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President Lincoln. [from the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, January 14, 1900.]

His character and opinions discussed. The Chapter and verse cited.

No ground whatever for supposing that he was a religious man. Lincoln's connection with the ‘first chronicle of Reuben,’ &c.

To the Editor of the Dispatch.
A late editorial in one of our most honored—and most deservedly honored—Southern newspapers has likened Lincoln to Washington and to Lee, and has held up Lincoln's character and personality for the admiration and imitation of this future generation. To try to re-awaken or to foster ill — will between the North and South would be a useless, a mischievous, and a most censurable task, but it is a duty for one who knows the truth to correct so serious a mistake as is contained in the above statement, and the subscriber offers the following convincing correction of it to the many thousands of readers of the Dispatch for whom the subject has interest.

Such claims for Lincoln are entirely inconsistent with the concessions of very grave defects in him that are made by his most respectable and most eulogistic biographers. Brief mention of each of them will first be made, and it will be seen that it is quite impossible to suppose that they would acknowledge such faults in their hero as they do acknowledge from any motive but the necessity to concede truths known personally to themselves as his intimate associates, or established on testimony they were obliged to accept. [166]

“The life of Lincoln” (dated 1866), by Dr. J. G. Holland, long editor of Scribner's Magazine, rates Lincoln among the greatest of men, not only intellectually, but morally and spiritually. The object of this letter does not require, nor do its limits permit, that it should record these biographers' attempts to reconcile their estimate of their hero with the conflicting concessions that are extracted below from their books.

His jokes.

As to Lincoln's indecent stories, jokes and behavior, we have testimony as follows, from Holland (page 83): ‘It is useless for Mr. Lincoln's biographers to ignore this habit. The whole West, if not the whole country (he is writing in 1866) is full of these stories, and there is no doubt at all that he indulged in them with the same freedom that he did in those of a less objectionable character.’ Again he says (page 251): ‘* * men who knew him throughout all his professional and political life * * have said that “he was the foulest in his jests and stories of any man in the country.” ’

As to Lincoln's attitude towards religion, Dr. Holland says (page 286), that twenty out of the twenty-three ministers of the different denominations of Christians, and a very large majority of the prominent members of the churches in his home (Springfield, Ill.), opposed him for President. He says (page 241): ‘* * * Men who knew him throughout all his professional and political life’ have said ‘that, so far from being a religious man, or a Christian, the less said about that the better.’ He says of Lincoln's first recorded religious utterance, used in closing his farewell address to Springfield, that it ‘was regarded by many as an evidence both of his weakness and of his hypocrisy, * * and was tossed about as a joke, “Old Abe's last.” ’

Colonel Ward H. Lamon published his ‘Life of Lincoln’ in 1872. He appears, in the accounts of Mr. Lincoln's life in the West, as constantly associated in the most friendly relations with him. He accompanied the family in the journey towards Washington, and was selected by Lincoln himself (see McClure's ‘Lincoln,’ &c., page 46), as the one protector to accompany and guard him from the assassination that he apprehended so causelessly (Lamon's ‘Life,’ &c., page 513), in his midnight passage through Baltimore to his first inauguration. He was made a United States Marshal of the district, in order (McClure's ‘Lincoln,’ &c., page 67) that Lincoln might have him always at hand. Though Lamon recognizes and sets [167] forth with great clearness (page 181), his duty to tell the whole truth, good and bad, and especially (page 86, et seq.), to correct the statements of indiscreet admirers who have tried to make Lincoln out a religious man, and, though he indignantly remonstrates against such stories, as making his hero a hypocrite, the whole book shows an exceedingly high estimate of the friend of his lifetime.

Pious words Chase's.

Hapgood (page 291, et seq.) records that the pious words with which the emancipation proclamation closes were added at the suggestion of Mr. Secretary Chase. Lamon says that, after Lincoln (page 497) ‘appreciated * * * the violence and extent of the religious prejudices which freedom of discussion front his standpoint would be sure to rouse against him,’ and ‘the immense and augmenting power of the churches,’ * * * (page 502) ‘he indulged freely in indefinite expressions about “Divine providence,” the “justice of God,” the “favor of the Most High,” ’ in his published documents, ‘but he nowhere ever professed the slightest faith in Jesus as the Son of God and the Saviour of men.’ (Page 501, et seq.) ‘He never told any one that he accepted Jesus as the Christ, or performed one of the acts which necessarily followed upon such a conviction.’ (Page 487.) ‘When he went to church at all, he went to mock, and came away to mimic.’ On page 157 and thereafter, Lamon tells minutely of the writing and the burning of ‘a little book,’ written by Lincoln with the purpose to disprove the truth of the Bible and the divinity of Christ, and he tells how it was burned without his consent by his friend, Hill, lest it should ruin his political career before a Christian people. On pages 487 to 504 he records numerous letters from Lincoln's intimate associates, and one from his wife, that fully confirmed the above testimony as to his attitude of hostility to religion.

Herndon's ‘True Story of a Great Life’ (dated 1888), sets forth on the title page that Lincoln was for twenty years his friend and law partner, and says (preface, page 10): ‘Mr. Lincoln was my warm, devoted friend; I always loved him, and I revere his name to-day.’ He quotes, with approval, and reaffirms Lamon's views as to the duty to tell the faults along with the virtues and great achievements, and says (preface, page 10): ‘At last the truth will come out, and no man need hope to evade it,’ and he betrays his sense of the seriousness of the faults he has to record by calling [168] them (preface, page 9) ‘ghastly exposures,’ and by saying (preface, page 8) that to conceal them would be as if the Bible had concealed the facts about Uriah in telling the story of King David; and the biographer next mentioned (Hapgood), just fresh from the press, written with all the light yet given to the world, says (preface, page 8): ‘Herndon has told the President's early life with refreshing honesty, and with more information than any one else.’

Herndon quoted.

Herndon, in his ‘True Story,’ &c., dated 1888, is silent about Lincoln's attitude towards religion, and his silence is significant, for Lamon gives in his ‘Life,’ dated 1872, the following extract from a letter from Herndon, written in answer to questions on this point: ‘As to Mr. Lincoln's religious views, he was, in short, an infidel. * * * He did not believe that Jesus was God, nor the Son of God. Mr. Lincoln told me a thousand times that he did not believe the Bible was a revelation from God. * * * The points that Mr. Lincoln tried to demonstrate (in his book), were: First, that the Bible was not God's revelation; and, second, that Jesus was not the Son of God.’

Another letter of Herndon's, published in Lamon's ‘Life’ (page 492, et seq.), says of Lincoln's contest with the Rev. Peter Cartwright for Congress in 1848 (page 494): ‘In that contest he was accused of being an infidel, if not an atheist; he never denied the charge—would not; “would die first,” because he knew it could be and would be proved on him.’

Herndon concedes the indecency of the jokes and stories, and gives (Volume I, page 55) a copy of ‘The First Chronicle of Reuben,’ and an account of the slight provocation under which Lincoln wrote it; and, in two foot-notes, describes the exceedingly base and indecent device by which Lincoln brought about the events which gave occasion for this satire. Morse (Volume I, page 13) denounces Herndon bitterly for publishing this chronicle, but suggests no doubt of its authenticity.

Morse's ‘Lincoln,’ one of the American Statesmen Series, published in 1892 by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., shows throughout, but notably in its last three pages, as ardent admiration for Lincoln as any other biographer; yet he concedes (Volume I, page 192) the truth of ‘the revelations of Messrs. Herndon and Lamon’ as given [169] above, and the duty and necessity that rested on them to record these truths.

In ‘Lincoln and Men of the War Time,’ by A. K. McClure, the author's intimate association with Lincoln (page 112, et seq.), is shown in many places, and his estimate of his hero may be measured by the following tribute (page 5, et seq.): ‘* * * He has written the most illustrous records of American history, and his name and fame must be immortal while liberty shall have worshippers in our land.’ Yet, writing as late as 1892, he offers no contradiction of the above-given ‘revelations’ and ‘disclosures’ of Herndon and Lamon, but, on the contrary, says (preface, page 3): ‘The closest men to Lincoln, before and after his election to the presidency, were David Davis, Leonard Swet, Ward H. Lamon and William H. Herndon.’ Letters of the two first named are among the letters referred to above, published by Lamon as evidence of Lincoln's attitude towards religion.

Hapgood's ‘Abraham Lincoln,’ dated 1899, shows the author's attitude of admiration in the first page of the preface, declaring that he was ‘unequalled since Washington in service to the nation,’ and quoting the verses—

He was the North, the South, the East, the West,
The thrall, the master, all of us in one.

Lincoln's grossness.

Hapgood concedes (preface, page 5, et seq.) the worst that was ever said of the grossness of Lincoln's jokes and stories, likening him in this respect to the Rabelais. Some readers will need, I am glad to think, to be told that Rabelais is best known to the world for hideous indecency, so that ‘Rabelesian wit’ is the name for the filthiest wit the world has known.

If any would take refuge in the hope that the responsibilities of his high office raised Lincoln above these habits of indecency and godlessness, they are met by many authentic stories of his grossly-unseemly behavior as President, by the evidence of Lamon, the chosen associate of his lifetime, that his indulgence in gross stories was (page 480), ‘restrained by no presence, and by no occasion,’ and by a letter (Lamon's ‘Life,’ pages 487 to 504), of Nicolay, his senior private secretary throughout his administration, which states that Lincoln's attitude towards religion did not change after his entrance on the presidency. Want of space forbids further details, [170] but it would be as easy to prove from precisely the same sort of evidence that Lincoln's character and conduct provoked the bitterest censure from a very great number of the most distinguished of his co-workers in his great achievements, among whom may be named Greely, Thad. Stevens, Sumner, Trumbull, Zach. Chandler, Cameron, Fred. Douglas, Beacher, Fremont, Ben. Wade, Winter Davis and Wendell Phillips, while the most bitter and contemptuous and persistent of all Lincoln's critics were Chase, his Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Justice, and Stanton, known ever since as his great War Secretary.

The testimony submitted above seems to show that Lincoln was habitually indecent in his conversation—that he was guilty of grossly indecent, and yet more grossly immoral, conduct in connection with his satire called the ‘First Chronicle of Reuben;’ that he was an infidel, and was, till he became candidate for the presidency, a frequent scoffer at religion, and in the habit of using his good gifts to attack its truths, and that he was author of a paper, the purpose of which was to attack the fundamental truths of religion, and that he never denied or retracted those views.

[From the Charlotte, N. C., Observer, reprinted in the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, of September 17, 1899, with further account of the same, December 15, 1899.]

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