Rewriting of History
by Christians

by Madalyn Murray O'Hair
(with Sherman Wakefield)
February 17, 1969
edited by Cliff Walker

Probably the single thing which angers Atheists more then any other practice of Christianity is the insistence the religious community of Christians has on bending the facts of history to conform with their ideas and beliefs.

Sherman Wakefield, who is married to Robert Ingersoll's granddaughter, has undertaken a study of some of the specific instances when such liberties have been taken with history itself. He became particularly aroused at President Eisenhower at one point, and wrote a short rebuttal to one of the president's activities:

The original letter from which this "prayer" was manufactured is to be found in W.C. Ford's edition of Washington's Writings (volume 10, pages 254 to 256) and also in the official government edition of Washington's Writings, edited by J.C. Fitzpatrick (Volume 24, pages 483 to 496).

The text of the last paragraph of the original letter follows, and includes the words that the prayer-makers omitted. Again I have these italicized:

This by a leading representative of Christianity which claims to be the arbiter of our morality.

Sherman Wakefield spends much of his time tracing down some of the forgeries in American history which the churches have perpetuated, and he gets more and more furious with each one he uncovers. And so do we all. He became quite incensed over Abraham Lincoln's alleged letter to Mrs. Bixby. He began to trace the original letter and readily found several facsimiles -- only to discover that there were several variations in the handwriting, and discrepancies in the formation of single letters and entire words between the two. Mr. Wakefield has facsimiles of three of these letters, all with differences in handwriting and text, and he queries, "If facsimiles from a supposed original document do not agree among themselves, which one, if any, is correct?" The two most famous copies stemmed from one Michael F. Tobin, a dealer in pictures and prints in New York City, who applied to the Librarian of Congress for a copyright on a facsimile on April 25, 1891. This was about thirty years after the letter was written. Later, in the same year, Huber's Museum, which dealt in a collection of freaks and fakes of various kinds, started to exhibit a document which was claimed to be the original.

The letter was supposed to have been written on November 21, 1864, and sent directly to Adjutant General Schouler in Boston, who delivered it in person to Mrs. Bixby on November 25th. Mrs. Bixby is said to have lost five sons in the Civil War. Yet strangely, a search of the records reveals that two of them were killed in battle (Charles and Oliver), one was honorably discharged (Henry), and two deserted to the enemy (Edward and George). The Bixby letter is much quoted because in it, Lincoln, who was known as a non-believer in religion, was purportedly to have said, "I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement."

The battle over these letters has been long and enduring and the authenticity of the three quite different facsimiles of the original letter has not been a barrier to the Christian community's intent endeavors to authenticate this as a true Lincoln letter, and after its having found its way into a number of Lincoln's collected works, the stamp of authority is now upon the letter.

Completely ignored are three rather striking documents. One, written by Dr. Nicolas Murray Butler, a president of Columbia University, in which was recounted a story giving the authorship of this letter to a Lincoln secretary, John Hay; the second document is a letter from Rev. Gildart Arthur Jackson, in which it is recounted that Lincoln had instructed Hay to write a suitable letter of condolence and that Hay had done so. Herndon, a Lincoln friend, recounts that Lincoln once made him erase the word 'God' from a speech which he had written because the language indicated a personal god, whereas Lincoln "insisted no such personality ever existed." In the original drafts of the Gettysburg Address, twice Lincoln wrote out that speech without mention of this nation "under God," an insertion later suggested by Salmon P. Chase, a member of his cabinet.

We wish our Christian brothers would be honest and permit us our heroes. We do not deny them theirs.

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