Happy Birthday, Robert Ingersoll!

Statue of Robert G. Ingersoll in Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois

Robert G. Ingersoll, orator, lawyer, politician and Civil War veteran often called ‘The Great Agnostic’, was a very famous man in his time but rather forgotten today. He was born on August 11, 1833 and died almost 66 years later. Among other things, he was a vocal and consistent advocate for abolitionism, women’s rights, freethought, and scientific progress. While very liberal and broad-minded, he was a dedicated family man. While his views are as progressive as could be for a person if his time, he was what we might call a square. Besides his unabashed and very public religious skepticism, he lived a life that even Victorian standards would consider altogether decorous and blameless, despite frequent attempts to discredit his views by finding something scandalous to publish about his personal life.

Ingersoll was a great friend of many of the era’s most interesting and influential people including Walt Whitman and Thomas Edison, who made two recordings of his voice with his new invention, the audio recorder.

He was also an admirer and promoter of the memory of Thomas Paine. Though Paine was a founding father of the American cause for independence with his great pamphlet Common Sense and other writings, he had long fallen out of favor in American public memory following the publication of The Age of Reason, his diatribe against religious orthodoxy and superstition, as he perceived it.

Robert Ingersoll in 1868

In the time Ingersoll enjoyed fame as an orator, freethought ideas had become more acceptable as a matter of public discourse. It was still generally unacceptable to be an out-and-out atheist, but even these could become popular speakers if they were eloquent and interesting enough. In fact, they were often considered novel and exciting, and free speech was enjoying one of its heydays in the United States in this period sometimes called The Golden Age of Freethought. This was a time when public speakers provided a very popular form of entertainment. Many of that era’s important thinkers and activists made their living, or much of it, through public speaking: Ingersoll himself, abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass, and feminist, atheist, and civil rights activist Ernestine Rose among them. Rose was also a famous orator in her day, pre-dating Ingersoll by almost a generation but like him, eloquent, witty, and a champion of Paine. She generally spoke only of topics related to her social justice causes, but Ingersoll and Douglass, like many famous orators, spoke on a wide range of topics such as Shakespeare (both men were big fans), science, politics, and much more.

For more about the eloquent and brilliant Ingersoll, please see the links to excellent online sources and to my own writings about Ingersoll below. Last year, I followed the lives and ideas of Robert Ingersoll, Frederick Douglas, and Abraham Lincoln in Peoria, Illinois, where Ingersoll lived and worked for many years; all three men admired and were inspired by one another. It was a most fascinating journey.

By Amy Cools for Ordinary Philosophy:

Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, And Abraham Lincoln, Part 1
Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, And Abraham Lincoln, Part 2
Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, And Abraham Lincoln, Part 3

Review: The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought, by Susan Jacoby

By others:

Robert G. Ingersoll: American Politician ~ by the editors for Encyclopaedia Britannica

Robert Ingersoll, the ‘Great Agnostic’ ~ by John Kelly for The Washington Post

Robert Ingersoll: Intellectual and Moral Atlas ~ by Tom Malone for The Objective Standard

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) ~ at SecularHumanism.org

That Old-Time Irreligion: ‘The Great Agnostic,’ by Susan Jacoby ~ by Jennifer Michael Hecht for The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

*A version of this piece was previously published in Ordinary Philosophy

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), Annotated and Introduced by Eileen Hunt Botting

Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797, Portrait by John Opie, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction

The educated woman, with power over herself, can bring down the patriarchy for the betterment of all humanity

by Eileen Hunt Botting

The French Revolution was not enough. Mary Wollstonecraft wanted something more. She declared war against the patriarchy. She called for nothing less than ‘a revolution in female manners’. This revolution was not about how to set up or sit at the dinner table. It rather sought to overthrow the system of socialisation that made men and women prisoners of each other’s tyranny, rather than the virtuous companions whom they were meant to be.

Wollstonecraft waged her war in print. She targeted literary and intellectual giants – John Milton, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke – for propagating absurd and pernicious ideas about the innate inferiority and natural subordination of women to men. With her pointed wit, she eviscerated a host of second-rate writers whose views on female education derived from this triumvirate. She chortled: ‘Indeed the word masculine is only a bugbear.’ Then she gladly granted them their premise. Men and women obviously differed in their bodies. On the whole, women appeared to be physically weaker, but it did not follow that deeper differences of intellect or virtue prevailed between the sexes. With strikingly gender-neutral language, she contended: ‘Whatever effect circumstances have on the abilities, every being may become virtuous by the exercise of its own reason.’

Wollstonecraft identified education as the culprit behind the inequalities between men and women. Education influenced every aspect of life, for it began in the crib, long before one learned language or went to school. Parents gave dolls and mirrors to infant girls, while letting baby boys toddle freely outside. These gross differences in the socialisation of young children, Wollstonecraft saw, bore consequences that could hardly be overstated. ‘The grand misfortune is this,’ she soberly noted, ‘that they both acquire manners before morals, and a knowledge of life, before they have, from reflection, any acquaintance with the grand ideal outline of human nature.’ Yet people applauded the difference in manners that education produced between the sexes. Women came to see and present themselves as weak and meek, and all the more attractive to men for it.

Women’s ‘rights and manners’, she insisted, must be considered alongside each other. If women were raised to see and treat themselves as mere toys and playthings of men, then they could not possibly avail themselves of the historic opportunity for civic engagement that the French Revolution had brought to them. To bring women’s ‘rights and manners’ into concert, people had to reconceive ‘rights and duties’ as inseparable. Into the narrow rights talk of the time – the ‘rights of man’, the ‘rights of men’ – Wollstonecraft infused a rich vocabulary of ‘rights and duties’. A Rational Christian Dissenter, she derived all rights from fundamental, God-given duties. Like Immanuel Kant, however, she never claimed that all duties generate a corresponding right. In her system of ethics, duty enjoyed moral primacy.

Wollstonecraft’s moral emphasis on duty animated her revolutionary politics. In order for women’s rights to be respected, men had to fulfil their duties to respect their wives, daughters, mothers and other women in their lives. Women had to learn self-respect, and to seize more than the few, meagre opportunities that patriarchal society had availed them. Once women and men together exercised their duties for respect of self and others, they would be psychologically and socially capable of respecting and recognising one another’s rights in law and culture.

Wollstonecraft’s theory of equal rights and their political realisation requires a transformation of how men and women perceive and relate to each other. No longer could men view women as weak and dependent creatures, or mere toys and playthings for their sexual pleasure. No longer could women view men as their lords and masters, the rulers of their entire way of life. It began with a change in self-understanding, for both men and women. A psychological change of such depth would require reform of education on the deepest level too. Only comprehensive education and religion could accomplish this kind of change.

Wollstonecraft was a governess, a primary school teacher, and a disciple of the Dissenting Christian minister and abolitionist Richard Price. From these experiences – ordinary and extraordinary – she learned how to bring education and religion together to advance a cultural revolution that would make Burke quiver. It would push women to stand up and speak out alongside men as moral equals – deserving of the same civil and political rights and bound by the same God-given duties.

Six weeks of single-minded writing produced A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Published early in 1792, it was an instant international success. Although the title suggested its vindictiveness toward men’s mistreatment of women, its arguments are free from personal vitriol or bias toward her fellow women. Her core thesis was measured and even-handed: ‘I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.’

As we contest our own patriarchs in media wars on the internet, it is still time to heed her revolutionary message. The dedication and introduction of Wollstonecraft’s book lay out the first steps toward bringing down the patriarchy for the betterment of all humanity.

25 July, 2018

Read A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, annotated by Botting, at Aeon, where this introduction was originally published

~ Eileen Hunt Botting is professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Her books include Wollstonecraft, Mill, and Women’s Human Rights (2016) and Mary Shelley and the Rights of the Child: Political Philosophy in ‘Frankenstein’ (2017). (Bio credit: Aeon)

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

Happy Birthday, Bertrand Russell!

Betrand Russell in 1938, image public domain via Wikimedia CommonsBertrand Russell lived an extraordinarily long life, in which he did an extraordinary number of extraordinary things.

Encyclopedia Britannica introduces him thusly: ‘Bertrand Russell ….born May 18, 1872, Trelleck, Monmouthshire, Wales- died Feb. 2, 1970, Penrhyndeudraeth, Merioneth, [was a] British philosopher, logician, and social reformer, founding figure in the analytic movement in Anglo-American philosophy, and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Russell’s contributions to logic, epistemology, and the philosophy of mathematics established him as one of the foremost philosophers of the 20th century. To the general public, however, he was best known as a campaigner for peace and as a popular writer on social, political, and moral subjects. During a long, productive, and often turbulent life, he published more than 70 books and about 2,000 articles, married four times, became involved in innumerable public controversies, and was honoured and reviled in almost equal measure throughout the world…’

For myself, he was particularly influential to my younger freethinking self, disenchanted with the religion of my youth and seeking new and more satisfying ways of viewing the world. I read his History of Western Philosophy and Why I Am Not a Christian each several times over. I admire his clear, precise thinking and his principled anti-war stance which came at a significant cost, including jail time and loss of a prestigious job at the University of Chicago, and it’s always so enjoyable to watch him speak (you’ll find plenty of videos on YouTube) in his oh-so-aristocratic accent with a pipe often tucked into the corner of his mouth. He was not a perfect man, but he was never a less-than-fascinating one.

Learn more about the brilliant and idiosyncratic Bertrand Russell at:

Bertrand Russell – by Ray Monk for Encyclopedia Britannica

Bertrand Russell – by Andrew David Irvine for The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Various pieces on Bertrand Russell – by Maria Popova for Brain Pickings

*A version of this piece was previously published at Ordinary Philosophy

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

Remembering Margaret Fell

Margaret Fell, with George Fox before the judges, from a painting by J. Pettie 1663, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Fell with George Fox before the judges, from a painting by J. Pettie, 1663

Margaret Fell was born on some unknown date in 1614, so let’s take this occasion to remember her on the date of her death, April 23rd, 1702.

Fell’s lived a life as passionate as it was long. She was an unconventional thinker for her time, a zealous and progressive religious activist at times imprisoned for her beliefs, a prolific writer, well-traveled, a mother of eight children and a wife twice.

An early adherent and eloquent promoter of Quakerism, Fell is now considered one of its founders. She converted to Quakerism after hearing a sermon by one of its most charismatic preachers, George Fox, and almost immediately launched into a lifetime of hosting Quaker meetings and speaking out on behalf of her new religion. After her husband died some years later, Fell married Fox, probably more as a co-missionary than as a romantic partner since their work, travels, and imprisonments kept them apart for much of their marriage.

As I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the history of human rights, I’ve long admired the Quakers because, along with Unitarians and Deists, so many have been leaders in the struggle to expand, establish, and promote them. That’s because these faiths emphasize the importance of individual conscience, the primacy of the human mind, God’s rational nature, and the moral equality of all human beings.

Fell believed in the Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light which God has caused to shine equally in the hearts of all beings; all we need do is heed it. Therefore, one does not need ministers, priests, or any other authorities or intercessors to achieve salvation. And because God has created everyone for the same purpose and gave everyone that light, everyone is spiritually equal and capable of understanding and proclaiming the Truth. We can see how this doctrine, central to Quakerism, readily aligns with human rights movements centered on a belief human spiritual and intellectual equality. The right of women to speak in church and write religious texts, in her time limited to men, was a cause particularly dear to Fell’s heart. While Fell’s belief in the equality of women was limited to their role as spiritual beings, Quakerism tended to encourage ever-more progressive beliefs in its adherents. Over time, many Quakers came to be leaders in the abolitionist and pacifist movements, promoting the right of all to receive equal and universal education and for women’s rights in social and political spheres as well.

In light of her achievements as a female religious pioneer, and the human rights advances facilitated by the Quaker faith she helped found, Fell’s contributions should continue to be remembered and celebrated.

*A version of this piece has been previously published at Ordinary Philosophy

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sources and inspiration

Broad, Jacqueline, ‘Margaret Fell‘, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Jacoby, Susan. Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion. New York: Pantheon, 2016 (see the chapter on Margaret Fell)

New Podcast Episode: Springfield, Illinois, in Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 3

1880’s Italianate building at the former site of the American House Hotel at 6th and Adams, Springfield, Illinois, renovated and restored by its current occupants, Delano Law Offices

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017, continued

After my visit to the Old State House, I notice one of those Looking for Lincoln historical placards on a building to my left as I walk towards my next destination. It’s an attractive three-story red and yellow brick Italianate building from the later 1800’s, too late to be from Lincoln’s time. I draw near and read the placard and the small house-shaped bronze plaque near it.

This building stands at the southeast corner of 6th and Adams, on the former site of the American House Hotel. It was the largest hotel in Illinois, admired for its huge size and praised for its lavish, exotic, ‘Turkish’ interior design. Despite its reputation and the fact that it was the hotel of choice for dignitaries and the better-off, there doesn’t seem to be any easy-to-find photos of it. There’s one on the placard of the Old State House with the plain white walls of the three-story, rather plain Hotel in the distance, but that’s about it. I can find no photos of its splendiferous interior either. It stood here from 1838-1870, a little too long ago for me to find a postcard image of it, my tried and true source type for images of historic buildings… Read the written version here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 1

Abraham Lincoln portrait head, cast of Gutzon Borglum model for Mount Rushmore at Tower Park, Peoria Heights. Other versions of this sculpture are at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, the Lincoln Tomb, and the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017

I awake in a spotlessly clean, perfectly comfortable, aggressively unimaginative Motel 6 hotel room on the north end of Peoria, Illinois. I’ve noticed that Motel 6’s are much better than they used to be when I was a child and young adult, at least in terms of cleanliness and amenities. They were never glamorous, but they now have less character. For many years, for example, the beds sported these wonderfully colorful blankets printed with stylized images of famous cities and landscapes all over the United States. Now, the rooms and draperies are beige highlighted with rust-orange, furnished with the plainest of midcentury-style designs, angular objects only occasionally relieved by a sleek curve here and there.

My term for this sort of accommodation is ‘people storage’: strictly utilitarian, uninspired, and uninspiring. Perhaps that’s a good thing for my purposes: I fled the room as soon as I could to place myself in a more interesting environment. Still, I’m irritated as I so often am with modern architecture and interior design. Why have we stopped bothering to go on artistic flights of fancy, then directing the inspirations found there towards making these things beautiful?

My first destination is a quick stop to see a bust of Abraham Lincoln at Tower Park in Peoria Heights… Read the written version here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

 

Springfield, Illinois, in Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 3

1880’s Italianate building at the former site of the American House Hotel at 6th and Adams, Springfield, Illinois, renovated and restored by its current occupants, Delano Law Offices

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017, continued

After my visit to the Old State House, I notice one of those Looking for Lincoln historical placards on a building to my left as I walk towards my next destination. It’s an attractive three-story red and yellow brick Italianate building from the later 1800’s, too late to be from Lincoln’s time. I draw near and read the placard and the small house-shaped bronze plaque near it.

This building stands at the southeast corner of 6th and Adams, on the former site of the American House Hotel. It was the largest hotel in Illinois, admired for its huge size and praised for its lavish, exotic, ‘Turkish’ interior design. Despite its reputation and the fact that it was the hotel of choice for dignitaries and the better-off, there doesn’t seem to be any easy-to-find photos of it. There’s one on the placard of the Old State House with the plain white walls of the three-story, rather plain Hotel in the distance, but that’s about it. I can find no photos of its splendiferous interior either. It stood here from 1838-1870, a little too long ago for me to find a postcard image of it, my tried and true source type for images of historic buildings.

Battle of Stillman’s Run Site in Stillman Valley, Illinois, USA, by Ben Jacobson, 2007, via Wikimedia Commons

The American House Hotel was built by Captain Elijah Iles (who was also buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery), who also had the distinction of being the owner of the oldest house that still stands in Springfield and of being Abraham Lincoln’s commander in the Black Hawk War. Lincoln was also elected captain in that war for a time, of which he was very proud, but the lanky 23-year old youth never saw combat. He did, however, help to bury some of the men who did and died for it. There’s a monument at the site of the Battle of Stillman’s Run that memorializes the men who died and that particular man who helped bury them. I find the words on the monument rather interesting: ‘The presence of the soldier, statesman, martyr Abraham Lincoln assisting in the burial of these honored dead has made this spot more sacred.’ Lincoln himself said in his address at the battlefield of Gettysburg ‘…We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.’ So if Lincoln saw the words on this monument, he would likely look at them askance. But as the Stillman Run’s monument says, Lincoln is himself among the slain, slain in another struggle perhaps, but no less a patriotic one. So it seems he does qualify as a consecrator of sacred ground, too, according to the terms he laid out in the Gettysburg Address.

Looking for Lincoln placard at the former site of the American House Hotel at 6th and Adams, Springfield, Illinois

Lincoln may have visited the American House Hotel on at least two occasions, though there’s no evidence that I could find, again, besides local lore repeated in blogs and in the Looking for Lincoln book and placard. One purported occasion was the November 1838 grand opening dinner, which served 200 people. The other was the time that former president Martin Van Buren came to Springfield for a visit in June of 1842. Van Buren was on tour seeking to revive his political career. According to that legend, Lincoln was called upon to help welcome and entertain Van Buren while he was visiting his cousin in the vicinity of nearby Rochester, Illinois. He spent a day there tickling Van Buren and company’s ribs with his jokes and anecdotes. (See what I did there? That’s my own little joke, leaving the sentence constructed that way so that you’re left with the weird mental image of Van Buren being tickled.) The next day, the tradition goes, Lincoln escorted him to the Hotel.

The Tinsley Building, aka the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office Historic Site, Springfield, Illinois. You can just see the Old State House in the background to the right. It’s currently closed for renovations, but historically it’s been open for tours.

I turn towards the destination I was initially headed for: the Tinsley Building, now called the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office State Historic Site, right across the street. This large, handsome Greek-Revival red brick building was built in 1840-1841 at the southwest corner of 6th and Adams Streets. S.M. Tinsley & Co’s retail business occupied part of the two lower floors, which were also occupied by the U.S. Post Office (1st floor) and the U.S. Federal Court (2nd floor). The third floor was rented out as offices.

William Henry Herndon, 1818-1891, halftone reproduction of photoprint by L.C. Handy Studios, Library of Congress

When this mixed-use building was only about three years old, Lincoln and his senior law partner Stephen T. Logan moved their successful practice to the grander accommodations in the Tinsley Building’s large third-floor front office. Their joint practice here only lasted from the summer of 1843 to early winter of 1844, when Logan opted to practice with his son instead. Lincoln kept the large front office while the Logans moved to another in the same building, and he offered a partnership to William H. Herndon, a relatively inexperienced but intelligent, studious young lawyer. Herndon jumped at the chance since by this time Lincoln was very well known and respected. In fact, many were surprised at Lincoln’s choice: at this point, Lincoln could have had his pick of many distinguished local lawyers. But Lincoln wanted to be the senior partner this time. As Herndon and many others described him, Lincoln had great confidence in his own abilities and his own unique way of doing things. So it’s no surprise in that regard that Lincoln preferred to take the lead role this time around.

Two views of the Lincoln-Herndon Historic Site / Tinsley Building

Lincoln and Herndon knew each other for a long time. Herndon’s father Abner G. Herndon was one of the Long Nine, the 1836-37 Illinois State Legislature which was responsible for moving the state capital to Springfield. Lincoln was twenty-seven, young Herndon seventeen when Lincoln became one of his father’s co-legislators. After the legislature adjourned that spring, Lincoln moved to Springfield on April 15th, 1837, and lived for a time in Joshua Speed’s room over his store. Herndon roomed with them for a time, too, and worked for Speed as a clerk. While Lincoln was serving in the legislature, he was also teaching himself law and had obtained his license the previous fall. Lincoln came to Springfield to establish a practice and inquired about the cost of a bed, a mattress, and their accouterments. He couldn’t afford the named priced so Speed offered to let him share his bed and room upstairs since Lincoln didn’t have a home yet either. The awkward, unrefined, autodidact, perennially broke Lincoln and the handsome, cultivated, well-educated son of wealthy parents Speed became very close friends. I’ll return to that story soon.

Lincoln the Circuit Rider by Fred M. Torrey, 1930, bronze sculpture at the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois

Herndon and Lincoln also became very good friends, Lincoln with a fatherly affection, Herndon admiringly. Their partnership was successful and harmonious, despite the fact that neither of them were orderly with their paperwork or tidy in their office. Perhaps their harmoniousness was enhanced by the fact that Lincoln was often away ‘riding the circuit.’ Most practitioners of law, in order to make a sufficient living, found it necessary to travel throughout their judicial district to argue and hear local cases. Lincoln was the public face of Lincoln & Herndon, meeting with clients, arguing their cases in court, and writing the most important legal documents. Herndon did the research, wrote the minor documents, ran the errands, and did whatever other odd tasks which arose. Lincoln, however, insisted on dividing all of the practice’s income equally between the two of them.

Their Tinsley building office was somewhat sparsely furnished, the tables covered with green oilcloth and strewn with papers and books, mostly Herndon’s. Lincoln, famously, frequently had his nose buried in a book when he was a boy. According to Herndon and to my surprise, however, Lincoln read far less often in his adulthood. In fact, wrote Herndon, ‘Lincoln… read less and thought more than any man in his sphere in America.’ What Lincoln did read, however, he remembered. It seems, then, that Lincoln’s considerable ability was based at least as much as what he did with what he read than with the amount. He enriched and expanded the knowledge gained from what he did read with the greater amount of time he spent in thinking, in writing, and in conversation.

First Street Presbyterian Church at S 7th St and E Capitol Ave, Springfield, Illinois. The Lincoln’s pew from the church’s location in their time is preserved here.

I zigzag southwest a couple of blocks to the First Presbyterian Church at 321 S. Seventh St at E. Capitol Ave. The Lincolns attended services at First Presbyterian from about 1850 to 1860, when the Lincolns left for Washington, D.C. But there are two details to note. One, they never attended services at this exact church, since it was built two years after Mary died, but this church does contain and preserve their original pew from the old location. Two, though Mary formally joined the congregation out of enthusiasm for its new minister, Reverend Dr. James Smith, Abraham never did. Lincoln paid the yearly rent for the pew, attended at times with his family, and became good friends with Smith, but he did not join.

Lincoln’s religiosity has been a subject of much debate during his lifetime and up to the present day. Atheists, agnostics, and deists often emphasize the strong skepticism he evinced during his younger years and his admiration for Thomas Paine, who was notorious for his Age of Reason attack on Christianity and all organized religion. Lincoln rarely alluded to Christ in word or in writing, or to God in any denominational sense, and he was unwilling to join any church. In fact, he never did. His friend, law partner, and later biographer Herndon also emphasized Lincoln’s freethinking ways, to the dismay and anger of many of his friends, family, and supporters. On the other hand, Christians often emphasize his frequent Biblical quotations, the fact that he did go to church with his family somewhat regularly when his schedule allowed, his regular allusions to God in letters and especially in public speeches, and his frequent Biblical quotes. He also seemed to become much more religiously inclined in his later years.

So each of these groups likes to claim the great Lincoln as one of their own, each minimizing evidence from the other side of the argument or dismissing it altogether. The truth is, Lincoln was very private about his religious beliefs. I think this is because one, he was a canny and ambitious politician in a religious age, so he was loath to make overt statements of unorthodoxy or of strict adherence to one particular creed and thus hurt his chances of election to public office; second, though he did not ascribe to any particular creed, he often had feelings that were generally considered religious and over the years, he increasingly felt the need for religious comfort and became convinced of the truth of some religious arguments; and third, he was a private man about his inner life generally, and it’s clear he believed that matters of conscience and belief belonged to this category. Because he was private about his religious convictions, because he was a complex and subtle thinker, and because his views changed over time, I think it’s a mistake to try and fix Lincoln in any category of belief, with the possible exception of ‘freethinker.’ Though ‘freethinker’ has connotations of hostility to religion to some, the term’s literal meaning, and the way it was used more then, most closely reflects what we do know about Lincoln’s beliefs, and can include the ways this changed over time. Freethinker can encompass Lincoln’s early skepticism, his religious questioning, and his later status as a religious believer who nevertheless refused to align himself with any system of religious orthodoxy as a matter of principle.

First Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois, at the southeast corner of Third and Washington, Springfield, Illinois, which the Lincolns attended from 1850-1860.

In his published eulogy for Lincoln, U.S. Representative Henry Champion Deming wrote: ‘[Lincoln] said, he had never united himself to any church, because he found difficulty in giving his assent, without mental reservation, to the long complicated statements of Christian doctrine, which characterize their Articles of belief and Confessions of Faith. “When any church,” he continued, “will inscribe over its altar, as its sole qualification for membership the Saviour’s condensed statement of the substance of both law and Gospel, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself, that church I will join with all my heart and all my soul.”‘ Presumably, since there was no such established church which had a formal membership, he never joined one.

I zigzag a little farther southeast to a particularly significant site to get the lay of the land, so to speak. It’s early evening and open hours are ended, so I’ll be returning tomorrow for a proper visit. I’ll wait to tell you all about it in that account.

Former site of the Globe Tavern, Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s first home together, at about 306 E Adams St, Springfield, Illinois

I head northwest, this time zigzagging a little haphazardly, to E Adams between 3rd and 4th Sts. On the north side of E Adams, at 315 where a parking lot is now, is the former site of the Globe Tavern. This is the first place the newlywed Lincolns lived in Springfield. They moved in on their wedding night on November 4th, 1842, and lived there until May 2nd, 1844. Their first son, Robert, was born here almost exactly nine months after their wedding, on August 1st, 1843.

It was a very nice tavern, and contrary to the common view that these accommodations would have been too humble for Mary Todd’s accustomed lifestyle, it was the first place that many newlyweds in her family stayed. According to the journal article ‘The Lincoln’s Globe Tavern’ by James T. Hickey and his co-authors,

In starting their married life at the Globe Tavern, the Lincolns were in fact following a precedent set by other members of Mary Lincoln’s family. John Todd Stuart, her cousin and Lincoln’s first law partner, had taken his bride there in November, 1837; Dr. William S. Wallace and Mary’s sister Frances also lived there after their marriage, on May 21st, 1839. The Wallaces stayed there more than three years, and it was into their recently vacated rooms that the Lincolns moved. These rooms were in the addition that fronted on Adams Street.

The Globe Tavern, former residence of the Lincolns and Robert Lincoln’s birthplace, photo by S.M. Fassett 1865, Library of Congress

Myers Building at former site of J. Speed’s store & Lincoln’s last law office, Springfield, Illinois

I head next to the Myers Building at the southwest corner of E Washington and S 5th Streets. In April 1837, Lincoln moved to Springfield. The legislative session had ended and Lincoln was ready to get going on practicing law, for which he’d been preparing the last two and a half years. He arrived here at A.Y. Ellis & Co’s store to inquire about the cost of a bed and its trappings. The clerk he found there ready to help him was not his old New Salem friend Ellis he had come to see, it was Ellis’ business partner, Joshua Fry Speed. Speed must have seen something he liked in Lincoln, and besides, there was a housing shortage in Springfield. So he offered to let Lincoln share his bed and his room upstairs. Lincoln accepted with alacrity and settled right in, and Lincoln and Speed became the closest of friends over the next almost-four years until Speed moved back to his native Kentucky in January of 1841. For a while, these two close friends stayed in contact, especially about their respective uncertain love lives, and then they mostly fell out of touch until Lincoln became the Republican Presidential nominee. Speed, the son of slaveowners and a conservative Louisville Democrat, wrote a warm letter of congratulations to Lincoln when he was elected President, and placed himself firmly on the side of his dear old friend. He worked with Lincoln and others to make sure that Kentucky, a border state split between Union and pro-slavery factions, was not lost to the Confederacy.

Buildings which included Joshua Fry Speed and Abner Y. Ellis’ grocery store on the ground floor. Speed, Lincoln, and Herndon’s living quarters were in a second-floor front room (with another man, Charles Hurst) and later, the second Lincoln & Herndon office was in a second floor rear room, at S. 5th St / SW Old State Capitol Plaza and E. Washington St, Springfield, IL. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Louisville, by the way, was the native town of my grandfather, within whom that old battle was still raging. Though I had never seen it manifested in the way he interacted with people, I had always been convinced of his entrenched and intractable racism because of his political and social views. I was convinced, that is, until I beheld the tenderness and affection with which he held and regarded his black great-grandson, just as he did with all the other kids in our large extended family. That’s when I became convinced that the racism I had perceived for so long was an ingrained habit, a cultural residue that could not overcome his natural kindliness and deep sense of family. I like to think that it was just so with Lincoln, except that for him, his ascendency to the Presidency made the entire nation, in a very important sense, his family, black, white, and all.

To be continued…

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Sources and inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln Online: The Gettysburg Address and Lincoln Timelines and Highlights

Andreasen, Bryon C. Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: Lincoln’s Springfield. Southern Illinois University Press, 2015

Bakke, Dave. ‘Springfield Man [Randy von Liski] Focuses Photo Hobby on Classic Barbershops.’ The State Journal-Register, Oct 15, 2010

Brink, McCormick & Co. ‘Springfield Township, Springfield City.‘ from Atlas of Sangamon County, 1874.

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Central Springfield Historic District‘ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Prepared by Nicholas P. Kalogeresis for the National Park Service.

Deming, Henry Champion. ‘Eulogy of Abraham Lincoln: before the General Assembly of Connecticut, at Allyn Hall, Hartford, Thursday, June 8th, 1865.’ Hartford: A.N. Clark & Co. State Printers, 1985

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Elijah Iles‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Hart, Dick. ‘Lincoln’s Springfield: Hotels and Taverns.’ Lincoln’s Springfield blog

Havlik, Robert J. ‘Abraham Lincoln and the Reverend Dr. James Smith: Lincoln’s Presbyterian Experience in Springfield.Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-) Vol. 92, No. 3, A Lincoln Issue (Autumn, 1999), pp. 222-237

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

History of Sangamon County, Illinois; Together with Sketches of its Cities, Villages and Townships … Portraits of Prominent Persons, and Biographies of Representative Citizens. Chicago: Interstate Publishing Co.,  1881

Illinois, Springfield: Tinsley Building. Excerpts from newspapers and other sources compiled by the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1993

Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln’s Confidential Agent in Kentucky.The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 52, No. 179 (April, 1954), pp. 99-110

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

The Lincolns’ Globe Tavern: A Study in Tracing the History of a Nineteenth-Century Building‘, by James T. Hickey, George W. Spotswood, C. G. Saunders and Sarah Beck, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) Vol. 56, No. 4 (Winter, 1963), pp. 629-653

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. Website, National Park Service

Looking for Lincoln: various historical/informational placards throughout the Springfield, Illinois and surrounding areas about the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln at their associated sites

Martin Van Buren meets Abraham Lincoln.SangamonLink: History of Sangamon County, Illinois, Apr 13, 2013

Temple, Wayne C. ‘Herndon on Lincoln: An Unknown Interview with a List of Books in the Lincoln & Herndon Law Office.Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-) Vol. 98, No. 1/2 (Spring – Summer, 2005), pp. 34-50

von Liski, Randy. ‘Commercial Building (American House hotel site), 200 S. 6th Street, Springfield, Illinois.‘ My Old Postcards Flickr page