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HOME > Short Stories > The Soul of Abraham Lincoln > CHAPTER XIII "THE CHRISTIAN'S DEFENCE"
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 In the spring of the year 1850, after the death of their little son Eddie, Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln visited Mrs. Lincoln's relatives in Kentucky. While they were on this visit, Mr. Lincoln picked up a book entitled The Christian's Defence, by Rev. James Smith. He was interested, for Dr. Smith was a townsman of his, and in the absence of Mrs. Lincoln's rector Dr. Smith had conducted the little boy's funeral service in the Lincoln home. Lincoln read a part but not the whole of the book while on this visit. Dr. Smith, as the book showed, had himself been a doubter, but had become convinced of the truth of the Christian religion, and had become a valiant defender of the faith, and an eager debater with skeptics. Out of a three weeks' discussion with one of these this book had grown. On his return to Springfield Mr. Lincoln took occasion to secure the book, and to cultivate a closer acquaintance with its author.
Lincoln found him well worth knowing; and the reader of this book deserves an introduction to him and his work.
I have obtained from Miss Jeanette E. Smith, of Springfield, granddaughter of Rev. James Smith, a considerable body of manuscript and other material relating to her grandfather.
James Smith was born in Glasgow, Scotland, May 11, 1801, and died in Scotland July 3, 1871. He was the son of Peter and Margaret Smith. In youth he was wild, and in his opinions was a deist; but when converted he became a fearless defender of the faith. He was a big, brainy man, with a great voice and with positive convictions. He was called from Shelbyville, Kentucky, to the First Church of[Pg 157] Springfield, his pastorate beginning March 14, 1849, and closing December 17, 1856.
He was a strong temperance man. His sermon on "The Bottle, Its Evils and Its Remedy," from Habakkuk 2:15, was preached on January 23, 1853, and printed at the request of thirty-nine men who heard it, Abraham Lincoln being one of those who signed the request. "Friends of Temperance" they called themselves. I have a copy of this remarkable sermon. In one part it essayed a vindication of the distiller and liquor-seller, affirming that a community that licensed them had no right to abuse them for doing what they had paid for the privilege of doing; and that the State with money in its pocket received as a share in the product of drunkenness had no right to condemn the saloonkeeper for his share in the partnership. He called on the Legislature then in session to pass a prohibitory law, forbidding all sale of intoxicating liquor except for medical, mechanical, and sacramental purposes.
Such sermons became abundant forty years afterward, but they were not abundant in 1853. Dr. Smith was one of the men who held these convictions, and Abraham Lincoln was one of the men who wanted to see them printed and circulated.
It is remarkable that all knowledge of the massive book which Dr. Smith wrote and published should have perished from Springfield. Lamon manifestly knew nothing of it as a book, but thought of it as a manuscript tract, prepared especially for the ambitious business of converting Mr. Lincoln. His sarcastic description implies this, and Herndon, who may have known better at the time, had apparently forgotten. Both men were disqualified for the discussion of it by their ignorance of it, as well as the violence of their prejudice.
On February 12, 1909, a service was held in the old First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, then occupied by the Lutherans, the Presbyterians having erected a larger building. The address was given by Rev. Thomas D. Logan, Dr. Smith's successor, whose pastorate had begun in 1888. In all the[Pg 158] more than twenty years of his ministry in Springfield, he had never seen this book. He had never known of it as a book at the time he wrote the first draft of this centenary address. The substance of the address he sent in advance as an article for the Lincoln Number of The Continent in February, 1909; but in the revision of the proof he inserted a footnote saying that Dr. Smith's granddaughter, Miss Jeanette E. Smith, had come into possession of a copy of her grandfather's book, which he had just seen.
The prime reason for this complete ignorance of the book, even in the church which Lincoln attended, is that it was published six years before Dr. Smith came to Springfield, in a limited edition, and completely sold out before it came from the press; so that it never came into general circulation in Springfield.
Miss Smith has placed at my disposal her own copy of this book, which was her grandfather's, and I have been able to locate about a half-dozen copies in various public libraries, and by rare good fortune to buy one for myself.
Dr. Smith's statement was made in a letter from Cainno, Scotland, dated January 24, 1867:
"It was my honor to place before Mr. Lincoln arguments designed to prove the divine authority and inspiration 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 investigate truth investigates testimony. The result was the announcement made by himself that the argument in favor of the divine authority and inspiration of the Scriptures was unanswerable."—Rev. James A. Reed: "The Later Life and Religious Sentiments of Abraham Lincoln," Scribner's Magazine, July, 1873, p. 333.
Mr. Thomas Lewis, a lawyer whose office adjoined that of Mr. Lincoln in Springfield, and who for a time was in the same office, was an elder in the church which Lincoln attended.[Pg 159] In 1898 he wrote his recollections of Dr. Smith's book and its influence upon Mr. Lincoln:
"I was an elder, trustee, treasurer, collector, superintendent of the Sunday school, and pew-renter. The following Tuesday, after the second Sunday, Mr. Lincoln called on me and inquired if there were any pews to rent in the church. I replied, 'Yes, and a very desirable one, vacated by Governor Madison, who has just left the city.' 'What is the rent?' said he. 'Fifty dollars, payable quarterly.' He handed me $12.50. Said he, 'Put it down to me.' From that date he paid each three months on said pew until he left for Washington; and from the first Sunday he was there I have not known of his not occupying that pew every Sunday he was in the city until he left. The seat was immediately in front of mine. The third Sunday his children came in the Sunday school.
"Shortly thereafter there was a revival in the church, and Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, when he was in the city, attended meeting. In his absence she was there. They attended not only the regular meetings, but the inquiry meetings also, and it was the belief that both would unite with the church. When the candidates were examined Mr. Lincoln was in Detroit, prosecuting a patent right case, a branch of the profession in which he had acquired an enviable reputation. Mrs. Lincoln stated that she was confirmed in the Episcopal Church when twelve years of age, but did not wish to join the church by letter, but upon profession of faith, as she was never converted until Dr. Smith's preaching. She was admitted [1852]. Mr. Lincoln never applied. Some months later the session of the church invited Mr. Lincoln to deliver a lecture on the Bible. When it became known that Mr. Lincoln was to lecture in the Presbyterian church it assured a full house. It was said by divines and others to be the ablest defense of the Bible ever uttered in that pulpit.
"From the introduction of Mr. Lincoln to Dr. Smith their intimacy was of a most cordial character. At their last meeting previous to Mr. Lincoln's leaving for Washington, as they parted, Mr. Lincoln said, 'Doctor, I wish to be remembered in the prayers of yourself and our church members.'"—Illinois State Register, December 10, 1898.
[Pg 160]
A very interesting bit of testimony to the relations of Mr. Lincoln and his pastor, Dr. Smith, was given by Rev. William Bishop, D.D., in an address at Salina, Kansas, on February 12, 1897, and published in the local papers at the time. Dr. Bishop was graduated from Illinois College in 1850, and for a time was a member of the faculty there. In the summer after his graduation, he supplied Dr. Smith's pulpit during his vacation:
"I first met Dr. Smith in the summer of 1850 in Jacksonville, at the commencement exercises of Illinois College, from which I had graduated and had just been appointed a member of the faculty of instruction. The acquaintance then formed ripened into mutual and congenial friendship. And during the two years of my connection with the college I was frequently a visitor and guest at his house in Springfield, and when, by reason of removal to another institution in another State, the visits were fewer and farther between, 'a free epistolary correspondence' continued to strengthen and brighten the links of fellowship. With his other accomplishments, Dr. Smith was an interesting and instructive conversationalist—in fact, quite a raconteur, somewhat like his friend Lincoln, always ready with a story to illustrate his opinions, and which gave piquancy to his conversation. Whenever he had occasion to speak of Lincoln he always evinced the strongest attachment and the warmest friendship for him, which was known to be fully reciprocated. Democrat as he was, and tinged with Southern hues—though never a secessionist—there seemed to be a mystic cord uniting the minister and the lawyer. This was subsequently beautifully shown on the part of Mr. Lincoln, who never forgot to do a generous thing. When he was elected President Dr. Smith and wife were getting old, their children all married and ............
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