Questions about Chiniquy

Earlier this year, I was asked a question by a gentleman living on the US east coast. He brought up the fact that a letter by William Herndon had surfaced and wondered about what Lincoln’s former law partner had to say in it about the 16th President’s beliefs,
I explained that the Raab Collection letter he had brought up was dated 1866 and that I had contacted Steven Raab, who had kindly furnished me with some further information. Mr. Raab detailed that the letter was dated February 4, 1866, and was written to Edward McPherson, Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. He also sent a commentary and the text of the letter. I found that what I received was slightly confusing though, I would have preferred to have had a photocopy of the letter itself.
I explained that, in the letter, Herndon is quoted, as I understand it, saying that Lincoln “is or was a Theist & a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary – supernatural inspiration or revelation.”
What he says and when he says it seems a bit strange. I said in my volume, in Appendix 2, page 244, ‘In addition, even after Lincoln’s death, Herndon’s opinion of his partner’s views on spiritual things apparently shifted over time. In 1866 he declared, “Some men think that Mr. Lincoln did scoff and sneer at the Bible. This is not so; he had no scoff–nor sneer, for even a sacred error; he had charity for all and everything.”
Three years later though, he told Lamon “Mr. Lincoln was an infidel–a Deist–wrote a book…in favor of Infidelity &c.–that sometimes…he was an atheist…He held in contempt the Idea of God’s Special interference &c. &c.” ’
My statement regarding what Herndon declared in 1866 comes from David Donald’s book Lincoln’s Herndon, which refers to a draft of a letter from Herndon to someone named Hart on November 26, 1866. I haven’t seen a copy of either of these 1866 letters. It might be that the date of the letter spoken of in the Donald book was wrong, possibly it was written before the Raab Collection letter. If it isn’t, then they would seem to show that Herndon went back and forth between two contradictory positions or he would say one thing to one person and another to someone else. As I have stated, his thinking was rather strange when it came to his law partner, in this area. I don’t think the letter changes too much, it possibly shows further how contradictory Herndon’s statements were as to Lincoln’s beliefs. He didn’t know about Lincoln’s faith during the latter part of his life so he doesn’t really have anything to say about that. The question then is whether Lincoln was an infidel in the earlier part of his life, which I discuss in the book.
It was an interesting question from this gentleman and I appreciate it.

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