435. James Smith to William H. Herndon
Dundee 24th Jany 1867
Your letter of the 20th December was duly received. In it you ask me to answer several questions in relation to the late illustrious President, Abraham Lincoln. With regard to your second question, I beg leave to say, it is a very easy matter to prove that while I was Pastor of the 1st Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Mr. Lincoln did avow his belief in the Divine Authority and Inspiration the Scriptures; and I hold that it is a matter of the last importance, not only to the present, but to all future generations of the great Republic, and to all advocates of civil and religious liberty through out the world, that this avowal on his part and the circumstances attending it, together with other very interesting incidents, illustrative of the excellence of his character in my possession should be made Known to the public.
I am constrained however most respectfully to decline choosing you as the medium through which any such communications shall be made by me. My reasons are as follows: —
Early in December last an article went the round of the Papers in this Country purporting to be part of a lecture delivered by you on Mr. Lincoln and his past history which I read with feelings of mingled indignation and Sorrow, because coming as it did from his intimate friend and law partner, it was calculated to do the character of that great and good man an incalculable injury, deeply to wound the feelings of his heart broken widow and her orphan boys, and to place that whole family both the dead and living, in their family relations, in a most unenviable light before the public.
In the article referred to speaking of the death and grave of Miss Ann Ratledge you represent Mr. Lincoln as having said "that his heart Sad and broken was buried there." You give it as your opinion "that he never addressed another Woman Yours affectionately". That he generally and Characteristically abstained from the use of the word love. That he never ended his letters "Yours affectionately" but signed them "Your friend Abraham Lincoln"
Now Sir I maintain that every reflecting person who believes your Statements to be true is bound to reply to your third question that Abraham Lincoln was not an honest man; for he assiduously and perseveringly sued for the hand, the heart the love, and the devotion for life of a young lady, who was much admired for her intelligence, her fine conversational powers and capability of making herself agreable in any circle, and who could if so disposed have wedded with the first of the land. This he did when according to you, all he had to give in return was a dead heart buried in the grave of another woman, and he was in such a Mental Condition that he had to abstain from the use of the Word love. Therefore when that young lady accepted his suit and promised to become his wife, he could not go even so far as to Say "I am Yours affectionately" Nay more when Abraham Lincoln led his Bride to the hymeneal Altar, immediately before that bond was tied which death alone can dissolve, he most Solemnly promised before God and man to be to that lady a faithful, loving and affectionate husband, until parted by death, when according to you he had neither love nor affection to bestow. Therefore your Statements being true Abraham Lincoln was worse than a dishonest man.
He was often absent from his family and no doubt wrote his wife many letters. According to you he never ended any of these letters "Yours affectionately" but always "Your friend" Abraham Lincoln" An insult which every lady of any feeling and Spirit would resent, and I must Say, your Statements being true, to me it is strange, nay passing Strange! that the lady to whom these letters were addressed who you know as well as I do possesses exquisite Sensibility, Spirit, and high sense of honor not only did not resent the first insult of that Sort but patiently and Silently submitted to the repitition of it from month to month, and from year to year. And what a cold hearted man must he have been who for so many years thus treated the wife of his bosom whom he had Solemnly promised to love and Cherish.
Your statements also contain a most cruel and I fear malignant attack upon his heart stricken Widow, as one for whom her husband entertained no love, no affection. Oh! Sir was it not enough that she should be overwhelmed and stricken to the earth by the dreadful by the dreadful blow which had fallen upon her, in the Cruel death of her husband, but you must Come on the Scene and mingle your poisoned chalice into that cup of woe which she must drink even to the dregs —
This is not all, but the necessary tendency of your Statements is to put a public brand upon the boys of that great and good man to whom you are under so many and great obligations, as the sons of a man who never loved their mother.
Such is the Character of the martyred president which must necessarily be drawn from the Statements made Concerning him and given to the public by his intimate friend and law partner for twenty years.
A law office is by no means the best field for judging the Characters of each other by those who are brought in Contact there. No Sir. It is in the family Circle the man exhibits himself as he really is. His bearing towards his Wife — his treatment of his Children and dependents his free and easy conversations with those who are admitted into that Circle. These are to be found the best tests by which a
549man's Character and feelings are to be determined, and no one enjoys better opportunities, to be enabled to put a proper estimate upon the members of it, than the pastor who is respected and esteemed by them: who has buried their dead and baptised their living: who in seasons of sorrows has administered to them, those Consolations which the Gospel of the Son of God can alone Communicate: Who is viewed by Certain of them as the honored instrument in bringing them from darkness to light, from the degredation of Sin and misery to faith in Jesus and the hope of Glory: who by them is held to have been "true to them ever in joy and sorrow," joying in their joy and Sorrowing in their Sorrow; and as a Consequence is admitted to their full Confidence, and even their Secular affairs, when thought necessary is asked for his advice and counsel. This is the man who provided he possesses understanding and judgement above all others is prepared to put a true estimate upon the Characters of each of the members of such a family.
All the surviving members of it, I am assured will testify that such was the position occupied by your humble Servant in the family of that truly great and good man Abraham Lincoln. To say nothing of his Calls upon myself and our pleasant Conversations in drives over the prairies. During seven years when he and myself were at home, scarcely two weeks ever passed during which I did not spend a pleasant evening in the midst of that family Circle and my intercourse with himself there convinced me that Abraham Lincoln was not only an honest but preeminently and upright man ever ready so far as in his power to render unto all their just dues, and that he was utterly incapable of witholding from the Bride he led to the Altar that which was her due, by giving her a heart dead and buried in the grave of Another; but that in the deep and honest sincerity of his Soul, he gave her a heart overowing with love and affection; and my intercourse with him and his famly left the abiding impression upon my mind by his demeanour towards her, that he was to the Wife of his bosom a most faithful, loving and Affectionate husband who would on no occasion have insulted her by ending a letter with "Your friend Abraham Lincoln." I do most Solemnly testify that during my oft repeated Visits, I never saw a frown upon his brow or heard him utter a harsh or unkind word to his Lady or any of her Children, but seemed overflowing with geniality, good humour and Kindness, Clear proofs of his love and Affection
This then for the present is the Vindication of the Character of the Martyred president, from the foul aspersions, You Sir have Cast upon it, and by the person whose high honor it was to place before Mr. Lincoln arguments designed to prove the Divine authority of the Scriptures accompanied by the arguments of Infidel objectors in their own language. To the arguments on both sides Mr. Lincoln gave a most patient, impartial and Searching investigation. To use his own language "he examined the Arguments as a lawyer who is anxious to reach the truth investigates testimony." The result was the announcement by himself that the argument in favor of the Divine Authority and inspiration of the Scripture was unanswerable.
I Could say much on this Subject but as you are the person addressed for the present I decline. This much however: — the preparation of that work Cost me long and arduous mental labor, and if No other effect was ever produced by it,
550than the influence it exerted upon the mind of that man whose name thrills the heart of every patriotic American, I thank God that I was induced to undertake the work. Immediately after the above avowal Mr. Lincoln placed himself and family under my pastoral Care, and when at home he was a regular attendant upon my ministry. I was always treated by him with high Consideration, and he Conferred upon me and mine, disinterested acts of Kindness. To say nothing of higher motives, I would feel I was making a most unworthy return for his many Kindnesses did I remain silent on the present occasion. More especially as the statements already referred to, made by you in your Ann Ratledge romance followed by the letter from yourself — to which this is in reply — not only opened the way before me; but in my judgement rendered it my imperative duty to speak out as I have done, and thus to rebuke the false friend, who when their natural head and protector Could no longer defend them has entered into the sacred sanctuary of Mrs. Lincoln's family has dragged its sorrow stricken members from before its altar and held them up to the public gaze, as the Wife and Children of one who had No heart, no love, no affection to bestow upon them.
The assassin Booth by his diabolical act unwittingly sent the illustrious martyr to glory, honor and immortality, but his false friend has attempted to send him down to posterity with infamy branded on his forehead, as a man who notwithstanding all he did and all he suffered for his Country's good was destitute of those feelings and affections, without which there can be no real excellency of Character.
With due respect
Your most obeat. Servant
Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2966 — 77