LINCOLN’S YARNS AND STORIES
A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes that made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller
With Introduction and Anecdotes
By Colonel Alexander K. McClure
THE JOHN C. WINSTON COMPANY
CHICAGO & PHILADELPHIA
ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the Great Story Telling President, whose Emancipation Proclamation freed more than four million slaves, was a keen politician, profound statesman, shrewd diplomatist, a thorough judge of men and possessed of an intuitive knowledge of affairs. He was the first Chief Executive to die at the hands of an assassin. Without school education he rose to power by sheer merit and will-power. Born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1809, his surroundings being squalid, his chances for advancement were apparently hopeless. President Lincoln died April 15th, 1865, having been shot by J. Wilkes Booth the night before.
Dean Swift said that the man who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before serves well of his kind. Considering how much grass there is in the world and comparatively how little fun, we think that a still more deserving person is the man who makes many laughs grow where none grew before.
Sometimes it happens that the biggest crop of laugh is produced by a man who ranks among the greatest and wisest. Such a man was Abraham Lincoln whose wholesome fun mixed with true philosophy made thousands laugh and think at the same time. He was a firm believer in the saying, “Laugh and the world laughs with you.”
Whenever Abraham Lincoln wanted to make a strong point he usually began by saying, “Now, that reminds me of a story.” And when he had told a story every one saw the point and was put into a good humor.
The ancients had Aesop and his fables. The moderns had Abraham Lincoln and his stories.
Aesop’s Fables have been printed in book form in almost every language and millions have read them with pleasure and profit. Lincoln’s stories were scattered in the recollections of thousands of people in various parts of the country. The historians who wrote histories of Lincoln’s life remembered only a few of them, but the most of Lincoln’s stories and the best of them remained unwritten. More than five years ago the author of this book conceived the idea of collecting all the yarns and stories, the droll sayings, and witty and humorous anecdotes of Abraham Lincoln into one large book, and this volume is the result of that idea.
Before Lincoln was ever heard of as a lawyer or politician, he was famous as a story teller. As a politician, he always had a story to fit the other side; as a lawyer, he won many cases by telling the jury a story which showed them the justice of his side better than any argument could have done.
While nearly all of Lincoln’s stories have a humorous side, they also contain a moral, which every good story should have.
They contain lessons that could be taught so well in no other way. Every one of them is a sermon. Lincoln, like the Man of Galilee, spoke to the people in parables.
Nothing that can be written about Lincoln can show his character in such a true light as the yarns and stories he was so fond of telling, and at which he would laugh as heartily as anyone.
For a man whose life was so full of great responsibilities, Lincoln had many hours of laughter when the humorous, fun-loving side of his great nature asserted itself.
Every person to keep healthy ought to have one good hearty laugh every day. Lincoln did, and the author hopes that the stories at which he laughed will continue to furnish laughter to all who appreciate good humor, with a moral point and spiced with that true philosophy bred in those who live close to nature and to the people around them.
In producing this new Lincoln book, the publishers have followed an entirely new and novel method of illustrating it. The old shop-worn pictures that are to be seen in every “History of Lincoln,” and in every other book written about him, such as “A Flatboat on the Sangamon River,” “State Capitol at Springfield,” “Old LogCabin,” etc., have all been left out and in place of them the best special artists that could be employed have supplied original drawings illustrating the “point” of Lincoln’s stories.
These illustrations are not copies of other pictures, but are original drawings made from the author’s original text expressly for this book.
In these high-class outline pictures the artists have caught the true spirit of Lincoln’s humor, and while showing the laughable side of many incidents in his career, they are true to life in the scenes and characters they portray.
In addition to these new and original pictures, the book contains many rare and valuable photograph portraits, together with biographies, of the famous men of Lincoln’s day, whose lives formed a part of his own life history.
No Lincoln book heretofore published has ever been so profusely, so artistically and expensively illustrated.
The parables, yarns, stories, anecdotes and sayings of the “Immortal Abe” deserve a place beside Aesop’s Fables, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and all other books that have added to the happiness and wisdom of mankind.
Lincoln’s stories are like Lincoln himself. The more we know of them the better we like them.
BY COLONEL ALEXANDER K. McCLURE.
While Lincoln would have been great among the greatest of the land as a statesman and politician if like Washington, Jefferson and Jackson, he had never told a humorous story, his sense of humor was the most fascinating feature of his personal qualities.
He was the most exquisite humorist I have ever known in my life. His humor was always spontaneous, and that gave it a zest and elegance that the professional humorist never attains.
As a rule, the men who have become conspicuous in the country as humorists have excelled in nothing else. S. S. Cox, Proctor Knott, John P. Hale and others were humorists in Congress. When they arose to speak if they failed to be humorous they utterly failed, and they rarely strove to be anything but humorous. Such men often fail, for the professional humorist, however gifted, cannot always be at his best, and when not at his best he is grievously disappointing.
I remember Corwin, of Ohio, who was a great statesman as well as a great humorist, but whose humor predominated in his public speeches in Senate and House, warning a number of the younger Senators and Representatives on a social occasion when he had returned to Congress in his old age, against seeking to acquire the reputation of humorists. He said it was the mistake of his life. He loved it as did his hearers, but the temptation to be humorous was always uppermost, and while his speech on the Mexican War was the greatest ever delivered in the Senate, excepting Webster’s reply to Hayne, he regretted that he was more known as a humorist than as a statesman.
His first great achievement in the House was delivered in 1840 in reply to General Crary, of Michigan, who had attacked General Harrison’s military career. Corwin’s reply in defense of Harrison is universally accepted as the most brilliant combination of humor and invective ever delivered in that body. The venerable John Quincy Adams a day or two after Corwin’s speech, referred to Crary as “the late General Crary,” and the justice of the remark from the “Old Man Eloquent” was accepted by all. Mr. Lincoln differed from the celebrated humorists of the country in the important fact that his humor was unstudied. He was not in any sense a professional humorist, but I have never in all my intercourse with public men, known one who was so apt in humorous illustration us Mr. Lincoln, and I have known him many times to silence controversy by a humorous story with pointed application to the issue.
His face was the saddest in repose that I have ever seen among accomplished and intellectual men, and his sympathies for the people, for the untold thousands who were suffering bereavement from the war, often made him speak with his heart upon his sleeve, about the sorrows which shadowed the homes of the land and for which his heart was freely bleeding.
I have many times seen him discussing in the most serious and heartfelt manner the sorrows and bereavements of the country, and when it would seem as though the tension was so strained that the brittle cord of life must break, his face would suddenly brighten like the sun escaping from behind the cloud to throw its effulgence upon the earth, and he would tell an appropriate story, and much as his stories were enjoyed by his hearers none enjoyed them more than Mr. Lincoln himself.
I have often known him within the space of a few minutes to be transformed from the saddest face I have ever looked upon to one of the brightest and most mirthful. It was well known that he had his great fountain of humor as a safety valve; as an escape and entire relief from the fearful exactions his endless duties put upon him. In the gravest consultations of the cabinet where he was usually a listener rather than a speaker, he would often end dispute by telling a story and none misunderstood it; and often when he was pressed to give expression on particular subjects, and his always abundant caution was baffled, he many times ended the interview by a story that needed no elaboration.
I recall an interview with Mr. Lincoln at the White House in the spring of 1865, just before Lee retreated from Petersburg. It was well understood that the military power of the Confederacy was broken, and that the question of reconstruction would soon be upon us.
Colonel Forney and I had called upon the President simply to pay our respects, and while pleasantly chatting with him General Benjamin F. Butler entered. Forney was a great enthusiast, and had intense hatred of the Southern leaders who had hindered his advancement when Buchanan was elected President, and he was bubbling over with resentment against them. He introduced the subject to the President of the treatment to be awarded to the leaders of the rebellion when its powers should be confessedly broken, and he was earnest in demanding that Davis and other conspicuous leaders of the Confederacy should be tried, condemned and executed as traitors.
General Butler joined Colonel Forney in demanding that treason must be made odious by the execution of those who had wantonly plunged the country into civil war. Lincoln heard them patiently, as he usually heard all, and none could tell, however carefully they scanned his countenance what impression the appeal made upon him.
I said to General Butler that, as a lawyer pre-eminent in his profession, he must know that the leaders of a government that had beleaguered our capital for four years, and was openly recognized as a belligerent power not only by our government but by all the leading governments of the world, could not be held to answer to the law for the crime of treason.
Butler was vehement in declaring that the rebellious leaders must be tried and executed. Lincoln listened to the discussion for half an hour or more and finally ended it by telling the story of a common drunkard out in Illinois who had been induced by his friends time and again to join the temperance society, but had always broken away. He was finally gathered up again and given notice that if he violated his pledge once more they would abandon him as an utterly hopeless vagrant. He made an earnest struggle to maintain his promise, and finally he called for lemonade and said to the man who was preparing it: “Couldn’t you put just a drop of the cratur in unbeknownst to me?”
After telling the story Lincoln simply added: “If these men could get away from the country unbeknownst to us, it might save a world of trouble.” All understood precisely what Lincoln meant, although he had given expression in the most cautious manner possible and the controversy was ended.
Lincoln differed from professional humorists in the fact that he never knew when he was going to be humorous. It bubbled up on the most unexpected occasions, and often unsettled the most carefully studied arguments. I have many times been with him when he gave no sign of humor, and those who saw him under such conditions would naturally suppose that he was incapable of a humorous expression. At other times he would effervesce with humor and always of the most exquisite and impressive nature. His humor was never strained; his stories never stale, and even if old, the application he made of them gave them the freshness of originality.
I recall sitting beside him in the White House one day when a message was brought to him telling of the capture of several brigadier-generals and a number of horses somewhere out in Virginia. He read the dispatch and then in an apparently soliloquizing mood, said: “Sorry for the horses; I can make brigadier-generals.”
There are many who believe that Mr. Lincoln loved to tell obscene or profane stories, but they do great injustice to one of the purest and best men I have ever known. His humor must be judged by the environment that aided in its creation.
As a prominent lawyer who traveled the circuit in Illinois, he was much in the company of his fellow lawyers, who spent their evenings in the rude taverns of what was then almost frontier life. The Western people thus thrown together with but limited sources of culture and enjoyment, logically cultivated the story teller, and Lincoln proved to be the most accomplished in that line of all the members of the Illinois bar. They had no private rooms for study, and the evenings were always spent in the common barroom of the tavern, where Western wit, often vulgar or profane, was freely indulged in, and the best of them at times told stories which were somewhat “broad;” but even while thus indulging in humor that would grate harshly upon severely refined hearers, they despised the vulgarian; none despised vulgarity more than Lincoln.
I have heard him tell at one time or another almost or quite all of the stories he told during his Presidential term, and there were very few of them which might not have been repeated in a parlor and none descended to obscene, vulgar or profane expressions. I have never known a man of purer instincts than Abraham Lincoln, and his appreciation of all that was beautiful and good was of the highest order.
It was fortunate for Mr. Lincoln that he frequently sought relief from the fearfully oppressive duties which bore so heavily upon him. He had immediately about him a circle of men with whom he could be “at home” in the White House any evening as he was with his old time friends on the Illinois circuit.
David Davis was one upon whom he most relied as an adviser, and Leonard Swett was probably one of his closest friends, while Ward Lamon, whom he made Marshal of the District of Columbia to have him by his side, was one with whom he felt entirely “at home.” Davis was of a more sober order but loved Lincoln’s humor, although utterly incapable of a humorous expression himself. Swett was ready with Lincoln to give and take in storyland, as was Lamon, and either of them, and sometimes all of them, often dropped in upon Lincoln and gave him an hour’s diversion from his exacting cares. They knew that he needed it and they sought him for the purpose of diverting him from what they feared was an excessive strain.
His devotion to Lamon was beautiful. I well remember at Harrisburg on the night of February 22, 1861, when at a dinner given by Governor Curtin to Mr. Lincoln, then on his way to Washington, we decided, against the protest of Lincoln, that he must change his route to Washington and make the memorable midnight journey to the capital. It was thought to be best that but one man should accompany him, and he was asked to choose. There were present of his suite Colonel Sumner, afterwards one of the heroic generals of the war, Norman B. Judd, who was chairman of the Republican State Committee of Illinois, Colonel Lamon and others, and he promptly chose Colonel Lamon, who alone accompanied him on his journey from Harrisburg to Philadelphia and thence to Washington.
Before leaving the room Governor Curtin asked Colonel Lamon whether he was armed, and he answered by exhibiting a brace of fine pistols, a huge bowie knife, a black jack, and a pair of brass knuckles. Curtin answered: “You’ll do,” and they were started on their journey after all the telegraph wires had been cut. We awaited through what seemed almost an endless night, until the east was purpled with the coming of another day, when Colonel Scott, who had managed the whole scheme, reunited the wires and soon received from Colonel Lamon this dispatch: “Plums delivered nuts safely,” which gave us the intensely gratifying information that Lincoln had arrived in Washington.
Of all the Presidents of the United States, and indeed of all the great statesmen who have made their indelible impress upon the policy of the Republic, Abraham Lincoln stands out single and alone in his individual qualities. He had little experience in statesmanship when he was called to the Presidency. He had only a few years of service in the State Legislature of Illinois, and a single term in Congress ending twelve years before he became President, but he had to grapple with the gravest problems ever presented to the statesmanship of the nation for solution, and he met each and all of them in turn with the most consistent mastery, and settled them so successfully that all have stood unquestioned until the present time, and are certain to endure while the Republic lives.
In this he surprised not only his own cabinet and the leaders of his party who had little confidence in him when he first became President, but equally surprised the country and the world.
He was patient, tireless and usually silent when great conflicts raged about him to solve the appalling problems which were presented at various stages of the war for determination, and when he reached his conclusion he was inexorable. The wrangles of faction and the jostling of ambition were compelled to bow when Lincoln had determined upon his line of duty.
He was much more than a statesman; he was one of the most sagacious politicians I have ever known, although he was entirely unschooled in the machinery by which political results are achieved. His judgment of men was next to unerring, and when results were to be attained he knew the men who should be assigned to the task, and he rarely made a mistake.
I remember one occasion when he summoned Colonel Forney and myself to confer on some political problem, he opened the conversation by saying: “You know that I never was much of a conniver; I don’t know the methods of political management, and I can only trust to the wisdom of leaders to accomplish what is needed.”
Lincoln’s public acts are familiar to every schoolboy of the nation, but his personal attributes, which are so strangely distinguished from the attributes of other great men, are now the most interesting study of young and old throughout our land, and I can conceive of no more acceptable presentation to the public than a compilation of anecdotes and incidents pertaining to the life of the greatest of all our Presidents.
LINCOLN’S NAME AROUSES AN AUDIENCE,
BY DR. NEWMAN HALL, of London.
When I have had to address a fagged and listless audience, I have found that nothing was so certain to arouse them as to introduce the name of Abraham Lincoln.
REVERE WASHINGTON AND LOVE LINCOLN,
REV. DR. THEODORE L. CUYLER.
No other name has such electric power on every true heart, from Maine to Mexico, as the name of Lincoln. If Washington is the most revered, Lincoln is the best loved man that ever trod this continent.
GREATEST CHARACTER SINCE CHRIST
BY JOHN HAY, Former Private Secretary to President Lincoln, and Later Secretary of State in President McKinley’s Cabinet.
As, in spite of some rudeness, republicanism is the sole hope of a sick world, so Lincoln, with all his foibles, is the greatest character since Christ.
STORIES INFORM THE COMMON PEOPLE,
BY CHAUNCEY M. DEPEW, United States Senator from New York.
Mr. Lincoln said to me once: “They say I tell a great many stories; I reckon I do, but I have found in the course of a long experience that common people, take them as they run, are more easily informed through the medium of a broad illustration than in any other way, and as to what the hypercritical few may think, I don’t care.”
HUMOR A PASSPORT TO THE HEART
BY GEO. S. BOUTWELL, Former Secretary of the United States Treasury.
Mr. Lincoln’s wit and mirth will give him a passport to the thoughts and hearts of millions who would take no interest in the sterner and more practical parts of his character.
DROLL, ORIGINAL AND APPROPRIATE.
BY ELIHU B. WASHBURNE, Former United States Minister to France.
Mr. Lincoln’s anecdotes were all so droll, so original, so appropriate and so illustrative of passing incidents, that one never wearied.
LINCOLN’S HUMOR A SPARKLING SPRING,
BY DAVID R. LOCKE (PETROLEUM V. NASBY), Lincoln’s Favorite Humorist.
Mr. Lincoln’s flow of humor was a sparkling spring, gushing out of a rock–the flashing water had a somber background which made it all the brighter.
LIKE AESOP’S FABLES,
BY HUGH McCULLOCH, Former Secretary of the United States Treasury.
Many of Mr. Lincoln’s stories were as apt and instructive as the best of Aesop’s Fables.
FULL OF FUN,
BY GENERAL JAMES B. FRY, Former Adjutant-General United States Army.
Mr. Lincoln was a humorist so full of fun that he could not keep it all in.
INEXHAUSTIBLE FUND OF STORIES,
BY LAWRENCE WELDON, Judge United States Court of Claims.
Mr. Lincoln’s resources as a story-teller were inexhaustible, and no condition could arise in a case beyond his capacity to furnish an illustration with an appropriate anecdote.
BY BEN. PERLEY POORE, Former Editor of The Congressional Record.
Mr. Lincoln was recognized as the champion story-teller of the Capitol.
1806–Marriage of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, June 12th, Washington County, Kentucky.
1809–Born February 12th, Hardin (now La Rue County), Kentucky. 1816–Family Removed to Perry County, Indiana. 1818–Death of Abraham’s Mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. 1819–Second Marriage Thomas Lincoln; Married Sally Bush Johnston, December 2nd, at Elizabethtown, Kentucky. 1830–Lincoln Family Removed to Illinois, Locating in Macon County.
1831–Abraham Located at New Salem. 1832–Abraham a Captain in the Black Hawk War. 1833–Appointed Postmaster at New Salem. 1834–Abraham as a Surveyor. First Election to the Legislature. 1835–Love Romance with Anne Rutledge.
1836–Second Election to the Legislature. 1837–Licensed to Practice Law.
1838–Third Election to the Legislature. 1840–Presidential Elector on Harrison Ticket. Fourth Election to the Legislature.
1842–Married November 4th, to Mary Todd. “Duel” with General Shields.
1843–Birth of Robert Todd Lincoln, August 1st. 1846–Elected to Congress. Birth of Edward Baker Lincoln, March l0th.
1848–Delegate to the Philadelphia National Convention. 1850–Birth of William Wallace Lincoln, December 2nd. 1853–Birth of Thomas Lincoln, April 4th. 1856–Assists in Formation Republican Party. 1858–Joint Debater with Stephen A. Douglas. Defeated for the United States Senate.
1860–Nominated and Elected to the Presidency. 1861–Inaugurated as Prtsident, March 4th. 1863-Issued Emancipation Proclamation. 1864-Re-elected to the Presidency. 1865–Assassinated by J. Wilkes Booth, April 14th. Died April 15th. Remains Interred at Springfield, Illinois, May 4th.
LINCOLN AND McCLURE.
(From Harper’s Weekly, April 13, 1901.)
Colonel Alexander K. McClure, the editorial director of the Philadelphia Times, which he founded in 1875, began his forceful career as a tanner’s apprentice in the mountains of Pennsylvania threescore years ago. He tanned hides all day, and read exchanges nights in the neighboring weekly newspaper office. The learned tanner’s boy also became the aptest Inner in the county, and the editor testified his admiration for young McClure’s attainments by sending him to edit a new weekly paper which the exigencies of politics called into being in an adjoining county.
The lad was over six feet high, had the thews of Ajax and the voice of Boanerges, and knew enough about shoe-leather not to be afraid of any man that stood in it. He made his paper a success, went into politics, and made that a success, studied law with William McLellan, and made that a success, and actually went into the army–and made that a success, by an interesting accident which brought him into close personal relations with Abraham Lincoln, whom he had helped to nominate, serving as chairman of the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania through the campaign.
In 1862 the government needed troops badly, and in each Pennsylvania county Republicans and Democrats were appointed to assist in the enrollment, under the State laws. McClure, working day and night at Harrisburg, saw conscripts coming in at the rate of a thousand a day, only to fret in idleness against the army red-tape which held them there instead of sending a regiment a day to the front, as McClure demanded should be done. The military officer continued to dispatch two companies a day–leaving the mass of the conscripts to be fed by the contractors.
McClure went to Washington and said to the President, “You must send a mustering offcer to Harrisburg who will do as I say; I can’t stay there any longer under existing conditions.”
Lincoln sent into another room for Adjutant-General Thomas. “General,” said he, “what is the highest rank of military officer at Harrisburg?” “Captain, sir,” said Thomas. “Bring me a commission for an Assistant Adjutant-General of the United States Army,” said Lincoln.
So Adjutant-General McClure was mustered in, and after that a regiment a day of boys in blue left Harrisburg for the front. Colonel McClure is one of the group of great Celt-American editors, which included Medill, McCullagh and McLean.
“ABE” LINCOLN’S YARNS AND STORIES.
LINCOLN ASKED TO BE SHOT.
Lincoln was, naturally enough, much surprised one day, when a man of rather forbidding countenance drew a revolver and thrust the weapon almost into his face. In such circumstances “Abe” at once concluded that any attempt at debate or argument was a waste of time and words.
“What seems to be the matter?” inquired Lincoln with all the calmness and selfpossession he could muster.
“Well,” replied the stranger, who did not appear at all excited, “some years ago I swore an oath that if I ever came across an uglier man than myself I’d shoot him on the spot.”
A feeling of relief evidently took possession of Lincoln at this rejoinder, as the expression upon his countenance lost all suggestion of anxiety.
“Shoot me,” he said to the stranger; “for if I am an uglier man than you I don’t want to live.”
TIME LOST DIDN’T COUNT.
Thurlow Weed, the veteran journalist and politician, once related how, when he was opposing the claims of Montgomery Blair, who aspired to a Cabinet appointment, that Mr. Lincoln inquired of Mr. Weed whom he would recommend, “Henry Winter Davis,” was the response.
“David Davis, I see, has been posting you up on this question,” retorted Lincoln. “He has Davis on the brain. I think Maryland must be a good State to move from.”
The President then told a story of a witness in court in a neighboring county, who, on being asked his age, replied, “Sixty.” Being satisfied he was much older the question was repeated, and on receiving the same answer the court admonished the witness, saying, “The court knows you to be much older than sixty.”
“Oh, I understand now,” was the rejoinder, “you’re thinking of those ten years I spent on the eastern share of Maryland; that was so much time lost, and didn’t count.”
Blair was made Postmaster-General.
NO VICES, NO VIRTUES.
Lincoln always took great pleasure in relating this yarn:
Riding at one time in a stage with an old Kentuckian who was returning from Missouri, Lincoln excited the old gentleman’s surprise by refusing to accept either of tobacco or French brandy.
When they separated that afternoon–the Kentuckian to take another stage bound for Louisville–he shook hands warmly with Lincoln, and said, good-humoredly:
“See here, stranger, you’re a clever but strange companion. I may never see you again, and I don’t want to offend you, but I want to say this: My experience has taught me that a man who has no vices has d–d few virtues. Good-day.”
Miss Todd (afterwards Mrs. Lincoln) had a keen sense of the ridiculous, and wrote several articles in the Springfield (Ill.) “Journal” reflecting severefy upon General James Shields (who won fame in the Mexican and Civil Wars, and was United States Senator from three states), then Auditor of State.
Lincoln assumed the authorship, and was challenged by Shields to meet him on the “field of honor.” Meanwhile Miss Todd increased Shields’ ire by writing another letter to the paper, in which she said: “I hear the way of these fire-eaters is to give the challenged party the choice of weapons, which being the case, I’ll tell you in confidence that I never fight with anything but broom-sticks, or hot water, or a shovelful of coals, the former of which, being somewhat like a shillalah, may not be objectionable to him.”
Lincoln accepted the challenge, and selected broadswords as the weapons. Judge Herndon (Lincoln’s law partner) gives the closing of this affair as follows
“The laws of Illinois prohibited dueling, and Lincoln demanded that the meeting should be outside the state. Shields undoubtedly knew that Lincoln was opposed to fighting a duel–that his moral sense would revolt at the thought, and that he would not be likely to break the law by fighting in the state. Possibly he thought Lincoln would make a humble apology. Shields was brave, but foolish, and would not listen to overtures for explanation. It was arranged that the meeting should be in Missouri, opposite Alton. “They proceeded to the place selected, but friends interfered, and there was no duel. There is little doubt that the man who had swung a beetle and driven iron wedges into gnarled hickory logs could have cleft the skull of his antagonist, but he had no such intention. He repeatedly said to the friends of Shields that in writing the first article he had no thought of anything personal. The Auditor’s vanity had been sorely wounded by the second letter, in regard to which Lincoln could not make any explanation except that he had had no hand in writing it. The affair set all Springfield to laughing at Shields.”
“DONE WITH THE BIBLE.”
Lincoln never told a better story than this:
A country meeting-house, that was used once a month, was quite a distance from any other house.
The preacher, an old-line Baptist, was dressed in coarse linen pantaloons, and shirt of the same material. The pants, manufactured after the old fashion, with baggy legs, and a flap in the front, were made to attach to his frame without the aid of suspenders.
A single button held his shirt in position, and that was at the collar. He rose up in the pulpit, and with a loud voice announced his text thus: “I am the Christ whom I shall represent to-day.”
About this time a little blue lizard ran up his roomy pantaloons. The old preacher, not wishing to interrupt the steady flow of his sermon, slapped away on his leg, expecting to arrest the intruder, but his efforts were unavailing, and the little fellow kept on ascending higher and higher.
Continuing the sermon, the preacher loosened the central button which graced the waistband of his pantaloons, and with a kick off came that easyfitting garment.
But, meanwhile, Mr. Lizard had passed the equatorial line of the waistband, and was calmly exploring that part of the preacher’s anatomy which lay underneath the back of his shirt.
Things were now growing interesting, but the sermon was still grinding on. The next movement on the preacher’s part was for the collar button, and with one sweep of his arm off came the tow linen shirt.
The congregation sat for an instant as if dazed; at length one old lady in the rear part of the room rose up, and, glancing at the excited object in the pulpit, shouted at the top of her voice: “If you represent Christ, then I’m done with the Bible.”
HIS KNOWLEDGE OF HUMAN NATURE.
Once, when Lincoln was pleading a case, the opposing lawyer had all the advantage of the law; the weather was warm, and his opponent, as was admissible in frontier courts, pulled off his coat and vest as he grew warm in the argument.
At that time, shirts with buttons behind were unusual. Lincoln took in the situation at once. Knowing the prejudices of the primitive people against pretension of all sorts, or any affectation of superior social rank, arising, he said: “Gentlemen of the jury, having justice on my side, I don’t think you will be at all influenced by the gentleman’s pretended knowledge of the law, when you see he does not even know which side of his shirt should be in front.” There was a general laugh, and Lincoln’s case was won.
A MISCHIEVOUS OX.
President Lincoln once told the following story of Colonel W., who had been elected to the Legislature, and had also been judge of the County Court. His elevation, however, had made him somewhat pompous, and he became very fond of using big words. On his farm he had a very large and mischievous ox, called “Big Brindle,” which very frequently broke down his neighbors’ fences, and committed other depredations, much to the Colonel’s annoyance.
One morning after breakfast, in the presence of Lincoln, who had stayed with him over night, and who was on his way to town, he called his overseer and said to him:
“Mr. Allen, I desire you to impound ‘Big Brindle,’ in order that I may hear no animadversions on his eternal depredations,”
Allen bowed and walked off, sorely puzzled to know what the Colonel wanted him to do. After Colonel W. left for town, he went to his wife and asked her what the Colonel meant by telling him to impound the ox.
“Why, he meant to tell you to put him in a pen,” said she.
Allen left to perform the feat, for it was no inconsiderable one, as the animal was wild and vicious, but, after a great deal of trouble and vexation, succeeded.
“Well,” said he, wiping the perspiration from his brow and soliloquizing, “this is impounding, is it? Now, I am dead sure that the Colonel will ask me if I impounded ‘Big Brindle,’ and I’ll bet I puzzle him as he did me.”
The next day the Colonel gave a dinner party, and as he was not aristrocratic, Allen, the overseer, sat down with the company. After the second or third glass was discussed, the Colonel turned to the overseer and said
“Eh, Mr. Allen, did you impound ‘Big Brindle,’ sir?”
Allen straightened himself, and looking around at the company, replied:
“Yes, I did, sir; but ‘Old Brindle’ transcended the impannel of the impound, and scatterlophisticated all over the equanimity of the forest.”
The company burst into an immoderate fit of laughter, while the Colonel’s face reddened with discomfiture.
“What do you mean by that, sir?” demanded the Colonel.
“Why, I mean, Colonel,” replied Allen, “that ‘Old Brindle,’ being prognosticated with an idea of the cholera, ripped and teared, snorted and pawed dirt, jumped the fence, tuck to the woods, and would not be impounded nohow.”
This was too much; the company roared again, the Colonel being forced to join in the laughter, and in the midst of the jollity Allen left the table, saying to himself as he went, “I reckon the Colonel won’t ask me to impound any more oxen.”
THE PRESIDENTIAL “CHIN-FLY.”
Some of Mr. Lincoln’s intimate friends once called his attention to a certain member of his Cabinet who was quietly working to secure a nomination for the Presidency, although knowing that Mr. Lincoln was to be a candidate for re-election. His friends insisted that the Cabinet officer ought to be made to give up his Presidential aspirations or be removed from office. The situation reminded Mr. Lincoln of a story:
“My brother and I,” he said, “were once plowing corn, I driving the horse and he holding the plow. The horse was lazy, but on one occasion he rushed across the field so that I, with my long legs, could scarcely keep pace with him. On reaching the end of the furrow, I found an enormous chin-fly fastened upon him, and knocked him off. My brother asked me what I did that for. I told him I didn’t want the old horse bitten in that way. ‘Why,’ said my brother, ‘that’s all that made him go.’ Now,” said Mr. Lincoln, “if Mr.– has a Presidential chin-fly biting him, I’m not going to knock him off, if it will only make his department go.”
‘SQUIRE BAGLY’S PRECEDENT.
Mr. T. W. S. Kidd, of Springfield, says that he once heard a lawyer opposed to Lincoln trying to convince a jury that precedent was superior to law, and that custom made things legal in all cases. When Lincoln arose to answer him he told the jury he would argue his case in the same way.
“Old ‘Squire Bagly, from Menard, came into my office and said, ‘Lincoln, I want your advice as a lawyer. Has a man what’s been elected justice of the peace a right to issue a marriage license?’
I told him he had not; when the old ‘squire threw himself back in his chair very indignantly, and said, ‘Lincoln, I thought you was a lawyer. Now Bob Thomas and me had a bet on this thing, and we agreed to let you decide; but if this is your opinion I don’t want it, for I know a thunderin’ sight better, for I have been ‘squire now for eight years and have done it all the time.'”
HE’D NEED HIS GUN.
When the President, early in the War, was anxious about the defenses of Washington, he told a story illustrating his feelings in the case. General Scott, then Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army, had but 1,500 men, two guns and an old sloop of war, the latter anchored in the Potomac, with which to protect the National Capital, and the President was uneasy.
To one of his queries as to the safety of Washington, General Scott had replied, “It has been ordained, Mr. President, that the city shall not be captured by the Confederates.”
“But we ought to have more men and guns here,” was the Chief Executive’s answer. “The Confederates are not such fools as to let a good chance to capture Washington go by, and even if it has been ordained that the city is safe, I’d feel easier if it were better protected. All this reminds me of the old trapper out in the West who had been assured by some ‘city folks’ who had hired him as a guide that all matters regarding life and death were prearranged.
“‘It is ordained,’ said one of the party to the old trapper, ‘that you are to die at a certain time, and no one can kill you before that time. If you met a thousand Indians, and your death had not been ordained for that day, you would certainly escape.’
“‘I don’t exactly understand this “ordained” business,’ was the trapper’s reply. ‘I don’t care to run no risks. I always have my gun with me, so that if I come across some reds I can feel sure that I won’t cross the Jordan ‘thout taking some of ’em with me. Now, for instance, if I met an Indian in the woods; he drew a bead on me–sayin’, too, that he wasn’t more’n ten feet away–an’ I didn’t have nothing to protect myself; say it was as bad as that, the redskin bein’ dead ready to kill me; now, even if it had been ordained that the Indian (sayin’ he was a good shot), was to die that very minute, an’ I wasn’t, what would I do ‘thout my gun?’
“There you are,” the President remarked; “even if it has been ordained that the city of Washington will never be taken by the Southerners, what would we do in case they made an attack upon the place, without men and heavy guns?”
KEPT UP THE ARGUMENT.
Judge T. Lyle Dickey of Illinois related that when the excitement over the Kansas Nebraska bill first broke out, he was with Lincoln
and several friends attending court. One evening several persons, including himself and Lincoln, were discussing the slavery question. Judge Dickey contended that slavery was an institution which the Constitution recognized, and which could not be disturbed. Lincoln argued that ultimately slavery must become extinct. “After awhile,” said Judge Dickey, “we went upstairs to bed. There were two beds in our room, and I remember that Lincoln sat up in his night shirt on the edge of the bed arguing the point with me. At last we went to sleep. Early in the morning I woke up and there was Lincoln half sitting up in bed. ‘Dickey,’ said he, ‘I tell you this nation cannot exist half slave and half free.’ ‘Oh, Lincoln,’ said I, ‘go to sleep.”‘
President Lincoln, while eager that the United States troops should be supplied with the most modern and serviceable weapons, often took occasion to put his foot down upon the mania for experimenting with which some of his generals were afflicted. While engaged in these experiments much valuable time was wasted, the enemy was left to do as he thought best, no battles were fought, and opportunities for winning victories allowed to pass.
The President was an exceedingly practical man, and when an invention, idea or discovery was submitted to him, his first step was to ascertain how any or all of them could be applied in a way to be of benefit to the army. As to experimenting with “contrivances” which, to his mind, could never be put to practical use, he had little patience.
“Some of these generals,” said he, “experiment so long and so much with newfangled, fancy notions that when they are finally brought to a head they are useless. Either the time to use them has gone by, or the machine, when put in operation, kills more than it cures.
“One of these generals, who has a scheme for ‘condensing’ rations, is willing to swear his life away that his idea, when carried to perfection, will reduce the cost of feeding the Union troops to almost nothing, while the soldiers themselves will get so fat that they’ll ‘bust out’ of their uniforms. Of course, uniforms cost nothing, and real fat men are more active and vigorous than lean, skinny ones, but that is getting away from my story.
“There was once an Irishman–a cabman–who had a notion that he could induce his horse to live entirely on shavings. The latter he could get for nothing, while corn and oats were pretty high-priced. So he daily lessened the amount of food to the horse, substituting shavings for the corn and oats abstracted, so that the horse wouldn’t know his rations were being cut down.
“However, just as he had achieved success in his experiment, and the horse had been taught to live without other food than shavings, the ungrateful animal ‘up and died,’ and he had to buy another.
“So far as this general referred to is concerned, I’m afraid the soldiers will all be dead at the time when his experiment is demonstrated as thoroughly successful.”
‘TWAS “MOVING DAY.”
Speed, who was a prosperous young merchant of Springfield, reports that Lincoln’s personal effects consisted of a pair of saddle-bags, containing two or three lawbooks, and a few pieces of clothing. Riding on a borrowed horse, he thus made his appearance in Springfield. When he discovered that a single bedstead would cost seventeen dollars he said, “It is probably cheap enough, but I have not enough money to pay for it.” When Speed offered to trust him, he said: “If I fail here as a lawyer, I will probably never pay you at all.” Then Speed offered to share large double bed with him.
“Where is your room?” Lincoln asked.
“Upstairs,” said Speed, pointing from the store leading to his room.
Without saying a word, he took his saddle-bags on his arm, went upstairs, set them down on the floor, came down again, and with a face beaming with pleasure and smiles, exclaimed: “Well, Speed, I’m moved.”
“ABE’S” HAIR NEEDED COMBING.
“By the way,” remarked President Lincoln one day to Colonel Cannon, a close personal friend, “I can tell you a good story about my hair. When I was nominated at Chicago, an enterprising fellow thought that a great many people would like to see how ‘Abe’ Lincoln looked, and, as I had not long before sat for a photograph, the fellow, having seen it, rushed over and bought the negative.
“He at once got no end of wood-cuts, and so active was their circulation they were soon selling in all parts of the country.
“Soon after they reached Springfield, I heard a boy crying them for sale on the streets. ‘Here’s your likeness of “Abe” Lincoln!’ he shouted. ‘Buy one; price only two shillings! Will look a great deal better when he gets his hair combed!”‘
WOULD “TAKE TO THE WOODS.”
Secretary of State Seward was bothered considerably regarding the complication into which Spain had involved the United States government in connection with San Domingo, and related his troubles to the President. Negotiations were not proceeding satisfactorily, and things were mixed generally. We wished to conciliate Spain, while the negroes had appealed against Spanish oppression.
The President did not, to all appearances, look at the matter seriously, but, instead of treating the situation as a grave one, remarked that Seward’s dilemma reminded him of an interview between two negroes in Tennessee.
One was a preacher, who, with the crude and strange notions of his ignorant race, was endeavoring to admonish and enlighten his brother African of the importance of religion and the danger of the future.
“Dar are,” said Josh, the preacher, “two roads befo’ you, Joe; be ca’ful which ob dese you take. Narrow am de way dat leads straight to destruction; but broad am de way dat leads right to damnation.”
Joe opened his eyes with affright, and under the spell of the awful danger before him, exclaimed, “Josh, take which road you please; I shall go troo de woods.”
“I am not willing,” concluded the President, “to assume any new troubles or responsibilities at this time, and shall therefore avoid going to the one place with Spain, or with the negro to the other, but shall ‘take to the woods.’ We will maintain an honest and strict neutrality.”
LINCOLN CARRIED HER TRUNK.
“My first strong impression of Mr. Lincoln,” says a lady of Springfield, “was made by one of his kind deeds. I was going with a little friend for my first trip alone on the railroad cars. It was an epoch of my life. I had planned for it and dreamed of it for weeks. The day I was to go came, but as the hour of the train approached, the hackman, through some neglect, failed to call for my trunk. As the minutes went on, I realized, in a panic of grief, that I should miss the train. I was standing by the gate, my hat and gloves on, sobbing as if my heart would break, when Mr. Lincoln came by.
“‘Why, what’s the matter?’ he asked, and I poured out all my story.
“‘How big’s the trunk? There’s still time, if it isn’t too big.’ And he pushed through the gate and up to the door. My mother and I took him up to my room, where my little old-fashioned trunk stood, locked and tied. ‘Oh, ho,’ he cried, ‘wipe your eyes and come on quick.’ And before I knew what he was going to do, he had shouldered the trunk, was down stairs, and striding out of the yard. Down the street he went fast as his long legs could carry him, I trotting behind, drying my tears as I went. We reached the station in time. Mr. Lincoln put me on the train, kissed me good-bye, and told me to have a good time. It was just like him.”
BOAT HAD TO STOP.
Lincoln never failed to take part in all political campaigns in Illinois, as his reputation as a speaker caused his services to be in great demand. As was natural, he was often the target at which many of the “Smart Alecks” of that period shot their feeble bolts, but Lincoln was so ready with his answers that few of them cared to engage him a second time.
In one campaign Lincoln was frequently annoyed by a young man who entertained the idea that he was a born orator. He had a loud voice, was full of language, and so conceited that he could not understand why the people did not recognize and appreciate his abilities.
This callow politician delighted in interrupting public speakers, and at last Lincoln determined to squelch him. One night while addressing a large meeting at Springfield, the fellow became so offensive that “Abe” dropped the threads of his speech and turned his attention to the tormentor.
“I don’t object,” said Lincoln, “to being interrupted with sensible questions, but I must say that my boisterous friend does not always make inquiries which properly come under that head. He says he is afflicted with headaches, at which I don’t wonder, as it is a well-known fact that nature abhors a vacuum, and takes her own way of demonstrating it.
“This noisy friend reminds me of a certain steamboat that used to run on the Illinois river. It was an energetic boat, was always busy. When they built it, however, they made one serious mistake, this error being in the relative sizes of the boiler and the whistle. The latter was usually busy, too, and people were aware that it was in existence.
“This particular boiler to which I have reference was a six-foot one, and did all that was required of it in the way of pushing the boat along; but as the builders of the vessel had made the whistle a six-foot one, the consequence was that every time the whistle blew the boat had to stop.”
MCCLELLAN’S “SPECIAL TALENT.”
President Lincoln one day remarked to a number of personal friends who had called upon him at the White House:
“General McClellan’s tardiness and unwillingness to fight the enemy or follow up advantages gained, reminds me of a man back in Ilinois who knew a few law phrases but whose lawyer lacked aggressiveness. The man finally lost all patience and springing to his feet vociferated, ‘Why don’t you go at him with a fi. fa., a demurrer, a capias, a surrebutter, or a ne exeat, or something; or a nundam pactum or a non est?’
“I wish McClellan would go at the enemy with something–I don’t care what. General McClellan is a pleasant and scholarly gentleman. He is an admirable engineer, but he seems to have a special talent for a stationary engine.”
HOW “JAKE” GOT AWAY.
One of the last, if not the very last story told by President Lincoln, was to one of his Cabinet who came to see him, to ask if it would be proper to permit “Jake” Thompson to slip through Maine in disguise and embark for Portland.
The President, as usual, was disposed to be merciful, and to permit the arch-rebel to pass unmolested, but Secretary Stanton urged that he should be arrested as a traitor.
“By permitting him to escape the penalties of treason,” persisted the War Secretary, “you sanction it.”
“Well,” replied Mr. Lincoln, “let me tell you a story. There was an Irish soldier here last summer, who wanted something to drink stronger than water, and stopped at a drug-shop, where he espied a soda-fountain. ‘Mr. Doctor,’ said he, ‘give me, plase, a glass of soda-wather, an’ if yez can put in a few drops of whiskey unbeknown to any one, I’ll be obleeged.’ Now, continued Mr. Lincoln, “if ‘Jake’ Thompson is permitted to go through Maine unbeknown to any one, what’s the harm? So don’t have him arrested.”
MORE LIGHT AND LESS NOISE.
The President was bothered to death by those persons who boisterously demanded that the War be pushed vigorously; also, those who shouted their advice and opinions into his weary ears, but who never suggested anything practical. These fellows were not in the army, nor did they ever take any interest, in a personal way, in military matters, except when engaged in dodging drafts.
“That reminds me,” remarked Mr. Lincoln one day, “of a farmer who lost his way on the Western frontier. Night came on, and the embarrassments of his position were increased by a furious tempest which suddenly burst upon him. To add to his discomfort, his horse had given out, leaving him exposed to all the dangers of the pitiless storm.
“The peals of thunder were terrific, the frequent flashes of lightning affording the only guide on the road as he resolutely trudged onward, leading his jaded steed. The earth seemed fairly to tremble beneath him in the war of elements. One bolt threw him suddenly upon his knees.
“Our traveler was not a prayerful man, but finding himself involuntarily brought to an attitude of devotion, he addressed himself to the Throne of Grace in the following prayer for his deliverance
“‘O God! hear my prayer this time, for Thou knowest it is not often that I call upon Thee. And, O Lord! if it is all the same to Thee, give us a little more light and a little less noise.’
“I wish,” the President said, sadly, “there was a stronger disposition manifested on the part of our civilian warriors to unite in suppressing the rebellion, and a little less noise as to how and by whom the chief executive office shall be administered.”
ONE BULLET AND A HATFUL.
Lincoln made the best of everything, and if he couldn’t get what he wanted he took what he could get. In matters of policy, while President he acted according to this rule. He would take perilous chances, even when the result was, to the minds of his friends, not worth the risk he had run.
One day at a meeting of the Cabinet, it being at the time when it seemed as though war with England and France could not be avoided, Secretary of State Seward and Secretary of War Stanton warmly advocated that the United States maintain an attitude, the result of which would have been a declaration of hostilities by the European Powers mentioned.
“Why take any more chances than are absolutely necessary?” asked the President.
“We must maintain our honor at any cost,” insisted Secretary Seward.
“We would be branded as cowards before the entire world,” Secretary Stanton said.
“But why run the greater risk when we can take a smaller one?” queried the President calmly. “The less risk we run the better for us. That reminds me of a story I heard a day or two ago, the hero of which was on the firing line during a recent battle, where the bullets were flying thick.
“Finally his courage gave way entirely, and throwing down his gun,
he ran for dear life.
“As he was flying along at top speed he came across an officer who drew his revolver and shouted, ‘Go back to your regiment at once or I will shoot you !’
“‘Shoot and be hanged,’ the racer exclaimed. ‘What’s one bullet to a whole hatful?'”
LINCOLN’S STORY TO PEACE COMMISSIONERS.
Among the reminiscences of Lincoln left by Editor Henry J. Raymond, is the following:
Among the stories told by Lincoln, which is freshest in my mind, one which he related to me shortly after its occurrence, belongs to the history of the famous interview on board the River Queen, at Hampton Roads, between himself and Secretary Seward and the rebel Peace Commissioners. It was reported at the time that the President told a “little story” on that occasion, and the inquiry went around among the newspapers, “What was it?”
The New York Herald published what purported to be a version of it, but the “point” was entirely lost, and it attracted no attention. Being in Washington a few days subsequent to the interview with the Commissioners (my previous sojourn there having terminated about the first of last August), I asked Mr. Lincoln one day if it was true that he told Stephens, Hunter and Campbell a story.
“Why, yes,” he replied, manifesting some surprise, “but has it leaked out? I was in hopes nothing would be said about it, lest some over-sensitive people should imagine there was a degree of levity in the intercourse between us.” He then went on to relate the circumstances which called it out.
“You see,” said he, “we had reached and were discussing the slavery question. Mr. Hunter said, substantially, that the slaves, always accustomed to an overseer, and to work upon compulsion, suddenly freed, as they would be if the South should consent to peace on the basis of the ‘Emancipation Proclamation,’ would precipitate not only themselves, but the entire Southern society, into irremediable ruin. No work would be done, nothing would be cultivated, and both blacks and whites would starve!”
Said the President: “I waited for Seward to answer that argument, but as he was silent, I at length said: ‘Mr. Hunter, you ought to know a great deal better about this argument than I, for you have always lived under the slave system. I can only say, in reply to your statement of the case, that it reminds me of a man out in Illinois, by the name of Case, who undertook, a few years ago, to raise a very large herd of hogs. It was a great trouble to feed them, and how to get around this was a puzzle to him. At length he hit on the plan of planting an immense field of potatoes, and, when they were sufficiently grown, he turned the whole herd into the field, and let them have full swing, thus saving not only the labor of feeding the hogs, but also that of digging the potatoes. Charmed with his sagacity, he stood one day leaning against the fence, counting his hogs, when a neighbor came along.
“‘Well, well,’ said he, ‘Mr. Case, this is all very fine. Your hogs are doing very well just now, but you know out here in Illinois the frost comes early, and the ground freezes for a foot deep. Then what you going to do?’
“This was a view of the matter which Mr. Case had not taken into account. Butchering time for hogs was ‘way on in December or January! He scratched his head, and at length stammered: ‘Well, it may come pretty hard on their snouts, but I don’t see but that it will be “root, hog, or die.”‘”
“ABE” GOT THE WORST OF IT.
When Lincoln was a young lawyer in Illinois, he and a certain Judge once got to bantering one another about trading horses; and it was agreed that the next morning at nine o’clock they should make a trade, the horses to be unseen up to that hour, and no backing out, under a forfeiture of $25. At the hour appointed, the Judge came up, leading the sorriest-looking specimen of a horse ever seen in those parts. In a few minutes Mr. Lincoln was seen approaching with a wooden saw-horse upon his shoulders.
Great were the shouts and laughter of the crowd, and both were greatly increased when Lincoln, on surveying the Judge’s animal, set down his saw-horse, and exclaimed:
“Well, Judge, this is the first time I ever got the worst of it in a horse trade.”
IT DEPENDED UPON HIS CONDITION.
The President had made arrangements to visit New York, and was told that President Garrett, of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, would be glad to furnish a special train.
“I don’t doubt it a bit,” remarked the President, “for I know Mr. Garrett, and like him very well, and if I believed–which I don’t, by any means–all the things some people say about his ‘secesh’ principles, he might say to you as was said by the Superintendent of a certain railroad to a son of one my predecessors in office. Some two years after the death of President Harrison, the son of his successor in this office wanted to take his father on an excursion somewhere or other, and went to the Superintendent’s office to order a special train.
“This Superintendent was a Whig of the most uncompromising sort, who hated a Democrat more than all other things on the earth, and promptly refused the young man’s request, his language being to the effect that this particular railroad was not running special trains for the accommodation of Presidents of the United States just at that season.
“The son of the President was much surprised and exceedingly annoyed. ‘Why,’ he said, ‘you have run special Presidential trains, and I know it. Didn’t you furnish a special train for the funeral of President Harrison?’
“‘Certainly we did,’ calmly replied the Superintendent, with no relaxation of his features, ‘and if you will only bring your father here in the same shape as General Harrison was, you shall have the best train on the road.”‘
When the laughter had subsided, the President said: “I shall take pleasure in accepting Mr. Garrett’s offer, as I have no doubts whatever as to his loyalty to the United States government or his respect for the occupant of the Presidential office.”
“GOT DOWN TO THE RAISINS.”
A. B. Chandler, chief of the telegraph office at the War Department, occupied three rooms, one of which was called “the President’s room,” so much of his time did Mr. Lincoln spend there. Here he would read over the telegrams received for the several heads of departments. Three copies of all messages received were made–one for the President, one for the War Department records and one for Secretary Stanton.
Mr. Chandler told a story as to the manner in which the President read the despatches:
“President Lincoln’s copies were kept in what we called the ‘President’s drawer’ of the ‘cipher desk.’ He would come in at any time of the night or day, and go at once to this drawer, and take out a file of telegrams, and begin at the top to read them. His position in running over these telegrams was sometimes very curious.
“He had a habit of sitting frequently on the edge of his chair, with his right knee dragged down to the floor. I remember a curious expression of his when he got to the bottom of the new telegrams and began on those that he had read before. It was, ‘Well, I guess I have got down to the raisins.’
“The first two or three times he said this he made no explanation, and I did not ask one. But one day, after he had made the remark, he looked up under his eyebrows at me with a funny twinkle in his eyes, and said: ‘I used to know a little girl out West who sometimes was inclined to eat too much. One day she ate a good many more raisins than she ought to, and followed them up with a quantity of other goodies. They made her very sick. After a time the raisins began to come.
“She gasped and looked at her mother and said: ‘Well, I will be better now I guess, for I have got down to the raisins.'”
“HONEST ABE” SWALLOWS HIS ENEMIES.
“‘Honest Abe’ Taking Them on the Half-Shell” was one of the cartoons published in 1860 by one of the illustrated periodicals. As may be seen, it represents Lincoln in a “Political Oyster House,” preparing to swallow two of his Democratic opponents for the Presidency–Douglas and Breckinridge. He performed the feat at the November election. The Democratic party was hopelessly split in 1860 The Northern wing nominated Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, as their candidate, the Southern wing naming John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky; the Constitutional Unionists (the old American of Know-Nothing party) placed John Bell, of Tennessee, in the field, and against these was put Abraham Lincoln, who received the support of the Abolitionists.
Lincoln made short work of his antagonists when the election came around. He received a large majority in the Electoral College, while nearly every Northern State voted majorities for him at the polls. Douglas had but twelve votes in the Electoral College, while Bell had thirty-nine. The votes of the Southern States, then preparing to secede, were, for the most part, thrown for Breckinridge. The popular vote was: Lincoln, 1,857,610; Douglas, 1,365,976; Breckinridge, 847,953; Bell, 590,631; total vote, 4,662,170. In the Electoral College Lincoln received 180; Douglas, 12; Breckinridge, 72; Bell, 39; Lincoln’s majority over all, 57.
SAVING HIS WIND.
Judge H. W. Beckwith of Danville, Ill., said that soon after the Ottawa debate between Lincoln and Douglas he passed the Chenery House, then the principal hotel in Springfield. The lobby was crowded with partisan leaders from various sections of the state, and Mr. Lincoln, from his greater height, was seen above the surging mass that clung about him like a swarm of bees to their ruler. The day was warm, and at the first chance he broke away and came out for a little fresh air, wiping the sweat from his face.
“As he passed the door he saw me,” said Judge Beckwith, “and, taking my hand, inquired for the health and views of his ‘friends over in Vermillion county.’ He was assured they were wide awake, and further told that they looked forward to the debate between him and Senator Douglas with deep concern. From the shadow that went quickly over his face, the pained look that came to give way quickly to a blaze of eyes and quiver of lips, I felt that Mr. Lincoln had gone beneath my mere words and caught my inner and current fears as to the result. And then, in a forgiving, jocular way peculiar to him, he said: ‘Sit down; I have a moment to spare, and will tell you a story.’ Having been on his feet for some time, he sat on the end of the stone step leading into the hotel door, while I stood closely fronting him.
” You have,’ he continued, ‘seen two men about to fight?’
“‘Yes, many times.’
“‘Well, one of them brags about what he means to do. He jumps high in the air, cracking his heels together, smites his fists, and wastes his wreath trying to scare somebody. You see the other fellow, he says not a word,’–here Mr. Lincoln’s voice and manner changed to great earnestness, and repeating–‘you see the other man says not a word. His arms are at his sides, his fists are closely doubled up, his head is drawn to the shoulder, and his teeth are set firm together. He is saving his wind for the fight, and as sure as it comes off he will win it, or die a-trying.'”
RIGHT FOR, ONCE, ANYHOW.
Where men bred in courts, accustomed to the world, or versed in diplomacy, would use some subterfuge, or would make a polite speech, or give a shrug of the shoulders, as the means of getting out of an embarrassing position, Lincoln raised a laugh by some bold west-country anecdote, and moved off in the cloud of merriment produced by the joke. When Attorney-General Bates was remonstrating apparently against the appointment of some indifferent lawyer to a place of judicial importance, the President interposed with: “Come now, Bates, he’s not half as bad as you think. Besides that, I must tell you, he did me a good turn long ago. When I took to the law, I was going to court one morning, with some ten or twelve miles of bad road before me, and I had no horse.
“The judge overtook me in his carriage.
“‘Hallo, Lincoln! are you not going to the court-house? Come in and I will give you a seat!’
“Well, I got in, and the Judge went on reading his papers. Presently the carriage struck a stump on one side of the road, then it hopped off to the other. I looked out, and I saw the driver was jerking from side to side in his seat, so I says
“‘Judge, I think your coachman has been taking a little too much this morning.’
“‘Well, I declare, Lincoln,’ said he, ‘I should not much wonder if you were right, for he has nearly upset me half a dozen times since starting.’
“So, putting his head out of the window, he shouted, ‘Why, you infernal scoundrel, you are drunk!’
“Upon which, pulling up his horses, and turning round with great gravity, the coachman said:
“‘Begorra! that’s the first rightful decision that you have given for the last twelvemonth.'”
While the company were laughing, the President beat a quiet retreat from the neighborhood.
“PITY THE POOR ORPHAN.”
After the War was well on, and several battles had been fought, a lady from Alexandria asked the President for an order to release a certain church which had been taken for a Federal hospital. The President said he could do nothing, as the post surgeon at Alexandria was immovable, and then asked the lady why she did not donate money to build a hospital.
“We have been very much embarrassed by the war,” she replied, “and our estates are much hampered.”
“You are not ruined?” asked the President.
“No, sir, but we do not feel that we should give up anything we have left.”
The President, after some reflection, then said: “There are more battles yet to be fought, and I think God would prefer that your church be devoted to the care and alleviation of the sufferings of our poor fellows. So, madam, you will excuse me. I can do nothing for you.”
Afterward, in speaking of this incident, President Lincoln said that the lady, as a representative of her class in Alexandria, reminded him of the story of the young man who had an aged father and mother owning considerable property. The young man being an only son, and believing that the old people had outlived their usefulness, assassinated them both. He was accused, tried and convicted of the murder. When the judge came to pass sentence upon him, and called upon him to give any reason he might have why the sentence of death should not be passed upon him, he with great promptness replied that he hoped the court would be lenient upon him because he was a poor orphan!
“BAP.” McNABB’S BOOSTER.
It is true that Lincoln did not drink, never swore, was a stranger to smoking and lived a moral life generally, but he did like horse-racing and chicken fighting. New Salem, Illinois, where Lincoln was “clerking,” was known the neighborhood around as a “fast” town, and the average young man made no very desperate resistance when tempted to join in the drinking and gambling bouts.
“Bap.” McNabb was famous for his ability in both the raising and the purchase of roosters of prime fighting quality, and when his birds fought the attendance was large. It was because of the “flunking” of one of “Bap.’s” roosters that Lincoln was enabled to make a point when criticising McClellan’s unreadiness and lack of energy.
One night there was a fight on the schedule, one of “Bap.” McNabb’s birds being a contestant. “Bap.” brought a little red rooster, whose fighting qualities had been well advertised for days in advance, and much interest was manifested in the outcome. As the result of these contests was generally a quarrel, in which each man, charging foul play, seized his victim, they chose Lincoln umpire, relying not only on his fairness but his ability to enforce his decisions. Judge Herndon, in his “Abraham Lincoln,” says of this notable event:
“I cannot improve on the description furnished me in February, 1865, by one who was present.
“They formed a ring, and the time having arrived, Lincoln, with one hand on each hip and in a squatting position, cried, ‘Ready.’ Into the ring they toss their fowls, ‘Bap.’s’ red rooster along with the rest. But no sooner had the little beauty discovered what was to be done than he dropped his tail and ran.
“The crowd cheered, while ‘Bap.,’ in disappointment, picked him up and started away, losing his quarter (entrance fee) and carrying home his dishonored fowl. Once arrived at the latter place he threw his pet down with a feeling of indignation and chagrin.
“The little fellow, out of sight of all rivals, mounted a woodpile and proudly flirting out his feathers, crowed with all his might. ‘Bap.’ looked on in disgust.
“‘Yes, you little cuss,’ he exclaimed, irreverently, ‘you’re great on dress parade, but not worth a darn in a fight.”‘
It is said, according to Judge Herndon, that Lincoln considered McClellan as “great on dress parade,” but not so much in a fight.
A LOW-DOWN TRICK.
When Lincoln was a candidate of the Know Nothings for the State Legislature, the party was over-confident, and the Democrats pursued a stillhunt. Lincoln was defeated. He compared the situation to one of the camp-followers of General Taylor’s army, who had secured a barrel of cider, erected a tent, and commenced selling it to the thirsty soldiers at twenty-five cents a drink, but he had sold but little before another sharp one set up a tent at his back, and tapped the barrel so as to flow on his side, and peddled out No. 1 cider at five cents a drink, of course, getting the latter’s entire trade on the borrowed capital.
“The Democrats,” said Mr. Lincoln, “had played Knownothing on a cheaper scale than had the real devotees of Sam, and had raked down his pile with his own cider!”
END FOR END.
Judge H. W. Beckwith, of Danville, Ill., in his “Personal Recollections of Lincoln,” tells a story which is a good example of Lincoln’s way of condensing the law and the facts of an issue in a story: “A man, by vile words, first provoked and then made a bodily attack upon another. The latter, in defending himself, gave the other much the worst of the encounter. The aggressor, to get even, had the one who thrashed him tried in our Circuit Court on a charge of an assault and battery. Mr. Lincoln defended, and told the jury that his client was in the fix of a man who, in going along the highway with a pitchfork on his shoulder, was attacked by a fierce dog that ran out at him from a farmer’s dooryard. In parrying off the brute with the fork, its prongs stuck into the brute and killed him.
“‘What made you kill my dog?’ said the farmer.
“‘What made him try to bite me?’
“‘But why did you not go at him with the other end of the pitchfork?’
“‘Why did he not come after me with his other end?’
“At this Mr. Lincoln whirled about in his long arms an imaginary dog, and pushed its tail end toward the jury. This was the defensive plea of ‘son assault demesne’–loosely, that ‘the other fellow brought on the fight,’–quickly told, and in a way the dullest mind would grasp and retain.”
LET SIX SKUNKS GO.
The President had decided to select a new War Minister, and the Leading Republican Senators thought the occasion was opportune to change the whole seven Cabinet ministers. They, therefore, earnestly advised him to make a clean sweep, and select seven new men, and so restore the waning confidence of the country.
The President listened with patient courtesy, and when the Senators had concluded, he said, with a characteristic gleam of humor in his eye:
“Gentlemen, your request for a change of the whole Cabinet because I have made one change reminds me of a story I once heard in Illinois, of a farmer who was much troubled by skunks. His wife insisted on his trying to get rid of them.
“He loaded his shotgun one moonlight night and awaited developments. After some time the wife heard the shotgun go off, and in a few minutes the farmer entered the house.
“‘What luck have you?’ asked she.
“‘I hid myself behind the wood-pile,’ said the old man, ‘with the shotgun pointed towards the hen roost, and before long there appeared not one skunk, but seven. I took aim, blazed away, killed one, and he raised such a fearful smell that I concluded it was best to let the other six go.”‘
The Senators laughed and retired.
HOW HE GOT BLACKSTONE.
The following story was told by Mr. Lincoln to Mr. A. J. Conant, the artist, who painted his portrait in Springfield in 1860:
“One day a man who was migrating to the West drove up in front of my store with a wagon which contained his family and household plunder. He asked me if I would buy an old barrel for which he had no room in his wagon, and which he said contained nothing of special value. I did not want it, but to oblige him I bought it, and paid him, I think, half a dollar for it. Without further examination, I put it away in the store and forgot all about it. Some time after, in overhauling things, I came upon the barrel, and, emptying it upon the floor to see what it contained, I found at the bottom of the rubbish a complete edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries. I began to read those famous works, and I had plenty of time; for during the long summer days, when the farmers were busy with their crops, my customers were few and far between. The more I read”–this he said with unusual emphasis–“the more intensely interested I became. Never in my whole life was my mind so thoroughly absorbed. I read until I devoured them.”
A JOB FOR THE NEW CABINETMAKER.
This cartoon, labeled “A Job for the New Cabinetmaker,” was printed in “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper” on February 2d, 1861, a month and two days before Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated President of the United States. The Southern states had seceded from the Union, the Confederacy was established, with Jefferson Davis as its President, the Union had been split in two, and the task Lincoln had before him was to glue the two parts of the Republic together. In his famous speech, delivered a short time before his nomination for the Presidency by the Republican National Convention at Chicago, in 1860, Lincoln had said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand; this nation cannot exist half slave and half free.” After his inauguration as President, Mr. Lincoln went to work to glue the two pieces together, and after four years of bloody war, and at immense cost, the job was finished; the house of the Great American Republic was no longer divided; the severed sections–the North and the South–were cemented tightly; the slaves were freed, peace was firmly established, and the Union of states was glued together so well that the nation is stronger now than ever before. Lincoln was just the man for that job, and the work he did will last for all time. “The New Cabinetmaker” knew his business thoroughly, and finished his task of glueing in a workmanlike manner. At the very moment of its completion, five days after the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox, the Martyr President fell at the hands of the assassin, J. Wilkes Booth.
“I CAN STAND IT IF THEY CAN.”
United States Senator Benjamin Wade, of Ohio, Henry Winter Davis, of Maryland, and Wendell Phillips were strongly opposed to President Lincoln’s re-election, and Wade and Davis issued a manifesto. Phillips made several warm speeches against Lincoln and his policy.
When asked if he had read the manifesto or any of Phillips’ speeches, the President replied:
“I have not seen them, nor do I care to see them. I have seen enough to satisfy me that I am a failure, not only in the opinion of the people in rebellion, but of many distinguished politicians of my own party. But time will show whether I am right or they are right, and I am content to abide its decision.
“I have enough to look after without giving much of my time to the consideration of the subject of who shall be my successor in office. The position is not an easy one; and the occupant, whoever he may be, for the next four years, will have little leisure to pluck a thorn or plant a rose in his own pathway.”
It was urged that this opposition must be embarrassing to his Administration, as well as damaging to the party. He replied: “Yes, that is true; but our friends, Wade, Davis, Phillips, and others are hard to please. I am not capable of doing so. I cannot please them without wantonly violating not only my oath, but the most vital principles upon which our government was founded.
“As to those who, like Wade and the rest, see fit to depreciate my policy and cavil at my official acts, I shall not complain of them. I accord them the utmost freedom of speech and liberty of the press, but shall not change the policy I have adopted in the full belief that I am right.
“I feel on this subject as an old Illinois farmer once expressed himself while eating cheese. He was interrupted in the midst of his repast by the entrance of his son, who exclaimed, ‘Hold on, dad! there’s skippers in that cheese you’re eating!’
“‘Never mind, Tom,’ said he, as he kept on munching his cheese, ‘if they can stand it I can.'”
LINCOLN MISTAKEN FOR ONCE.
President Lincoln was compelled to acknowledge that he made at least one mistake in “sizing up” men. One day a very dignified man called at the White House, and Lincoln’s heart fell when his visitor approached. The latter was portly, his face was full of apparent anxiety, and Lincoln was willing to wager a year’s salary that he represented some Society for the Easy and Speedy Repression of Rebellions.
The caller talked fluently, but at no time did he give advice or suggest a way to put down the Confederacy. He was full of humor, told a clever story or two, and was entirely self-possessed.
At length the President inquired, “You are a clergyman, are you not, sir?”
“Not by a jug full,” returned the stranger heartily.
Grasping him by the hand Lincoln shook it until the visitor squirmed. “You must lunch with us. I am glad to see you. I was afraid you were a preacher.”
“I went to the Chicago Convention,” the caller said, “as a friend of Mr. Seward. I have watched you narrowly ever since your inauguration, and I called merely to pay my respects. What I want to say is this: I think you are doing everything for the good of the country that is in the power of man to do. You are on the right track. As one of your constituents I now say to you, do in future as you d– please, and I will support you!”
This was spoken with tremendous effect.
“Why,” said Mr. Lincoln in great astonishment, “I took you to be a preacher. I thought you had come here to tell me how to take Richmond,” and he again grasped the hand of his strange visitor.
Accurate and penetrating as Mr. Lincoln’s judgment was concerning men, for once he had been wholly mistaken. The scene was comical in the extreme. The two men stood gazing at each other. A smile broke from the lips of the solemn wag and rippled over the wide expanse of his homely face like sunlight overspreading a continent, and Mr. Lincoln was convulsed with laughter.
He stayed to lunch.
FORGOT EVERYTHING HE KNEW.
President Lincoln, while entertaining a few friends, is said to have related the following anecdote of a man who knew too much:
During the administration of President Jackson there was a singular young gentleman employed in the Public Postoffice in Washington.
His name was G.; he was from Tennessee, the son of a widow, a neighbor of the President, on which account the old hero had a kind feeling for him, and always got him out of difficulties with some of the higher officials, to whom his singular interference was distasteful.
Among other things, it is said of him that while employed in the General Postoffice, on one occasion he had to copy a letter to Major H., a high official, in answer to an application made by an old gentleman in Virginia or Pennsylvania, for the establishment of a new postoffice.
The writer of the letter said the application could not be granted, in consequence of the applicant’s “proximity” to another office.
When the letter came into G.’s hand to copy, being a great stickler for plainness, he altered “proximity” to “nearness to.”
Major H. observed it, and asked G. why he altered his letter.
“Why,” replied G., “because I don’t think the man would understand what you mean by proximity.”
“Well,” said Major H., “try him; put in the ‘proximity’ again.”
In a few days a letter was received from the applicant, in which he very indignantly said that his father had fought for liberty in the second war for independence, and he should like to have the name of the scoundrel who brought the charge of proximity or anything else wrong against him.
“There,” said G., “did I not say so?”
G. carried his improvements so far that Mr. Berry, the Postmaster-General, said to him: “I don’t want you any longer; you know too much.”
Poor G. went out, but his old friend got him another place.
This time G.’s ideas underwent a change. He was one day very busy writing, when a stranger called in and asked him where the Patent Office was.
“I don’t know,” said G.
“Can you tell me where the Treasury Department is?” said the stranger.
“No,” said G.
“Nor the President’s house?”
The stranger finally asked him if he knew where the Capitol was.
“No,” replied G.
“Do you live in Washington, sir.”
“Yes, sir,” said G.
“Good Lord! and don’t you know where the Patent Office, Treasury, President’s House and Capitol are?”
“Stranger,” said G., “I was turned out of the postoffice for knowing too much. I don’t mean to offend in that way again.
“I am paid for keeping this book.
“I believe I know that much; but if you find me knowing anything more you may take my head.”
“Good morning,” said the stranger.
HE LOVED A GOOD STORY.
Judge Breese, of the Supreme bench, one of the most distinguished of American jurists, and a man of great personal dignity, was about to open court at Springfield, when Lincoln called out in his hearty way: “Hold on, Breese! Don’t open court yet! Here’s Bob Blackwell just going to tell a story!” The judge passed on without replying, evidently regarding it as beneath the dignity of the Supreme Court to delay proceedings for the sake of a story.
HEELS RAN AWAY WITH THEM.
In an argument against the opposite political party at one time during a campaign, Lincoln said: “My opponent uses a figurative expression to the effect that ‘the Democrats are vulnerable in the heel, but they are sound in the heart and head.’ The first branch of the figure–that is the Democrats are vulnerable in the heel–I admit is not merely figuratively but literally true. Who that looks but for a moment at their hundreds of officials scampering away with the public money to Texas, to Europe, and to every spot of the earth where a villain may hope to find refuge from justice, can at all doubt that they are most distressingly affected in their heels with a species of running itch?
“It seems that this malady of their heels operates on the sound-headed and honest-hearted creatures very much as the cork leg in the comic song did on its owner, which, when he once got started on it, the more he tried to stop it, the more it would run away.
“At the hazard of wearing this point threadbare, I will relate an anecdote the situation calls to my mind, which seems to be too strikingly in point to be omitted. A witty Irish soldier, who was always boasting of his bravery when no danger was near, but who invariably retreated without orders at the first charge of the engagement, being asked by his captain why he did so, replied, ‘Captain, I have as brave a heart as Julius Caesar ever had, but somehow or other, whenever danger approaches, my cowardly legs will run away with it.’
“So with the opposite party–they take the public money into their hands for the most laudable purpose that wise heads and honest hearts can dictate; but before they can possibly get it out again, their rascally, vulnerable heels will run away with them.”
WANTED TO BURN HIM DOWN TO THE STUMP.
Preston King once introduced A. J. Bleeker to the President, and the latter, being an applicant for office, was about to hand Mr. Lincoln his vouchers, when he was asked to read them. Bleeker had not read very far when the President disconcerted him by the exclamation, “Stop a minute! You remind me exactly of the man who killed the dog; in fact, you are just like him.”
“In what respect?” asked Bleeker, not feeling he had received a compliment.
“Well,” replied the President, “this man had made up his mind to kill his dog, an ugly brute, and proceeded to knock out his brains with a club. He continued striking the dog after the latter was dead until a friend protested, exclaiming, ‘You needn’t strike him any more; the dog is dead; you killed him at the first blow.’
“‘Oh, yes,’ said he, ‘I know that; but I believe in punishment after death.’ So, I see, you do.”