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Friday, January 23, 2015

The Real Lincoln, from the Testimony of his Contemporaries (1904)


Was Lincoln a Christian? 

The real Lincoln : from the testimony of his contemporaries
- - pages 25-29

ALMOST all the Christians of Springfield, his home, opposed him for President. He was an infidel, and when he went to church, he went to mock and came away to mimic. He wrote and talked against religion in the most shocking words. He never denied the charge, publicly urged, that he was an infidel. His wife and closest friends attest all this. He became reticent about his religious views when he entered political life, and thereafter indulged freely in pious phrases in his published documents and passionate expressions of piety began to abound in his speeches; but he never denied or flinched from his religious opinions and never changed them.

As to Lincoln's attitude towards religion. Dr. Holland, in his Abraham Lincoln, says (p. 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, Illinois, 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.' "

Hapgood's Lincoln (page 291, et seq,) records that the pious words with which the Emancipation Proclamation closes were added at the suggestion of Secretary Chase, and so does Usher (Reminiscences of Lincoln, ikc, p. 91), and so does Rhodes; and Rhodes shows him "an infidel, if not an atheist," and adda, "When Lincohi entered political life he became reticent upon his religious opinions." {History of the United States, Vol. IV., p. 213, et seq.). 

Of his words that savor of religion, Lamon says (Life of Lincoln, page 503) : " If he did not believe in it, the masses of 'the plain people' did, and no one was ever more anxious to do what was of good report among men." Lamon further says (page 497) that after Mr. Lincoln "appreciated .... the violence and extent of the religious prejudices which freedom of discussion from 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 Savior- 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." .... " When he went to church at all, he went to mock, and came away to mimic." (Page 487.) Leland says (Abraham Lincoln, Vol. IL, p. 55, et seq.): . . . "It is certain that after the unpopularity of free-thinkers had forced itself upon his mind, the most fervidly passionate expressions of piety began to abound in his speeches." Lamon tells in detail (Life of Lincoln, p. 157, et seq.) 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 tells how it was burned without his consent by his friend Hill, lest it should ruin his political career before a Christian people. He says that Hill's son called the book "infamous," and that " the book was burnt, but he never denied or regretted 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 object of the work.''

Rhodes (History of the United States, Vol. IV., p. 213) tells the same story, with confirmation in another place (Vol. ni., p. 368, in note).

Herndon describes the "essay" or "book" as "an argument against Christianity, striving to prove that the Bible was not inspired, 'and therefore not God's revelation, and that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God." Herndon says that Lincoln intended to have the "essay" published, and further quotes one of Lincoln's associates of that day, who says that Lincoln " would come into the clerk's office where I and some young men were writing, .... and would bring a Bible with him; would read a chapter and argue against it."

A letter of Herndon (Lamon's Lincoln, p. 492, et seq,) says of Lincoln's contest with the Rev. Peter Cartwright for Congress in 1848 (page 404) : " 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." And Lamon further says (page 499): "The following extract from a letter from Mr. Herndon was extensively published throughout the United State about the time of its date, Hemdon'a Lincoln, Vol. III., p. 39, et seq., and 439, et seq., and Lamon's Lincoln, p. 492.

February 18, 1870, and met with no contradiction from any responsible source; 'When Lincoln was a candidate for oiu- Legislature, he was accused of being an infidel; of having said that Jesus Christ was an illegitimate child. He never denied the opinions or flinched from his religious views.' "

On pages 487 to 514 Lamon's Lincoln copies numerous letter from Lin(«ln's intimate associates, one from David Davis,' a Justice of the Supreme Court, and one from Lincoln's wife, that fully confirm the above as to his attitude of hostility to religion. Lamon copies {Life of Lincoln, p. 495) another letter of Hemdon, as follows: " When Mr, Lincoln left this city" — Springfield, Illinois — "for Washington, I know that he had undergone no change in his religious opinions or views." And Lamon gives (page 480) a letter of Nicolay, his senior private secretary throughout his Administration, which states that he perceived no change in Lincoln's attitude toward religion after his entrance on the presidency. The Cosmopolitan, of March, 1901, says that Nicolay probably was closer to the martyred President than any other man; .... that he knew Lincoln as President and as man more intimately than any other man." ....