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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Fell, Jesse W. 'Jesse W. Fell to Ward Hill Lamon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon578b.html


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466. Jesse W. Fell to Ward Hill Lamon.

Normal Sept. 22/70

Dr Sir

Yours of the ___ Ult. Soliciting a Statement of My recollections of the religious opinions of the late President, — Mr Lincoln — as derived from repeated Conversations with him on that Subject — came duly to hand and would have been Sooner answered but for the pressure of business. Though everything relating to the character & history of this extraordinary personage is of interest, & should be fairly Stated to the world, I enter upon the performance of this Duty — for So I regard it — with some reluctance, arising from the fact that in Stating my Convictions on the Subject I must necessarily place myself in opposition to quite a number who have written on this topic — before me, & whose views largely preoccupd the public mind. This latter fact, whilst contributing to my embarrassment on this Subject, is perhaps the Strongest reason however why the truth in this Matter Should be fully disclosed, & I therefore yield to your request. —

If there were any traits of character that Stood out in bold relief, in the person of Mr Lincoln, it was that of Truth, and Candor. He was utterly incapable of incincerity, or of professing views of this or any other Subjects, he did not entertain. Knowing Such to be his true character, that incincerity, much more implicitly these traits wholly foreign to his nature, many of his old friends were not a little Surprised at finding in some of the biographies of this great man, Statements concerning his religious opinions So utterly at variance with his Known sentiments. True, he may have changed or modified those views, after his removal from among us, though this is hardly reconcilable with the history of the man, & his entire

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devotion to public matters during his four years residence at the National Capitol. It is possible however that this may be the proper Solution of this conflict of views; or it may be, that with no intention on the part of any one to Mislead the public Mind, those who have represented him as Religious in the popular theological views of the times, may have Misapprehended him, as experiance has shown to be quite Common, where no special effort has been made to obtain critical accuracy on a Subject of this nature. This is the more probable from the well Known fact that Mr Lincoln Seldom communicated to any one his views on this Subject. But, be this as it may, I have no hesitation whatever in Saying, that whilst he held many opinions in common with the great mass of Christian believers, he did not believe in what are regarded as the orthodox or evangelical views of Christianity.

On the inate depravity of Man, the character & office of the great head of the Church, the atonement, the infallibilty of the written revelation, the performance of myricles, the nature & design of present & future rewards & punishments, (as they are popularly called) and many other Subjects, he held opinions not only unsustained, but utterly at variance with what are usually taught in the Churches. Whilst he was practically, as I certainly think, one of the best of Christians, his views on these & Kindred topics were such as to place him, in the estimation of most believers, entirely without the pale of the Christian Church; tho' to my mind Such was not his true position, tho' he never attached himself to any religious Society whatever.

His religious views were eminantly practical, and are Sumed up in these two propositions, "the Fatherhood of God, and the Brotherhood of Man." He fully believed in a Superintending & overruling Providence, that guides & controls the operations of the world; but Maintained that Law and Order, & not their violation or suspension; are the appointed means by which this providence is exercised —

I will not attempt any Specification of either his belief or disbelief on vareous religious topics, as derived from conversations with him at different times during a period of about 20 years, but as conveying a general view of his religious or theological opinions will State the following facts. Some eight or Ten years prior to his death, in conversing with him on the Subject, the writer took occasion to refer, in terms of approbation, to the Sermons, & writings generally, of Dr. W. E. Channing; and finding he was considerably interrested in the Statement I made of the opinions held by that author, I proposed to present him (Mr L.) a copy of Channing's entire works, [1] which, I soon after did. Subsequently, the Contents of these volumes, togeather with the writings of Theodore Parker, furnished him, as he informed me, by his friend, and Law Partner Mr Herndon, became very Naturally topics of Conversation with us, although far from believing there was an entire harmony of views on his part with either of those authors, yet they were generally much admired and approved by him.

No religious views with him Seemed to find any favor except of the practical

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& rationalistic order; & if from my recollections on this subject I were called upon to designate an author whose views most nearly represented Mr Lincoln's, on this Subject, I would say that author was Theodore Parker. —

As you have requested from me a candid Statement of my recollections on this topic, I have thus briefly given them, with the hope that they may be of Some Service in rightly Settling a question about which — as I have good reason to believe — the public mind has been greatly misled. —

Not doubting that they will accord Substantially with your own recollections, & that of his other intimate & confidential friends [illegible] with the popular verdict, after this matter shall have been properly canvassed, I am with great Respect

Yours truly
Jesse W Fell

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3052 (Fell to William H. Hermdpm), Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3048 — 51 (Fell to Lamon)

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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Fell, Jesse W. 'Jesse W. Fell to Ward Hill Lamon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon578b.html
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