TAEM- Literature plays a big role in our lives and it is the basis of movies, theater, and television shows. Long before all of these it was the centerpiece of learning and communication for the human race. It has also been the documented record of our history and all that we know.
Author Paul Serup’s work encompasses all these qualities. As an independent author and researcher he has spent many years studying a case that has haunted America’s history since the Civil War. Paul, tell us a little about yourself and your work as a researcher.
PS- I have loved reading from an early age and am fascinated with history. As it has been said, real life is often so much more interesting than fiction. As you mentioned, I am an independent research and author, based in central British Columbia, Canada. It is very nice part of the world, but somewhat removed from important repositories of information like the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library etc, so doing research in the area I have, has been a challenge. I hold the record, the last time I checked, for the amount of inter-library loans at the library of the city where I live, while researching the book. There is, however, no substitute for having boots on the ground and doing research on location, although travel is expensive.TAEM- You started your recent book, Who Killed Abraham Lincoln? while reviewing the life of Father Charles Chiniquy. Tell us about him and why you decided to look into his work.
PS- To answer your second question first, in 1986, I read Chiniquy’s autobiography, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome and I was stunned, in particular, by his assertion that the Jesuits were ultimately behind the Lincoln assassination. I became very curious about him and so I started to do research on who he was, what sort of reputation he had, and what place he had, if any, in history. That is essentially what initially motivated me and I began my research with no plans for a book or anything of the sort.
Charles Chiniquy was born in the Canadian province of Quebec, into the Roman Catholic religion in 1809, the same year Abraham Lincoln was born. As a child, he learned the Bible at his mother’s side, and as he grew up, he aspired to the Catholic priesthood. Although he struggled with the instruction he received, feeling that there was major disagreement between the teachings of the Catholic Church and what the Bible and logic told him, he finished his training and was ordained a priest in 1833. Through the influence of a Protestant doctor he met while ministering at the Quebec Marine Hospital, Chiniquy became convinced of the damage that alcohol does to individuals, and society in general, and so started a temperance society. He was very successful in his efforts and by the mid-nineteenth century, he had persuaded roughly half of Quebec to give up drinking. At the time, most households in the province had a portrait of the eloquent “Apostle of Temperance”, as he was called. In 1851, he accepted the summons of Bishop Vandeveld, the second bishop of Chicago, to establish a French-Canadian Catholic settlement on the unsettled prairie of Illinois. He was again successful in doing so, but when a new bishop came to Chicago, Anthony O’Regan, Chiniquy found himself in a very public struggle with the tyrannical O’Regan. He also found himself a target of a prominent Catholic named Peter Spink, who began an unsuccessful prosecution of him, through two court terms in 1855 in Kankakee.
TAEM- He left the Catholic Church for the Protestant religion. What motivated him to do so?
PS- Although he struggled to remain a Catholic, changing the religious order he ministered in and the place where he served: the gap between what the Catholic Church preached and what it practiced, the division between the teachings of Catholic theologians and what the Bible stated, eventually caused him the leave the religion he was raised in and become a Protestant. After his tremendous colision with Chiniquy, Bishop O’Regan was summoned to Rome and removed as bishop of Chicago. The final straw for Chiniquy and the Catholic Church, was when the successor of O’Regan, Bishop Smith of Dubuque, asked for Chiniquy and the people of his colony to give a written canonical declaration of submission to him. They promised to obey the bishop in everything he asked as long as it was in accordance to the Word of God. When the bishop told Chiniquy he had to submit unconditionally, Chiniquy refused to do so. The bishop then told Chiniquy that he could no longer be a Catholic priest and Chiniquy left the Church. Though Chiniquy was initially very alarmed at having left the Church he had been born in, he felt God show him that, like Luther, he could be saved and have a relationship with God by faith, in Jesus Christ, not by trying to keep a system of religious laws. A thousand of his fellow colonists followed him out of the Roman Catholic Church immediately and eventually most of the colony left the Church to become Protestants. Charles Chiniquy went on to become world famous as he spent the rest of his life trying to win Roman Catholics to the Protestant faith. His life was very eventful. Although he endured a number of law suits, riots, stonings, and attempts on his life at the hands of Catholics, he lived to his ninetieth year.
TAEM- Please tell our readers about his friendship with Lincoln, and how he first met him.
PS- After he had won his second battle with Peter Spink in Kankakee, he was greatly discouraged to hear that Spink had successfully petitioned for a change of venue, as it would make Chiniquy’s defense much more difficult. A stranger approached him and told him his struggle was larger than he knew. He said that the bishop of Chicago, who wanted to silence him, was really behind the prosecution. The stranger recommended that he hire Abraham Lincoln, whom he called the best lawyer and most honest man in Illinois, to defend him. Chiniquy sent a telegram to Lincoln and soon received word that Lincoln would help. He first met the future President at the beginning of the spring court session at Urbana in 1856 and they went through this court battle and another in the fall together. The fall court action in which Lincoln defended him was the most high profile libel case in the popular Springfield attorney’s career. Big crowds came, not because Lincoln was involved but because Chiniquy was. Charles Chiniquy said he was filled with admiration for Lincoln the moment they first met. At the conclusion of the case, Lincoln said he was amazed at how Chiniquy had been persecuted and hoped that he could be counted as one of Chiniquy’s most devoted friends. Chiniquy said that Lincoln’s services were worth at least two thousand dollars but Lincoln refused to accept anything except fifty dollars, saying he had defended Chiniquy less as a lawyer than as a friend. Chiniquy visited President Lincoln three times in the White House and the last visit is actually reported in a letter, by Chiniquy, published in the Chicago Tribune in August 12th, 1864, while the 16th President remained in office. It is published in its entirety in my book. The letter is a fascinating glimpse into the Lincoln White House and into Chiniquy’s friendship with the President. Chiniquy’s great admiration for Lincoln is clearly evident. Strong evidence shows that Chiniquy was actually Abraham Lincoln’s closest friend.
TAEM- Tell us of your endeavors to research his claim of the conspiracy behind the President’s assassination.
PS- I have researched Chiniquy’s assertions from Minnesota to New York, through institutions such as the Library of Congress, the National Archives, other libraries, archives, collections, cemeteries, and careful review of essentially all of the relevant documentation available, it has not been possible to find any part of the ex-priest’s book where it appears certain that he made a significant error regarding historical fact. I found newspaper articles in Minnesota that reported on the murders of Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward being spoken about, hours before they were attempted, in a solidly Roman Catholic village in the state, many miles from the nearest rail or telegraph line. Charles Chiniquy talked about them, but I believe these articles have not be found and published before I did in my book. As you likely are aware, it was not just Lincoln who was slated for assassination. It was also the Vice-President, the Secretary of State and General Grant. The last case that Lincoln defended Chiniquy in was ended by the appearance of a young woman, Philomene Moffat, who had direct evidence that a Catholic priest who had testified against Chiniquy had committed perjury. In my research of this woman, which took me through a couple of Chicago cemeteries, I found two of her living descendants, on in the state of New York and one in Utah. They, unfortunately, had essentially no information to add.
TAEM- How many years have you worked on this, and what obstacles have you encountered.
PS- I researched and wrote on this over a period of twenty two years. Something like six or seven years into my research, I believe, I read a paper by Joseph George Jr., published in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. I am not sure exactly when I first read it because, as I mentioned, I had no plan of doing anything with the research at the time so I took no note of when it happened. In any event, the paper was entitled: “The Lincoln Writings of Charles P. T. Chiniquy“, and was published in the February 1976 issue of this journal. At the time, George was the chair of the history department of Villanova University. The paper stopped me in my tracks as it directly stated, in this historical journal, that Chiniquy was wrong and not to be believed. The tone was so final, conclusive, and coming from the chair of a history department of a fairly well known university, I was disappointed to conclude that Chiniquy was therefore simply wrong. As I had traveled, gone to Chicago and other places and done some years of research, I picked up the material again, after a year or so, to go over and see exactly where Chiniquy went wrong. As I did so, I was surprised to find that when his paper was closely examined, this university professor had made numerous errors of historical fact, and reason and had misquoted Chiniquy. I found that in finality, it was Joseph George that shouldn’t be trusted, and not Charles Chiniquy. I then started my research again. The critique of George’s paper is in book.
TAEM- Do you believe that there may be an ulterior motive to his accusation.
PS- No, I do not believe so. As I mentioned, I examined Joseph George’s criticism of Chiniquy and what he wrote and found George’s negative assessment of the ex-priest to be without merit. I also examined the criticism of four others who were critics of Chiniquy. Three were academics and the other one was a Jesuit priest. Even after his death, when he can no longer defend himself, they were unable to successfully convict him of any wrong-doing. If one looks at his treatment by his contemporaries in the press such as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, it is very interesting. They treat him as the celebrated, world famous clergyman that he was, not as someone who personally had a axe to grind regarding the Church of Rome.
TAEM- What are your assumptions of the case’s outcome?
PS- I hope that more thinking Americans will consider what I have found and if they do, they will gain new insight into the motivation of those took part in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy and the role of the Roman Catholic Church in this famous cold case.
TAEM- Who are the publisher’s for your work and what other projects are you looking forward too?
PS- My book was self-published, as I thought, probably mistakenly, that it would be quicker way to get it finished. I am contemplating a couple of other projects, another book possibly, a paper or two in historical journals, and something else. I thank you for your interest in my research and book.
TAEM- Paul, I know that our readers will look forward to reading your book and it may answer so many of the questions that has left this case a mystery. We want to thank you for this interview with The Arts and Entertainment Magazine and wish you much luck with your great work.