The evidence is conclusive that reliance on Chiniquy was unfortunate, for his claims were baseless. Chiniquy did meet Lincoln in 1856, and he did engage Lincoln's services as an attorney. But the facts of the trial bear little resemblance to the account presented in Fifty Years in the Church of Rome.

According to Chiniquy, the Bishop of Chicago, Chiniquy's superior, had induced a land speculator named Peter Spink to bring charges of immorality against Chiniquy in 1855. Chiniquy said that the court found him innocent but that Spink obtained a change of venue. Chiniquy was then re-tried, he said, at Urbana. At that time Lincoln was hired as defense attorney and was influential in producing a key witness from Chicago who exposed Spink as a perjurer. After the acquittal, according to Chiniquy, Lincoln declared, "Jesuits never forget nor forsake." [32]

The court records and attorneys' notes from that trial contradict almost every point in Chiniquy's autobiography. The original documents show that Spink v. Chiniquy involved little more than a personal feud between two embittered friends. Peter Spink, the plaintiff in the case, charged in his complaint that "on or about the 10th day of January A.D. 1854" he was accused by Chiniquy, "in a public assembly," of committing perjury. Apparently the public assembly was a church service, and Chiniquy, then a priest, had announced to his congregation that Spink, a land speculator, was advising clients to enter public lands on which French-Canadians had cut timber. Spink's plan, Chiniquy told his parishioners, was to make the French-Canadians pay for the wood. Spink charged that the accusation was "false and malicious" and had caused his clients to lose confidence in him. As a result Spink was unable "to do business as before, wherefore he was greatly injured and sustained great damage." Spink further charged that the priest had "at divers times before the instituting of this suit - slandered and defamed this deponent." Those statements are recorded in the official complaint, "Sworn and Enscribed," on February 3, 1855, in the circuit court of Kankakee County. [33] The official charge brought by Spink was slander, not immorality. The Bishop of Chicago (who was not, in any case, Chiniquy's superior) had nothing to do with the complaint. The trial was shifted, as Chiniquy said, from Kankakee to Urbana, but before, not after, the first court proceedings. There was first a mistrial, and the jury chosen for the second hearing could not agree. Lincoln then became Chiniquy's attorney. In the words of his friend H. C. Whitney, Lincoln "abhorred that class of litigation [slander]," and was influential in bringing about a compromise before a third trial. [34] A statement of agreement, in Lincoln's handwriting, is extant. It reads:

This day came the parties and the defendant denies that he has ever charged, or believed the plaintiff to be guilty of Perjury; that whatever he has said, from which such a charge could be inferred, he said on the information of others, protesting his own disbelief in the charge; and that he now disclaims any belief in the truth of such charge against said plaintiff -- It is therefore, by agreement of the parties, ordered that this suit be dismissed, each party paying his own cost -- the defendant to pay his part of the cost heretofore ordered to be paid by said plaintiff. [35]

It is difficult to believe that Chiniquy and Lincoln would have had reason or occasion at Urbana for a discussion of the evils of the Catholic church -- which in any case had no connection with the trial. [36]

Chiniquy's accounts of later visits with Lincoln and discussions of religion and fears of Catholic plots against the President's life are equally unreliable. David Davis had warned in 1866 that Lincoln was a "secretive man." That Lincoln would discuss his religious views with strangers Davis considered "absurd". [37] John G. Nicolay, writing shortly after Lincoln's death, asserted that he had never heard Lincoln explain his religious view's. [38] If such close associates of the President's as Davis and Nicolay never heard Lincoln speak of his religious views, it is not likely that Chiniquy would have had long theological discussions with him. Moreover, there is no available documentary evidence that Chiniquy was friendly with Lincoln or visited with him privately in Washington.

According to Fifty Years in the Church of Rome, Chiniquy visited Lincoln in August, 1861, and June, 1862. At the first interview Chiniquy claimed that the President not only spoke of the evils of Catholicism but offered his friend a secretaryship in the American legation in Paris. On September 29, 1862, three months after the second meeting was supposed to have taken place, Chiniquy wrote to Lincoln and thanked him for services rendered in Urbana in 1856. Nothing was mentioned of any meeting in Washington or any offer of a position for Chiniquy in the foreign service. The letter, preserved in the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection in the Library of Congress, reads:

MR. PRESIDENT,
I have the honor [and] the pleasure of forwarding to You the adress of my countrymen adopted in a meeting of our whole Colony.
Our gratitude for the good you are doing to our beloved & bleeding Country, is increased by the great services you have rendered me personally, in a very solemn circumstance, at Urbana, Ill.
I have then, a double reason to bless the name of Abraham Lincoln, & to assure you of the respect & devotedness with which I have the h[onor] to subscribe myself, Mr. President,
Yr. Nble Servant,
CHARLES CHINIQUY
[39]

One finds it difficult to believe that the author of this letter was the confidant described in Fifty Years in the Church of Rome. It is safe to assert that the two men never shared long friendly conversations at any time -- especially between May 23, 1856, and September 29,1862.

Chiniquy's autobiography is more specific about his reported third and last visit to Lincoln, which, he said, took place on June 8, 1864. According to Chiniquy, he was invited to return on June 9 for Lincoln's official notification of renomination by the Republican party. Chiniquy said that he attended the affair, and his descriptions of the Republican delegations conform to the newspaper reports. [40] Chiniquy claimed that he was invited by the President to return the following day, June 10. On that day, Chiniquy said, the two men visited a number of hospitals, and later at the White House had their final conversation about the Bible and the evils of Romanism.

Chiniquy may have attended the ceremony on June 9 and may have met with the President on June 10. If so, it was not as an old friend of Lincoln's, however. The Robert Todd Lincoln Collection contains a letter of June 10, 1864, from one A. Chester to the President. [41] The letter is a request for funds for the school operated by Chiniquy in Kankakee County. [42] In the note Chester expresses his "high appreciation" of Chiniquy's character and commends him to Lincoln "as worthy of your highest confidence -- a man and a Preacher of ability and integrity whom you cannot too much encourage." Chester is clearly not writing about an old friend of the President's. Along with Chester's note is one from Chiniquy, also dated June 10. It reads:

MY DEAR MR. LINCOLN,
It was my privilege, yesterday, to bless you in the name of ten [?] thousand French Canadians settled in our Colony of Illinois. To day, I approach you to offer you a new oportunity of doing one of the things you like the more; and by which your life has been filled: "a good action."
In the Providence of God I have brought some six hundred families of my countrymen from the errors of Rome; to the Knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. Now, I am trying to give to the Children of those converts the best possible Christian & American education, and I have founded a College: "The Saviour's College" where about 130 boys & girls are taught to serve their God & love their country.
But, alone, I can not meet all the expenses of that new Institution. Our Presbytery have advised me to make an appeal to our Freinds [sic] in Washington. The eminent services you have already rendered me, gives me, surely, the privilege of looking to you as our first & noblest Freind.
It is then to you that we go first to get some help for the education of that colony which has already sent more than 150 men to the defense of the Country. 12 of them have shed their blood on the battle Fields of the West.
For God's sake, My dear Mr. Lincoln, do receive with your usual Kindness, my humble requests
and Believe me.
Your most devoted Servant,
C. CHINIQUY
My residence in Washington is 58th Missoury [sic] Ave.

No reference is made of past intimate conversations. Nothing in the letter suggests that two old friends from the Illinois prairies might have spent the day visiting wounded soldiers or holding a long conversation on theology. Lincoln did visit hospitals in and about Washington while he was President, but there is no record that he did so on June 10, 1864. Also, he never visited more than one hospital on any of the days listed for that activity in Lincoln Day by Day. On the evening of June 10, 1864, the President met with Orville H. Browning and discussed an Illinois patronage matter. [43] Lincoln may have met with Chiniquy that evening, but there is no evidence of it. If such an interview did occur, the subject was probably Chiniquy's request for money.

It is clear that Charles Chiniquy met Lincoln in 1856 in Urbana and engaged his legal services. The facts of the case differ significantly, however, from those reported in Chiniquy's autobiography. As to the three separate interviews in Washington, it is reasonable to assume that the first two never took place. If a third did occur, it was for the purpose of obtaining a charitable contribution from the President. One may also conclude that Lincoln never offered Chiniquy a post in the foreign service, nor did he engage the former priest in long conversations about the Bible and assassination plots. [44]

As the by-no-means-exhaustive list of pamphlets and books cited in this essay suggests, Chiniquy's charges against the Catholic church will be kept alive by sectarian battlers disposed to believe what was said in Fifty Years in the Church of Rome. [45] Scholars, however, even when tempted to use less sensational passages from Chiniquy's book, should be wary. There is no evidence to support his claim that he was a close friend of the Sixteenth President.

 



FOOTNOTES

[1] Guldner to Nicolay, Oct. 30, 1891, John G. Nicolay Papers, Library of Congress.

[2] Nicolay to Guldner, Dec. 3, 1891, ibid.

[3] Nicolay did plan to incorporate the item in a projected volume of spurious Lincoln quotations. After Nicolay died, his daughter gave his notes to the Library of Congress. See, David C. Mearns, "Our Reluctant Contemporary: Abraham Lincoln", Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, 6 (1950), 77-78.

[4] Charles P.T. Chiniquy, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome, 43rd ed. (New York: Fleming H. Ravelle Co., 1886), pp. 692-96 (all references in this article are to the forty-third edition). The volume was first published in 1885, in both French and English. The first English edition was printed by the Craig and Barlow Publishing Company of Chicago. Marcel Trudel, Chiniquy (Trois Rivieres, Quebec: Editions du Bien Publiques, 1955), pp. xxi-xxii.
An examination of other editions of Fifty Years in the Church of Rome reveals that the editions vary only in the dedication pages. See, for example, the third edition--published in 1886 by William Drysdale & Co. of Montreal--and the forty-second edition--published in 1892 by the Craig Press of Chicago.
Chiniquy apparently was active in advertising the volume. The Illinois State Historical Library (hereinafter cited as ISHL) owns Mr. Editor, a broadside dated July 13, 1885, which was sent by Chiniquy to newspaper editors. The broadside warned of the dangers of Romanism, identified chapters about Abraham Lincoln, and requested a copy of the review when published. In a handwritten note at the bottom of the broadside, Chiniquy asked the editor to "give the book such criticism it deserves."

[5] New York Times, Jan. 17, 1899.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Chiniquy, Fifty Years, pp. 654-57, 664.

[8] Ibid, pp. 691-92. For Morse's anti-Catholicism, see G.H.G. [George Harvey Genzmer], "Morse, Samuel Finley Breese", Dictonary of American Biography (1984).

[9] Chiniquy, Fifty Years, pp. 692-93.

[10] Ibid., pp. 693-96.

[11] Ibid., p. 698.

[12] Ibid., pp. 698-709.

[13] Fulton, Washington in the Lap of Rome (Boston: W. Kellaway, 1888), pp. iii, 115-35.

[14] J.D.W. [John D. Wade], "Fulton, Justin Dewey", Dictionary of American Biography (1931).

[15] Winifred Ernest Garrison, The March of Faith: The Story of Religion in America since 1865 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971), pp. 211-12.

[16] W.H.B. [W.H. Burr], The Murder of Abraham Lincoln: Planned and Executed by Jesuit Priests (Indianapolis: Ironclad Age, 1893).

[17] Harris, Rome's Responsibility for the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (Pittsburgh: Willams Publishing Co., 1897), pp. 6, 34.

[18] McCarty, The Suppressed Truth about the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (Philadelphia: Burke McCarty, Pub., 1924), pp. 43-52.

[19] Ibid., p. 69.

[20] Charles Chiniquy, Assassination of Lincoln (Milan, Ill.: Rail Splitter Press [1921]), pp. 1, 32.

[21] Thomas P. Meehan, "Lincoln's Opinion of Catholics", Historical Records and Studies of the United States Catholic Historical Society, 16 (1924), 88.

[22] Fish, "Lincoln and Catholicism", American Historical Review, 29 (1924). 723-24.

[23] M. H. Wilcoxon, Abraham Lincoln's Vow Against the Catholic Church (Milan, Ill.: Rail Splitter Press, 1928).

[24] Roy P. Basler, ed., Lloyd Dunlap and Marion Dolores Pratt, asst. eds., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. 1953-1955) - hereinafter cited as Collected Works. Neither is there any reference to Chiniquy in the supplement to the Collected Works, published twenty-one years later: Basler, ed,. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: Supplement 1832-1865 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974).

[25] Fulton, Lincoln's Assassination (Minneapolis: 0sterhus Pub. House [I960]), p. 2.

[26] McLoughlin, An Inquiry into the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1963). p. 8.

[27] Trudel, pp. 306-07.

[28] Barton, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1920), p. 188; Barton, "Abraham Lincoln and the Eucharistic Congress", The Outlook, 143 (1926), 375.

[29] Barton, Soul of Abraham Lincoln, p. 196; Barton, "Abraham Lincoln and the Eucharistic Congress", p. 375.

[30] Lewis, Myths After Lincoln (New York: Harcourt, 1929), pp. 343-45.

[31] Hertz, Abraham Lincoln: A New Portrait (New York: Horace Liveright, 1931), 1, 55-56. See also Edgar DeWitt Jones, Lincoln and the Preachers (1948; rpt. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1970), pp. 27-28; Clarence Edward Macartney, Lincoln and the Bible (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1949), pp. 92-96. A more recent student of Lincoln's religious views, William J. Wolf, was suspicious of Chiniquy but believed that he "did have interviews" with the President. See Wolf, The Almost Chosen People: A Study of the Religion of Abraham Lincoln (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959), p. 26.

[32] Chiniquy, Fifty Years, pp. 617-42, 653-61, 664.

[33] "Complaint of Peter Spink, Feb. 3, 1855," photostat, Spink v. Chiniquy file, ISHL. Henry Clay Whitney stated in 1892 that Chiniquy's offending statement was made in a sermon. Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln. Introduction and notes by Paul M. Angle (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1940), pp. 73-75.

[34] Whitney, p. 75. Spink petitioned for the change of venue; he claimed that he could not receive a fair trial in Kankakee because of "the prejudice of the judge." See "Petition of Peter Spink," Nov. 13,1855, photostat, Spink v. Chiniquy File, ISHL.

[35] "Peter Spink vs. Charles Chiniquy [1856]", Herndon-Weik MSS. Library of Congress (microfilm in ISHL). The ISHL Lincoln Collection contains a photostat of a second copy, mostly in Lincoln's handwriting, but with three lines written by others, probably other attorneys involved in the compromise settlement.

[36] ISHL does have a photostat in its Lincoln collection of the handwritten bill for services that Lincoln gave Chiniquy. The document reads: "Urbana, May 23, 1856 - Due A. Lincoln Fifty dollars for value received." It is signed "C. Chiniquy."

[37] Davis memorandum, Sept. 20, 1866. Herndon-Weik MSS.

[38] Nicolay to William H. Herndon, May 27, 1865, Herndon-Weik MSS.

[39] Chiniquy to Lincoln, Sept. 29, 1862, Robert Todd Lincoln Collection. Library of Congress (hereinafter cited as RTL Collection).

[40] Evening Star (Washington. D.C.), June 9, 10. 1864; New York Times, June 10, 1864; Public Ledger (Philadelphia), June 10, 1864. The account quoted in Collected Works, VII. 380-82, is taken from the New York Tribune, June 10, 1864. All newspaper accounts agree on essentials regarding the event.

[41] Apparently this is the same A. Chester who edited the Kankakee Gazette from 1853 to 1856; see Collected Works, IV. 30. Chester is known to have been a friend of Lincoln's: he was a lawyer at one time, campaigned for Lincoln in 1864, asked the President for political jobs for friends and himself, and provided some letters of recommendation for people wishing to see the President. See Chester to Lincoln, April 25, June 25, Dec. 16, 1863, and March 3, Aug. 8, Oct. 21, Nov. 15, Dec. 8, 1864 - all in RTL Collection.

[42] Enclosed with the letter is a broadside that endorses the school and requests funds: Alex. F. Kemp, To the Christian Public, Montreal, May 9. 1864.

[43] Earl Schenck Miers, William E. Baringer. C. Percy Powell, eds. Lincoln Day by Day: A Chronology, 1809-1865 (Washington, D.C.: Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, 1960), III, 264: Theodore Calvin Pease and James G. Randall, eds., The Diary of Orville Hickman Browning: Volume 1, 1850-1864, Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, Vol. 20 (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1925), p. 672. Chiniquy's Canadian biographer presented what he considered only a partial list of Chiniquy's untruths and concluded "les mensonges de Chiniquy sont legion" ("The lies of Chiniquy are legion"); Trudel, pp. 260-62.

[45] The most recent pamphlet of this genre seen by the author is Father Charles Chiniquy, The Gift (Philadelphia: Continental Press [ca. 1974]). Chiniquy was described as a "friend of Abraham Lincoln."

 


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