The Life, Public Services and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln

By Henry J. Raymond

Anecdotes and Reminiscences of President Lincoln


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. Of all men in the  world, Mr. Lincoln was the most unaffected and truthful. He rarely  or never used language loosely or carelessly, or for the sake of compliment. He was the most utterly indifferent to, and unconscious of,  the effect he was producing, either upon official representatives, or the  common people, of any man ever in public position.

Mr. Lincoln could scarcely be called a religious man, in the common  acceptation 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.  Doubtless he felt as deeply upon the great questions of the soul and  eternity as any other thoughtful man, but the very tenderness and humility of his nature would not permit the exposure of his inmost convictions, except upon the rarest occasions, and to his most intimate  friends. And yet, aside from emotional expression, I believe no man  had a more abiding sense of his dependence upon God, or faith in the  Divine government, and in the power and ultimate triumph of Truth  and Right in the world. In the language of an eminent clergyman of  this city, who lately delivered an eloquent discourse upon the life and  character of the departed President, "It is not necessary to appeal to  apocryphal stories, in circulation in the newspapers--which illustrate  as much the assurance of his visitors as the simplicity of his faith-for proof of Mr. Lincoln's Christian character." If his daily life and  various public addresses and writings do not show this, surely nothing  can demonstrate it.

But while inclined, as I have said, to doubt the truth of some of  the statements published on this subject, I feel at liberty to relate an  incident, which bears upon its face unmistakable evidence of truthfulness. A lady interested in the work of the Christian Commission had  occasion, in the prosecution of her duties, to have several interviews  with the President of a business nature. He was much impressed  with the devotion and earnestness of purpose she manifested, and  on one occasion, after she had discharged the object of her visit,  he said to her: "Mrs. -----, I have formed a very high opinion  of your Christian character, and now, as we are alone, I have a  mind to ask you to give me, in brief, your idea of what constitutes a true religious experience." The lady replied at some length,  stating that, in her judgment, it consisted of a conviction of one's own sinfulness and weakness, and personal need of the Saviour for strength  and support; that views of mere doctrine might and would differ, but  when one was really brought to feel his need of Divine help, and to  seek the aid of the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance, it was satisfactory evidence of his having been born again. This was the substance of her reply. When she had concluded, Mr. Lincoln was very  thoughtful for a few moments. He at length said, very earnestly, "If  what you have told me is really a correct view of this great subject, I  think I can say with sincerity, that I hope I am a Christian. I had  lived," he continued, "until my boy Willie died, without realizing fully  these things. That blow overwhelmed me. It showed me my weakness as I had never felt it before, and if I can take what you have  stated as a test, I think I can safely say that I know something of that  change of which you speak; and I will further add, that it has been my  intention for some time, at a suitable opportunity, to make a public  religious profession!"

A clergyman, writing to the Friends' Review of Philadelphia, gives  the following interesting incident:--

"After visiting schools, and holding meetings with the freed-people, and attending to other religious service south of Washington and in that city, I felt that I must attend to manifest  duty, and offer a visit in Gospel love to our noble President; it  was immediately granted, and a quarter past six that evening was  fixed as the time. Under deep feeling I went; my Heavenly  Father went before and prepared the way. The President gave us a  cordial welcome, and after pleasant, instructive conversation, during  which he said, in reference to the freedmen, 'If I have been one of the  instruments in liberating this long-suffering, down-trodden people, I  thank God for it'--a precious covering spread over us. The good  man rested his head upon his hand, and, under a precious, gathering  influence, I knelt in solemn prayer. He knelt close beside me, and I  felt that his heart went with every word as utterance was given. I  afterwards addressed him, and when we rose to go, he shook my hand  heartily, and thanked me for the visit."

Mr. Noah Brooks, one of Mr. Lincoln's most intimate personal  friends, in an admirable article in Harper's Magazine, gives the following reminiscence of his conversation:--

"Just after the last Presidential election he said, 'Being only mortal, after all I should have been a little mortified if I had been beaten  in this canvass before the people; but that sting would have been more than compensated by the thought that the people had notified me that  all my official responsibilities were soon to be lifted off my back.' In  reply to the remark that he might remember that in all these cares he  was daily remembered by those who prayed, not to be heard of men,  as no man had ever before been remembered, he caught at the homely  phrase, and said, 'Yes, I like that phrase "not to be heard of men,"  and guess it is generally true as you say; at least, I have been told so,  and I have been a good deal helped by just that thought.' Then he  solemnly and slowly added, 'I should be the most presumptuous blockhead upon this footstool, if I for one day thought that I could discharge  the duties which have come upon me since I came into this place,  without the aid and enlightenment of One who is stronger and wiser  than all others.'"

By the Act of Emancipation Mr. Lincoln built for himself forever  the first place in the affections of the African race in this country. The  love and reverence manifested for him by many of these poor, ignorant  people has, on some occasions, almost reached adoration. One day  Colonel McKaye, of New York, who had been one of a committee to  investigate the condition of the freedmen, upon his return from Hilton  Head and Beaufort, called upon the President, and in the course of  the interview mentioned the following incident:--

He had been speaking of the ideas of power entertained by these  people. They had an idea of God, as the Almighty, and they had  realized in their former condition the power of their masters. Up to  the time of the arrival among them of the Union forces, they had no  knowledge of any other power. Their masters fled upon the approach  of our soldiers, and this gave the slaves the conception of a power  greater than their masters exercised. This power they called "Massa  Linkum." Colonel McKaye said that their place of worship was a  large building which they called "the praise house," and the leader  of the "meeting," a venerable black man, was known as "the praise  man." On a certain day, when there was quite a large gathering of  the people, considerable confusion was created by different persons  attempting to tell who and what "Massa Linkum" was. In the midst  of the excitement the white-headed leader commanded silence.  "Brederin," said he, "you don't know nosen' what you'se talkin'  'bout. Now, you just listen to me. Massa Linkum, he ebery whar.  He know eberyting." Then, solemnly looking up, he added: "He  walk de earf like de Lord!"

Colonel McKaye told me that Mr. Lincoln was very much affected  by this account. He did not smile, as another might have done, but got up from his chair and walked in silence two or three times across  the floor. As he resumed his seat, he said, very impressively, "It is  a momentous thing to be the instrument, under Providence, of the  liberation of a race!"

"At another time, he said cheerfully, 'I am very sure that if I do  not go away from here a wiser man, I shall go away a better man, for  having learned here what a very poor sort of a man I am.' Afterwards,  referring to what he called a change of heart, he said he did not remember any precise time when he passed through any special change  of purpose, or of heart; but, he would say, that his own election to  office, and the crisis immediatly following, influentially determined him  in what he called 'a process of crystallization,' then going on in his  mind. Reticent as he was, and shy of discoursing much of his own  mental exercises, these few utterances now have a value with those who  knew him, which his dying words would scarcely have possessed."

Says Rev. Dr. Thompson, of New York:--"A calm trust in God was  the loftiest, worthiest characteristic in the life of Abraham Lincoln.  He had learned this long ago. 'I would rather my son would be able  to read the Bible than to own a farm, if he can't have but one,' said his  godly mother. That Bible was Abraham Lincoln's guide."

"Mr. Jay states that, being on the steamer which conveyed the governmental party from Fortress Monroe to Norfolk, after the destruction of  the Merrimac, while all on board were excited by the novelty of the excursion and by the incidents that it recalled, he missed the President from  the company, and, on looking about, found him in a quiet nook, reading a well-worn Testament. Such an incidental revelation of his religious habits is worth more than pages of formal testimony."

When Mr. Lincoln visited New York in 1860, he felt a great interest  in many of the institutions for reforming criminals and saving the  young from a life of crime. Among others, he visited, unattended, the  Five Points' House of Industry, and a teacher in the Sabbath-school  there gives the following account of the event:--

"One Sunday morning I saw a tall, remarkable-looking man enter  the room and take a seat among us. He listened with fixed attention  to our exercises, and his countenance expressed such genuine interest  that I approached him and suggested that he might be willing to say  something to the children. He accepted the invitation with evident  pleasure; and, coming forward, began a simple address, which at once fascinated every little hearer and hushed the room into silence. His  language was strikingly beautiful, and his tones musical with intense  feeling. The little faces would droop into sad conviction as he uttered  sentences of warning, and would brighten into sunshine as he spoke  cheerful words of promise. Once or twice he attempted to close his  remarks, but the imperative shout of 'Go on! O, do go on!' would  compel him to resume. As I looked upon the gaunt and sinewy frame  of the stranger, and marked his powerful head and determined features,  now touched into softness by the impressions of the moment, I felt an  irrepressible curiosity to learn something more about him, and while  he was quietly leaving the room I begged to know his name. He  courteously replied, 'It is Abraham Lincoln, from Illinois.'"

In the article in Harper's Magazine already quoted from above, Mr.  Brooks says:--

"On Thursday of a certain week, two ladies, from Tennessee,  came before the President, asking the release of their husbands,  held as prisoners of war at Johnson's Island. They were put off until  Friday, when they came again, and were again put off until Saturday.  At each of the interviews one of the ladies urged that her husband was  a religious man. On Saturday, when the President ordered the release of  the prisoner, he said to this lady, 'You say your husband is a religious  man; tell him, when you meet him, that I say I am not much of a  judge of religion, but that in my opinion the religion which sets men  to rebel and fight against their Government, because, as they think,  that Government does not sufficiently help some men to eat their bread  in the sweat of other men's faces, is not the sort of religion upon which  people can get to heaven.'"

The Western Christian Advocate says:--"On the day of the receipt  of the capitulation of Lee, as we learn from a friend intimate with  the late President Lincoln, 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 in tears,  their humble and heartfelt acknowledgments to the Almighty for the  triumph He had granted to the National cause." 


Book Navigation Title Page Preface Illustrations Memorandum Table of Contents   ► Chapter I.   ► Chapter II.   ► Chapter III.   ► Chapter IV.   ► Chapter V.   ► Chapter VI.   ► Chapter VII.   ► Chapter VIII.   ► Chapter IX.   ► Chapter X.   ► Chapter XI.   ► Chapter XII.   ► Chapter XIII.   ► Chapter XIV.   ► Chapter XV.   ► Chapter XVI.   ► Chapter XVII.   ► Chapter XVIII.   ► Chapter XIX.   ► Chapter XX.   ► Chapter XXI. Anecdotes and Reminiscences of President Lincoln.   ► Mr. Lincoln's Sadness   ► His Favorite Poem   ► His Religious Experience   ► His Sympathy   ► His Humor, Shrewdness, and Sentiment   ► The Emancipation Proclamation Appendix. Letters on Sundry Occasions.   ► To Mr. Lodges, of Kentucky   ► To General Hooker   ► To John B. Fry   ► To Governor Magoffin   ► To Count Gasparin   ► The President and General McClellan   ► Warnings Against Assassination Reports, Dispatches, and Proclamations Relating to the Assassination.   ► Secretary Stanton to General Dix   ► The Death-Bed   ► The Assassins   ► Reward Offered by Secretary Stanton   ► Flight of the Assassins   ► The Conspiracy Organized in Canada   ► Booth Killed. Harold Captured   ► Reward Offered by President Johnson   ► The Funeral Official Announcements   ► Acting Secretary Hunger to Minister Adams   ► Acting Secretary Hunter to his Subordinates   ► Orders from Secretary Stanton and General Grant   ► Orders from Secretary "Welles   ► Order from Secretary McCulloch   ► Order from Postmaster-General Dennison   ► Proclamation by President Johnson of a Day of Humiliation and Mourning.   ► Secretary Stanton to Minister Adams   ► Important Letter from J. Wilkes Booth   ► Indictment of the Conspirators   ► The Finding of the Court