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not a Christian-God knows I would be one—but I have carefully read the Bible, and I do not so understand this book;” and he drew from his bosom a pocket New Testament. “These men well know," he continued, that I am for freedom in the territories, freedom everywhere as far as the Constitution and laws will permit, and that my opponents are for slavery. They know this, and yet, with this book in their hands, in the light of which human bondage cannot live a moment, they are going to vote against me. I do not understand it at all."
Here Mr. Lincoln paused-paused for long minutes, his features surcharged with emotion. Then he rose and walked up and down the room in the effort to retain or regain his self-possession. Stopping at last, he said, with a trembling voice and his cheeks wet with tears: “I know there is a God, and that He hates injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming, and I know that His hand is in it. If He has a place and work for me—and I think He has—I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. I know I am right because I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God. I have told them that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and Christ and reason say the same; and they will find it so. Douglas don't care whether slavery is voted up or voted down, but God cares, and humanity cares, and I care; and with God's help I shall not fail. I may not see the end; but it will come, and I shall be vindicated; and these men will find that they have not read their Bibles aright.”
Much of this was uttered as if he were speaking to himself, and with a sad and earnest solemnity of manner impossible to be described. After a pause, he resumed: “Does n't it appear strange that men can ignore the moral aspects of this contest? A revelation could not make it plainer to me that slavery or the government must be destroyed. The future would be something awful, as I look at it, but for this rock on which I stand” (alluding to the Testament which he still held in his hand,) “especially with the knowledge of how these ministers are going to vote. It seems as if God had borne with this thing (slavery) until the very teachers of religion have come to defend it from the Bible, and to claim for it a divine character and sanction; and now the cup of iniquity is full, and the vials of wrath will be poured out.”
His last reference was to certain prominent clergymen in the South, Drs. Ross and Palmer among the number; and he went on to comment on the atrociousness and essential blasphemy of their attempts to defend American slavery from the Bible. After this the conversation was continued for a long time. Everything he said was of a peculiarly deep, tender and religious tone, and all was tinged with a touching melancholy. He repeatedly referred to his conviction that the day of wrath was at hand, and that he was to be an actor in the terrible struggle which would issue in the overthrow of slavery, though he might not live to see the end. He repeated many passages of the Bible, and seemed specially impressed with the solemn grandeur of portions of Revelation, describing the wrath of Almighty God. In the course of the conversation, he dwelt much upon the necessity of faith in the Christian's God, as an element of successful statesmanship, especially in times like those which were upon him, and said that it gave that calmness and tranquillity of mind, that assurance of ultimate success, which made a man firm and immovable amid the wildest excitements. After further reference to a belief in Divine Providence, and the fact of God in history, the conversation turned upor prayer. stated his belief in the duty, privilege ana efficacy of prayer, and intimated, in no unmistakable terms, that he had sought in that way the divine guidance and favor.
The effect of this conversation upon the mind of Mr. Bateman, a Christian gentleman whom Mr. Lincoln profoundly respected, was to convince him, that Mr. Lincoln had, in his quiet way, found a path to the Christian stand-point-that he had found God, and rested on the eternal truth of God. As the two men were about to separate, Mr. Bateman remarked: “I have not supposed that you were accustomed to think so
much upon this class of subjects. Certainly your friends generally are ignorant of the sentiments you have expressed to
He replied quickly: “I know they are. I am obliged to appear
different to them; but I think more on these subjects than upon all others, and I have done so for years; and I am willing that you should know it."
This remarkable conversation furnishes a golden link in the chain of Mr. Lincoln's history. It flashes a strong light upon the path he had already trod, and illuminates every page of his subsequent record. Men have wondered at his abounding charity, his love of men, his equanimity under the most distressing circumstances, his patience under insult and misrepresentation, his delicate consideration of the feelings of the humble, his apparent incapacity of resentment, his love of justice, his transparent simplicity, his truthfulness, his good will toward his enemies, his beautiful and unshaken faith in the triumph of the right. There was undoubtedly something in his natural constitution that favored the development of these qualities; but those best acquainted with human nature will hardly attribute the combination of excellencies which were exhibited in his character and life to the unaided forces of his constitution. The man who carried what he called “this rock” in his bosom, who prayed, who thought more of religious subjects than of all others, who had an undying faith in the providence of God, drew his life from the highest fountains.
It was one of the peculiarities of Mr. Lincoln to hide these religious experiences from the eyes of the world. In the same State House where this conversation occurred, there were men who imagined—who really believed—who freely said—that Mr. Lincoln had probably revealed himself with less restraint to them than to others-men who thought they knew him as they knew their bosom companions—who had never in their whole lives heard from his lips one word of all these religious convictions and experiences. They did not regard him as a religious man. They had never seen anything but the active lawyer, the keen politician, the jovial, fun-loving companion, in Mr. Lincoln. All this department of his life he had kept carefully hidden from them. Why he should say that he was obliged to appear differently to others does not appear; but the fact is a matter of history that he never exposed his own religious life to those who had no sympathy with it. It is doubtful whether the clergymen of Springfield knew anything of these experiences. Very few of them were in political sympathy with him; and it is evident that he could open his heart to no one except under the most favorable circumstances. The fountain from which gushed up so grand and good a life was kept carefully covered from the eyes of the world. Its possessor looked into it often, but the careless or curious crowd were never favored with the vision. There was much in his conduct that was simply a cover to these thoughts—an attempt to conceal them. It is more than probable that, on separating with Mr. Bateman on this occasion, he met some old friend, and, departing by a single bound from his tearful melancholy and his sublime religious passion, he told him some story, or indulged in some jest, that filled his own heart with mirthfulness, and awoke convulsions of laughter in him who heard it.
These sudden and wide transitions of feeling were common with him. He lived for years a double life-a deep and a shallow one, Oppressed with great responsibilities, absorbed by the most profound problems relating to his own spirit and destiny, brought into sympathetic relation with the woes of the world, and living much in the very depths of a sadness whose natural fountain had been deepened by the experience of his life, he found no relief except by direct and entire translation to that other channel of his life which lay among his shallowest emotions. His sense of the ludicrous and the grotesque, of the witty and the funny, was really something wonderful; and when this sense was, appealed to by a story, or an incident, or a jest, he seemed to leave all his dignity aside, and give himself up to mirth with no more of self-restraint than if he were a boy of twelve years.
He resorted to this channel of life for relief. It was here that he won
strength for trial by forgetting trial. It was here that he restored the balance which sadness had destroyed. Such a nature and character seem full of contradictions; and a man who is subject to such transitions will always be a mystery to those who do not know him wholly. Thus no two men among his intimate friends will agree concerning him.
The writer has conversed with multitudes of men who claimed to know Mr. Lincoln intimately; yet there are not two of the whole number who agree in their estimate of him. The fact was that he rarely showed more than one aspect of himself to one man. 'He opened himself to men in different directions. It was rare that he exhibited what was religious in him; and he never did this at all, except when he found just the nature and character that were sympathetic with that aspect and element of his character. A great deal of his best, deepest, largest life he kept almost constantly from view, because he would not expose it to the eyes and apprehension of the careless multitude.
To illustrate the effect of the peculiarity of Mr. Lincoln's intercourse with men, it may be said that men who knew him through all his professional and political life have offered opinions as diametrically opposite as these, viz: that he was a very ambitious man, and that he was without a particle of ambition; that he was one of the saddest men that ever lived, and that he was one of the jolliest men that ever lived; that he was very religious, but that he was not a Christian; that he was a Christian, but did not know it; that he was so far from being a religious man or a Christian that “the less said upon that subject the better;” that he was the most cunning man in America, and that he had not a particle of cunning in him; that he had the strongest personal attachments, and that he had no personal attachments at all--only a general good feeling toward everybody; that he was a man of indomitable will, and that he was a man almost without a will; that he was a tyrant, and that he was the softest-hearted, most brotherly man that ever lived; that he was remarkable for his pure-mindedness, and that he was the foulest in his