Theodore Roosevelt, the Ring and Lincoln

 

All of his life Theodore Roosevelt was an admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  His Secretary of State, John Hay, had been a secretary to Lincoln, and after his death purchased six hairs from Lincoln’s head taken during his autopsy.  Almost 40 years after the assassination of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt was being inaugurated for his second term.  Hay sent him a special gift for him to wear while taking his oath of office, a ring, pictured above, containing one of Lincoln’s hairs.

Dear Theodore:

The hair in this ring is from the head of Abraham Lincoln.  Dr. Taft cut it off the night of the assassination, and I got it from his son-a brief pedigress.

Please wear it tomorrow;  you are one of the men who most thoroughly understand and appreciate Linocln.

I have had your mongram and Lincoln’s engraved on the ring.

Longas, O utiman, bone dux, ferias, Praestes Hesperia.

Yours affectionately, John Hay

The Latin quote was from the Roman poet Horace, Odes, IV, V:  “Mayest thou, Good Captain, give long holiday to Hesperia!”  Roosevelt was deeply touched by this gesture and responded:

 

 

“Dear John, Surely no other President, on the eve of his inauguration, has ever received such a gift from such a friend.  I am wearing the ring now; I shall think of it and you as I take the oath tomorrow.  I wonder if you have any idea what your strength and wisdom and sympathy, what the guidance you have given me and the mere delight in your companionship, have meant to me these three and a half years? 

With love and gratitude, Ever yours….”

Published in: on July 23, 2020 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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July 10, 1858: Lincoln on the Fourth of July

In the midst of his election campaign for the US Senate in 1858, Lincoln gave an address on July 10, 1858 in Chicago in which he spoke about the Fourth of July:

“Now, it happens that we meet together once every year, sometime about the 4th of July, for some reason or other. These 4th of July gatherings I suppose have their uses. If you will indulge me, I will state what I suppose to be some of them.

We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration [loud and long continued applause], and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.] (more…)

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Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence

In a speech given on August 17, 1858 in Lewistown, Illinois, in the midst of the Stephen-Douglas debates, Abraham Lincoln celebrated the Declaration as a beacon of freedom:

The Declaration of Independence was formed by the representatives of American liberty from thirteen States of the confederacy—twelve of which were slaveholding communities. We need not discuss the way or the reason of their becoming slaveholding communities. It is sufficient for our purpose that all of them greatly deplored the evil and that they placed a provision in the Constitution which they supposed would gradually remove the disease by cutting off its source. This was the abolition of the slave trade. So general was conviction—the public determination—to abolish the African slave trade, that the provision which I have referred to as being placed in the Constitution, declared that it should not be abolished prior to the year 1808. A constitutional provision was necessary to prevent the people, through Congress, from putting a stop to the traffic immediately at the close of the war. (more…)

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Ghosts of the Library

 

 

One of my favorite stops at the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield.

The Thirty-third Infantry Illinois Volunteers was organized at Camp Butler, Illinois, in the month of September, 1861, by Colonel Chas. E. Hovey, and mustered into the United States service by Captain T. G. Pitcher, U. S. A. (more…)

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June 1, 1865: National Day of Mourning

Mourning Lincoln

 

Although a Thursday, the national day of mourning struck most Northerners like a Sunday.  Businesses and government offices were closed and people repaired to their churches where they prayed and heard sermons on Lincoln.  Pat McNamara at his blog in 2012 noted the remarks after communion of Father Sylvester Malone, the founder of Saints Peter and Paul parish in Brooklyn:

“Catholics, we join our tears to day with those of the nation. As citizens and as representatives of the great Catholic body, we are bowed down by this great, this fearful calamity, that has befallen us. Abraham Lincoln, the wise, the just, and Christian Magistrate, has been assassinated. But the event has a deeper significance. It is not that Abraham Lincoln has thus been murdered; it is more it is the President of the United States, the representative of a nation of freemen, the head and chosen of its people. We mourn to day for the Christian patriot gone from us, but we stand appalled and horror stricken at the murder of a magistrate whose heart was so filled with Christian charity and forgiveness for those who had, forgetting their allegiance, taken arms against the most humane government on earth, against their country. My friends, take up this new burden of woe as befits you. Pray today for the salvation of this nation now laboring under this dreadful affliction. Pray for it every day. The nation needs all your prayers. Pray that those in authority may have the Divine guidance and protection in the trying situation upon which they are entering.” (more…)

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Nancy Hanks

Some historical figures we know so little about, that it is almost impossible to say much about them.  A prime example is Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the mother of Abraham Lincoln.  Nancy Hanks was born on February 5, 1784 in Hampshire County, Virginia.  She married Thomas Lincoln on June 12, 1806 in Washington County, Kentucky.  They had three children:  Sarah Lincoln, February 10, 1807- January 20, 1828;  Abraham Lincoln; and Thomas Lincoln who died in infancy in 1812.  On October 5, 1818 at Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana, she died of the “milk sickness”, a malady caused by drinking milk from a cow that had eaten the poisonous white snakeroot.  Her husband made her coffin, helped by her son.  That sums up much of what we know about her.  Well might her son describe his family history as “the short, simple annals of the poor”. (more…)

Published in: on May 10, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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April 30, 1864: Lincoln’s Letter to Grant

 

What became known as Grant’s Overland Campaign, his drive to destroy Lee’s Army by threatening Richmond, was about to begin 156 years ago.  Lincoln writes a letter to Grant expressing full confidence in him.  Lincoln has often intervened in military matters over the years, maddened by Generals he perceived as being unwilling to fight.  Lincoln knows that, whatever else may occur, Grant will fight with all resources in his command.  Lincoln can now place on Grant’s shoulders the task of beating one of the great commanders in world history, Robert E. Lee.  The destiny of the country, and the Lincoln administration, is now in the hands of the failure from Galena, and his unexpected genius for war: (more…)

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April 19, 1865: Funeral Sermon on Abraham Lincoln

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Although it was a  Wednesday, many contemporary observers in the United States thought that April 19, 1865 felt like a Sunday.  Funeral rites were being conducted for Abraham Lincoln at the White House and a national holiday, a national day of mourning, was proclaimed.  After the funeral service at the White House, Lincoln’s body began its long trek back to Springfield, where it would pass through 180 cities with the people of the country given an opportunity to pass by Lincoln’s coffin.  The funeral sermon was preached by Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln attended.  He had been close to both Lincolns, the Lincolns had chosen him to preach the funeral sermon when their son Willie died, and he would accompany the body back to Springfield and preach the final funeral sermon there.  His sermon at the White House was a powerful effort and reflected a willingness to see the Hand of God in all things, a common sentiment at that time, that most of us today, even those of us who are religious, lack, especially when something terrible occurs.  God is relegated, in much contemporary religious thought, to being either a divine Santa Claus, or an ineffectual, albeit well meaning, divinity, who stands apart from the frequently terrible things that occur in this vale of tears and weeps with us.  I think Gurley is closer to the truth, even with his patina of Calvinism, as to the nature of I AM who created the universe. Here is the text of the sermon:

 

 

AS WE STAND HERE TODAY, MOURNERS AROUND THIS COFFIN AND AROUND THE LIFELESS REMAINS OF OUR BELOVED CHIEF MAGISTRATE, WE RECOGNIZE AND WE ADORE THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. His throne is in the heavens, and His kingdom ruleth over all. He hath done, and He hath permitted to be done, whatsoever He pleased. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.” His way is in the sea, and His path in the great waters, and His footsteps are not known. “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? Deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. If He cut off, and shut up, or gather together, then who can hinder Him? For He knoweth vain men; he seeth wickedness also; will He not then consider it?”–We bow before His infinite majesty. We bow, we weep, we worship.

“Where reason fails, with all her powers,
There faith prevails, and love adores.”

It was a cruel, cruel hand, that dark hand of the assassin, which smote our honored, wise, and noble President, and filled the land with sorrow. But above and beyond that hand there is another which we must see and acknowledge. It is the chastening hand of a wise and a faithful Father. He gives us this bitter cup. And the cup that our Father hath given us, shall we not drink it?

God of the just, Thou gavest us the cup:
We yield to thy behest, and drink it up.”

“Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” O how these blessed words have cheered and strengthened and sustained us through all these long and weary years of civil strife, while our friends and brothers on so many ensanguined fields were falling and dying for the cause of Liberty and Union! Let them cheer, and strengthen, and sustain us to-day. True, this new sorrow and chastening has come in such an hour and in such a way as we thought not, and it bears the impress of a rod that is very heavy, and of a mystery that is very deep. That such a life should be sacrificed, at such a time, by such a foul and diabolical agency; that the man at the head of the nation, whom the people had learned to trust with a confiding and a loving confidence, and upon whom more than upon any other were centered, under God, our best hopes for the true and speedy pacification of the country, the restoration of the Union, and the return of harmony and love; that he should be taken from us, and taken just as the prospect of peace was brightly opening upon our torn and bleeding country, and just as he was beginning to be animated and gladdened with the hope of ere long enjoying with the people the blessed fruit and reward of his and their toil, and care, and patience, and self-sacrificing devotion to the interests of Liberty and the Union–O it is a mysterious and a most afflicting visitation! But it is our Father in heaven, the God of our fathers, and our God, who permits us to be so suddenly and sorely smitten; and we know that His judgments are right, and that in faithfulness He has afflicted us. In the midst of our rejoicings we needed this stroke, this dealing, this discipline; and therefore He has sent it. Let us remember, our affliction has not come forth out of the dust, and our trouble has not sprung out of the ground. Through and beyond all second causes let us look, and see the sovereign permissive agency of the great First Cause. It is His prerogative to bring light out of darkness and good out of evil. Surely the wrath of man shall praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He will restrain. In the light of a clearer day we may yet see that the wrath which planned and perpetuated the death of the President, was overruled by Him whose judgements are unsearchable, and His ways are past finding out, for the highest welfare of all those interests which are so dear to the Christian patriot and philanthropist, and for which a loyal people have made such an unexampled sacrifice of treasure and of blood. Let us not be faithless, but believing. (more…)

Published in: on April 19, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 19, 1865: Funeral Sermon on Abraham Lincoln  
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Now He Belongs to the Ages

 

 

 

Now he belongs to the ages.”  So said Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, who had kept vigil at Lincoln’s deathbed, after Lincoln died from an assassin’s bullet.

In hundreds of posts since 2008 at The American Catholic and Almost Chosen People, I have examined various facets of the public life of Abraham Lincoln.  Of course, the most important part of Lincoln’s life came, as it will for each of us, after his death when he stood before God for the particular judgment.  In this life the outcome of that judgment is unknown to us.  However, I think  the record is well-established that during the Civil War Lincoln found his mind and his heart turning increasingly towards God.

Lincoln throughout his life had read the Bible and effortlessly used scriptural quotes in his speaking and writing, both in public and in private.  Lincoln had the Bible in his bones, and often turned to it.  Lincoln’s religious opinions are not simple to discern, however, as Mark Noll in a perceptive article skillfully points out.

In 1846 when Lincoln ran successfully for Congress against a well known Protestant minister, Peter Cartwright, he was attacked as an “infidel” and a scoffer against religion.  In a pamphlet Lincoln responded:  “That I am not a member of any Christian church is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular… I do not think I could myself be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, or scoffer at, religion.”  Before the election campaign Lincoln went to one of the revival meetings of Cartwright, probably to scope out the opposition.  During the meeting Cartwright asked all those who were intent on going to Heaven to stand, and Lincoln remained seated.  Cartwright then asked all those who were intent on going to Hell to stand, and Lincoln once again remained seated.  Cartwright then inquired of Lincoln directly where Lincoln intended to go since he stood neither for Heaven nor Hell.  Lincoln responded that he intended to go to Congress.

I have always thought that Mary Todd Lincoln, his wife and most perceptive observer, best understood Lincoln’s religious views:  “From the time of the death of our little Edward, I believe my husband’s heart was directed towards religion & as time passed on – when Mr. Lincoln became elevated to Office – with the care of a great Nation, upon his shoulders – when devastating war was upon us then indeed to my knowledge – did his great heart go up daily, hourly, in prayer to God – for his sustaining power When too – the overwhelming sorrow came upon us, our beautiful bright angelic boy, Willie was called away from us, to his Heavenly Home, with God’s chastising hand upon us – he turned his heart to Christ.”

Certainly Mr. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address gives strong evidence that Lincoln had thought long and very hard about God and human affairs.  Lincoln occasionally gave hints that indicated that he was thinking about his own destiny in the hereafter.  In August of 1864 it looked as if Lincoln was headed to electoral defeat.  A group of Wisconsin politicians visiting the White House suggested that perhaps Lincoln’s prospects would improve if he would agree to drop the Emancipation Proclamation in exchange for the Confederate states returning to the Union.  Lincoln responded briskly:

“I should be damned in time and in eternity were I to do that.  I will keep faith with the gallant black soldiers who have fought and died for this nation at Port Hudson and Olustee. The Proclamation sticks.”

As for the Bible, Lincoln gave frequent public and private comments that indicated his great respect for the book of books.  When Lincoln received the gift of a Bible from freed slaves in Maryland he made the following statement:  “In regard to this great book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.

In the summer of 1864 Lincoln spent an evening with perhaps his closest friend Joshua F. Speed.  When Speed arrived Lincoln was reading the Bible.  Speed recounted the incident as follows:  “As I entered the room near night, [Lincoln] was sitting near a window reading his Bible. Approaching him, I said, ‘I am glad to see you profitably engaged.’ ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘I am profitably engaged.’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘if you have recovered from your skepticism I am sorry to say that I have not!’ Looking me earnestly in the face, and placing his hand upon my shoulder, he said: ‘You are wrong Speed; take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith and you will live and die a happier and better man.’”

Very significant evidence as to the impact on Lincoln of the death of his son Willie and the war is given by Phineas Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln regularly attended.  In response to an inquiry as to whether Lincoln was a scoffer, Gurley replied as follows:  ” I do not believe a word of it. It could not have been true of him while here, for I have had frequent and intimate conversations with him on the Subject of the Bible and the Christian religion, when he could have had no motive to deceive me, and I considered him sound not only on the truth of the Christian religion but on all its fundamental doctrines and teachings. And more than that, in the latter days of his chastened and weary life, after the death of his son Willie, and his visit to the battlefield of Gettysburg, he said, with tears in his eyes, that he had lost confidence in everything but God, and that he now believed his heart was changed, and that he loved the Savior, and, if he was not deceived in himself, it was his intention soon to make a profession of religion.”

So much for the historical record.  When it comes to something of the heart and soul like religion, prose and facts can take us only so far.  Time to call on a poet.

Stephen Vincent Benet 71 years ago wrote an epic poem on the American Civil War, John Brown’s Body.  Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, it is available on line here.  In this section of the poem I think he gets close to the truth of Abraham Lincoln and his turning to God during the war.  Lincoln is sitting in the telegraph office at the War Department anxiously awaiting news of the battle of Antietam: (more…)

Published in: on April 16, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Now He Belongs to the Ages  
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April 15, 1865: Death of Lincoln

Death of Lincoln

Due to an assassin’s bullet, the story of Abraham Lincoln came to an end one hundred and fifty-five years ago.  Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, noted in his diary the last few hours of our sixteenth president:

 

 

“The President had been carried across the street from the theater to the house of a Mr. Peterson. We entered by ascending a flight of steps above the basement and passing through a long hall to the rear, where the President lay extended on a bed, breathing heavily. Several surgeons were present, at least six, I should think more. Among them I was glad to observe Doctor Hall, who, however, soon left. I inquired of Doctor Hall, as I entered, the true condition of the President. He replied the President was dead to all intents, although he might live three hours or perhaps longer.

The giant sufferer lay extended diagonally across the bed, which was not long enough for him. He had been stripped of his clothes. His large arms, which were occasionally exposed, were of a size which one would scarce have expected from his spare appearance. His slow, full respiration lifted the clothes with each breath that he took. His features were calm and striking. I had never seen them appear to better advantage than for the first hour, perhaps, that I was there. After that his right eye began to swell and that part of his face became discolored.

Senator Sumner was there, I think, when I entered. If not he came in soon after, as did Speaker Colfax, Mr. Secretary McCulloch, and the other members of the cabinet, with the exception of Mr. Seward. A double guard was stationed at the door and on the sidewalk to repress the crowd, which was of course highly excited and anxious. The room was small and overcrowded. The surgeons and members of the cabinet were as many as should have been in the room, but there were many more, and the hall and other rooms in the front or main house were full. One of these rooms was occupied by Mrs. Lincoln and her attendants, with Miss Harris. Mrs. Dixon and Mrs. Kinney came to her about twelve o’clock. About once an hour Mrs. Lincoln would repair to the bedside of her dying husband and with lamentation and tears remain until overcome by emotion. (more…)

Published in: on April 15, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 15, 1865: Death of Lincoln  
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