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 One of the first results of the Lamon biography was a lecture prepared by Rev. James A. Reed, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield. This lecture[35] was delivered several times, and in 1873 was published in Scribner's Magazine, which at that time was edited by J. G. Holland. Holland had been horrified by the Lamon biography, and had reviewed it with such disfavor that Herndon attributes the failure of the book in no small part to Holland's pronounced opposition. This lecture, published in so widely read a magazine, produced a profound impression. A doubt which Lamon had raised and which Herndon later had the bad taste to emphasize concerning Lincoln's paternity turned to good advantage; and Reed produced from several of the men whom Lamon had quoted, counter-statements declaring that they had been misquoted. Of these was James H. Matheny, whose statement to Herndon we are to consider in connection with the story of Lincoln's burnt book and who wrote to Dr. Reed: "The language attributed to me in Lamon's book is not from my pen. I did not write it, and it does not express my sentiment of Mr. Lincoln's entire life and character. It is a mere collection of sayings gathered from private conversations that were only true of Mr. Lincoln's earlier life. I would not have allowed such an article to be printed over my signature as covering my opinion of Mr. Lincoln's life and religious sentiments. While I do believe Mr. Lincoln to have been an infidel in his former life, when his mind was as yet unformed, and his associations principally with rough and skeptical men, yet I believe he was a very different man in[Pg 136] later life; and that after associating with a different class of men, and investigating the subject, he was a firm believer in the Christian religion."
Major John T. Stuart also repudiated the statement attributed to him, and not only so but gave detailed and positive statements which directly contradicted the more important part of what Lamon had attributed to him.
Dr. Reed went further and set forth with a considerable degree of precision the grounds for the statement that Lincoln's views had undergone marked change during his life in Springfield, particularly under the influence of Dr. Reed's predecessor, the Rev. James Smith.
Dr. Reed's lecture became the subject of acrimonious attack. His article was flouted, belittled, and railed at. But its essential affirmations have not been disproved. We shall devote a chapter to a consideration of the relations of Dr. Smith to Mr. Lincoln and shall find that Dr. Reed's claims were not extravagant.
Other controversialists took up the pen about this time in confutation of Lamon. One of the most interesting and valuable of the contributions which then appeared was an article by B. F. Irwin, of Pleasant Plains, Illinois, published in the Illinois State Journal, for May 16, 1874.[36] He produced a considerable number of letters from men who had known Mr. Lincoln prior to his residence in Springfield and whose knowledge of his religious beliefs at that time was intimate and accurate. Of these by far the most important was from Lincoln's old teacher, Mentor Graham, which we shall quote at length in the chapter on Lincoln's "Burnt Book."
Among these were letters from men who professed to have heard Lincoln charged with infidelity and had heard him deny it. The most important of these letters, however, aside from that of Mentor Graham, have value for us in the light they shed upon what really constituted Lincoln's alleged infidelity at this early period. That he had doubts and mis[Pg 137]givings upon various subjects was not denied, but his hostility to the orthodox belief expressed itself chiefly in a vigorous denial of the endlessness of future punishment. This dogma Lincoln denied upon two grounds, as these letters affirm. First, the justice and mercy of God; and secondly, the fact that according to the Biblical scheme of redemption, whatever right the human race had possessed to immortality and lost through sin, had been restored in Christ. Lincoln was, according to the testimony of a number of these men who had known him, not an infidel, nor even a deist, but essentially a Universalist.
Irwin had interviewed Colonel James H. Matheny and quoted Matheny as denying that he had ever heard Lincoln admit that he was an infidel and did not himself believe it. Irwin himself had known Lincoln personally for many years and had known large numbers of men who were intimately acquainted with him and he said:
"I have never yet heard one single man express the belief that Lincoln was an infidel. Mr. Herndon, it is true, did have opportunities over others in knowing Mr. Lincoln's religious opinions, but other men had some opportunities, as well as Mr. Herndon, and to them I shall have to appeal, for I do not claim to personally know anything about Mr. Lincoln's reli............
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