Sunday And The Bible At The White House
( Originally Published 1908 )
SUNDAY at the White House has from the beginning always been observed not only as a day of rest, but also as a day on which the Presidents, as the representatives of the active Christians of America, permitted nothing to come to pass within the walls of the mansion that was not thoroughly consistent with the most rigid decorum. Washington always attended divine service on Sunday, and John Adams walked to church rain or shine.
The Bible, too, has always been much in evidence at the White House on Sundays in particular. The singing of hymns, too, and the expression of beliefs embracing the divinity of Christ and a recognition of Christianity as the mightiest factor in the world's civilization, have characterized the record of the day's simple events at the President's official home in Washington.
How Mr. Roosevelt Spends His Sundays
President Roosevelt attends church regularly every Sunday morning, whether at the White House or at his home at Oyster Bay. The rest of the day he spends in those pursuits permitted to a robust and active man, pursuits that are wholly consistent, however, with the approved practices of the most conservative of Christ's followers anywhere in the land. As to the details of the manner in which President Roosevelt spends Sunday, we gain the following information from the press reports of the day :
"Sunday is President Roosevelt's day of rest, althdugh many people who have been invited to help him in taking his rest are inclined to think his rest and recreation are what would generally be called hard work or violent exercise. Walking and riding are his ways for passing the hours when most other Americans are lolling about. Sunday morning it is walk to church and back again. Sunday afternoon the lure of the woods and green fields is too much to be resisted. If the day be wet and stormy a long walk over the hills in Virginia is the most pleasing form of diversion and rest. If the day be pleasant a ride through Rock Creek Park, often in company with Senator Lodge, Secretary Root and Postmaster-General Meyer, or only one of them, is the form of the exercise.
"He is not a Sabbatarian in the New England sense of the word, nor does he hold to the Continental notion that games on Sunday are all right for the general public, but conceivably any sort of amusement may be all right for persons who by reason of their occupation may be denied the enjoyment of the ordinary forms of amusements at ordinary times."
President McKinley Spent the Day With His Wife
There was something very cheerful and whole souled about President McKinléy's Christianity. He seemed to carry it with him all the time, and he used it on every possible occasion. He did not keep it stored away for use on Sunday when he attended church, but scattered it broadcast during his busy week days at the White House. No visitor could talk with him for any length of time and not perceive him to be an earnest, active Christian, for he showed it continually in his conversation and in his life.
The pastor at the Metropolitan M. E. Church in Washington knew that when the President was not in his pew on Sunday morning something very extraordinary had occurred to demand his presence at the White House. On a few occasions during the war with Spain, when startling news arrived on Sunday from the front, the Cabinet was assembled, but this was a rare occurrence and the President was usually permitted to make his Sunday a day of absolute rest, and to devote its hours to worship and spiritual exercises.
Mr. McKinley was a very early riser. On Sunday morning, breakfast table at the White House was a pleasant sight. The President himself asked the blessing on the morning meal. Then he and Mrs. McKinley counseled with one another until his time to leave for church. A Cabinet officer or secretary might drop in for a moment, but his business had to be very important indeed to have the President consider it on a Sunday, even for an instant. No mail was opened at the White House on this morning, unless its contents were known to be important.
Sunday was his own particular home day. He and Mrs. McKinley spent it together, and it was indeed a day of rest to them. Before dinner was served they usually stepped out into the White House garden and there found delight in each other's company. Sunday visitors were rare and the family usually sat down alone to this most pleasant meal of all the week.
President McKinley Fond of Singing Hymns
Mr. McKinley, more than any other President, showed a fondness for singing hymns. "On Sabbath evenings during his administration," says a White House employe, "there would often be gatherings of a few friends in the Blue Parlor after dinner, and hymn books would be brought out and then all would join in singing hymns, accompanied by the piano. Frequently when the President returned from church on the Sabbath he would hum the tune of a hymn as I was taking him up in the elevator."
Lincoln Listens Spellbound to a Hymn
Shortly before his death, President Lincoln received, at the White House, some 50o members of that very Christian Commission, some of whose officers were the first to reach the wounded President's side after he was shot at Ford's Theatre by J. Wilkes Booth. The Christian Commission had been very active in rendering aid to the soldiers during the Civil War, and Mr. Lincoln, on the day in question, January 27, 1865, had invited the members to the White House to thank them for their services. A description of the impressive meeting is described 'by Mrs. Mary Coffin Johnson, thus :
"There was about Lincoln, as I first saw him standing bare-headed in an open barouche, a commanding dignity that made itself felt in spite of his tall, unattractive figure, unpolished appearance and simplicity of manner. That was in front of my door in Cincinnati, a little before the war.
"It was three years later that I again saw the President in Washington, and I was struck by the change in his appearance and his sad, care-worn face.
"Once again I saw him, and this was only two months before his tragic death. It was at a great meeting of the United States Christian Commission in the White House, with many distinguished people present, diplomats, army and navy men—Schuyler Colfax, I remember, J. G. Blaine and Vice-Admiral Farragut.
"The President came in very quietly with his secretary, a member of the Cabinet, and followed by two officers. The commission rose to its feet as he entered, but he slipped into a seat not far from where I was sitting, like a plain man, as he always said he was, and would not go on the platform. Chaplain McCabe later Bishop McCabe,and A. D. Richardson, who had just reached home after their escape from Libby Prison, mere skeletons and so weak they could hardly stand, told of their experiences. The President listened with close attention, drawing his sleeve over his eyes he never seemed to have a handkerchief to wipe away the tears. When thanks were given to the commission for the work it had done among the soldiers the President led it, clapping and stamping with both feet.
"Later, Philip Phillips, a wellknown song and hymn writer, who was one of our party, went forward, and, sitting down to a little organ, sang a new song that had just come out.ThePresident listened spellbound, and when it was finished he sent a note up to Mr. Seward, who was presiding. He wrote :
"Near the close of your meeting you might have that song repeated by Mr. Phillips, but don't say that I called for it."LINCOLN"
The Great Liberator Quotes the Bible
That Lincoln knew the Bible well, and quoted from the Great Book off-hand, is shown in an unusually interesting story told by Doorkeeper Pendel, in his book on his experiences in the White House, thus :
"One day a man with a very swarthy complexion came in wearing a silk hat and a Prince Albert coat. You would have taken him at first glance for a minister of the Gospel. He commenced finding fault with Mr. Stanton, the great War Secretary, accusing him of not carrying out the order that President Lincoln had given two weeks before to have a certain man liberated from prison who had been sentenced to death, but was pardoned.
"Mr. Lincoln listened patiently to his complaint, and then said, emphatically, `If it had not been for me, that man would now be in his grave. Now, sir, you claim to be a philanthropist. If you will get your Bible and turn to the thirtieth chapter of Proverbs, the tenth verse, you will read these words : `Accuse not a servant unto his master, lest he curse thee, and thou be found guilty'. Whereupon the man got angry and went away. But as he went out, he said : `There is no such passage in the Bible'. `Oh, yes', said Mr. Lincoln, `I think you will find it in the thirtieth chapter of Proverbs, and at the tenth verse'. This was late in the afternoon, and I thought no more of the occurrence.
"Next morning I was at Mr. Lincoln's office door as usual, about eight o'clock, and heard some one calling out : `Oh, Pendleton ! I say, Pendleton, come in here'. When I went inside Mr. Lincoln said to me, `Wait a moment'. He stepped quickly into the private part of the house, through what is the Cabinet Room, but which was then used as a waiting room, and soon reappeared with his Bible in his hand. He then sat down and read to me that identical passage he had quoted to the philanthropist, and sure enough it was found to be in the thirtieth chapter of Proverbs, and at the tenth verse.
"In those days I was not much of a Bible reader. But in 1865 I decided that all important question whether or not I should be a follower of the Lord Jesus. I commenced reading a little old Bible that I had bought at a second-hand store, and which had belonged to an old soldier. After this I always kept it with me at the White House, and would occupy my odd hours in reading from it. One day I came across the same passage which Mr. Lincoln had quoted to the angry philanthropist. The whole occurrence came back to me, and I thought what a just man was the President. He was not even willing for me to be in doubt as to his correct quotation of a Bible passage, but must needs take his precious time to prove himself right in my eyes. How simple-hearted, yet how truly great a man he was."
Grant Talks on the Bible
General Grant, while President of the United States, gave out a message to the children of America in which he said :
"Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet-anchor of your liberties; write its precepts in your hearts, and practice them in your lives. To the influence of this Book are we indebted for all the progress made in true civilization, and to this we must look as our guide in the future."
How Grant Regretted Sunday Battles
General Horace Porter, once Private Secretary to President Grant, in his reminiscences, tells of Grant's views regarding the keeping of the Seventh Day, thus :
"General Grant rarely spoke of his religious convictions, but had a deep regard for the Christian religion and its institutions.
He was a regular attendant upon the Methodist Episcopal Church at home, and a liberal supporter of the enterprises of all denominations. He expressed regret that so many of the decisive passages in the war must be fought out on Sunday, and tried to avoid this. Nothing was more offensive to him than an attempt to make light of serious matters or to show a disrespect for sacred things."
CIeveland's View of the Bible
About the last thing that fell from the pen of the late Grover Cleveland was an estimate of the Bible. He said : "I very much hope that in sending out this book you will do something to invite more attention among the masses of our people to the study of the New Testament and Bible as a whole. It seems to me that in these days there is an unhappy falling off in our appreciation of the importance of this study. I do not believe, as a people, that we can afford to allow our interest in and veneration for the Bible to abate. I look upon it as the source from which those who study it in spirit and in truth will derive strength of character, a realization of the duty of citizenship and a true apprehension of the power and wisdom and mercy of God."
Cleveland on Christian Citizenship
In one of his addresses, President Cleveland expressed his views of the duties of Christian citizenship as follows :
"The citizen is a better business man if he is a Christian gentleman, and surely business is not the less prosperous and successful if conducted on Christian principles.
"A wholesome religious faith thus inures to the perpetuity, the safety and the prosperity of our Republic, by exacting the due observance of civil law, the preservation of public order, and a proper regard for the rights of all ; and thus are its adherents better fitted for good citizenship and confirmed in a sure and steadfast patriotism. It seems to me, too, that the conception of duty to the State which is derived from religious precept involves a sense of personal responsibility, which is of the greatest value in the operation of the government by the people. It will be a fortunate day for our country when every citizen feels that he has an ever present duty to perform to the State which he cannot escape from or neglect without being false to his religious as well as to his civil allegiance."