Lincoln's Yarns and Stories
Colonel Alexander K. McClure
Part 1 out of 10
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
LINCOLN'S HUMOR A SPARKLING SPRING,
BY DAVID R. LOCKE (PETROLEUM V. NASBY), Lincoln's Favorite
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
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
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
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
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
1843--Birth of Robert Todd Lincoln, August 1st.
1846--Elected to Congress. Birth of Edward Baker Lincoln, March
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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,
"Yes, I did, sir; but 'Old Brindle' transcended the impannel of
the impound, and scatterlophisticated all over the equanimity of
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
'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
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
"'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
"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
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
"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
"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
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,
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"'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
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
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
"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
"'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
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
"We must maintain our honor at any cost," insisted Secretary
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"'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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"'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
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
"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 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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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."
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