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 Ward Hill Lamon was for many years a close friend of Lincoln.[33] Their relations began in 1847 when Lamon settled at Danville and continued until Lincoln's death. Both there and at Bloomington, Lamon was Lincoln's local associate and so-called partner. When Lincoln voted at the Presidential election of 1860, the men who accompanied him to the polls were William H. Herndon, Ward Hill Lamon, and Col. Elmer Ellsworth. When Lincoln was elected and his political friends had slated Lamon for a foreign mission, Lincoln appointed him Marshal of the District of Columbia that he might have him close at hand. He was a member of the party which accompanied Lincoln to Washington, and when through apparent danger of assassination the route was changed and Lincoln slipped into Washington with a single companion, it was Lamon whom he chose to accompany him. Lamon had charge of the arrangements of Lincoln's trip to Gettysburg, and accompanied Lincoln and was in charge when he visited the battlefield of Antietam. His book of personal "Recollections," edited by his daughter and published in 1895, is full of interest and contains much of permanent value. His Life of Abraham Lincoln, published in 1872, is the most bitterly denounced of all the biographies of Lincoln. It involved its author and publisher in heavy financial loss, and the unsold portion of the edition is alleged to have been bought up by friends of Lincoln and quietly destroyed. Lamon intended to have followed this volume, whose subject-matter ended with Lincoln's arrival in Washington in 1861, with a second volume covering Lincoln's life as President, but neither a second volume nor a second edition of the first was ever issued. [Pg 129]
How Lamon, being a friend of Lincoln, could ever have written such a book has been the subject of much conjecture. Herndon believed that during the latter part of his life in Washington Lamon had become embittered against Lincoln. Lamon's daughter in a magazine article on the subject professed her father's abiding friendship for Lincoln, but maintained that he was endeavoring to tell the true story of a great life and to recover the real Lincoln from the realm of myth (Dorothy Lamon Teillard: "Lincoln in Myth and in Fact," World's Work, February, 1911, pp. 14040-44).
The basis of Lamon's book is the Herndon manuscripts, copies of which Herndon sold to Lamon for $2,000 in 1870. That Herndon bitterly regretted the necessity of this sale, there is clear evidence; but he had come to a condition of great poverty; and there were other reasons why it seemed unlikely that he himself would ever write a Life of Lincoln. That Lamon himself wrote the book without assistance was disputed from the beginning, and Herndon was accused of being its real author. In letters to Horace White in 1890, Herndon told the truth, as is now believed, concerning the authorship.
"You regret, as well as myself, that I sold my MSS. to Lamon. The reason why I did so was that I was then, in 1870-72, a poor devil and had to sell to live. From 1853 to 1865 I spent all my time and money for the 'nigger,' or rather for Liberty and the union—lost my practice, went to farming, and went under in the crash of 1871-73, and that, too, from no speculations, vices, etc. Today I have to work for tomorrow's bread, and yet I am a happy and contented man. I own a little farm of sixty-five acres and raise fruits for a living. Now you have the reasons for my acts.
"In reference to Lamon's book, I can truthfully say that Chauncey F. Black,[34] son of J. S. Black, wrote quite every word of it.... I have for years been written to by various persons to know why Lamon was so much prejudiced against[Pg 130] Lincoln. The bitterness, if any, was not in Lamon so much as in Black, though I am convinced that Lamon was no solid, firm friend of Lincoln, especially during Lincoln's administration, or the latter part of it."—Newton: Lincoln and Herndon, pp. 307-8.
Herndon stoutly denied having written a single line of Lamon's book, but he furnished the greater part of the material in the form of documents, and gave further aid by letters and suggestions. Thirteen years after it was published he wrote to Lamon, who was still hoping to issue a new biography which would include the volume already issued and a second volume, and said:
"I desire to see your new Life win. Your first Life is nearly suppressed—is suppressed or will be by rings—bears, and like. Lamon's first Life of Lincoln is the truest Life that was ever written of a man, as I think. I do not agree to all it says, and yet it is the most truthful Life of Lincoln written, or to be written probably, except your second Life. . . . Why, Lamon, if you and I had not told the exact truth about Lincoln, he would have been a myth in a hundred years after 1865. We knew him—loved him—had ideas and had the courage of our convictions. We told the world what Lincoln was and were terribly abused for it."—(World's Work, February, 1911, p. 14044).
One of the chief things which Lamon set out to do was to refute Holland's estimate of Lincoln's faith, particularly as it appeared in Holland's account of the Bateman story. Lamon held that any impression which people got that Lincoln possessed substantial Christian faith, was due to the fact that Lincoln was a wily politician, who saw the power and appreciated the prejudices of the churches and was determined not to suffer from their hostility. He not only grew more cautious as he grew older, but actually dissembled. His religious references were made as vague and general as possible, and he permitted himself to be misunderstood and misrepresented by ministers and others because of "his morbid ambition, coupled with a mortal fear that his popularity would suffer[Pg 131] by an open avowal of his deistic convictions" (Lamon, Life of Lincoln, p. 498).
His estimate of Lincoln is that "On the whole, he was an honest, although a shrewd, and by no means unselfish politician." He attributes Lincoln's melancholy definitely to his utter lack of faith.
"It is very probable that much of Mr. Lincoln's unhappiness, the melancholy that 'dripped from him as he walked,' was due to his want of religious faith. When the black fit was on him, he suffered as much mental misery as Bunyan or Cowper in the deepest anguish of their conflicts with the Evil One. But the unfortunate conviction fastened upon him by his early associations, that there was no truth in the Bible, made all consolation impossible, and penitence useless. To a man of his temperament, predisposed as it was to depression ............
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