463. James H. Matheny (William H. Herndon Interview)
[by March 2, 1870]
Jas. H. Matheny — says
I Knew Mr Lincoln as Early as 1834 — 37 — Know he was an infidel — have heard Lincoln call Christ a bastard — He & Wm D. Herndon used to talk Infidelity in the Clerks office in this city about the years 1837 — 40. Lincoln attacked the Bible & new Testament on two grounds — 1st From the inherent or apparent contradiction under its lids & 2dly From the grounds of Reason — sometimes he ridiculed the Bible & New Testament — sometimes seemed to Scoff it, though I shall not use that word in its full & literal sense — never heard that Lincoln changed his views though his personal & political friend from 1834 to 1860 — Sometimes Lincoln bordered on absolute Atheism: he went far that way & often shocked me. I was then a young man & believed what my good Mother told me.
Stuart & Lincoln's office was in what is called the Hoffman row on North 5th Street near the public Square. Stuart & Lincoln's office was in the same building as the Clerk's office & on the same floor. Lincoln would Come into the clerk's office where I and some young men — Evan Butler — Newton Francis — & others were writing or staying; & would bring the Bible with him — read a Chapter — argue against it: Lincoln then had a smattering of Geology if I recollect it. Lincoln often if not wholy was an atheist — : at least bordered on it. Lincoln was Enthusiastic in his infidelity. As he grew older he grew more discrete — didn't talk much before Strangers about his religion, but to friends — close and bosom ones he was always open & avowed — fair & honest, but to Strangers he held them off from Policy.
577Lincoln used to quote Burns. Burns helped Lincoln to be an infidel as I think — at least he found in Burns a like thinker & feeler. Lincoln quoted Tam O'Shanter — "What send one to Heaven and him to Hell all &c.
From what I Know of Mr Lincoln, and his views of Christianity: and from what I Know as honest & well founded rumor — from what I have heard his best friends say & regret for years — from what he never denied when accused & from what Lincoln has hinted & intimated to say no more he did write a little Book on Infidelity at or near New Salem in Menard Co about the year 1834 or 1835 — . I have stated these things to you often Judge Logan — Jno. T. Stuart — yourself Know what I Know and some of you more.
Mr. Herndon you insist on Knowing something which you Know I possess & got as a secret and that is about Lincoln's little book on Infidelity. Mr Lincoln did tell me that he did write a little Book on Infidelity. This Statement I have avoided heretofore, but as you strongly insist on it — probably to defend yourself against charges of misrepresentation I give it to you as I got it from Lincoln's own mouth. (Mr Matheny after strong & repeated solicitation from me, as it were under protest told it to me — evidently hating to do it — Herndon)
Huntington Library: LN2326