himself, or that Washington prayed, are well-known myths for which there has never been any good evidence.
The Rev. Dr. Gurley considered Lincoln "sound not only on the truth of the Christian religion but on all its fundamental doctrines and teachings." This means that Lincoln was a Presbyterian and a Calvinist, something none of his intimate friends ever knew him to be. He gives aid to Mr. Brooks in putting to the discard the story of the Rev. Dr. Smith. Dr. Gurley officiated at the Lincoln obsequies in Washington, and assisted Bishop Simpson at the obsequies at Springfield, but on neither occasion did either of these clergymen assert that Lincoln was a believer, something ministers never fail to do if it is a fact, and sometimes when it is not. Bishop Simpson never claimed him as a believer, nor did Dr. Gurley until the Rev. J. A. Reed was caught in a tight place, and called on him for help. The plain, common man will ask Mr. Brooks and Dr. Gurley why, if Lincoln had the love for Jesus they both say he had, and the faith in immortality, why, in all his letters and writings, he never mentions the names Jesus or Christ, and only once the word immortality?
We are impressed by the manner in which the Rev. Mr. Reed's witnesses not only nullify each other, but nullify themselves. We are reminded of the saying of Napoleon Bonaparte that history consists "of lies agreed upon," but agreement is not all. There should be also good memories.
The New York World, in commenting on the Rev. Reed's attempt to refute Lamon's witnesses, said:
|"It is admitted by Mr. Reed and everybody else that Mr. Lincoln was a working Infidel up to a very late period of his life, that he wrote a book and labored earnestly to make proselytes to his own views, that he never publicly recanted, and that he never joined the Church. Upon those who, in the face of these tremendous facts, allege that he was nevertheless a Christian lies the burden of proof. Let them produce it or forever hold their peace. In the meantime it is a sad and puerile subterfuge to argue that he would have been a Christian if he had lived long enough, and to lament that he was not 'spared' for that purpose. He had been spared 56 years and surrounded by every circumstance that might soften his heart and every influence that might elevate his faith. If he was at that late, that fatal, hour standing gloomily without the pale, what reason have we to suppose that he intended ever to enter?"|
The controversy engendered by the publication of Colonel Lamon's book caused it to be a failure financially. The religious world boycotted it. Today it is hard to buy a copy, and few are available, even in libraries. Those in existence were no doubt destroyed.
When Herndon, in 1889, published the first edition of his Life of Lincoln, most copies were bought up to keep them out of circulation. After 60 years have passed, Herndon's work is acknowledged to be the best on Lincoln's personal career, while no writer today of any standing will affirm that Abraham Lincoln was an orthodox Christian. Holland's book, so popular in the day in which it was written, is now considered to be on a par with Weems' Life of Washington, a book notorious for its mythical character.
It now having been established that Lincoln was an "Infidel" in Illinois the two individuals most interested, in this controversy, the Rev. J. A. Reed and Dr. Holland, having admitted this fact and the same persons and their friends having asserted that he was converted to orthodoxy after he moved to Washington -- we will, in the interest of impartiality, consider more evidence from those who say he was there converted.
The Western Christian Advocate, shortly after the close of the Civil War, published the following comment, which is quoted in Raymond's Life of Lincoln, p. 735:
|"On the day of the receipt of the capitulation of Lee, we learned from a friend intimate with the late President, the cabinet meeting was held an hour earlier than usual. Neither the President nor any member was able, for a time, to give utterance to his feelings. At the suggestion of Mr. Lincoln, all dropped on their knees, and offered, in silence and tears, their humble and heartfelt acknowledgment to the Almighty for the triumph he had granted to the national cause."|
In 1891, Hugh McCullough, who was Secretary of the Treasury, and who attended every cabinet meeting, firmly denied this. (For Mr. McCullough's statement, see the first chapter of this book, "George Washington, the Vestryman who was not a Communicant.")
Frank B. Carpenter, the artist, who painted the picture of "The Signing of the Emancipation Proclamation," spent six months at the White House for that purpose, and while there he was in constant touch with the President. He says:
|"There is a very natural and proper desire, at this time, to know something of the religious experience of the late President. Two or three stories have been published in this connection, which I have never yet been able to trace to a reliable source, and I feel impelled to say here, that I believe the facts in the case -- if there were such -- have been added unto, or unwarrantably embellished... Mr. Lincoln could scarcely be called a religious man, in the common acceptance of the term, and yet a sincerer Christian, I believe, never lived. A constitutional tendency to dwell upon sacred things; an emotional nature which finds ready expression in religious conversation and revival meetings; the culture and development of the devotional element till the expression of religious thought and experience becomes almost habitual, were not among his characteristics."|
This is in direct contradiction to what those who say he was converted in Washington would have us believe. Mr. Carpenter considered Lincoln not as a religious man, but a sincere Christian. He makes the common mistake of confusing the three words, religion, Christianity and morality. He did not stop to realize that a man may be religious without being a Christian, and that he might be moral without being either religious or Christian. Since Carpenter knew that Lincoln was a good man, he thought he must be a Christian, though he here admits the fact that Lincoln was not a Christian in any conventional or doctrinal sense of the word. Here Carpenter disagrees with all the other witnesses who have declared that Lincoln was converted while in Washington.
Dr. Holland abandoned his first claim that Lincoln was always a believer, but attempted to prove, in Scribner's Monthly for July, 1873, that he became one after he moved to Washington. Dr. Holland wrote:
|"What Abraham Lincoln was when he lived in New Salem and wrote an anti-Christian tract (which the friend to whom he showed it somewhat violently but most judiciously put in the fire) is one thing, and it may be necessary for an impartial historian to record it. What he was when he died at Washington with those most Christian words of the Second Inaugural on his lips, and the most Christian record of five years of patient tenderness and charity behind him, is quite another thing."|
It may have been difficult for Dr. Holland to understand that "patient tenderness and charity," as well as other virtues, are not the property of any particular form of religious belief or disbelief.
Turning to the Second Inaugural, in which Dr. Holland finds evidence that Lincoln changed his views and was converted, we find nothing that justifies the supposition, but rather the reverse. In this document there are references to God, and the Bible, but not such as an orthodox Christian would make. In referring to the two parties engaged in the war he said:
|"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not that we be not judged."|
He was particular to say, "Both read the same Bible," not, "Both read the same Word of God." He mentally took note of the fact that there are many different Bibles, of which the Christian Bible is but one. His reference to both sides praying to the same God to help them defeat the other side is the best of sarcasm.
"Shall we discern there any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him?" Of course, Lincoln does not express an opinion, but he has plainly in mind his own idea of God, which was fate, and he does not state his own opinion, but what the "believers in a living God ascribe to him." And when he said, "as was said 3,000 years ago," he does not say that God said it, nor that any particular person said it. He was careful not to commit himself. He was a student of the Bible, like all other great Freethinkers, such as Paine, Voltaire, Bradlaugh and Ingersoll, and he knew how to quote it with effect, but nowhere does he imply belief in its divine inspiration, or that he accepts its authority any more than he accepts the authority of any other book.
Bishop Matthew Simpson, of the Methodist Church, has been often quoted as saying that Abraham Lincoln was a believer after he went to Washington, but as most of these quotations are garbled, and the context is not given, I shall quote the bishop from the original source, his funeral address over Lincoln at Springfield. The entire sermon was published in the New York Christian Advocate, exactly as Bishop Simpson delivered it, immediately after the funeral. In its issue of February 11, 1904, the Advocate reprinted this address exactly as it appeared in 1865. I was at that time living in New York City, where I visited the Advocate office and purchased a copy. Here is what Bishop Simpson said:
|"Abraham Lincoln was a good
man. He was known as an honest, temperate, forgiving man, a just man, a man
of noble heart in every way; as to his religious experience I cannot
speak definitely, because I was not privileged to know much of his private
sentiments. My acquaintance with him did not give me the opportunity to hear
him speak on this topic. I know, however, he read the Bible frequently;
loved it for its great truths and for its profound teachings; and he tried
to be guided by its precepts. He believed in Christ, the Saviour of sinners,
and I think he was sincerely trying to bring his life into the principles of
revealed religion. Certainly if there ever was a man who illustrated some of
the principles of pure religion, that man was our departed President. Look
over all his speeches. Listen to his utterances. He never spoke unkindly to
any man; even to the rebels, no words of anger from him, and his last day
illustrated in a remarkable manner his favorite disposition. A dispatch had
been received that afternoon that Thompson and Tucker were trying to make
their escape through Maine, and it was proposed to arrest them. Mr. Lincoln,
however, preferred rather to let them quietly escape and this morning we
read the proclamation offering $25,000 for the arrest of these men as aiders
and abetters of his assination. Thus, in his last expiring acts he was
saying, 'Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.'
"As a rule I doubt if any President has ever shown such trust in God, or in the public documents so frequently referred to divine aid. Often did he remark to his friends and to delegations that his hope for our success rested in his conviction that God would bless our efforts because we were trying to do right. To the address of a large body he replied, 'Thanks be unto God, who in our national trials has given us the Churches.' To a minister who said he hoped the Lord was on his side, he replied that it gave him no concern whether the Lord was on our side or not, for, he said, 'I know the Lord is always on the side of the right'; and with deep feeling he added, 'But God is my witness and it is my constant anxiety and prayer that both myself and this nation should be on the Lord's side.'"
None will contend with Bishop Simpson in his eloquent eulogy of President Lincoln's virtues, yet we might say, as we have said before, that thee virtues are the property of all religions, and not the monopoly of any one. That Lincoln read the Bible there is no doubt. He also read Burns, Byron and Shakespeare. He took them all for just what they were worth. That he believed in Christ must be taken with a qualification. We can believe in Christ in a dozen different ways, without accepting any orthodox view. Many Infidels, including Paine, Ingersoll and Rousseau, have admired some of Christ's teachings, but none of them believed in his divinity or supernatural character.
But the most important part of Bishop Simpson's testimony is his admission that he did not know what Lincoln's "religious experience" had been, and could not "speak definitely," because he "was not privileged to know much of his private sentiments"; and his "acquaintance with him did not give me the opportunity to hear him speak on the topic." It is well known, as the National Encyclopedia says, that Bishop Simpson "was a close friend of President Lincoln." Then, if he did not know what his religious sentiments were, how did some other ministers who happened to find their way into the White House for a few minutes, learn all about them? We are inclined to think that of all of them, Bishop Simpson was the only honest one.
Many years ago I heard the very eloquent Baptist preacher, the Rev. Dr. George C. Lorimer, say from the platform of Carnegie Hall:
|"Biographies by preachers are of no value. If they admire a man they always make him a saint, while if they dislike one, they always make him a demon."|
As Lincoln was a close friend of Bishop Simpson, and did not tell him what he believed, it is only additional evidence that he was not in the habit of unbosoming himself even to his friends, to say nothing of strangers. When Lincoln said, as quoted by the bishop, that instead of asking the Lord to be on his side, he preferred to be on the Lord's side, he only confirms Lincoln's idea of God, which was that God had his own purposes, and did not swerve from them through any prayers.
This I will later prove.
While Bishop Simpson, a Methodist, did not claim that Lincoln was an orthodox Christian, the Methodist Church was not to be outdone by the Presbyterian in asserting that it had converted him. At one time, the Rev. James F. Jacques, D.D., was pastor of the First Methodist Church, of Springfield, Ill. He was later the colonel of the 73rd Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Toward the close of the war he made a trip to Richmond on his own initiative to urge Jefferson Davis to stop fighting. The Rev. Ervin Chapman, D.D., gives us Colonel Jacques' statement in his book, Latest Light on Abraham Lincoln, pp. 396, 387:
|"One beautiful Sunday
morning in May, I was standing in the front door of the parsonage when a
little boy came up to me and said: 'Mr. Lincoln sent me around to see if you
was going to preach today.' Now, I had met Mr. Lincoln, but I never thought
any more of 'Abe' Lincoln that I did of any one else. I said to the boy,
'You go back and tell Mr. Lincoln that if he will come to church he will see
whether I am going to preach or not.' The little fellow stood working his
fingers and finally said, 'Mr. Lincoln told me he would give me a quarter if
I would find out whether you are going to preach.' I did not want to rob the
little fellow of his income, so I told him to tell Mr. Lincoln that I was
going to try to preach.
"The church was filled that morning. It was a good-sized church, but on that day all the seats were filled. I had chosen for my text the words, 'Ye must be born again,' and during the course of my sermon I laid particular stress on the word 'must.' Mr. Lincoln came into the church after the services had commenced, and there being no vacant seats, chairs were put in the altar in front of the pulpit, and Mr. Lincoln and Governor French and wife sat in the altar during the entire services, Mr. Lincoln on my left and Governor French on my right, and I noticed that Mr. Lincoln appeared to be deeply interested in the sermon. A few days after that Sunday, Mr. Lincoln called on me and informed me that he had been greatly impressed with my remarks on Sunday and that he had come to talk with me further on the matter.
"I invited him in, and my wife talked and prayed with him for hours. Now, I have seen many persons converted; I have seen hundreds brought to Christ, and if ever a person was converted, Abraham Lincoln was converted that night in my house."
Strange to say, the world never heard of this conversion, until September 28-29, 1897, when Colonel Jacques told it at the reunion of the 73rd Regiment, held in Springfield. Then few, if any, were alive who could contradict it. No one among all of Lincoln's friends ever heard of it, which causes us to wonder why it was that Lincoln was continuously converted, and all appear to be ignorant of the alleged facts except the ministers who did the work? When one is really converted, he stands up before the church and acknowledges Christ. Why, in all of these alleged conversions, did not Lincoln do the same?
Another who endeavored, with a qualification however, to make Lincoln a believer was Isaac N. Arnold, at one time a member of Congress from Chicago, and the author of a Life of Lincoln, published in 1985. He says:
|"No more reverent Christian
than he ever sat in the executive chair, not excepting Washington. He was by
nature religious; full of religious sentiment. The veil between him and the
supernatural was very thin. It is not claimed that he was orthodox.
For creeds and dogmas he cared little. But in the great fundamental
principles of religion, of the Christian religion, he was a firm believer.
Belief in the existence of God, in the immortality of the soul, in the Bible
as the revelation of God to man, in the efficacy and duty of prayer, in
reverence toward the Almighty, and in love and charity to men, was the basis
of his religion." (Life of Lincoln, p. 446.)
"His reply to the Negroes of Baltimore when they, in 1864, presented him with a magnificent Bible, ought to silence forever those who charge him with unbelief. He said: 'In regard to the great book I have only to say that it is the best gift which God has given to man. All the good from the Saviour of the world is communicated through this book.'"
"His faith in a Divine Providence began at his mother's knee, and ran through all the changes of his life. Not orthodox, not a man of creeds, he was a man of simple trust in God."
Here, Mr. Arnold has the distinction of being at variance with all the other witnesses to the conversion of Lincoln. All of them have staked their reputations upon the statement that he was "orthodox," and "a man of creeds." If he was not, all the conversion stories would be like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out. The Rev. Dr. Gurley, who never claimed Lincoln as a believer while he lived -- not even at his funeral -- in order to help out the Rev. J. A. Reed, in 1873, said: "I considered him sound not only on the truth of the Christian religion, but on all its fundamental doctrines and teachings."
According to all the other statements we have quoted, he was converted to orthodoxy, or he was not converted at all. He always did believe in God, being a Deist. On this point, which no one ever denied, the conversion advocates exhaust all their strength, taking it for granted that because he did believe in God, he therefore accepted all the other dogmas of the orthodox Church.
Mr. Arnold's citing the speech to the Baltimore Negroes, when they presented Lincoln with a Bible, is unfortunate, but he cautiously omitted one sentence in the speech which is not creditable to Lincoln. In Raymond's Life of Lincoln, page 617, where the speech is reported, the following line occurs: "But for that book we could not know right from wrong." Sometimes this statement is made, but always by ignorant people. Lincoln was not an ignorant man.
No one will accuse Lincoln of being so ignorant that he thought the ancient Greeks and Romans, the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, to say nothing of the followers of Buddha, in India, and of Confucius, in China, did not know right from wrong. Evidently, when Arnold omitted quoting this line, he had some regard for Lincoln's intellectual reputation.
There are several versions of this speech, but the one from which Arnold quotes says, in conclusion: "All the good from the Saviour of the world is communicated through this book." Another version has it: "All those things desirable to man are contained in it. Whoever reported or originated the first version was not very familiar with the scriptures, which say: "And, there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." (John, 21:25.)
This speech was supposed to have been delivered in 1864. While the papers mentioned the gift of the Bible, this alleged address was not published until two months afterwards. Of Lincoln's impromptu speeches, there are many versions. The one he delivered in Springfield before departing for Washington is a case in point. No two reports are alike.
Another who maintained that Lincoln was converted while in Washington, was the well-known Presbyterian clergyman, the Rev. J. W. Barrows, D.D. He said:
|"In the anxious uncertainties of the great war, he gradually rose to the heights where Jehovah became to him the sublimest of realities, the ruler of nations. When he wrote his immortal Proclamation, he revoked upon it not only 'the considerate judgment of mankind,' but the 'gracious favor of Almighty God.' When darkness gathered over the brave armies fighting for the nation's life, this strong man in the early morning knelt and wrestled in prayer with Him who holds the fate of empires. When the clouds lifted above the carnage of Gettysburg, he gave his heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. When he pronounced his matchless oration on the chief battlefield of the war, he gave expression to the resolve that 'this nation, under God, should have a new birth of freedom.' And when he wrote his last Inaugural Address, he gave it the lofty religious tone of an old Hebrew psalm." (Lincoln Memorial Album, p. 508.)|
Mr. Barrows' statement is simply an expression of his own personal opinion. Only two of the more than 200 contributors to the Lincoln Memorial Album claim that Lincoln was orthodox. Dr. Barrows is only repeating what he had heard others say. Later we will examine the Emancipation Proclamation, the first draft of which does not mention God. Neither was the Deity mentioned in the first draft of the Gettysburg Address. "A Pious Nurse," name not known, tells of Lincoln's alleged belief on orthodoxy, as does "An Illinois Clergyman," also unknown. The Rev. Francis Vinton, a clergyman from New York City, and a stranger, tells how, when he visited Lincoln, the President "fell upon his neck and wept like a child," and that Lincoln asked him to send a copy of a sermon he had preached.
That Lincoln would make confidants of strangers, wear his heart on his sleeve, or tell them his private affairs, is considered ridiculous by all who knew him well. Except Mr. Herndon, his law-partner, no one knew him better than Judge David Davis, who said:
|"The idea that Lincoln talked to a stranger about his religion or religious views, or made such speeches, remarks, etc., about it as published, is to me absurd. I knew the man too well. He was the most reticent, secretive man I ever saw, or expect to see." (Lamon's Lincoln, p. 489.)|
What would we think of any man who had one set of opinions and a way of speaking for one class of people, and another for another class? Yet, this is exactly the type of man these people, by implication, if not in words, say Abraham Lincoln was. They make of him either a hypocrite or a fool, and Abraham Lincoln was neither.
To know the position of Lincoln toward the Churches while he was President, we must first appreciate the gigantic task he had before him. At his inauguration he found the Union split asunder. The South had seceded, and its people, except in certain localities, were united for rebellion. The North was divided. For three years the result of the conflict was uncertain, and at times Lincoln himself despaired of the result. His first duty was to unite all the people of every political and religious persuasion in defense of the flag. After 75 years have passed, we, today, see how well he did his duty.
Why have so many books been written about Lincoln? Because, as the decades rolled on, we see more of his excellencies -- his shrewdness as a politician, his tact in managing men, his moderation, his manner of appealing to the people and bringing them over to his side.
One of the strongest forces in the molding of opinion in Lincoln's day were the Churches and ministers. They were by no means all for the Union. In the South, they openly preached rebellion. In the North, they were divided. When Lincoln was a candidate, 20 of the 23 ministers of his home-town, Springfield, were against him. Lincoln immediately perceived that the Churches must be won over on his side. Hating slavery as he did, he would not jeopardize the Union by prematurely abolishing it, yet as soon as he saw that the destruction of the hated institution would save the Union, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
However, his delay in taking this step offended some of his friends, the radical Abolitionists. As a matter of policy, Lincoln held out the olive branch to the Churches and the ministers. He appealed to their patriotism, and thus kept them in line. While he was deferential to the clerics and sometimes flattered them, he at no time manifested any sympathy for their theological teachings. The fact that Lincoln asked the ministers to pray for him is of little significance. Primarily, prayer is a wish, a desire for something.
He knew when a man prayed for him, that man was on his side, and on the side of the Union. The efficacy of the prayer in moving God was another matter. In this, Lincoln did not believe. When he once said to a delegation of Methodist ministers, "God bless the Methodist Church. God bless all the Churches, and blessed be God, who in this hour of our need has given us the Churches," he was not endorsing their creeds. He complimented them because he saw the value of their support in reuniting the nation. A ruler in a Buddhist or a Mohammedan country, whatever might have been his private opinions, could scarcely have done otherwise.
To those who have said, and there have been many, that he was not candid, even was not honest in using such tactics, we answer that hundreds of other men for the good of the country have done the same. For the salvation of the Union Lincoln was willing to abandon for himself two of the dearest of American principles, Freethought and Free Speech.
In the alleged conversion of Lincoln, even the Spiritualists have put in a claim. Shortly after the death of his son Willie, in 1862, at the request of Mrs. Lincoln, a Spiritualist medium was invited to the White House. An account of the "messages" and "manifestations" is to be found in Abraham Lincoln, by William E. Curtis, pp. 377-378.
President Lincoln received the medium in his usual kindly way. He gave attention to the performance. The spirits of an Indian, of General Knox, of the Revolutionary War, of Lafayette, Napoleon, Franklin, and his old opponent Douglas "manifested" themselves. Lincoln did not appear to take the manifestations seriously, as he made jokes while the spirits were talking. After he had heard the message from Douglas' spirit he said: "I believe that, whether it comes from spirit or human. It needs not a ghost from the bourne from which no traveler returns to tell that."
This was a real "Lincolnism." The seance seemed to be more of an entertainment than a serious gathering. Yet Spiritualists have published a book in which it is maintained that Abraham Lincoln was a Spiritualist, and with about as much truth as the assertion that he was a Methodist or Presbyterian.
Testimony of those who say Lincoln did not change his views in Washington. We will now examine the testimony of those who knew Lincoln well in Washington, and who say they had no knowledge of his being converted or changing his religious views, while there. The first witness, his prorate secretary, Colonel John G. Nicolay, in a letter written just six weeks after Lincoln's death, on May 27, 1865, says:
|"Mr. Lincoln did not, to my knowledge, in any way change his religious ideas, opinions or beliefs, from the time he left Springfield till the day of his death. I do not know just what they were, never having heard him explain them in detail, but I am very sure he gave no outward indications of his mind having undergone any change in that regard while here." (Lamon's Life of Lincoln, p. 492.)|
He gives us, as quoted in William E. Curtis' Abraham Lincoln; Lincoln's views as he had heard him tell them:
|"I do not remember ever
having discussed religion with Mr. Lincoln, nor do I know of any authorized
statement of his views in existence. He sometimes talked freely, and never
made any concealment of his belief or unbelief in any dogma or doctrine, but
never provoked religious controversy." (p. 385.)
"At the same time, he did not believe in some of the dogmas of the orthodox Churches. I have heard him argue against the doctrine of atonement, for example. He considered it illogical and unjust and a premium upon evil-doing if a man who had been wicked all his life could make up for it by a few words or prayers at the hour of death, and he had no faith in death-bed repentances. He did not believe in several other articles of the creeds of the orthodox Churches. He believed in the Bible, however. He was a constant reader of the Bible, and had great faith in it, but he did not believe that its entire contents were inspired. He used to consider it the greatest of all text-books of morals and ethics, and that there was nothing to compare with it in all literature; but at the same time, I have heard him say that God had too much to do and more important things to attend to than to inspire such insignificant writers as had written some passages in the good book.
"Nor did he believe in miracles. He believed in inexorable laws of Nature, and I have heard him say that the wisdom and glory and greatness of the Almighty were demonstrated by order and method and not by the violation of Nature's laws." (p. 386.)
"He had no sympathy with theology, and often said that in a man's relation with his Maker he couldn't give a power of attorney." (p. 387.)
The next witness is Colonel Ward H. Lamon, who says in his Life of Lincoln, p. 502:
|"But he never told anyone that he accepted Jesus as the Christ, or performed a single one of the acts which necessarily follow such a conviction... Indefinite expressions about 'Divine Providence,' the 'Justice of God,' 'the favor of the Most High,' were easy, and not inconsistent with his religious notions. In this, accordingly, he indulged freely; but never in all that time did he let fall from his lips or his pen an expression which remotely implied the slightest faith in Jesus as the son of God and the Saviour of men."|
One would think that the testimony of these gentlemen, one his private secretary, who was with him daily, and the other, an old friend from Illinois, whom he had given an appointment as Marshal of the District of Columbia, ought to be sufficient. What they have said is certainly of more value than the word of migratory ministers, whose chief object was to be able to say they had talked with him, and to assume that they had had the glory of converting him, merely because he had talked with them, and treated them with courtesy and respect.
Yet, we will quote some additional witnesses. The first will be George W. Julian, a prominent member of Congress from Indiana, one of the founders of the Republican party, and an anti-slavery candidate for Vice President in 1852. He was intimate with Lincoln in Washington. In a private letter to Mr. Remsburg, written from Santa Fe, N. Mex., on March 13, 1888, he says:
|"I knew him (Lincoln) well, and I know he was not a Christian in any old-fashioned orthodox sense of the word, but only a religious Theist. He was, substantially, such a Christian as Jefferson, Franklin, Washington and John Adams; and it is perfectly idle to assert the contrary."|
John B. Alley, who was a member of Congress during the time that Lincoln was President, says:
|"In his religious views Mr. Lincoln was very nearly what we call a Freethinker. While he reflected a great deal upon religious subjects he communicated his thoughts to a very few. He had little faith in the popular religion of the times. He had a broad conception of the goodness and power of an overruling Providence, and said to me one day that he felt sure the Author of our being, whether called God or Nature, it mattered not which, would deal very mercifully with poor, erring humanity in the other, and he hoped a better, world. He was free as possible from all sectarian thought, feeling or sentiment. No man was more tolerant of the opinions and feelings of others in the direction of religious sentiment or had less faith in religious dogmas ... While Mr. Lincoln was perfectly honest and upright and led a blameless life, he was in no sense what might be considered a religious man." (Reminiscences of Lincoln, pp. 590-591.)|
Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the House of Representatives while Lincoln was President, says that a delegation of ministers from Chicago had waited upon Lincoln, early in September, 1862, urging him to issue the Emancipation Proclamation at once. He did issue it on September 22, but it was not to go into effect until January 1, 1863. The ministers were impatient, and demanded that the slaves be freed at once. Mr. Colfax says:
|"One of these ministers felt it was his duty to make a more searching appeal to the President's conscience. Just as they were retiring, he turned, and said to Mr. Lincoln: 'What you have said to us, Mr. President, compels me to say to you in reply, that it is a message to you from our Divine Master, through me, commanding you, sir, to open the doors of bondage that the slave may go free!' Mr. Lincoln replied instantly: 'That may be, sir, for I have studied this question, by day and by night for weeks and for months, but if it is, as you say, a message from your Divine Master, is it not odd that the only channel he could send it by was that round-about route by that awfully wicked city of Chicago?'" (Reminiscences of Lincoln, pp. 334-335.)|
William D. Kelley was for 30 years a member of Congress from Pennsylvania, and one of the committee that notified Lincoln of his nomination. He relates a similar anecdote. A Quaker preacher, a woman, called on the President on the same errand as the delegation of Chicago ministers. She illustrated her argument by citing the history of Deborah, as told in the Bible. (Judges, Chapter 4.) Mr. Kelley says:
|"Having elaborated this
Biblical example, the speaker assumed that the President was, as Deborah had
been, the appointed minister of the Lord, and proceeded to tell him that it
was his duty to follow the example of Deborah, and forthwith abolish
slavery, and establish freedom throughout the land, as our Lord had
appointed him to do.
"'Has the Friend finished?' said the President, as she ceased to speak. Having received an affirmative answer, he said: 'I have neither time nor disposition to enter into discussion with the Friend, and end this occasion by suggesting for her consideration the question whether, if it be true that the Lord has appointed me to do the work she has indicated, it is not probable that he would have communicated knowledge of the fact to me as well as to her.'" (Reminiscences of Lincoln, pp. 284-285.)
Much has been made of the fact that the name of God appears in the Emancipation Proclamation. The truth about this great document should be told. The first draft did not mention the Deity. We are told that Lincoln made a "solemn vow to God" that if Lee were defeated at Antietam, the Proclamation would be immediately forthcoming. Yet he completed the first draft on Sunday, without mentioning God. George S. Boutwell, in Reminiscences of Lincoln, p. 126., gives Lincoln's exact words concerning the issuance of the Proclamation:
|"The truth is just this: When Lee came over the river, I made a resolution that if McClellan drove him back I would send the Proclamation after him. The Battle of Antietam was fought on Wednesday, and until Saturday I could not find out whether we had gained a victory or lost a battle. It was then too late to issue the Proclamation that day, and the fact is, I fixed it up a little on Sunday, and on Monday I let them have it."|
The New York Tribune of February 22, 1893, carried an article by Mrs. Janet Chase Hoyt, a daughter of Salmon P. Chase, who was Lincoln's first secretary of the Treasury, and later Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Mrs. Hoyt quotes from a letter she received from her father, in 1867, in which the complete facts about the writing of the Proclamation are given:
|"Looking over old papers, I found many of my memoranda, etc., of the war, and among them my draft of a proclamation of emancipation submitted to Mr. Lincoln the day before his own was issued. He asked all of us for suggestions in regard to its form and I submitted mine in writing, and among other sentences the close as it now stands, which he adopted from my draft, with a modification. It may be interesting to you to see precisely what I said, and I copy it. You must remember that in the original draft there was no reference whatever to Divine or human sanction of the act. What I said, was this, at the conclusion of my letter: 'Finally, I respectfully suggest that on an occasion of such interest there can be no imputation of affectation against a solemn recognition of responsibility before men and before God, and that some such close as this would be proper: "And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice warranted by the Constitution (and of duty demanded by the circumstances of the country), I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God."' Mr. Lincoln adopted this close, substituting only for the words inclosed in parentheses these words: 'upon military necessity,' which I think was not an improvement."|
If we recall that this was the time when Lincoln is said to have been converted, was telling his troubles to ministers and weeping over their necks, we cannot think it was other than an anomaly that on the same occasion he should forget God.
Another witness who refutes the story of Lincoln's conversion is Maunsell B. Field, who says that "Mr. Lincoln was entirely deficient in what the phrenologists call reverence (veneration)."
|"I was once in Mr. Lincoln's company when a sectarian controversy arose. He himself looked very grave, and made no observation until all the others had finished what they had to say. Then with a twinkle of the eye he remarked that he preferred the Episcopalians to every other sect, because they are equally indifferent to a man's religion and his politics." (Memories of Many Men.)|
William H. Seward, Secretary of State during the Civil War, recalls the following story often told by Lincoln to illustrate his disdain for the doctrine of eternal punishment:
|"I recall President
Lincoln's story of the intrusion of the Universalists into the town of
"The several orthodox Churches agreed that their pastors should preach down the heresy. One of them began his discourse with these emphatic words: 'My brethren, there is a dangerous doctrine creeping in among us. There are those who are teaching that all men will be saved; but, my dear brethren, we hope for better things." (Travels Around the World, p. 545.)
In the Lincoln Memorial Album, pp. 336-337, it is related that Mr. Lincoln gave a Universalist minister an appointment as chaplain, notwithstanding that a delegation of the orthodox waited upon him to protest against the appointment.
The well-known lawyer, soldier and journalist, Donn Piatt, knew Lincoln both in Illinois and in Washington. Here is what he says about his religious opinions:
|"I soon discovered that this strange and strangely gifted man, while not at all cynical, was a skeptic. His view of human nature was low, but good-natured. I could not call it suspicious, but he believed only what he saw." (Reminiscences of Lincoln, p. 400.)|
A. J. Grover, a reformer and old-time Abolitionist, in a private letter to Mr. Remsburg, confirms what the witnesses previously quoted have said:
|"I knew Mr. Lincoln in Illinois and in Washington. I was in the war office, for a time, in a department which had charge of the President's books, so-called. I met him in passing between the White House and the buildings then occupied by the War Department, almost every day. I often had to go to Mr. Stanton's office, and have often seen Mr. Lincoln there. I frequently had to go to the White House to see him. It was known to all of his acquaintances that he was a Liberal or Rationalist."|
One of Lincoln's most intimate friends was Leonard Swett. They both traveled the same circuit, were often engaged in trying the same cases, and it was Swett who placed Lincoln's name before the Republican National Convention in Chicago, in 1860. In a letter, written in 1866, in answer to an inquiry as to whether Lincoln had changed his religious views, Swett said:
|"I think not. As he became involved in matters of the greatest importance, full of great responsibility and great doubt, a feeling of religious reverence, a belief in God and his justice, and overruling providence increased with him. He was always full of natural religion. He believed in God as much as the most approved church member, yet he judged of him by the same system of generalization as he judged everything else. He had little faith in ceremonies or forms. In fact, he cared nothing for the form of anything... If his religion were to be judged by the lines and rules of creeds, he would fall far short of the standard."|
Judge James M. Nelson, a native of Kentucky, resided for years in Illinois, where he knew Lincoln, and had an intimate acquaintance with him in Washington. Judge Nelson's great-grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In the Louisville Times, in 1887, he gave his recollections of Lincoln. He says, in reference to his religious opinions:
|"In religion, Mr. Lincoln was about of the same opinion as Bob Ingersoll, and there is no account of his ever having changed. He went to church a few times with his family while he was President, but so far as I have been able to find out, he remained an unbeliever. Mr. Lincoln in his younger days wrote a book, in which he endeavored to prove the fallacy of the plan of salvation and the divinity of Christ...."|
In 1864, Lincoln issued a fervent Thanksgiving Proclamation. Of this, Judge Nelson says: "I once asked him about his fervent Thanksgiving Message and twitted him with being an unbeliever in what was published. 'Oh,' said he, 'that is some of Seward's nonsense, and it pleases the fools.'"
The Opinions of Independent Investigators. The New York World (about 1875), in summing up the facts concerning Lincoln's religious beliefs, said:
|"While it may be fairly said
that Mr. Lincoln entertained many Christian sentiments, it cannot be said
that he was himself a Christian in faith or practice. He was no disciple of
Jesus of Nazareth. He did not believe in his divinity and was not a member
of his Church.
"He was at first a writing Infidel of the school of Paine and Volney, and afterwards a talking Infidel of the school of Parker and Channing."
The World then refers to Lincoln's friendly attitude toward the Churches during the war:
|"If the Churches had grown cold -- if the Christians had taken a stand aloof -- that instant the Union would have perished. Mr. Lincoln regulated his religious manifestations accordingly. He declared frequently that he would do anything to save the Union, and among the many things he did was the partial concealment of his individual religious opinions. Is this a blot upon his fame? Or shall we all agree that it was a conscientious and patriotic sacrifice?"|
As evidence of Lincoln's piety, we are often referred to the picture of himself and his family in a reverential group. Lincoln has a Bible before him, and his son Tad is at his side. The Boston Globe said:
|"The pretty little story about the picture of President Lincoln and his son Tad reading the Bible is now corrected for the one-hundredth time. The Bible was Photographer Brady's picture album, which the President was examining with his son while some ladies stood by. The artist begged the President to remain quiet, and the picture was taken. The truth is better than fiction, even if its recital conflicts with a pleasing theory."|
Manford's Magazine (January, 1869), a religious periodical, published in Chicago, made the following comment:
|"That Mr. Lincoln was a believer in the Christian religion, as understood by the so-called orthodox sects of the day, I am compelled most emphatically to deny; that is, if I put faith in the statements of his most intimate friends in this city (Springfield). All of them with whom I have conversed on this subject agree in endorsing the statement of Mr. Herndon. Indeed, many of them unreservedly call him an Infidel."|
The Herald and Review, a Seventh Day Adventist journal, said, in 1890:
|"The testimony seems conclusive.... The majority of the great men of the world have always rejected Christ, and, according to the Scriptures, always will; and the efforts of Christians to make it appear that certain great men who never professed Christianity were in reality Christians, is simply saying that Christianity cannot stand on its own merits, but must have the support of great names to entitle it to favorable consideration."|
Alden's American edition of Chambers' Encyclopedia, the well-known work of reference, says:
|"He [Lincoln] was never a member of a Church; he is believed to have had philosophical doubts of the divinity of Christ, and of the inspiration of the Scriptures, as these are commonly stated in the system of doctrines called evangelical. In early life he read Paine and Volney, and wrote an essay in which he agreed with their conclusions. Of modern thinkers he was thought to agree nearest with Theodore Parker." (Art., "Abraham Lincoln.")|
An old edition of the Encyclopędia Britannica says: "His [Lincoln's] nature was deeply religious, but he belonged to no denomination; he had faith in the eternal justice and boundless mercy of Providence; and made the Golden Rule of Christ his practical creed." The 14th edition of this great Encyclopędia speaks more precisely:
|"The measure of his difference from most of the men who surrounded him is best gauged by his attitude toward the fundamentals of religion. For all his devotion to his cause he did not allow himself to believe that he knew the mind of God with regard to it. He was never so much the mystic as in his later days and never so far removed from the dogmatist. Here was the final flowering of that mood which appears to have lain at the back of his mind from the beginning -- his complete conviction of a reality of a supernatural world joined with a belief that it was too deep for man to fathom. His refusal to accept the 'complicated' statement of doctrines which he rejected, carried with it a refusal to predicate the purpose of the Almighty. Again, that singular characteristic, his power to devote himself wholly to a cause and yet to do so in such a detached, unviolent way that one is tempted to call it passionless. He retained nothing of the tribal forms of religion and was silent when they raged about him with a thousand tongues." (Art., "Abraham Lincoln.")|
Most important of all, is the view of his biographers, Nicolay and Hay, who were his private secretaries during the war. While Herndon's biography is considered the best from the standpoint of Lincoln's personality, this work by his secretaries is the best in the telling of his public life. It was first published, serially, in the Century Magazine, and now appears in 10 large volumes. They were careful not to tell in too strong language that he was an unbeliever. They deny that he was an Atheist, which no one claims he was, but they also deny that he was orthodox.
|"We have no purpose of attempting to formulate his creed; we question if he himself ever did so. There have been swift witnesses who, judging from expressions uttered in his callow youth, have called him an Atheist, and others, who, with the most laudable intentions, have remembered improbable conversations which they bring forward to prove at once his orthodoxy and their own intimacy with him." (Chapter on "Lincoln and the Churches.")|
It is more than strange that Nicolay and Hay, who were constantly with him, knew nothing of the alleged "conversions."
The Peoples' library of Information, an old-time work of reference, makes the following statement:
|"Lincoln attended service once a day. He seemed to be in agony while in church ... His pastor, Dr. Gurley, had the 'gift of continuance,' and the President writhed and squirmed and gave unmistakable evidence of the torture he endured."|
The Every-Day Life of Lincoln, by Francis F. Brown, confirms Salmon P. Chase's account of the changes in the Emancipation Proclamation. General M. M. Trumbull, a well-known publicist, states, in the Open Court for December 3, 1891:
|"The religion that begs the patronage of Presidents doubts its own theology, for the true God needs not the favor of men... Some of his [Lincoln's] tributes to Deity are merely rhetorical emphasis, but others were not. Cicero often swore 'By Hercules,' as in the oration against Cataline, although he believed no more in Hercules than Abraham Lincoln believed in any church-made God."|
The Rev. David Swing, once a popular minister of Chicago, in a sermon on "Washington and Lincoln," has judged the issue in these words:
|"It is often lamented by the churchmen that Washington and Lincoln possessed little religion except that found in the word 'God.' All that can here be affirmed is that what the religion of those two men lacked in theological details it made up in greatness. Their minds were born with a love of great principles... There are few instances in which a mind great enough to reach great principles in politics has been satisfied with a fanatical religion... It must not be asked for Washington and Lincoln that, having reached greatness in political principles, they should have loved littleness in piety."|
Another Chicago clergyman, the Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones, in a sermon delivered in All Souls Church, on December 9, 1888, said:
|"Are there not thousands who have loved virtue who did not accept Jesus Christ in any supernatural or miraculous fashion, who, if they knew of him at all, knew of him only as the Nazarene peasant -- the man Jesus. Such was Abraham Lincoln, the tender prophet of the gospel of good will upon earth."|
The Rev. John W. Chadwick, the well-known Unitarian minister, of Brooklyn, N.Y., in an address delivered in Tremont Temple, Boston, in 1872, upon the proposed "Christian Amendment" to the Constitution, recognizing the Bible, God, and making Christianity the state religion, said:
|"Of the six men who have done most to make America the wonder and the joy she is to all of us, not one could be the citizen of a government so constituted; for Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, certainly the mightiest leaders in our early history, were heretics in their day, Deists, as men called them; and Garrison, Lincoln and Sumner, certainly the mightiest in these later times, would all be disfranchised by the proposed amendment... Lincoln could not have taken the oath of office had such a clause been in the Constitution."|
During February, 1892, the Chicago Herald published an editorial on Lincoln's religion. It is too lengthy to reproduce in full, but I quote the most important points:
|"He was without faith in the
Bible or its teachings. On this point the testimony is so overwhelming that
there is no basis for doubt. In his early life Lincoln exhibited a powerful
tendency to aggressive Infidelity. But when he grew to be a politician he
became secretive and non-committal in his religious belief. He was shrewd
enough to realize the necessity of reticence with the convictions he
possessed if he hoped to succeed in politics."
"So it must be accepted as final by every reasonable mind that in religion Mr. Lincoln was a skeptic. But above all things he was not a hypocrite or pretender. He was a plain man, rugged and earnest, and he pretended to be nothing more. He believed in humanity, and he was incapable of Phariseeism. He had great respect for the feelings and convictions of others, but he was not a sniveler. He was honest and he was sincere, and taking him simply for what he was, we are not likely soon to see his like again."
In the Westminster Review for September, 1891, Mr. Theodore Stanton discussed the moral character and religious beliefs of Abraham Lincoln, and of his religious belief said:
|"If Lincoln had lived and died an obscure Springfield lawyer and politician, he would unquestionably have been classed by his neighbors among Freethinkers. But, as is customary with the Church, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, when Lincoln became one of the great of the world an attempt was made to claim him. In trying to arrive at a correct comprehension of Lincoln's theology, this fact should be borne in mind in sifting the testimony. Another very important warping influence which should not be lost sight of was Lincoln's early ambition for political preferment. Now, the shrewd American politician with an elastic conscience joins some Church, and is always seen on Sunday in the front pews. But the shrewd politician who has not an elastic conscience -- and this was Lincoln's case -- simply keeps mum on his religious views, or, when he must touch on the subject, deals only in platitudes."|
In the Lincoln Memorial Album there are 200 tributes to Lincoln, most of them from men who were religious. But only two of them undertake to claim him as a Christian believer. In the Reminiscences of Lincoln there are 33 articles, all of which are from the pens of distinguished men who knew him. Of these, not one claims him as a believer. In none of the eulogies delivered at the time of his death is it so claimed. The reader may therefore judge for himself.
Abraham Lincoln's Religious Relief as Stated by Himself. Unfortunately, Lincoln, like Washington, neither in speech nor in writing, made a statement of what he believed, nor did he authorize anyone else to do so for him. We are almost entirely dependent upon reports of conversations with his intimate friends, his secretaries and professional associates. If he never made a statement saying that he was a Liberal, a Freethinker, or, as some prefer, an "Infidel," he likewise never made one announcing that he was orthodox, a believer in the divine inspiration of the Bible, and the divinity of Christ. If he were the latter, there is no reason why he should not say so; while if he were the former, he had many reasons for keeping silent, as the majority who hold such views do.
Yet, we can discern in Lincoln's speeches, writings, and conversations, certain sentiments, which would indicate his opinions, the same as a weather-cock tells us the direction the wind is blowing or, to borrow a phrase from our old friend, Dr. Holland -- "We guess at a mountain of marble by the outcropping ledges that hide their whiteness among the ferns." Then, what he did not say, has as important a bearing as what he said. For instance, he never mentions the name of Jesus or Christ, and only once the word immortality, proving that these subjects were not to his mind important. A reader of the Bible, and often quoting it, he never lets slip a word that would cause us to think he believed it to be the word of God. In all well-authenticated conversations with ministers, he is very cautious in his language, and two prominent ministers who knew him, Bishop Simpson and Henry Ward Beecher, do not vouch for his orthodoxy.
Amidst all the verbiage and subterranean reasoning of Dr. Holland, especially in his "Bateman Interview," above all things there stands out the words of Lincoln, "I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN." Then the writer makes him say, "God knows I would be one." Why was he not a Christian, and why could he not "be one"? There can be no answer other than the fact that he did not believe in Christianity's fundamental doctrines.
In 1842, Mr. Lincoln delivered a temperance speech in Springfield, before the Washingtonian Temperance Society. Mr. Herndon listened to this speech, and comments as follows:
|"In 1842, I heard Mr. Lincoln deliver a speech before the Washingtonian Temperance Society, of this city.... He scored the Christians for position they had taken. He said in that lecture this, 'If they [the Christians] believe, as they profess, that Omnipotence condescended to take on himself the form of sinful man,' etc. This was spoken with energy. He scornfully and contemptuously emphasized the words, as they profess. The rebuke was as much in the manner of utterance as in the substance of what was said. I heard the criticisms of some of the Christians that night. They said the speech was an outrage."|
Here he would not commit himself to a belief in the Atonement. In the same speech, he proved that he did not believe in future rewards and punishments, by the utterance of these words:
|"Pleasures to be enjoyed, or pains to be endured, after we are dead and gone, are but little regarded. There is something so ludicrous, in promises of good, or threats of evil, a great way off, as to render the whole subject with which they are connected, easily turned into ridicule. 'Better lay down that spade you are stealing, Paddy, if you don't, you will pay for it at the day of judgment. Be the powers, if ye'll credit me so long I'll just take another.'" (Lincoln Memorial Album, p. 91.)|
Lincoln was a fatalist. He believed that what must be will be, and no prayers can change it. "I have all my life been a fatalist, What is to be will be; or rather, I have found all my life, as Hamlet says:
|'There's a divinity that
shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we may.'"
(Everyday Life of Lincoln, p. 198.)
Regarding eternal punishment, he said: "If God be a just God, all will be saved or none." (Manford's Magazine.) In this connection he was fond of repeating the epitaph on the Kickapoo Indian, Johnnie Kongapod:
|"Here lies poor Johnnie
Have mercy on him, gracious God,
As he would do if he were God
And you were Johnnie Kongapod."
In a speech, delivered in Kansas, in 1856, he gave his views on Providence: "Friends, I agree with you in Providence; but I believe in the Providence of the most men, the largest purse, and the longest cannon." (Lincoln's Speeches, p. 140.)
Regarding the Churches he said: "The United States government must not undertake to run the Churches. When an individual, in the Church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest he must be checked." In an order relating to a church in Memphis, Tennessee, issued on May 13, 1864, he said: "If there is no military need for the building, leave it alone, neither putting anyone in or out of it, except on finding some one preaching or practicing treason, in which case lay hands on him, just as if he were doing the same thing in any other building." (Nicolay and Hay, Chapter on "Lincoln and the Churches.")
In the same chapter Nicolay and Hay state that in order to prevent treasonable preaching, Secretary Stanton appointed Bishop Ames, of the Methodist Church, to be supervisor of all the Churches in a certain southern district. President Lincoln at once countermanded the order.
In a speech, at Springfield, in 1857, Lincoln gave the Churches a thrust, in speaking of the Negro: "All the powers of the earth seem rapidly combining against him: Mammon is after him.... and the theology of the day is fast joining in the cry." (Lincoln Memorial Album, p. 100.)
In a letter (quoted at the beginning of this chapter) Lincoln wrote to Martin M. Morris, on March 26, 1843, he said he had been accused of not belonging to any Church, of being a Deist, and that people ought not to vote for him for these reasons, and that he never denied the charge. We have noted his reply to the delegation of Chicago ministers, and to the woman Quaker preacher (all of whom came to him with a message from God), in which he said he wondered why, if God had a message for him, the message was not delivered to him personally, instead of by an intermediary.
In his famous temperance address, Lincoln used the following language: "Happy day, when, all appetites controlled, all passions subdued, all matter subjugated, mind, all conquering mind, shall live and move, the monarch of the world! Glorious consummation! Hail, fall of fury! Reign of Reason, all hail!" (Lincoln Memorial Album, p. 96.)
|"Abraham Lincoln's belief was clear and fixed so far as it went, but he rejected important dogmas which are essential to salvation by some of the evangelical denominations. 'Whenever any Church will inscribe over its altar as a qualification for membership the Saviour's statement of the substance of the law and the gospel, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself," that Church will I join with all my heart and soul.'" (Abraham Lincoln, p. 375.)|
Most important of all was Lincoln's statement of his idea of God and his manner of ruling the Universe, made in 1862, and intended for no eye but his own. It is to be found in the 14th edition of the Encyclopędia Britannica, article, "Abraham Lincoln," and in Curtis' work, p. 375:
|"The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party; and yet, the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are the best adaptations to effect his purposes. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true; that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power in the minds of the now contestants, he could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun, he could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest continues."|
Herndon said he had often heard Lincoln remark that his creed was the same as that of an old man in Indiana, who, in experience meetings, made the following profession of faith: "When I do good, I feel good, and when I do bad I feel bad; and that's my religion." Mrs. Lincoln quotes him as saying: "What is to be will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree." In Manford's Magazine, he is quoted as saying, with a twinkle in his eye: "It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to Infidelity."
Dr. C. H. Ray, at one time editor of the Chicago Tribune, said that Lincoln held substantially the same religious views as Theodore Parker.
Jesse W. Fell said: "No religious views with him seemed to find any favor, except of the practical and rationalistic order; and if, from my recollections on this subject, I was called upon to designate an author whose views nearly represented Mr. Lincoln's on this subject, I would say that author was Theodore Parker."
Herndon said that Lincoln's favorites were Parker and Thomas Paine. The Rev. Dr. Collyer said that Lincoln, seeing a copy of Parker's sermons on a table, remarked: "I think I stand where that man stands." The views of Theodore Parker are represented by the following extracts from his writings and sermons:
|"To obtain a knowledge of
duty, a man is not sent away, outside of himself, to ancient documents; for
the only rule of faith a practice, the Word, is very nigh him, even in his
heart, and by this word he is to try all documents."
"There is no intercessor, angel, mediator, between man and God; for man can speak and God hear, each for himself. He requires no advocates to plead for men."
"Manly natural religion -- it is not joining the Church; it is not to believe in a creed, Hebrew, Protestant, Catholic, Trinitarian, Unitarian, Nothingarian. It is not to keep Sunday idle; to attend meetings; to be wet with water; to read the Bible; to offer prayers in words; to take bread and wine in the meeting house; love a scape-goat Jesus, or any other theological clap-trap."
Or in the words of another whose writings Lincoln loved -- Thomas Paine: "The world was his country, to do good was his religion."
Had Abraham Lincoln died as an obscure Springfield lawyer and politician; had he advanced no further in political preferment than his one term in Congress, nothing would have ever been said about his being a believer in orthodox religion. But when a man becomes prominent, and reaches the highest place in the gift of the nation, and in addition becomes a hero and a martyr, he is idealized. His virtues are exaggerated and his faults extenuated. Regardless of his real religious views, the ministers laud him as an orthodox believer and shining exemplar of Christianity. In time this passes as history, unless it is vigorously contradicted. If a man is a good man, they hold that he must have been a Christian. They likewise say that no bad man can possibly be one.
A possibly parallel case is that of Robert G. Ingersoll. Had this great orator kept his agnostic views under a bushel, never delivered a Freethought lecture, and, like Lincoln, never talked upon the subject except to his intimate friends; had he attended church occasionally, as did Lincoln, flattered the ministers and contributed to the funds for the support of the church, he probably would have been President of the United States. Then, an orthodox minister would have preached his funeral sermon and those ministers who so vociferously denounced him as an "Infidel" would, with great pride and gusto, have exalted him as a Christian, just as they have Lincoln. They would have said, as they have said of Lincoln, that it was impossible that he could have been an "Infidel." Public opinion would have sustained them from the fact that it was well known that Ingersoll practiced all the virtues that ministers ascribe to Christianity. While there was some difference in the beliefs of these two great men, the truth is that Lincoln was no more an orthodox Christian than was Ingersoll.
I have given the facts about Lincoln's beliefs and the controversy that grew out of them. The amount of space devoted to Washington and Lincoln in this work is a natural result of their importance and of my desire to give a complete, fair, and accurate summary of their religious beliefs, in contrast to the distorted and mythical account, fostered by the clergy, which erroneously claims these two great Americans as orthodox Christians.
1. See Appendix III for comments on Dr. Holland's statements.
2. For Herndon's testimony, see Appendix IV.
3. Beveridge shows (vol. 1. p. 505) that Lincoln was not a regular attendant at church, though he went at times with Mrs. Lincoln.
4. In other words, Mr. Fell considers Lincoln to have been a very good Christian from the Unitarian standpoint, which professes no creed and insists upon no theological belief; but a poor Christian from the standpoint of orthodoxy, which strongly insists upon both.
5. New York Observer, in 1877.
6. Mr. Brooks had written a book entitled Washington in Lincoln's Time, in which he said much about Lincoln, but nothing about his conversion. It seems strange that none of Mr. Reed's witnesses ever expressed themselves upon the subject until he was in a position to need their evidence.
7. All the testimony of Reed's witnesses will be found in Scribner's Monthly for July, 1873, as well as in Remsburg's book.
8. In the same work, Judge Usher, a member of the Cabinet, confirms what both Mr. Boutwell and Judge Chase here say. (Pages 91-92.)
9. It would be well at this point to say something about the Reminscences of Lincoln, and The Lincoln Memorial Album, from which I have frequently quoted. The first is a series of articles published in The North American Review, early in the 1880's, and afterwards published in book form, and edited by the editor of the Review, Allen Thorndyke Rice. The second is a book of similar type, edited by O. H. Oldroydt, once curator of the Lincoln home in Springfield, and later, and until his death in 1930, of the Peterson house in Washington, where Lincoln died. In both of these very valuable works, noted men of the time, who were contemporaries and friends of the great war President, give their recollections of him.
10. This speech is to be found in full in Nicolay and Hay's collection of Lincoln's writings and speeches.