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The Struggle for Lincoln's Soul Part 2
(continued from previous article)
The situation for Lincoln's religion resembles the situation for other facets of his private life. Once solidly verified quotations and narratives have been separated from the almost certainly spurious, there remains a vast array of embellished incidents. These stories are the puzzlers. Many of them can be verified up to a point, but they also contain unlikely or unverified details. Here are a few:
Lincoln almost certainly spoke about religion with Newton Bateman, Illinois Superintendent of Public Instruction, in the months between his election in November 1860 and his departure from Springfield in February 1861. Yet the story of a fully orthodox profession of faith that Bateman supplied Josiah Holland in the summer of 1865 was too good to be true. When challenged by William Herndon about the veracity of his account, Bateman twisted and turned, but in the end conceded that he embellished what the president-elect had said.
It is a fact that Lincoln enjoyed good relations with the Reverend Mr. Gurley and that Gurley spoke with conviction about Lincoln's general trust in God in the two memorial sermons that he preached after the assassination. Yet the story that Lincoln had arranged to join the New York Avenue church upon public profession of faith has never been securely documented.
It is probably true that the former Catholic priest Charles Chiniquy prayed with Lincoln in the White House on June 10, 1864, for the two were acquainted from Springfield days, and Chiniquy's presence in Washington can be verified. But it stretches the imagination that Lincoln professed to Chiniquy a fully orthodox faith, as Chiniquy's memoir, Twenty-Five Years in the Church of Rome (1886), claims. And it beggars belief that Lincoln agreed with the former priest in viewing the Civil War as a gigantic Jesuit conspiracy.
There are many other such incidents, most of them the product of late reminiscences. What they show is Lincoln's ...