July 4, 1864


On July 4, 1864 Abraham Lincoln had much to pre-occupy his mind.  Grant’s drive on Richmond had bogged down into a stalemated siege to the south of Richmond around the city of Petersburg.  Grant, due to the appalling Union casualties of the campaign, was routinely denounced as a butcher in Northern newspapers, a charge echoed privately by Mary Todd Lincoln.   On June 27 Sherman had been bloodily repulsed at Kennesaw Mountain, and his campaign against Atlanta appeared to be very much in doubt.  Lincoln suspected that he would not be re-elected and that the Union might very well lose the war.  So what did he do on July 4?  He, along with Mrs. Lincoln and most of his cabinet, attended a fundraiser held on the White House lawn to build a Catholic church!

In June of 1864, a group of black men, residents of Washington, knocked on the White House door and asked to present a petition to President Lincoln.  In those simpler times they were ushered in after a short wait to see Mr Lincoln.  Their spokesman, Gabriel Coakley,  told the President that they were Catholics and that they wished to obtain permission to hold a lawn party on the White House lawn in order to build a Catholic church in Washington to serve the black Catholic population in the capital.  Lincoln agreed immediately and told them to go to see General French, the commissioner of public buildings, and to tell him that he had given his permission for the function.  A permit was issued by General French on June 30, 1864.  It required the signature of the President, and Gabriel Coakley waited outside a cabinet meeting for several hours until the President came out.  Lincoln saw him, was advised that the permit needed his signature, signed it, and told Coakley that he hoped the event would be a success.

Lincoln helped ensure the event was a success on July 4, by attending.  The event raised over $1,000.00, a very large sum at a time when a private soldier earned $14.00 per month.  With the funds the church was constructed,  the Blessed Martin De Porres Chapel, with the foundations hand dug by parishioners.  The church quickly attracted a large number of black catholics, but also a sizable number of white catholics.  In 1876 the church was replaced by Saint Augustine church.   I am pleased to report that the Saint Augustine parish is still going strong.

39 Responses to July 4, 1864

  1. Gerard E. says:

    Many thanks Don for your regular features on Honest Abe during his presidency. Provides superb context and contrast with the current White House occupant. The post above clearly indicates the depths of Honest Abe’s mind and spirit. Given that physical contact with both released slaves and Catholics was more than just politically incorrect back in the day. Again Don nice work by you.

  2. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Thank you Gerard. Your kind comments are much appreciated.

  3. Tito Edwards says:

    Gerard said it well for me.

    With our President Obama wanting to wrap himself in the image of Abraham Lincoln, it is ironic in the disparity of character between the two.

  4. Anthony says:

    Its funny how those of us who aren’t huge fans of Lincoln see the connections Obama tries to make and see THAT has huge warning signs.

    Well whatever gets you to the truth I suppose, haha.

  5. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Obama and Lincoln have precisely these things in common:

    1. Home state.

    2. Males.

    3. Wives given to causing furors in the press.

  6. Donna V. says:

    “3. Wives given to causing furors in the press.”

    In Mary Lincoln’s case, the furors she caused were largely due to her complusive and lavish spending. I have no idea what Michelle’s spending habits are like, but even a coked up Paris Hilton on a shopping spree can’t begin to compete with the spending we’re about to get in DC. Mary Lincoln’s fancy ball gowns and Nancy Reagan’s china – pretty small potatoes compared to a stimulus package that generations not yet born will be paying for.

  7. Donald R. McClarey says:

    She was also attacked for Southern sympathies, Donna, and for being pro-slavery, both of which were false. I have always cherished her favorite phrase when referring to the ink-stained wretches of the fourth estate: “The vampire press!”

  8. paul zummo says:

    I have always cherished her favorite phrase when referring to the ink-stained wretches of the fourth estate: “The vampire press!”

    I just finished the fourth disc of Burns’s Civil war series, and there’s this great line regarding Sherman’s views of the press. I’m paraphrasing, but he said something along the lines of there will be dispatches from hell before morning if I killed all members of the press (which I think he was very tempted to do).

    Mary Todd Lincoln was an odd character. I think she always had some psychological issues, but the loss of two of her sons, and then finally the assassination of her husband, was the final straw.

  9. Don the Kiwi says:

    Your series on President Lincoln has been very enlightening Don. From someone from “Downunder”, even though we new of Lincoln through our history studies as youngsters – the slave liberator, the Pres. during the civil war, and his assasination – these days one doesn’t get much further insight and information outside of the USA.
    Very informative, and probably gives a bit of an insight into Donald R. McCleary as well 😉

  10. Donald R. McClarey says:

    No doubt Don. Thank you for your kind words. Lincoln has always been a passion for me and I am happy to share what I know about him.

  11. Donald R. McClarey says:

    As to Sherman Paul he made the comment after it was reported, falsely, that two reporters had been killed by the Confederates. He said that they now could expect the latest news from Hell with their morning coffee. Sherman despised reporters as little better than spies who gave away military information in the newspapers, which did happen regularly on both sides in the Civil War. Sherman also said that the meaning of military glory was to die on the battlefield and to have your name mispelled in the newspapers the next day.

  12. Donna V. says:

    I’ve also been reading and learning a great deal from your posts, Donald, so let me offer my compliments as well. I thought I knew a fair amount about Lincoln, but the information that he helped to ensure the success of a fundraiser for a black Catholic church was news to me, although it is no surprise that a man with such a noble spirit was also a friend to us Catholics.

  13. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Thank you Donna. Part of the essence of the greatness of Lincoln was that he could care for the rights of people who were not like him. This extended to Southerners who he refused to demonize. He noted that the Southerners held precisely the same opinions on slavery that most Northerners would have held if they had been born in the South, for example. In the second inaugural address he blamed both the North and the South for slavery. Such largeness of vision in the midst of a bloody civil war is rare indeed. Lincoln was always ready to appeal to the “better angels of our nature”, in a time of crisis that makes our present national woes insignificant by comparison.

  14. If only this blog talked about Jesus as much as you talked about american presidents… Who is your Christ, really?

  15. Don the Kiwi says:

    Hey Michael J.

    That’s a low blow brother.
    One can admire qualities in our fellow men (and women) without detracting one iota from our love of Christ.

    Do you understand “iota” ?

  16. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Catholic Anarchist I am quite clear on who Christ is. Unlike you I try not to confuse my politics with my religion. I am going to allow your comment to stand but I give you notice that in future I will immediately delete any comments in threads to my postings in which you attack either my faith or that of other commenters. I will not tolerate that type of nonsense.

  17. Tom says:

    “I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

  18. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I deleted your comment Catholic Anarchist. I will not allow my threads to be derailed by your charming habit of attacking the faith of those who do not agree with you politically.

  19. paul zummo says:

    No, Tito, that was an Abraham Lincoln quote often used by Lincoln bashers to show that, shockingly, a white man living the middle of the country in 1858 did not have 21st century views on race relations.

  20. Jay Anderson says:

    Yes, Paul, but surely it’s not too much to ask that the Great Emancipator might have views slightly more enlightened than those of a former Grand Whatever of the KKK.


  21. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Yep Tom, that is a quote from Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln-Douglas debates where Douglas was using race baiting in the debates to attempt to win the election for the Democrats in Illinois. It was a successful tactic as Douglas was returned to Washington as a Senator by the Illinois legislature. Lincoln realized that most of the white voters in Illnois and around the nation dreaded the idea of negro equality. It was all Lincoln could do to to amass sufficient support in the North to have a plurality of the voters support him for President on a platform of restricting the extension of slavery in the territories. Lincoln was first and foremost a politician and he was not about to lose a campaign fighting for something that the voters were not yet ready to accept. However, during the war when the opportunity presented itself, he acted to destroy slavery, and by the end of his life he was calling for suffrage for blacks. His personal attitude towards blacks is perhaps best typified by Frederick Douglass who wrote: “I have often said elsewhere what I wish to repeat here, that Mr. Lincoln was not only a great president, but a great man — too great to be small in anything. In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color. While I am, as it may seem, bragging of the kind consideration which I have reason to believe that Mr. Lincoln entertained towards me, I may mention one thing more. At the door of my friend John A. Gray, where I was stopping in Washington, I found one afternoon the carriage of Secretary Dole, and a messenger from President Lincoln with an invitation for me to take tea with him at the Soldiers Home, where he then passed his nights, riding out after the business of the day was over at the Executive Mansion. Unfortunately I had an engagement to speak that evening, and having made it one of the rules of my conduct in life never to break an engagement if possible to keep it, I felt obliged to decline the honor. I have often regretted that I did not make this an exception to my general rule. Could I have known that no such opportunity could come to me again, I should have justified myself in disappointing a large audience for the sake of such a visit with Abraham Lincoln.”

    Douglass also noted in 1876 “Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”

  22. Tom says:

    He not only did not have contemporary views on race, he clearly believed that while slavery was wrong, blacks were inherently inferior and not entitled to true equality.

    It gives the lie to the whole thing about “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” a passage Lincoln famously used in order to cast the war from being merely the forcible subjugation of states that chose to pursue independence, into a war for liberation of the black, a liberation that clearly did not really for Lincoln involve any type of equality for black persons.

    Now it’s not surprising that Lincoln was hypocritical about this, he was, after all, merely a man, and merely a politician. That he may have had other good qualities is also probably true. But that he merits the beatification some want to bestow on him?…. not so much.

  23. Tom says:

    And the canard that “well, after all, he was only reflecting the views of his time” is baloney. There were many enlightened folks who did not deny the ontological equality of all men (hmmm, the Church for one?)

    Besides, in other matters, Lincoln was very modern and progressive… such as in his enthusiastic embrace of “Total War” against not simply armies but against civilian, non-combatant populations, see, e.g., an account of Sherman’s wasting entire regions of the south with the specific intent of causing civilian suffering (http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=551)

    Now how his belief that it was OK to terrorize and starve civilians as a war policy can be reconciled with this:

    The Church greatly respects those who have dedicated their lives to the defense of their nation. “If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace. [Cf. Gaudium et spes 79, 5]” However, she cautions combatants that not everything is licit in war. Actions which are forbidden, and which constitute morally unlawful orders that may not be followed, include:

    – attacks against, and mistreatment of, non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners;

    – genocide, whether of a people, nation or ethnic minorities;

    – indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants.

    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2313-2314).

    … is beyond little old me to comprehend.

    But then, I don’t simply swallow an Americanist-tinged view of our history. There is nothing inherent in Catholicism, after all, that lends support to the centralizing, revolutionary nature of what Lincoln did, much less to his warm embrace of modern notions of warfare which are nothing but war crimes.

  24. paul zummo says:

    I was going to respond to Tom, but I think Don’s comment covers what I would say in response.

  25. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Now how his belief that it was OK to terrorize and starve civilians as a war policy”

    Except that he didn’t believe it was OK to terrorize or starve civilians as a war policy. The South had plenty of food, and the blockade had no impact on the food supply. Terrorize civilians? Union troops were routinely executed for crimes against Southern civilians. Unlike the Confederate army, they also did not round up civilians of a certain complexion and send them South to be sold as slaves. If one wishes to cast stones over the protection of civilians in that war partisans of the Confederacy very much live in a glass house.

  26. Tito Edwards says:


    I never read that quote before from Lincoln, but judging by the context I was able to surmise it was. My Byrd comment was a bit off, but it was only in done in jest.

  27. Donald R. McClarey says:

    As to Sherman, did he ever hold an entire city to ransom and then burn it to the ground when the ransom was not paid as Confederates did to Chambersburg Pennsylvania? Then of course we could get into the activies of Forrest’s troops at Fort Pillow. The Civil War was largely fought as an honorable war, free of atrocities, but if Lincoln is going to be bashed for the actions of some of his commanders, there is a fair amount on the other side of the ledger.

  28. paul zummo says:

    Don, it looks like a two-front war: the people who oppose Lincoln, and the people upset you’re writing this much about Lincoln. Fortunately, you are Grant, and you can handle them with little problem.

  29. Tom says:

    Well, when the nuns were teaching me, they said it was not right to justify a practice by claiming that “the other guy does it too.”

    I thought we were talking about Lincoln’s merits, not Davis’.

    And if you don’t think Sherman deliberately targeted civilians, you’re not a serious student of the war.

    He sought to deny food and supplies to the Confederate army (which was already beginning to face severe shortages) by burning farmland in as wide a swath as he could from Atlanta to Savannah… civilian farmland, civilian barns, civilian homes. Forced relocation of civilians, including women and children, and forcing entire cities to be emptied: “it to be to the interest of the United States that all citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove,” read Sherman’s order to the confederate general, Hood, who replied: “This unprecedented measure transcends in studied and ingenious cruelty all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war.”

    Special Order no. 127, issued by Sherman, reads: “In case of…destruction (of bridges) by the enemy,…the commanding officer…on the spot will deal harshly with the inhabitants nearby….Should the enemy burn forage and corn on our route, houses, barns, and cotton-gins must also be burned to keep them company.”

    Etc, etc., these examples can be multiplied ad naseam. These crimes were noted in the Northern press, rightly condemned by many there, but fully and unequivocally supported and encouraged by Lincoln.

    Facts are messy, and get in the way of one-dimensional views of our heroes.

  30. Jay Anderson says:

    While I make no excuses for whatever atrocities were committed by the Confederate States, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to agree with Tom that Sherman’s views on “total war” were not in line with Catholic teaching on the matter.

  31. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “He sought to deny food and supplies to the Confederate army”

    A perfectly legitimate tactic since armies are, by definition, not noncombatants.

    “Forced relocation of civilians, including women and children, and forcing entire cities to be emptied: “it to be to the interest of the United States that all citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove,” read Sherman’s order to the confederate general, Hood, who replied: “This unprecedented measure transcends in studied and ingenious cruelty all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war.””

    Proving once again that Hood was as poor a student of history as he was a poor Army commander, as I am sure the Confederate dead at Franklin would attest. Forced relocation of civilians and the burning of towns and cities is not uncommon in war. George Washington was given the nickname “town destroyer” by the Iroqois after Sullivan’s expedition in 1779 where, under Washington’s orders, numerous Indian towns and villages were destroyed in retaliation for raids against the Americans. Sherman burned Atlanta because he did not want it turned into a Confederate base in his rear as his Army marched to the Sea. A perfectly legitimate, although unpleasant, aspect of war. Of course similar tactics were used by the Confederates in areas they considered disloyal, such as East Tennessee which was heavily Unionist in sympathy. Sherman did not burn churches or hospitals, and ordered that no dwellings be burned. The burning he ordered was to be limited to the business and industrial sections and any Confederate property that Hood had not burned when he retreated from the city. However many civilian dwellings were burned against Sherman’s orders, mostly by civilian looters who had stayed behind to rob vacant house. About 37% of the city was destroyed. The civilian population returned within three weeks later and were well on their way to rebuilding the portions of the city destroyed before the end of the war. The burning of Atlanta was rough business, but it was not a major war atrocity, in spite of what the ill-read General Hood claimed.

    As to the actions of Sherman’s troops on the March to the Sea, I find them little different from those of Confederate troops when they were in Northern territory during the war.

    Facts are messy Tom, and ascertaining historical truth is harder than bashing Lincoln, who you obviously harbor a great animus towards.

  32. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I deleted your latest attempted comment Catholic Anarchist. I think once again you were attempting to attack my faith, and besides the subject is Lincoln here and not the hobby horse you wish to ride regarding religion and politics. If you wish to add a comment germane to the topic I will be happy to respond to it.

  33. Don the Kiwi says:

    Good work, Don.
    We have a similar problem with a commenter on our local blog “Being Frank.co.nz” who trolls the comboxes with accusations, red herrings and irrelevencies.

    You may recall Chris Sullivan from Mark Shea’s blog? :mrgreen:

  34. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Chris is emblazoned on my mind forever Don! The Catholic Anarchist and I disagree about most things, but I have no problem allowing him to comment on threads to my posts as long as he doesn’t attack my faith or the faith of other commenters and if he stays on topic.

  35. Matt McDonald says:

    We should keep in mind that admiring a man’s greatness does not necessarily mean we acknowledge that all of his actions are in line with a Catholic moral theology that he does not know. Obviously, in the case of Lincoln, the good works vastly outweigh the potential moral failings of some of his wartime actions. Surely we’re not recommending him for sainthood.

  36. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Surely we’re not recommending him for sainthood.”


  37. ELC says:

    With all due respect, there I was, five years and more ahead of the curve: Pro-Catholic Abraham Lincoln (Thu. 07/10/03 07:29:23 PM) and Abraham Lincoln and the Catholic Church (Sat. 08/16/03 02:16:03 PM). 🙂

  38. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Bravo ELC! You indeed have pride of place!

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