Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.
Charles P. McIlvaine to Abraham Lincoln, Friday, March 04, 1864 (General Butler's control over churches in Virginia)
From Charles P. McIlvaine to Abraham Lincoln1, March 4, 1864
Cincinnati March 4, 1864
Allow me very respectfully to offer an opinion touching the policy indicated in a late order by General Butler,2 putting all places of public worship in Norfolk & Portsmouth under the control of the Provost Marshals of those cities, with instructions to "see the pulpits properly filled, by displacing, when necessary, the present incumbents & substituting men of known loyalty of the same sectarian denomination either, military or civil, subject to the approval of the Commanding officer."
I place this order in connection with one which emanated from the War Department, Nov. 30. 1863, & was addressed to all officers commanding in the departments of the Missouri, the Tennessee & the Gulf, assuming direction concerning the houses of worship of a certain religious denomination, in which a loyal minister not appointed by a certain loyal authority does not officiate & prescribing how the case may be rectified.+3 [ At bottom of page: + See National Intelligencer for Feb. 25]
These are certainly very delicate matters for a national government, such as ours, & especially for Military Commanders & Provost Marshals to venture upon in such times as these--
I trust, Mr President, you will excuse me, if I venture, in my official place, & as having, on account of it, some claim to be considered as somewhat capable of a judgment in the premises, to say most respectfully that in my view such interference will justly be censured as unwise, injurious & intrusive, very liable to most serious abuses, particularly calculated to encourage the charge of usurpation of powers in the part of the Government, & to create without cause or use the deepest offence & exasperation, where it is most desirable to secure only good will & confidence.
If a Minister can be proved to have taught disloyalty either in his pulpit or any where else let him be proceeded against just as any other citizen-- It is the crime of a citizen & as such only should it be treated-- But when a Minister is thus dealt with & is obliged by the penalty to vacate his pulpit, it is not because the authorities have any jurisdiction over his pulpit, but only because its being vacated is incidentally connected with his punishment
And when such vacancy has so taken place, there is no authority of civil or martial law, till we have a Church-Establishment to say who shall preach to the congregation thus deprived-- If Commanding Officers may direct what Methodist Minister, (Military Chaplain or otherwise) shall occupy a Methodist pulpit, so vacated, or what Episcopal minister an Episcopal pulpit, so vacated, then what is to hinder the same authority from putting a minister of one denomination into the pulpit of another of the furthest remove from his own, to preach to his congregation-- All depends on the Provost Marshal & the Commanding General--
My view is this-- If a minister whatever his private thoughts & feelings as to loyalty, gives no grounds, in, or out of the pulpit, on which the law may proceed against him or any other citizen for disloyalty; if while he may not pray for the Govt of the U. States, as he surely ought, he prays for the Rebel Confederacy as little; if while he does not preach on the side of the Union & its cause he does not preach against it, I hold that the Govt or its officers cannot lawfully interfere with him or his pulpit, however desirable it be that he should do a great deal better.
For an officer of the Army to be vested with authority to say to him -- "I cannot indeed charge you with any disloyal teaching -- but you do not preach as I think a loyal man should do, or as I think the congregation ought to be taught, & therefore I bid you vacate your pulpit, (which of course may involve loss of support to himself & family) & I put in your place, a minister who will preach & pray as I, a Provost Marshal or a Commanding General, think a minister ought, & I take one of our own army-chaplains for that purpose"-- I say, such interference would in my mind be a most grievous trespass & abuse; equally injurious to our cause, & offensive to every rightly judging mind. Consistency would require Provost Marshals to carry the same policy into all schools & colleges & newspaper offices. The question then will be, as to Editors, not whether they print disloyal sentiments, but whether they print such loyal sentiments as loyal men should print & the country should read -- ; & if, in the view of a Provost Marshal they do not, then consistency would require that they be ejected, & others, chosen by the same officer according to his judgment, put in their stead-- A minister in his pulpit has the same rights as an Editor in his office-- The one is meek -- the other may be strong-- But the cases are similar before the law.
There are various opinions among ministers, equally loyal, as to how much they should turn aside from the direct preaching of the Gospel to introduce matters of political character-- To some extent, all loyal ministers will go, & at least so far as to make their own sentiments & example in our present struggle distinctly evident-- But others think they must do this very often; & there are many persons who will doubt a ministers loyalty who if they do not hear from him on such topics just when they think he should speak -- & just as far as they think he should go-- I am one of those who think it is not uncommon for too much of such matter to be introduced into the pulpit, to the injury of the proper work of a minister & without any bett benefit to the country-- I believe I am generally regarded as a very loyal man, & yet I have no doubt there are many persons in the country & perhaps some Provost Marshals & Commanding Generals who, if they knew how little I introduce such matters into my preaching, would think my loyalty not a little questionable--
I have written the above with the more confidence, Mr President, because I have read with entire satisfaction, in your letter of Dec. 23rd to a gentleman in Missouri, touching Dr McPheeters' case, + [ At bottom of page: + Published in the National Intelligencer of Feb 25--] the expression of your views--4
I remain, with great respect,
Your sincere friend
Chas P. McIlvaine--
[Note 1 McIlvaine was the Protestant Episcopal bishop of Ohio and ex officio president of Kenyon College.]
[Note 2 Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, then commanding the Department of Virginia and North Carolina.]
[Note 3 Edward R. Ames, a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, had received authority from the War Department to take charge of Methodist churches in the South that did not have loyal pastors appointed by loyal bishops. Lincoln was embarrassed when he learned of this order because it tended to contradict his position that the government should not interfere with the running of churches. Lincoln had the order modified so that it would not apply to areas under Union authority. See Lincoln to Stanton, February 11, 1864; Lincoln, Endorsement to John Hogan, February 1, 1864; and Official Records, Series I, Volume 34, Part II, 311, 452-53.]
[Note 4 McIlvaine probably refers to Lincoln's December 22, 1863 letter to Oliver D. Filley of St. Louis. A copy of Lincoln's letter is in this collection