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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.


Lincoln 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



1. Appended to the letter from William H. Herndon to Ward Hill Lamon, Mar. 2, 1870.

2. Matheny is referring to another Burns poem, "Holy Willie's Prayer," containing the lines: "O Thou that in the Heavens does dwell, / Wha, as it pleases best Thysel, / Sends ane to Heaven an' ten to Hell / A' for Thy glory, / And no for onie guid or ill / They've done before Thee!"