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Six Historic Americans|
Ulysses S. Grant [Freethinker]
by Remsburg, John E.
|In the preceding pages of the Fathers and Saviors of our
Republic I have shown that
Paine, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, and Lincoln were Freethinkers. In the
following pages of this work I shall present some of the evidences
of Grant's unbelief.|
Rev, Dr. J.P. Newman (during the last years of his life a
Methodist bishop), whose church General Grant with his wife had
attended, and who was with Grant during his last illness, gave to
the public a statement of his religious opinions the most important
of which are the following:
"Reared in the Methodist Episcopal church and baptized in his
last illness by one of her ministers, his religious nature was
sincere, calm, and steadfast."
"His calm faith in a future state was undisturbed by anxious
said to me, 'I believe in the Holy Scriptures.'"
"His faithful attendance at church was largely inspired by his
respect for the Sabbath day."
"It was his custom and habit to call to prayers."
These claims have been given wide publicity, and are generally
accepted as a truthful presentation of General Grant's religious
views. Yet those who were intimately acquainted with him, those to
whom he had confided his religious opinions, know that they are
either wholly or in part untrue and intended to deceive.
"Reared in the Methodist Episcopal Church and baptized in his
last illness by one of her ministers," etc.
These words were designed to convey the impression that Grant
was a member of the Methodist Church. All the truth there is in
this statement is that Grant's mother was a Methodist, and when it
was supposed that he was dying, a Methodist minister, without his
solicitation, sprinkled him with a few drops of water.
But it requires something more than this to be a member of the
Methodist Church. It requires the religious experience known as a
not pretended that Grant ever experienced
this change. It requires the partaking of the sacrament of the
Lord's Supper. Grant never communed, not even on his death-bed. It
requires the sacrament of Baptism. The fact that Newman performed
this ceremony when he did shows that it had never been performed
-- that Grant had never been baptized.
Grant's biographers, for the most part, make no mention of
this baptizing incident; Newman's friends were ashamed of it, the
secular press ridiculed it, and many of the religions papers
condemned it. Had this baptism been genuine instead of the farcical
mummery that it was; had it been performed with the knowledge and
consent of Grant, he would have allied himself with the church.
Yet, although he survived three months, he refused to be taken into
the church, and died, as he had always lived, outside of it.
H.C. Meyers of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a man
of broad and liberal views, deprecating and protesting against the
narrowness of the Orthodox creed, writes:
are not all on their way to the bottomless pit who
refuse to bow to the creeds composed by a few claimers of
infallibility. Is Abraham Lincoln in the bottomless pit? Where
are the greatest men this nation ever saw? Was General Grant
ever on the record of the methodist Church?"
Rev. J.L. Cram, chaplain of Grant's regiment, says:
"Grant belonged to no church."
Grant was not a Methodist, he was not a church member, he was
not a Christian.
"His calm faith in a future state was undisturbed by
It was claimed by Grant's intimate friends, General Sherman,
Senator Chaffee, and others, that he was not a positive believer in
immortality, but simply an Agnostic who hoped for immortality.
In his posthumous letter to his wife, written two weeks before
his death, he expresses a hope, if not a belief, in a future life.
The letter reads as follows:
"Look after our dear children and direct them in the
of rectitude. It would distress me far more to think
one of them could depart from an honorable, upright, and
virtuous life than it would to know that they were prostrated
bed of sickness from which they were never to arise
alive. They have never given us any cause for alarm on this
account, and I trust they never will. With these few
injunctions and the knowledge I have of your love and
affection, and the dutiful affection of all our children, I
bid you a final farewell, until we meet in another and, I
trust, better world. You will find this on my person after my
Lincoln, in a letter of consolation to his dying father,
expresses a sentiment regarding a future existence almost identical
that expressed by Grant in his parting words to his wife. And
yet Lincoln was an Agnostic in regard to immortality. The Agnostic
professes to have no knowledge of a future existence. He may be a
believer or a disbeliever in it, or he may be neither. Probably a
majority of Agnostics hope for immortality. To be separated forever
from those we love is the saddest thought that ever occupied the
mind of man. When brought face to face with this terrible
possibility, the desire to meet again is intensified; this
strengthens hope, belief asserts itself, and in the moments of its
ascendancy the Agnostic may exclaim, "We shall meet again!"
Even if Dr. Newman's statement be true, it does not prove that
was a Christian. The same may be said of
Thomas Paine. "His
calm faith in a future state was undisturbed by anxious doubt." He
says: "I trouble not myself about the manner of future existence.
content myself with believing, even to positive conviction, that
power that gave me existence is able to continue it in any form
and manner he pleases" (Age of Reason, p. 71).
"I believe in the Holy Scriptures."
Dr. Newman would have us accept this as a profession of belief
in the Bible as the divinely inspired word of God. Yet he and every
other friend of Grant knew that he did not believe the Bible to be
such a book. If General Grant uttered these words he qualified them
at the time. He could have expressed his belief in a hundred books
without acknowledging them to be divine or infallible.
Grant, if correctly reported, had on other occasions expressed
certain admiration for the Bible. But never did he express the
belief that it was in the evangelical sense the word of God.
Colonel Ingersoll says:
a believer in Christianity as a revealed religion, and none of
his language applying to the point goes further than to mean that he accepted
moral teachings of Christ and the Bible as beneficial to mankind."
"His faithful attendance at church was largely inspired
by his respect for the Sabbath day."
"His faithful attendance at church" was not "inspired by his
respect for the Sabbath day," but chiefly, if not wholly, by the
respect he had for the feelings and wishes of his wife, who was a
In regard to the alleged piety of the six men whose religious
opinions we are considering, the claims made with the greatest
assurance by the clergy and accepted with the greatest confidence
by the people, are those pertaining to Washington, Lincoln, and
While it is claimed that Paine
died confessing Christ, it is admitted that he lived an Infidel, and there
is a vague suspicion in the minds of many that Jefferson and Franklin were
orthodox. And yet Washington, Lincoln and Grant were certainly as
unorthodox as Paine, Jefferson, and Franklin. The reason the former
been considered the more pious is because they attended church
and contributed to its support; and the reason they did this was
because their wives were church members. Mrs. Washington was an
Episcopalian, Mrs. Lincoln was a Presbyterian, and Mrs. Grant a
Methodist. As dutiful husbands they accompanied their wives to
church and paid their church dues. Paine, Jefferson and Franklin,
being free to follow their own inclinations, abstained from church
going. Lincoln certainly, and Washington and Grant probably, would
done the same thing under similar circumstances.
If a noted man is accustomed to attend a certain church, this,
many biographers and newspaper writers, is considered a valid
pretext for setting him down as a member of that church. The
pulpit, with the well meant aid of the secular press, continues to
keep before the public a statement purporting to give the church
membership of the Presidents of the United States. All, with an
occasional exception of Jefferson, are represented as members of
various orthodox churches. And yet, prior to 1880, no church member
had ever been elected to this office.
It has been asserted that Grant was such a zealous advocate of
Sabbath observance that he would not, while President, allow his
to be hitched up on Sunday -- that the family walked to
church. This is contradicted by Mr. W.H. Burr, of Washington, who
states that he frequently saw the President and his family in their
carriage on Sunday.
It has also been asserted that "he would not allow his
servants to work on that day." The truth is he did not require his
servants to work on Sunday, aside from the necessary duties of the
day. Out of consideration for their happiness he allowed them, as
far as possible, to devote the day to rest and pleasure. He
respected the Sabbath, not because he believed there was any
sanctity attached to it, but because he believed in a day of rest.
During the war Grant was not a stickler for Sabbath
observance. When the army was in camp the customary regulations
regarding Sunday were observed; when engaged in active operations
he paid no more respect to it than to any other day. During the
year of his presidential administration he visited the
Centennial Exposition on Sunday, and this fact shows that these
stories are false.
"It was his custom and habit to call to prayers."
General Grant did not believe in the efficacy of prayer.
Newman prayed, but it was not because the sick man desired his
prayers. Newman was his wife's pastor; she believed in prayer, and
was allowed to pray.
Ex-Senator Chaffee of Colorado, whose daughter was married to
one of General Grant's sons, and who was with Grant during his
"There has been a good deal of nonsense in the papers
about Dr. Newman's visits. General Grant does not believe that
Dr. Newman's prayers will save him. He allows the doctor to
pray simply because he does not want to hurt his feelings. He
is indifferent on his own account to everything."
Another, writing at the time of General Grant's death, said:
"His acceptance of the effusive and offensive
ministrations of the peripatetic preacher was probably due as
much to his regard for the feelings of his family and his
tolerance of his ministerial friend as to any faith in
religion. All that the press can gather now about his
religious belief is filtered through Dr. Newman, and must,
therefore, largely be discounted. ... As to his regard for the
Sabbath and his love of prayer, Dr. Newman has overdone the
matter. His anecdotes to show the General's piety bear very
strong internal evidence that they originated with himself."
is one thing that Newman does not claim, and that is
that Grant acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God, Had Grant
accepted Christ he would have avowed it, and this is the claim
other claims that Newman would have made if true. Grant
did not acknowledge Jesus Christ, and this fact proves that he was
not a Christian.
The Christian Statesman says: "It is not on record that he
[Grant] spoke at any time of the Savior, or expressed his sense of
dependence on his atonement and mediation."
In his published claims Newman went as far as he felt that he
could go with safety. To assert that Grant was a Christian in the
evangelical sense, that he accepted Jesus Christ as the divinely
begotten son of God, would be so manifestly false that he knew it
would be denied. In the cunningly devised statements made, which
thing to the friends of Grant and another to the world at
large he effected as much as he could hope to effect, the general
recognition of the claim that Grant was at least a nominal believer
Newman's description of General Grant's entry into Heaven is
"They came at last. They came to greet him with the kiss
of immortality. They came to escort the conqueror over the
'last enemy' to a coronation never seen on thrones of earthly
power and glory. Who came? His martyred friend, Lincoln. ...
His great predecessor in camp and cabinet, Washington."
From a rhetorical standpoint this may be all right; but from
a theological standpoint it is certainly all wrong.' It must
a vivid, if not a perverted imagination, for an orthodox
to see two Infidels coming from Heaven to convey a third one
Adverting to his death, Newman says: "Who does not regret the
death of such a man? Heaven may be richer, but earth is poorer."
does he express this in the potential mood? Has he doubts
as to whether Grant was permitted to enter Heaven or not? Or has he
the existence of Heaven itself?
When Grant rallied from his sinking spell in April, Dr. Newman
"If the improvement in his health continues, the General will
soon be able to go to bed like a Christian and believe there to a
divine Providence behind all this."
To this the Sunday Mercury replied: "Does the eloquent
preacher intend the public to infer that his distinguished patient
has heretofore gone to bed like a heathen and held the creed of Bob
Ingersoll in regard to Providence?"
Grant's health did not continue to improve, and so it is to be
presumed that he never went to bed like a Christian, or believed
was a divine Providence in the case.
On the same occasion Dr. Newman asked him what the supreme
thought of his mind was when death seemed so near. To this
interrogatory came the prompt answer of the Freethinker: "The
comfort of the consciousness that I have tried to live a good and
No religious cant in this. No consolation for the Christian
claimant here. Commenting on Grant's answer, the New York
"The honest effort 'to live a good and honorable life'
a source of comfort at any time, and especially so
in the hour and article of death: and we see no impropriety in
referring to it as such. But it would be a great mistake to
make such an effort, or such a life even though the best that
any man ever lived, the basis on which sinners are to rest for
their peace with God and their hope of salvation. Sinners are
saved, if at all, through grace, and by the suffering and
of Christ, and upon the condition of their repentance
toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the
gospel plan of salvation as Christ himself taught it and the
Apostles preached it. There is no other plan known to the
Bible. Great men and small men viewed simply as men, as
subjects of the moral government of God, and as sinners,
stayed at a common level in respect to their wants and the
method of their relief; and they must alike build their hopes
on Christ and his work, accepting him by faith, or they will
in vain. 'A good and honorable life' is no substitute
Newman says that "Reason was the dominant faculty in him."
This is true. Reason is the dominant faculty in Freethinkers. When
is unusually strong, faith is correspondingly weak.
Grant's life has been a series of great conflicts and great
triumphs. We see him at Fort Donnelson, at Shiloh, at Vicksburg, at
Chattanooga, in Virginia -- one unbroken chain of victories.
Another battle remains -- that long conflict with death, beginning
in New York in October, 1884, and ending at Mount McGregor in July,
The anxieties of a thousand battles, the agonies of a
thousand deaths are crowded in that last year of life. Thus writes
one of his biographers: "Sitting in silence and almost motionless,
hour by hour he stared in the face of the coming death of
untellable pain, and with it were bankruptcy, poverty, disgrace,
calumny, a bitter sense of private wrong, and of public
misconception and neglect" (Stoddard's Life of Grant, p. 355).
It was not a fight with death alone. During those sad months
fought a triple fight; a fight with death, a fight with
adversity, and a fight with superstition. Death alone triumphed. In
two of these conflicts he was victorious.
Day after day, at his bedside, two agents of the church were
at work, the sorrowing wife and a priest in the guise of "a friend
of the family." Both were desirous of his conversion; the one
sincerely laboring for what she believed to be the eternal welfare
of her beloved and suffering companion; the other for his own
selfish glory and the glory of the church he represented. "Great
men may gain nothing from religion, but religion can gain much from
great men," was the plea he advanced when rebuked for forcing his
religious ministration upon the pain-racked General.
If ever the conditions were favorable for a death-bed
repentance they were here. It is in these hours of anguish and
gloom that the mere skeptic succumbs to superstition. When nature
seems to forsake him he turns to the supernatural. Had Grant been
a mere Nothingarian with leanings toward the church, as was
commonly supposed, nothing would have been more probable than his
conversion. But the good sense and the strong will of the great
There was a touch of comedy in this pathetic tragedy. When
Grant died Newman was at breakfast and was much chagrined when he
learned that the curtain had fallen on the last scene during his
Describing this incident the New York Commercial Advertiser
says: "About 7:15 o'clock on the morning that Grant died Dr. Newman
said he thought he would go over to the hotel and get a little
breakfast. The physicians warned him that a change might occur at
any moment, and that he had better not go. He turned to Henry, the
nurse, and asked his advice. Henry thought the general would live
for an hour. So off the doctor went and ate his breakfast. In the
meantime Dr. Sands, who had left the cottage at ten o'clock the
evening previous in order to have a good night's rest, came back
about 7:50, just in time. Dr. Newman was not so fortunate. After
breakfast he came up the path at so quick a rate, his arms waving,
that he was short of breath. Dr. Shrady saw him coming, walked out,
said. 'Hush! he's dead.' The doctor almost fell. His terrible
disappointment was depicted plainly on his face."
The New York World commented on the same incident as follows:
"Dr. Newman beautifully remarks that 'some of the last scenes of
General Grant's death were pitiful and at the same time eloquent,'
which is creditable alike to Dr. Newman's elocution and eyesight,
since he witnessed these scenes from the breakfast table of the
hotel some distance away from the cottage occupied by the general."
Dr. Newman believed there were three heroes in this drama --
Newman, Grant, and Providence. May not his absence have been
Providential? If there be a God, may he not have interposed to keep
this clerical intruder from the bedside of the dying chieftain that
he might go in peace?
The claims made in regard to Grant's religion are too much
even for a Methodist paper to indorse. Referring to them the
Nashville Christian Advocate says:
"Some ministers seem to have an incurable itch for
claiming that all the men who have figured prominently in
public life are Christians. Mr. Lincoln has almost been
canonized, and General Grant has been put forward as
possessing all the graces, though neither one of them ever
joined the church or made the slightest public profession of
Jesus. ... Has it [Christianity] anything to gain by
decking itself with the ambiguous compliments of men who never
submitted themselves to its demands? The less of all this the
better. We are sick of the pulpit todayism that pronounces its
best eulogies over those who are not the real disciples of
Had there been any truth in these stories about Grant's piety,
had he been a believer in Christianity, his biographers would have
only too glad to record the fact. Mansfield's "Life of Grant,"
written by a zealous Christian, is filled with laudations of the
church and Christianity, but its author has not the temerity to
assert that Grant was a Christian. Appended to the same work and
written by the same author is a brief biographical sketch of Vice-
President Colfax. A large portion of the forty pages devoted to his
life is occupied with his religious views, In nearly four hundred
pages relating to Grant, all that the author is able to claim is
that Grant's mother was a Christian, and that Grant himself was
"respectful to religion."
Gen. James S. Brisbin, in his "Campaign Lives of Grant and
Colfax," devotes much space to the religion of Colfax. The
following is all that he has to say in regard to Grant's religion:
many of his orders and dispatchs, Grant devoutly
recognizes the providence of God, and his reliance upon it as
being the chief strength of nations and men; and if he ever
swears, the religious world may be certified that his oaths
are in the same category with those of my Uncle Toby and of
Washington at Monmouth" (Life of Grant, p. 314).
man's statements concerning Grant's religion appear in an
introduction which the publishers of Burr's biography of Grant had
for that work. Mr. Burr himself does not claim that Grant
was a believer. Stoddard, Dana, and other biographers are also
In Grant's "Memoirs" there is not a word to indicate that he
reposed the least faith in Christianity. He advocated freedom of
thought, warned his readers against the encroachments of sectarian
influence, and criticized the churches for their sympathy with the
Rebellion. He says:
"There were churches in that part of Ohio where treason
was preached regularly, and where, to secure membership,
hostility to the government, to the war, and to the liberation
of the slaves was far more essential than a belief in the
authenticity or credibility of the Bible" (Memoirs, Vol. i.,
last letter to his wife has been cited to prove that he
was a believer in Christianity. This letter affords the strongest
proof that he was an unbeliever. Had he been a Christian he would
have proclaimed it in this letter. The consolation it would have
his believing wife would have compelled him to avow it. He
would have impressed it upon his children. There is not a word to
indicate that he wished his children to become Christians -- not a
word of religious advice. Religion is utterly ignored. He desires
his children to be upright and honorable, to be moral, but he does
not desire them to be religious.
On the morning following Grant's death, the New York World
contained the following:
"General Grant, as it would appear, had no settled
conviction on the subject of religion. ... Having been
interrogated during his illness on the question of religion,
he replied that he had not given it any deep study, and was
unprepared to express an opinion. He intimated that he saw no
use of devoting any special thought to theology at so late a
and that he was prepared to take his chances with the
millions of people who went before him."
General Grant will live in history rather as a great soldier
a great statesman. Yet there is much in his career as a
statesman to admire, especially his attitude in regard to church
and state. No president, with the possible exception of Jefferson,
has occupied more advanced grounds or advocated more radical
measures of reform in this respect.
is the only president, I believe, who has in his
official capacity contended for the taxation of church property. In
his message to Congress in 1875 he made the following earnest plea
for this just demand:
would also call your attention to the importance of
correcting an evil that, if permitted to continue, will probably
lead to great trouble in our land before the close of the
nineteenth century. It is the acquisition of vast amounts of
untaxed church property. In 1850, I believe, the church property of
the United States, which paid no tax, municipal or state, amounted
to about $83,000,000. In 1860 the amount had doubled. In 1875 it is
about $1,000,000,000. By 1900, without a cheek, it is safe to say
this property will reach a sum exceeding $3,000,000,000. So vast a
sum, receiving all the protection and benefits of government
without bearing its proportion of the burdens and expenses of the
same, will not be looked upon acquiescently by those who have to
pay the taxes. In a growing country, where real estate enhances so
rapidly with time as in the United States, there is scarcely a
limit to the wealth that may be acquired by corporations, religious
or otherwise, if allowed to retain real estate without taxation.
The contemplation of so vast a property as here alluded to, without
taxation, may lead to sequestration without constitutional
authority, and through blood. I would suggest the taxation of all
property equally, whether church or corporation."
Equally radical and pronounced are his recommendations, in the
same message, in favor of the complete secularization of our public
"We are a Republic whereof one man is as good as another
before the law. Under such a form of government, it is of the
greatest importance that all should be possessed of education and
intelligence enough to cast a vote with a right understanding of
its meaning. A large association of ignorant men cannot for any
considerable period oppose a successful resistance to tyranny and
oppression from the educated few, but will inevitably sink into
acquiescence to the will of intelligence, whether directed by the
demagogue or by priestcraft. Hence the education of the masses
becomes the first necessity for the preservation of our
institutions. They are worth preserving because they have secured
the greatest good for the greatest proportion of the population of
any form of government yet devised. All other forms of government
approach it just in proportion to the general diffusion of
education and independence of thought and action. As the primary
step, therefore, to our advancement in all that has marked our
progress in the past century, I suggest for your earnest
consideration, and most earnestly recommend it, that a
constitutional amendment be submitted to the legislatures of the
several states to establish and forever maintain free public
schools adequate to the education of all the children in the
rudimentary branches within their respective limits, irrespective
of sex, color, birth-place or religion, forbidding the teaching in
said schools of religious, Atheistic, or Pagan tenets, and
prohibiting the granting of any school funds or school taxes or any
part thereof, either by legislative, municipal, or other authority,
for the benefit, or in aid, directly or indirectly, of any
religious sect or denomination."
His speech before the Army of the Tennessee, at Des Moines, in
was one of the noblest, one of the bravest, and one of the
most opportune utterances ever delivered in this country. In this
"The free school is the promoter of that intelligence
is to preserve us as a nation. If we are to have another
contest in the near future of our national existence, I
predict that the dividing line will not be Mason's and
Dixon's, but between patriotism and intelligence on the one
side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other.
... Let us all labor to add all needful guarantees for the
more perfect security of FREE THOUGHT, FREE SPEECH, AND FREE
PRESS, pure morals, unfettered religious sentiments, and of
equal rights and privileges to all men, irrespective of
nationality, color, or religion. Encourage free schools, and
resolve that not one dollar of money shall be appropriated to
the support of any sectarian school. Resolve that neither the
state nor nation, or both combined, shall support institutions
of learning other than those sufficient to afford every child
growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school
education, unmixed with sectarian, Pagan, or Atheistical
tenets. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the
church, and the private schools, supported entirely by private
contributions. Keep the Church and the State forever
It has been claimed that this speech was aimed chiefly at the
Roman Catholic Church. It was not. It was directed not so much
against the avowed enemy of the public school as against its
professed friends, who would destroy its usefulness by making it
the handmaid of Protestantism and the nursery of superstition.
Referring to this speech, General Sherman, to whom Grant confided
his intention of delivering it, says:
Des Moines speech was prompted by a desire to defend
the freedom of our public schools from sectarian influence,
and, as I remember the conversation which led him to write
that speech, it was because of the ceaseless clamor for set
religious exercises in the public schools, not from Catholic,
from Protestant denominations" (Packard's "Grant's Tour
Around the World," p. 566).
One of the first products of Grant's pen that has been
preserved is a letter to his cousin, McKinstry Griffith, written at
West Point, Sept. 22, 1839. With the exception of a few brief
lines, the last that he wrote was his "Memoirs." It is significant
that in each of these -- in the one written in the first year of
his manhood and in the other, written in the last year of his
existence -- there is to be found a protest against ecclesiastical
domination of our government and its institutions. In the letter
alluded to, referring to the demerit marks received by the cadets,
show how easily one can get these, a man by the name
of Grant, of this State, got eight of these marks for not
church to-day. He was put under arrest, so he cannot
leave his room perhaps for a month; all this for not going to
church. We are not only obliged to go to church, but we must
march there by companies. This is not republican" (Brown's
Life of Grant, p. 329).
The following is from his "Memoirs":
"No political party can, or ought to, exist when one of
its comer-stones is opposition to freedom of thought. ... If
a sect sets up its laws as binding above the state laws,
whenever the two come in conflict, this claim must be resisted
and suppressed at whatever cost" (Memoirs, Vol. i., p. 213).
Instead of being a believer in the Christian religion and in
favor of Christianizing our government, as many suppose, General
was an unbeliever and a zealous advocate of state