Abraham Lincoln: Was He A Christian? Part 23

That he repudiated the doctrine of vicarious atonement is sustained by the testimony of Jesse W. Fell, Joshua F. Speed, W. Perkins, and Colonel Lamon.

That he condemned the doctrine of forgiveness for sin, General Wilder and Mr. Herndon both testify.

That he opposed the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, Win. H.

Hannah, E H. Wood, A. Jeffrey, Jesse W. Fell, and _Manford's Magazine_, all testify.

That he denied the freedom of the will, Mr. Herndon explicitly affirms.

That he did not believe in the efficacy of prayer is fully established by the evidence of Mrs. Lincoln, Mr. Herndon, and Dr. Gardner.

That he was a disciple of Thomas Paine and Theodore Parker is shown by the evidence of Colonel Lamon, W. H. Herndon, James Tuttle, Jesse W.

Fell, Dr. Ray, Robert Collyer, the New York _World_, and Chambers'

Encyclopedia.

That he wrote a book against Christianity is sustained by the testimony of Colonel Matheny, Judge Nelson, W. H. Herndon, Colonel Lamon, J.

B. Spalding, A. Jeffrey, J. H. Chenery, Chicago _Herald_, _Manford's Magazine_, and Chambers' Encyclopedia.

That Lincoln did not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, that he did not believe in the divinity of Christ, that he did not believe in the freedom of the will, that he did not believe in future rewards and punishments, that he did not believe in the efficacy of prayer, that he was, in short, a disbeliever in Christianity, is also attested by the evidence cited from his own recorded words.

In connection with this controversy the significance of the following facts cannot be overlooked: 1. Notwithstanding the strong temptation to credit Lincoln to the popular faith, a majority of his biographers have either declared that he was not a Christian, or have refrained from affirming that he was. 2. The secular press, fearing to offend the church, has generally been silent regarding the question. When it has ventured to express an opinion, however, it has been to concede his unbelief. 3. The leading encyclopedias, such as the Britannica, Chambers', New American, etc., have either admitted that he was a Freethinker, or have made no reference to his religious belief. 4. In the "Lincoln Memorial Alb.u.m" appear two hundred tributes to Lincoln, the greater portion of them from the pens of Christians. In but two of these two hundred tributes is it claimed that Lincoln was a believer in Christianity. 5. The "Reminiscences of Lincoln" contain thirty-three articles on Lincoln, written by as many distinguished men who were acquainted with him. In not a single instance in this work, is it a.s.serted that he was a Christian. 6. In none of the leading eulogies p.r.o.nounced upon his character, at the time of his demise, is it affirmed that he accepted Christ.

It is stated that during the last years of his life Lincoln held substantially the same theological opinions held by Theodore Parker. His own words are, referring to Parker: "I think that I stand about where that man stands." Where did Theodore Parker stand? The following extracts from his writings will show: "To obtain a knowledge of duty, a man is not sent away, outside of himself, to ancient doc.u.ments; for the only rule of faith and practice, the Word, is very nigh him, even in his heart, and by this Word he is to try all doc.u.ments." "There is no intercessor, angel, mediator, between man and G.o.d; for man can speak and G.o.d 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, Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Trinitarian, Unitarian, Nothingarian. It is not to keep Sunday idle; to attend meeting; 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 scapegoat Jesus, or any other theological claptrap."

If Lincoln was known to be a Freethinker, it may be asked why this fact was not more generally published and urged against him during the Presidential campaign of 1860. The answer is easy. His chief opponent, Douglas, was himself a Freethinker. Stephen A. Douglas, like Abraham Lincoln, died an unbeliever. Like Washington, he declined the services of a clergyman in his last hours. The following is an extract from a monograph on "The Deathbed of Douglas," published in the Boston _Budget_: "When Stephen A. Douglas lay stricken with death at Chicago, his wife, who was a devout Roman Catholic, sent for Bishop Duggan, who asked whether he had ever been baptized according to the rites of any church. 'Never,' replied Mr. Douglas. 'Do you desire to have ma.s.s said after the ordinances of the holy Catholic church?' inquired the Bishop.

'No, sir!' answered Douglas; 'when I do I will communicate with you freely.'

"The Bishop withdrew, but the next day Mrs. Douglas sent for him again, and, going to the bedside, he said: 'Mr. Douglas, you know your own condition fully, and in view of your dissolution do you desire the ceremony of extreme unction to be performed?' 'No!' replied the dying man, 'I have no time to discuss these things now.'

"The Bishop left the room, and Mr. Rhodes, who was in attendance, said: 'Do you know the clergymen of this city?' 'Nearly every one of them.'

'Do you wish to have either or any of them call to see you to converse on religious topics?' 'No, I thank you,' was the decided answer."

Among America's most eminent statesmen none probably ever possessed a more logical mind than Lincoln. Judge Davis says: "His mind was logical and direct." James G. Blaine says: "His logic was severe and faultless." George S. Boutwell says: "He takes rank with the first logicians and orators of every age." In his funeral oration at Springfield, Bishop Simpson said: "If you ask me on what mental characteristic his greatness rested, I answer, on a quick and ready perception of facts; on a memory unusually tenacious and retentive; and on a logical turn of mind, which followed sternly and unwaveringly every link in the chain of thought on every subject he was called to investigate."

Lincoln was once called to investigate the subject of Christianity. He "followed sternly and unwaveringly every link in the chain of thought"

suggested by this subject, and the result was its rejection by him.

If he was subsequently converted to Christianity, it was only after a reexamination and a thorough and exhaustive investigation of its claims. This his friends positively state never took place, and the circ.u.mstances a.s.sociated with each and every period a.s.signed for his reputed conversion confirm their statements. In 1848 he was a member of Congress, his mind absorbed with the novelties, the duties, and the aspirations that usually attend a first term in this important capacity.

In 1858, and for years preceding and following, the great political questions of the day occupied his mind. He was engaged in a mortal struggle with one of the most powerful intellectual athletes of his time. He was contending with Douglas for a prize, and that prize was the Presidency. He must be ever on the alert. He must crush his antagonist or his antagonist would crush him. Think of Lincoln sitting down in the very crisis of this conflict and engaging in the study of theology! In 1862, and 1863, the other years a.s.signed for his conversion, he was in the midst of the great Rebellion, all his thoughts and all his energies enlisted in the mighty task of saving the Union.

That Lincoln was a Freethinker in Illinois, that he was for a time a zealous propagandist of his faith, that he was instrumental in making unbelievers of many of his a.s.sociates, it is useless to deny. If he was afterward converted to Christianity, his friends were ignorant of his conversion. He failed to notify them of his previous mistake and warn them of their impending danger. If it could be shown that he renounced his former views and became a Christian, this fact would be one of the most damaging arguments against Christianity that could be advanced.

As a Freethinker he was one of the most tender and humane of men, ever solicitous for the welfare of his fellow-beings. Did Christianity transform him into a selfish, heartless being, who coolly disregarded even the eternal welfare of his best and dearest friends? Think of a man directing a friend to take a road which he afterward discovers leads to certain death, and then not lifting a finger of warning to save him from destruction, when it is in his power to do so!

The Freethinker will require no other evidence to convince him that Lincoln died a disbeliever than the fact that he once fully investigated this subject and proclaimed himself an Infidel. The mere skeptic who has no settled convictions--who has never examined the evidences against historical Christianity--may become a sincere believer in the Christian religion. The confirmed Freethinker never can, albeit a Thomas Cooper, a Joseph Barker and a George Chainey may profess to. As Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson happily expresses it: "You may take the robin's egg from the nest in yonder tree, and so near is the bird to being hatched you may crack it with the edge of your nail, and the bird is free. But all your power, and all your patient fidelity, and all the mucilage and sticking plaster you can put on it, will never get that birdling back into that little egg again. So complete is the sense of satisfaction, such is the feeling of freedom, which comes from once finding yourself, not merely out of these little sectarian names, but out of the name of the larger and grander sect, which is Christianity, that you will find when the egg is once broken, the _bird_ is free forever."

From the church steward's standpoint, there is nothing so desirable as the early conversion of one who is destined to become rich. From the evangelist's point of view, there is nothing like the deathbed repentance of one who has become great. Had the bullet of the a.s.sa.s.sin not immediately destroyed consciousness, all these stories that we have heard about Lincoln's conversion--the Edwards story, the Smith story, the Brooks story, the Willets story, the Vinton story, and the story of the Illinois clergyman--would never have been invented. Instead of these we would have the story of some domestic, or some intruding priest who saw him during his dying hours. Aaron Burr was kinder to the church than John Wilkes Booth.

But whatever the religious opinions of Lincoln were when he died, whether he had changed his belief or not, in view of the fact that he never thought enough of the church to unite with it, the frantic efforts of clergymen and church-members to claim him seem quite uncalled for, if not ridiculous.

The opinion of a writer previously quoted in this work, is that the bitter war waged against the persons who have declared that Lincoln was not a Christian arises, not from a belief that they have stated what is false, but from a consciousness that they have "demolished an empty shrine that was profitable to many, and broken a painted idol that might have served for a G.o.d." It is strange how Christians tend toward fetichism. Not satisfied with three G.o.ds, they must canonize and deify men and make saints and demi-G.o.ds. They have already deified three Americans--Washington, Grant, and Lincoln--and what is remarkable, in each instance they have selected an unbeliever--an Infidel. It is said that men have stolen the livery of heaven in which to serve the devil; but it seems hardly consistent with the pretensions of the church that she should be compelled to appropriate the beadroll of Infidelity in order to make her appear respectable.

Lincoln's speeches and state papers contain many allusions to Deity. As Colonel Lamon observes, "These were easy, and not inconsistent with his religious notions." But it is a mistake to attribute all the Deistic expressions that appear in his state papers to him. Just how much of this was the work of his private secretaries, how much of it was "Seward's nonsense," or how much of it was suggested by Chase and other Cabinet ministers, can never be determined. It is significant, however, that in those doc.u.ments of least importance, those which he would most likely leave to his secretaries or other officials to draft, these expressions are chiefly to be found. In his debates with Douglas, and his other great political speeches delivered in Illinois, he seldom refers to Deity. In his carefully prepared Cooper Inst.i.tute address, that model of political addresses, the name of Deity does not once occur. In his First Inaugural Address, he refers to G.o.d, and makes a complimentary reference to Christianity intended to conciliate the church and gain for his administration its support in the coming struggle with the South. One paragraph of the second Inaugural contains allusions to Deity and quotations from the Bible; but in this address he makes no recognition of Christ or Christianity. Even his quotations from the Bible are made in a guarded manner which clearly indicates that he did not believe in its divinity. In the Preliminary Proclamation of Emanc.i.p.ation, which was drafted by himself, the name of Deity does not appear. In the final Proclamation, an acknowledgment of G.o.d was inserted only at the urgent request of Secretary Chase. The Emanc.i.p.ation Proclamation, with the possible exception of the Declaration of Independence and the Const.i.tution of the United States, is the most important political doc.u.ment ever issued in America. He knew that this was the crowning act of his career, that it would place him among the immortals. In the preparation of this work he expended much thought and labor, and it was his desire that it should be free from religious verbiage. In that masterpiece of eloquence, the Gettysburg oration, the name of G.o.d occurs but once, while not the remotest reference to Christianity or even immortality appears. When we take into consideration the fact that this address was made at the dedication of a cemetery, the significance of this omission can not be overlooked. This speech was the product of Lincoln's own mind free from the suggestions and emendations of others, and the occasion was too sacred to indulge in pious cant in which he did not believe.

The clergy parade Lincoln's recognitions of a Supreme Being as a triumphant refutation of the claim that he was an Infidel. Yet, at the same time, they do not hesitate to denounce as Infidels, Paine and Voltaire, when they know, or ought to know, that two more profound and reverential believers in G.o.d never lived and wrote than Paine and Voltaire.

If Infidelity and Atheism were synonymous terms it would be difficult to maintain that Lincoln, during the last years of his life at least, was an Infidel. But Infidelity and Atheism are not synonymous terms. An Atheist is an Infidel, but an Infidel is not necessarily an Atheist. A Presbyterian is a Christian, but all Christians are not Presbyterians.

Christians themselves coined the word _Infidel_, and they have used it to denote a disbeliever in Christianity. A disbelief or denial of Christianity is not necessarily a denial of G.o.d. Christians, many of them, regard the term as odious and as carrying with it the idea of immorality, notwithstanding the most intelligent and the most highly moral cla.s.s in Christendom are these so-called Infidels. "Who are to-day's Infidels?" says the Rev. William Ohanning Gannett. He answers: "Very many of the brightest minds, the warmest hearts, the most loyal consciences, the most zealous seekers after G.o.d, the most honest tellers of what they find--yes, and the most successful finders. Infidels to what are they? Not to morality: Infidels to morality are too wise to train with them."

It is not claimed that Lincoln was wholly free from a belief in the supernatural. He possessed in some respects a simple, childlike nature, and carried with him through life some of the superst.i.tions of childhood. But the dogmas of Christianity were not among them; these he had examined and discarded.

As a proof of Lincoln's regard for Christian inst.i.tutions, great prominence is given to his proclamation to the army enjoining the observance of the Sabbath. This doc.u.ment gives expression to sentiments regarding the sanct.i.ty of the Christian Sabbath that Lincoln personally did not entertain. It was issued to appease the clamor of the clergy who demanded it, and was drafted, not by Lincoln, but by some pious Sabbatarian. Lincoln himself attached no more sanct.i.ty to Sunday than to other days. He worked on Sunday himself. In Springfield his Sundays were frequently spent in preparing cases for court. In company with his boys he often pa.s.sed the entire day making excursions into the country or rambling through the woods that skirted the Sangamon. He seldom went to church either in Springfield or Washington, the claims of some of his Christian biographers to the contrary notwithstanding. Previous to his nomination, in 1860, we find him sitting for a bust on Sunday in preference to attending church. On the Sunday immediately following his nomination an artist was busy with him molding his hands and taking negatives for a statue. The draft of the preliminary Proclamation of Emanc.i.p.ation was finished on Sunday. The last Sunday of his life was spent, not in studying the Scriptures, but in reading his beloved Shakespere.

It was stated by friends of Lincoln that he generally refrained from giving publicity to his religious opinions while in public life because of their unpopularity. In answer to this the Christian claimant retorts: "If this be true then he was a hypocrite." But let us be honest. Nearly every person entertains opinions which he does not deem it discreet or necessary to make public. You, my Christian friend, entertain doubts and heresies concerning your creed which you keep a secret or disclose only to your most intimate a.s.sociates. If you, in private life, and not dependent upon the public, hide your unpopular thoughts from the world, can you consistently blame Lincoln for his silence when the fate of a nation depended upon him and the alienation even of a few bigots might turn the scales against him? A Christian general does not hesitate to deceive the enemy or withhold his plans even from his own soldiers.

Again, the clergy are forever advising and entreating men not to publish their doubts and heresies. Is it consistent in them to condemn a man for following their advice?

The church should learn to respect honesty herself before she charges others with dishonesty. It is the shame of Christianity that men have been obliged to conceal their honest convictions in order to escape ostracism and persecution. When the church herself becomes honest enough to tolerate and respect the honest opinions of those who cannot conscientiously accept her creed, then will it be time for her to charge Lincoln with hypocrisy for having partially withheld his unpopular views from religious ruffians. It does not evince a want of honesty, nor even a lack of moral courage, to flee from a tiger or avoid a skunk.

To do good was Lincoln's religion. To live an honest, manly life--to add to the sum of human happiness--to make the world better for his having lived--this was the aspiration of his life and the essence of his faith.

In youth, the meanest creature found in him a friend, and if need be, a defender. He wrote essays and made speeches against cruelty to animals, and sought to impress upon his playmates' minds the sacredness of life.

The same tender regard for the weak and unfortunate characterized his manhood. Whilst riding through a forest once with a party of friends, he saw a brood of young birds on the ground which a storm had blown from their nest. He dismounted from his horse, and after a laborious search, found the nest and placed the birdlings snugly in their little home.

When he reached his companions, and was chided by them for his delay, he said: "I could not have slept to-night if I had not given those birds to their mother."

The narration of his many deeds of kindness and mercy while at Washington would fill a volume. He loved to rescue an erring soldier boy from the jaws of death and fill a mother's eyes with tears of joy. He loved to dispel the clouds of sorrow from a wife's sad heart and warm it with the sunshine of happiness. He loved to take the child of poverty upon his knee and plant within its little breast the seeds of confidence and hope.

A giant in stature, and a lion in strength and courage, he possessed the gentleness of a child and the tenderness of a woman. The sufferings, even of a stranger, would fill his eyes with tears, and the death of a friend would overwhelm him. In his tenth year his mother died, and for a time his heart was desolate and he could not be consoled. In his fifteenth year his only sister, a lovely, fragile flower, just blooming into womanhood, drooped and died, and life seemed purposeless to him again. Of his four children, two died while he was living--Eddie, a fair-haired babe, and his beloved Willie. When death took these his sorrow was unutterable. The untimely death of his young friend, the gallant Colonel Ellsworth, at Alexandria, and the death of his life-long friend, the lamented Edwin F. Baker, at Ball's Bluff, were blows that staggered him. At the death of his good friend, Bowlin Green, he was chosen to deliver a funeral address. When the hour arrived, and he stepped forward to perform the sacred task, his eyes fell upon the coffin of his dead friend and for a time he stood transfixed--helpless and speechless. The only tribute he could pay was the tribute of his tears. When he turned for the last time from the bedside of the beautiful Ann Rut-ledge, his betrothed, it was with a broken heart and a mind dethroned. "Oh! I can never be reconciled to have the snow, the rain, and the storm beat upon her grave," was the pitiful burden of his plaint for weeks. Reason after a time returned, but his wonted gladness never; and down through all those eventful years to that fatal April night when his own sweet life-blood slowly oozed away, beneath that sparkling surface of feigned mirth, drifted the memory and the agonies of that great grief.

In the social relations of life, he was a most exemplary man. He was a devoted husband, an indulgent father, an obliging neighbor, and a faithful friend. Mrs. Colonel Chapman, a lady who lived for a time in his family, pays this tribute to his private life: "He was all that a husband, father, and neighbor should be, kind and affectionate to his wife and child, and very pleasant to all around him. Never did I hear him utter an unkind word." "His devotion to wife and children," says George W. Julian, "was as abiding and unbounded as his love of country."

The strong attachment always manifested by him for his friends has often been remarked. Rich and poor, great and humble, all were equally dear to him and alike the recipients of his regard and love. The prince he treated like a man, the humblest man he treated like a prince. Nothing in his career exhibits the greatness and n.o.bleness of his character in a loftier degree than the cordial and unaffected manner in which, at Washington, in the midst of wealth, and splendor, and refinement, he was accustomed to receive and entertain the plain, uncultured friends of other days.

Upon his rugged honesty, I need not dwell. The _sobriquet_ of "Honest Abe" was early won by him and never lost. In his profession--a profession in which, too often, cunning and deceit, falsehood and dishonesty, are the means, and robbery the end--a profession in which, too often, Injustice is a purpled Dives sitting at a bounteous board, and Justice, a ragged Lazarus lying at the gate--he never wavered in his loyalty to truth, to justice, and to honesty. Engaged in a just cause, he was one of the most powerful advocates that ever addressed a judge or jury; engaged in an unjust cause, he was the weakest member of his bar.

In fact, he could not be induced to plead a cause in which he did not see some element of justice, even though the technicalities of law insured success. To one who had sought his services and had stated his case, he replied: "Yes, I can win it; but there are some things _legally_ right that are not _morally_ right; this is one: I cannot take your case." He was once employed to defend a person accused of murder.

As the trial progressed, it became apparent to him that his client had done the deed. Turning to his a.s.sociate counsel, with a look of disappointment and pain, he said: "Swett, the man is guilty; you defend him; I cannot." On another occasion, when he discovered that his client had grossly imposed upon his confidence and inst.i.tuted an unjust suit, he left the court-room, and when the bailiff called for him, he answered: "Tell Judge Treat that I can't come; _I have to wash my hands_."

He was the most magnanimous of men. William H. Seward, his chief opponent for the Presidential nomination, he made the Premier of his Cabinet. Secretary Chase became his political, if not his personal, enemy. Yet, recognizing his fitness for the place, he waived all personal grievances and appointed him to the exalted position of Chief Justice of the United States, the highest gift within the power of a President to bestow. During his professional career he was sent to Cincinnati to a.s.sist Edwin M. Stanton in an important legal case.

The grim Stanton had never met this plain, Western lawyer before, and displeased at his uncouth appearance, and apparent lack of ability, treated him so discourteously that Lincoln's self-respect compelled him to practically withdraw from the case. It was a brutal affront, too poignant for him ever to forget, but not to forgive, and linked together on one of the most momentous pages of history stand the names of Lincoln and Stanton, an enduring witness to his sublime magnanimity.

The murder of this loving savior of our Union was a disastrous blow, not to the victorious North alone, but to the vanquished South as well.

Could he have lived, the balm of his great, kindly nature would have quickly healed the nation's wounds. At the commencement of the conflict, in pleading tones, he said: "We are not enemies, but friends." And at its close, notwithstanding all the cruel, bitter anguish he had endured during those four long years of fratricidal strife, "With malice toward none, with charity for all," he died, and many a brave Confederate deplored

The deep d.a.m.nation of his taking off.

When Stonewall Jackson died, he paid a touching tribute to his gallantry, and said: "Let us forget his errors over his fresh-made grave." in the darkness of night, on a b.l.o.o.d.y field of the Peninsula, he bent beside the prostrate form of a dying soldier of the South, and while the hot tears rolled down his furrowed cheeks, soothed him with words of tender-est sympathy, and, by the dim rays of a lantern, took down from his lips a message to his mother, and sent it by a flag of truce into the enemies' lines to be transmitted to his home.

Glorious apostle of humanity! When shall we look upon his like again? so honest, so truthful, so just, so charitable, so loving, so merciful! Law was his G.o.d, justice his creed, and liberty his heaven. If he sinned, mercy prompted him. In the presence of such a man, and in the presence of such a religion, how contemptible your puny theologians and their narrow creeds appear! Born in the cabin of a Western wild, dying in a nation's capital, its honored chief, enshrined in the hearts of an admiring world, Abraham Lincoln stands to-day the gentlest, purest, n.o.blest character in human history. Millenniums may pa.s.s away, unnumbered generations come and go, creeds rise and fall; but the divine faith of Freedom's martyr--a faith based upon immutable law, eternal justice, universal liberty--a faith formulated not in perishable words, but in immortal deeds, will live through all the years to come, a torch of hope to every son of toil.

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