President Lincoln Declines to Interfere in St. Louis Churches

December 22, 1863

Cabinet meeting with just Secretaries of State Seward and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.   President Lincoln writes Oliver D. Filley in St. Louis: “Now, all this sounds very strangely; and withal, a little as if you gentlemen making the application, do you understand the case alike, one affirming that the Dr. [McPheters] is enjoying all the rights of a civilian, and another pointing out to me what will secure his release!  On the 2nd day of January last I wrote Gen. Curtis in relation to Mr. Dick’s order upon Dr. McPheters, and, as I suppose the Dr. is enjoying all the rights of a civilian, I only quote that part of my letter which relates to the church.

Now, all this sounds very strangely; and withal, a little as if you gentlemen making the application, do you understand the case alike, one affirming that the Dr. [McPheters] is enjoying all the rights of a civilian, and another pointing out to me what will secure his release!  On the 2nd day of January last I wrote Gen. Curtis in relation to Mr. Dick’s order upon Dr. McPheters, and, as I suppose the Dr. is enjoying all the rights of a civilian, I only quote that part of my letter which relates to the church.  It is a s follows: ‘But I must add that the U.S. government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches.  When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but the churches, as such must take care of themselves.  It will not do for the U.S. to appoint Trustees, Supervisors, or other agents for the churches.’  This letter going to Gen. Curtis, then in command there I supposed of course it was obeyed, especially as I heard no further complaint from Dr. M. or his friends for nearly an entire year.

I have interfered, nor thought of interfering as to who shall or shall not preach in any church; nor have I knowingly, or believingly, tolerated any one else to so interfere by my authority.  If any one is so interfering, by color of my authority, I would like to have it specifically made known to me.

If, after all, what is now sought, is to have me put Dr. M. back, over the heads of a majority of his own congregation, that too, will be declined.  I will not have control of any church on any side.

President Lincoln does interfere to release the son of an old Illinois friend, Usher Linder: “If you have a prisoner by the name Linder — Daniel Linder, I think, and certainly the son of U. F. Linder, of Illinois, please send him to me by an officer.”

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