Lincoln's Yarns and Stories
Colonel Alexander K. McClure
Part 6 out of 10
COLUMBIA: "Where are my 15,000 sons--murdered at Fredericksburg?"
LINCOLN: "This reminds me of a little joke--"
COLUMBIA: "Go tell your joke at Springfield!!"
The battle of Fredericksburg was fought on December 13th, 1862,
between General Burnside, commanding the Army of the Potomac, and
General Lee's force. The Union troops, time and again, assaulted
the heights where the Confederates had taken position, but were
driven back with frightful losses. The enemy, being behind
breastworks, suffered comparatively little. At the beginning of
the fight the Confederate line was broken, but the result of the
engagement was disastrous to the Union cause. Burnside had one
thousand one hundred and fifty-two killed, nine thousand one
hundred and one wounded, and three thousand two hundred and
thirty-four missing, a total of thirteen thousand seven hundred
and seventy-one. General Lee's losses, all told, were not much
more than five thousand men.
Burnside had succeeded McClellan in command of the Army of the
Potomac, mainly, it was said, through the influence of Secretary
of War Stanton. Three months before, McClellan had defeated Lee
at Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the War, Lee's losses
footing up more than thirteen thousand men. At Fredericksburg,
Burnside had about one hundred and twenty thousand men; at
Antietam, McClellan had about eighty thousand. It has been
maintained that Burnside should not have fought this battle, the
chances of success being so few.
SIX FEET FOUR AT SEVENTEEN.
"Abe's" school teacher, Crawford, endeavored to teach his pupils
some of the manners of the "polite society" of Indiana--1823 or
so. This was a part of his system:
One of the pupils would retire, and then come in as a stranger,
and another pupil would have to introduce him to all the members
of the school n what was considered "good manners."
As "Abe" wore a linsey-woolsey shirt, buckskin breeches which
were too short and very tight, and low shoes, and was tall and
awkward, he no doubt created considerable merriment when his turn
came. He was growing at a fearful rate; he was fifteen years of
age, and two years later attained his full height of six feet
HAD RESPECT FOR THE EGGS.
Early in 1831, "Abe" was one of the guests of honor at a
boat-launching, he and two others having built the craft. The
affair was a notable one, people being present from the territory
surrounding. A large party came from Springfield with an ample
supply of whisky, to give the boat and its builders a send-off.
It was a sort of bipartisan mass-meeting, but there was one
prevailing spirit, that born of rye and corn. Speeches were made
in the best of feeling, some in favor of Andrew Jackson and some
in favor of Henry Clay. Abraham Lincoln, the cook, told a number
of funny stories, and it is recorded that they were not of too
refined a character to suit the taste of his audience. A
sleight-of-hand performer was present, and among other tricks
performed, he fried some eggs in Lincoln's hat. Judge Herndon
says, as explanatory to the delay in passing up the hat for the
experiment, Lincoln drolly observed: "It was out of respect for
the eggs, not care for my hat."
HOW WAS THE MILK UPSET?
William G. Greene, an old-time friend of Lincoln, was a student
at Illinois College, and one summer brought home with him, on a
vacation, Richard Yates (afterwards Governor of Illinois) and
some other boys, and, in order to entertain them, took them up to
He found him in his usual position and at his usual occupation--
flat on his back, on a cellar door, reading a newspaper. This was
the manner in which a President of the United States and a
Governor of Illinois became acquainted with each other.
Greene says Lincoln repeated the whole of Burns, and a large
quantity of Shakespeare for the entertainment of the college
boys, and, in return, was invited to dine with them on bread and
milk. How he managed to upset his bowl of milk is not a matter of
history, but the fact is that he did so, as is the further fact
that Greene's mother, who loved Lincoln, tried to smooth over the
accident and relieve the young man's embarrassment.
"PULLED FODDER" FOR A BOOK.
Once "Abe" borrowed Weems' "Life of Washington" from Joseph
Crawford, a neighbor. "Abe" devoured it; read it and re-read it,
and when asleep put it by him between the logs of the wall. One
night a rain storm wet it through and ruined it.
"I've no money," said "Abe," when reporting the disaster to
Crawford, "but I'll work it out."
"All right," was Crawford's response; "you pull fodder for three
days, an' the book is your'n."
"Abe" pulled the fodder, but he never forgave Crawford for
putting so much work upon him. He never lost an opportunity to
crack a joke at his expense, and the name "Blue-nose Crawford"
"Abe" applied to him stuck to him throughout his life.
PRAISES HIS RIVAL FOR OFFICE.
When Mr. Lincoln was a candidate for the Legislature, it was the
practice at that date in Illinois for two rival candidates to
travel over the district together. The custom led to much
good-natured raillery between them; and in such contests Lincoln
was rarely, if ever, worsted. He could even turn the generosity
of a rival to account by his whimsical treatment.
On one occasion, says Mr. Weir, a former resident of Sangamon
county, he had driven out from Springfield in company with a
political opponent to engage in joint debate. The carriage, it
seems, belonged to his opponent. In addressing the gathering of
farmers that met them, Lincoln was lavish in praise of the
generosity of his friend.
"I am too poor to own a carriage," he said, "but my friend has
generously invited me to ride with him. I want you to vote for me
if you will; but if not then vote for my opponent, for he is a
His extravagant and persistent praise of his opponent appealed to
the sense of humor in his rural audience, to whom his inability
to own a carriage was by no means a disqualification.
ONE THING "ABE" DIDN'T LOVE.
Lincoln admitted that he was not particularly energetic when it
came to real hard work.
"My father," said he one day, "taught me how to work, but not to
love it. I never did like to work, and I don't deny it. I'd
rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh--anything but
THE MODESTY OF GENIUS.
The opening of the year 1860 found Mr. Lincoln's name freely
mentioned in connection with the Republican nomination for the
Presidency. To be classed with Seward, Chase, McLean, and other
celebrities, was enough to stimulate any Illinois lawyer's pride;
but in Mr. Lincoln's case, if it had any such effect, he was most
artful in concealing it. Now and then, some ardent friend, an
editor, for example, would run his name up to the masthead, but
in all cases he discouraged the attempt.
"In regard to the matter you spoke of," he answered one man who
proposed his name, "I beg you will not give it a further mention.
Seriously, I do not think I am fit for the Presidency."
WHY SHE MARRIED HIM.
There was a "social" at Lincoln's house in Springfield, and "Abe"
introduced his wife to Ward Lamon, his law partner. Lamon tells
the story in these words:
"After introducing me to Mrs. Lincoln, he left us in
conversation. I remarked to her that her husband was a great
favorite in the eastern part of the State, where I had been
"'Yes,' she replied, 'he is a great favorite everywhere. He is
to be President of the United States some day; if I had not
thought so I never would have married him, for you can see he is
"'But look at him, doesn't he look as if he would make a
(Written By Abraham Lincoln.)
The following article on Niagara Falls, in Mr. Lincoln's
handwriting, was found among his papers after his death:
"Niagara Falls! By what mysterious power is it that millions and
millions are drawn from all parts of the world to gaze upon
Niagara Falls? There is no mystery about the thing itself. Every
effect is just as any intelligent man, knowing the causes, would
anticipate without seeing it. If the water moving onward in a
great river reaches a point where there is a perpendicular jog of
a hundred feet in descent in the bottom of the river, it is plain
the water will have a violent and continuous plunge at that
point. It is also plain, the water, thus plunging, will foam and
roar, and send up a mist continuously, in which last, during
sunshine, there will be perpetual rainbows. The mere physical of
Niagara Falls is only this. Yet this is really a very small part
of that world's wonder. Its power to excite reflection and
emotion is its great charm. The geologist will demonstrate that
the plunge, or fall, was once at Lake Ontario, and has worn its
way back to its present position; he will ascertain how fast it
is wearing now, and so get a basis for determining how long it
has been wearing back from Lake Ontario, and finally demonstrate
by it that this world is at least fourteen thousand years old. A
philosopher of a slightly different turn will say, 'Niagara Falls
is only the lip of the basin out of which pours all the surplus
water which rains down on two or three hundred thousand square
miles of the earth's surface.' He will estimate with approximate
accuracy that five hundred thousand tons of water fall with their
full weight a distance of a hundred feet each minute--thus
exerting a force equal to the lifting of the same weight, through
the same space, in the same time.
"But still there is more. It calls up the indefinite past. When
Columbus first sought this continent--when Christ suffered on the
cross--when Moses led Israel through the Red Sea--nay, even when
Adam first came from the hand of his Maker; then, as now, Niagara
was roaring here. The eyes of that species of extinct giants
whose bones fill the mounds of America have gazed on Niagara, as
ours do now. Contemporary with the first race of men, and older
than the first man, Niagara is strong and fresh to-day as ten
thousand years ago. The Mammoth and Mastodon, so long dead that
fragments of their monstrous bones alone testify that they ever
lived, have gazed on Niagara--in that long, long time never still
for a single moment (never dried), never froze, never slept,
MADE IT HOT FOR LINCOLN.
A lady relative, who lived for two years with the Lincolns, said
that Mr. Lincoln was in the habit of lying on the floor with the
back of a chair for a pillow when he read.
One evening, when in this position in the hall, a knock was heard
at the front door, and, although in his shirtsleeves, he answered
the call. Two ladies were at the door, whom he invited into the
parlor, notifying them in his open, familiar way, that he would
"trot the women folks out."
Mrs. Lincoln, from an adjoining room, witnessed the ladies'
entrance, and, overhearing her husband's jocose expression, her
indignation was so instantaneous she made the situation
exceedingly interesting for him, and he was glad to retreat from
the house. He did not return till very late at night, and then
slipped quietly in at a rear door.
WOULDN'T HOLD TITLE AGAINST HIM,
During the rebellion the Austrian Minister to the United States
Government introduced to the President a count, a subject of the
Austrian government, who was desirous of obtaining a position in
the American army.
Being introduced by the accredited Minister of Austria he
required no further recommendation to secure the appointment;
but, fearing that his importance might not be fully appreciated
by the republican President, the count was particular in
impressing the fact upon him that he bore that title, and that
his family was ancient and highly respectable.
President Lincoln listened with attention, until this unnecessary
commendation was mentioned; then, with a merry twinkle in his
eye, he tapped the aristocratic sprig of hereditary nobility on
the shoulder in the most fatherly way, as if the gentleman had
made a confession of some unfortunate circumstance connected with
his lineage, for which he was in no way responsible, and said:
"Never mind,you shall be treated with just as much consideration
for all that. I will see to it that your bearing a title shan't
ONLY ONE LIFE TO LIVE.
A young man living in Kentucky had been enticed into the rebel
army. After a few months he became disgusted, and managed to make
his way back home. Soon after his arrival, the Union officer in
command of the military stationed in the town had him arrested as
a rebel spy, and, after a military trial he was condemned to be
President Lincoln was seen by one of his friends from Kentucky,
who explained his errand and asked for mercy. "Oh, yes, I
understand; some one has been crying, and worked upon your
feelings, and you have come here to work on mine."
His friend then went more into detail, and assured him of his
belief in the truth of the story. After some deliberation, Mr.
Lincoln, evidently scarcely more than half convinced, but still
preferring to err on the side of mercy, replied:
"If a man had more than one life, I think a little hanging would
not hurt this one; but after he is once dead we cannot bring him
back, no matter how sorry we may be; so the boy shall be
And a reprieve was given on the spot.
COULDN'T LOCATE HIS BIRTHPLACE.
While the celebrated artist, Hicks, was engaged in painting Mr.
Lincoln's portrait, just after the former's first nomination for
the Presidency, he asked the great statesman if he could point
out the precise spot where he was born.
Lincoln thought the matter over for a day or two, and then gave
the artist the following memorandum:
"Springfield, Ill., June 14, 1860
"I was born February 12, 1809, in then Hardin county, Kentucky,
at a point within the now county of Larue, a mile or a mile and a
half from where Rodgen's mill now is. My parents being dead, and
my own memory not serving, I know no means of identifying the
precise locality. It was on Nolen Creek.
"SAMBO" WAS "AFEARED."
In his message to Congress in December, 1864, just after his
re-election, President Lincoln, in his message of December 6th,
let himself out, in plain, unmistakable terms, to the effect that
the freedmen should never be placed in bondage again. "Frank
Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper" of December 24th, 1864, printed
the cartoon we herewith reproduce, the text underneath running in
UNCLE ABE: "Sambo, you are not handsome, any more than myself,
but as to sending you back to your old master, I'm not the man to
do it--and, what's more, I won't." (Vice President's message.)
Congress, at the previous sitting, had neglected to pass the
resolution for the Constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery,
but, on the 31st of January, 1865, the resolution was finally
adopted, and the United States Constitution soon had the new
feature as one of its clauses, the necessary number of State
Legislatures approving it. President Lincoln regarded the passage
of this resolution by Congress as most important, as the
amendment, in his mind, covered whatever defects a rigid
construction of the Constitution might find in his Emancipation
After the latter was issued, negroes were allowed to enlist in
the Army, and they fought well and bravely. After the War, in the
reorganization of the Regular Army, four regiments of colored men
were provided for--the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry and the
Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Infantry. In the cartoon, Sambo
has evidently been asking "Uncle Abe" as to the probability or
possibility of his being again enslaved.
WHEN MONEY MIGHT BE USED.
Some Lincoln enthusiast in Kansas, with much more pretensions
than power, wrote him in March, 1860 proposing to furnish a
Lincoln delegation from that State to the Chicago Convention, and
suggesting that Lincoln should pay the legitimate expenses of
organizing, electing, and taking to the convention the promised
To this Lincoln replied that "in the main, the use of money is
wrong, but for certain objects in a political contest the use of
some is both right and indispensable." And he added: "If you
shall be appointed a delegate to Chicago, I will furnish $100 to
bear the expenses of the trip."
He heard nothing further from the Kansas man until he saw an
announcement in the newspapers that Kansas had elected delegates
and instructed them for Seward.
"ABE" WAS NO BEAUTY.
Lincoln's military service in the Back Hawk war had increased his
popularity at New Salem, and he was put up as a candidate for the
A. Y. Ellis describes his personal appearance at this time as
follows: "He wore a mixed jean coat, claw-hammer style, short in
the sleeves and bob-tailed; in fact, it was so short in the tail
that he could not sit on it; flax and tow linen pantaloons and a
straw hat. I think he wore a vest, but do not remember how it
looked; he wore pot-metal boots."
"HE'S JUST BEAUTIFUL."
Lincoln's great love for children easily won their confidence.
A little girl, who had been told that the President was very
homely, was taken by her father to see the President at the White
Lincoln took her upon his knee and chatted with her for a moment
in his merry way, when she turned to her father and exclaimed
"Oh, Pa! he isn't ugly at all; he's just beautiful!"
BIG ENOUGH HOG FOR HIM.
To a curiosity-seeker who desired a permit to pass the lines to
visit the field of Bull Run, after the first battle, Lincoln made
the following reply:
"A man in Cortlandt county raised a porker of such unusual size
that strangers went out of their way to see it.
"One of them the other day met the old gentleman and inquired
about the animal.
"'Wall, yes,' the old fellow said, 'I've got such a critter,
mi'ty big un; but I guess I'll have to charge you about a
shillin' for lookin' at him.'
"The stranger looked at the old man for a minute or so, pulled
out the desired coin, handed it to him and started to go off.
'Hold on,' said the other. 'don't you want to see the hog?'
"'No,' said the stranger; 'I have seen as big a hog as I want to
"And you will find that fact the case with yourself, if you
should happen to see a few live rebels there as well as dead
"ABE" OFFERS A SPEECH FOR SOMETHING TO EAT.
When Lincoln's special train from Springfield to Washington
reached the Illinois State line, there was a stop for dinner.
There was such a crowd that Lincoln could scarcely reach the
dining-room. "Gentlemen," said he, as he surveyed the crowd, "if
you will make me a little path, so that I can get through and get
something to eat, I will make you a speech when I get back."
THEY UNDERSTOOD EACH OTHER.
When complaints were made to President Lincoln by victims of
Secretary of War Stanton's harshness, rudeness, and refusal to be
obliging--particularly in cases where Secretary Stanton had
refused to honor Lincoln's passes through the lines--the
President would often remark to this effect "I cannot always be
sure that permits given by me ought to be granted. There is an
understanding between myself and Stanton that when I send a
request to him which cannot consistently be granted, he is to
refuse to honor it. This he sometimes does."
FEW FENCE RAILS LEFT.
"There won't be a tar barrel left in Illinois to-night," said
Senator Stephen A. Douglas, in Washington, to his Senatorial
friends, who asked him, when the news of the nomination of
Lincoln reached them, "Who is this man Lincoln, anyhow?"
Douglas was right. Not only the tar barrels, but half the fences
of the State of Illinois went up in the fire of rejoicing.
THE "GREAT SNOW" OF 1830-31.
In explanation of Lincoln's great popularity, D. W. Bartlett, in
his "Life and Speeches of Abraham Lincoln," published in 1860
makes this statement of "Abe's" efficient service to his
neighbors in the "Great Snow" of 1830-31:
"The deep snow which occurred in 1830-31 was one of the chief
troubles endured by the early settlers of central and southern
Illinois. Its consequences lasted through several years. The
people were ill-prepared to meet it, as the weather had been
mild and pleasant--unprecedentedly so up to Christmas--when a
snow-storm set in which lasted two days, something never before
known even among the traditions of the Indians, and never
approached in the weather of any winter since.
"The pioneers who came into the State (then a territory) in 1800
say the average depth of snow was never, previous to 1830, more
than knee-deep to an ordinary man, while it was breast-high all
It became crusted over, so as, in some cases, to bear teams.
Cattle and horses perished, the winter wheat was killed, the
meager stock of provisions ran out, and during the three months'
continuance of the snow, ice and continuous cold weather the most
wealthy settlers came near starving, while some of the poor ones
actually did. It was in the midst of such scenes that Abraham
Lincoln attained his majority, and commenced his career of bold
and manly independence . . . . .
"Communication between house and house was often entirely
obstructed for teams, so that the young and strong men had to do
all the traveling on foot; carrying from one neighbor what of his
store he could spare to another, and bringing back in return
something of his store sorely needed. Men living five, ten,
twenty and thirty miles apart were called 'neighbors' then. Young
Lincoln was always ready to perform these acts of humanity, and
was foremost in the counsels of the settlers when their troubles
seemed gathering like a thick cloud about them."
CREDITOR PAID DEBTORS DEBT.
A certain rich man in Springfield, Illinois, sued a poor attorney
for $2.50, and Lincoln was asked to prosecute the case. Lincoln
urged the creditor to let the matter drop, adding, "You can make
nothing out of him, and it will cost you a good deal more than
the debt to bring suit." The creditor was still determined to
have his way, and threatened to seek some other attorney. Lincoln
then said, "Well, if you are determined that suit should be
brought, I will bring it; but my charge will be $10."
The money was paid him, and peremptory orders were given that the
suit be brought that day. After the client's departure Lincoln
went out of the office, returning in about an hour with an amused
look on his face.
Asked what pleased him, he replied, "I brought suit against --,
and then hunted him up, told him what I had done, handed him half
of the $10, and we went over to the squire's office. He confessed
judgment and paid the bill."
Lincoln added that he didn't see any other way to make things
satisfactory for his client as well as the other.
HELPED OUT THE SOLDIERS.
Judge Thomas B. Bryan, of Chicago, a member of the Union Defense
Committee during the War, related the following concerning the
original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation:
"I asked Mr. Lincoln for the original draft of the Proclamation,"
said Judge Bryan, "for the benefit of our Sanitary Fair, in 1865.
He sent it and accompanied it with a note in which he said:
"'I had intended to keep this paper, but if it will help the
soldiers, I give it to you.'
"The paper was put up at auction and brought $3,000. The buyer
afterward sold it again to friends of Mr. Lincoln at a greatly
advanced price, and it was placed in the rooms of the Chicago
Historical Society, where it was burned in the great fire of
EVERY FELLOW FOR HIMSELF.
An elegantly dressed young Virginian assured Lincoln that he had
done a great deal of hard manual labor in his time. Much amused
at this solemn declaration, Lincoln said:
"Oh, yes; you Virginians shed barrels of perspiration while
standing off at a distance and superintending the work your
slaves do for you. It is different with us. Here it is every
fellow for himself, or he doesn't get there."
"BUTCHER-KNIFE BOYS" AT THE POLLS.
When young Lincoln had fully demonstrated that he was the
champion wrestler in the country surrounding New Salem, the men
of "de gang" at Clary's Grove, whose leader "Abe" had downed,
were his sworn political friends and allies.
Their work at the polls was remarkably effective. When the
"Butcherknife boys," the "huge-pawed boys," and the
"half-horse-half-alligator men" declared for a candidate the
latter was never defeated.
NO "SECOND COMING" FOR SPRINGFIELD.
Soon after the opening of Congress in 1861, Mr. Shannon, from
California, made the customary call at the White House. In the
conversation that ensued, Mr Shannon said: "Mr. President, I met
an old friend of yours in California last summer, a Mr. Campbell,
who had a good deal to say of your Springfield life."
"Ah!" returned Mr. Lincoln, "I am glad to hear of him. Campbell
used to be a dry fellow in those days," he continued. "For a time
he was Secretary of State. One day during the legislative
vacation, a meek, cadaverous-looking man, with a white neckcloth,
introduced himself to him at his office, and, stating that he had
been informed that Mr. C. had the letting of the hall of
representatives, he wished to secure it, if possible, for a
course of lectures he desired to deliver in Springfield.
"'May I ask,' said the Secretary, 'what is to be the subject of
"'Certainly,' was the reply, with a very solemn expression of
countenance. 'The course I wish to deliver is on the Second
Coming of our Lord.'
"'It is of no use,' said C.; 'if you will take my advice, you
will not waste your time in this city. It is my private opinion
that, if the Lord has been in Springfield once, He will never
come the second time!'"
HOW HE WON A FRIEND.
J. S. Moulton, of Chicago, a master in chancery and influential
in public affairs, looked upon the candidacy of Mr. Lincoln for
President as something in the nature of a joke. He did not rate
the Illinois man in the same class with the giants of the East.
In fact he had expressed himself as by no means friendly to the
Still he had been a good friend to Lincoln and had often met him
when the Springfield lawyer came to Chicago. Mr. Lincoln heard of
Moulton's attitude, but did not see Moulton until after the
election, when the President-elect came to Chicago and was
tendered a reception at one of the big hotels.
Moulton went up in the line to pay his respects to the
newly-elected chief magistrate, purely as a formality, he
explained to his companions. As Moulton came along the line Mr.
Lincoln grasped Moulton's hand with his right, and with his left
took the master of chancery by the shoulder and pulled him out of
"You don't belong in that line, Moulton," said Mr. Lincoln. "You
belong here by me."
Everyone at the reception was a witness to the honoring of
Moulton. From that hour every faculty that Moulton possessed was
at the service of the President. A little act of kindness,
skillfully bestowed, had won him; and he stayed on to the end.
NEVER SUED A CLIENT.
If a client did not pay, Lincoln did not believe in suing for the
fee. When a fee was paid him his custom was to divide the money
into two equal parts, put one part into his pocket, and the other
into an envelope labeled "Herndon's share."
THE LINCOLN HOUSEHOLD GOODS.
It is recorded that when "Abe" was born, the household goods of
his father consisted of a few cooking utensils, a little bedding,
some carpenter tools, and four hundred gallons of the fierce
product of the mountain still.
RUNNING THE MACHINE.
One of the cartoon-posters issued by the Democratic National
Campaign Committee in the fall of 1864 is given here. It had the
legend, "Running the Machine," printed beneath; the "machine" was
Secretary Chase's "Greenback Mill," and the mill was turning out
paper money by the million to satisfy the demands of greedy
contractors. "Uncle Abe" is pictured as about to tell one of his
funny stories, of which the scene "reminds" him; Secretary of War
Stanton is receiving a message from the front, describing a great
victory, in which one prisoner and one gun were taken; Secretary
of State Seward is handing an order to a messenger for the arrest
of a man who had called him a "humbug," the habeas corpus being
suspended throughout the Union at that period; Secretary of the
Navy Welles--the long-haired, long-bearded man at the head of the
table--is figuring out a naval problem; at the side of the table,
opposite "Uncle Abe," are seated two Government contractors,
shouting for "more greenbacks," and at the extreme left is
Secretary of the Treasury Fessenden (who succeeded Chase when the
latter was made Chief Justice of the United States Supreme
Court), who complains that he cannot satisfy the greed of the
contractors for "more greenbacks," although he is grinding away
at the mill day and night.
WAS "BOSS" WHEN NECESSARY.
Lincoln was the actual head of the administration, and whenever
he chose to do so he controlled Secretary of War Stanton as well
as the other Cabinet ministers.
Secretary Stanton on one occasion said: "Now, Mr. President,
those are the facts and you must see that your order cannot be
Lincoln replied in a somewhat positive tone: "Mr. Secretary, I
reckon you'll have to execute the order."
Stanton replied with vigor: "Mr. President, I cannot do it. This
order is an improper one, and I cannot execute it."
Lincoln fixed his eyes upon Stanton, and, in a firm voice and
accent that clearly showed his determination, said: "Mr.
Secretary, it will have to be done."
It was done.
"RATHER STARVE THAN SWINDLE."
Ward Lamon, once Lincoln's law partner, relates a story which
places Lincoln's high sense of honor in a prominent light. In a
certain case, Lincoln and Lamon being retained by a gentleman
named Scott, Lamon put the fee at $250, and Scott agreed to pay
it. Says Lamon:
"Scott expected a contest, but, to his surprise, the case was
tried inside of twenty minutes; our success was complete. Scott
was satisfied, and cheerfully paid over the money to me inside
the bar, Lincoln looking on. Scott then went out, and Lincoln
asked, 'What did you charge that man?'
"I told him $250. Said he: 'Lamon, that is all wrong. The service
was not worth that sum. Give him back at least half of it.'
"I protested that the fee was fixed in advance; that Scott was
perfectly satisfied, and had so expressed himself. 'That may be,'
retorted Lincoln, with a look of distress and of undisguised
displeasure, 'but I am not satisfied. This is positively wrong.
Go, call him back and return half the money at least, or I will
not receive one cent of it for my share.'
"I did go, and Scott was astonished when I handed back half the
"This conversation had attracted the attention of the lawyers and
the court. Judge David Davis, then on our circuit bench
(afterwards Associate Justice on the United States Supreme
bench), called Lincoln to him. The Judge never could whisper, but
in this instance he probably did his best. At all events, in
attempting to whisper to Lincoln he trumpeted his rebuke in about
these words, and in rasping tones that could be heard all over
the court-room: 'Lincoln, I have been watching you and Lamon. You
are impoverishing this bar by your picayune charges of fees, and
the lawyers have reason to complain of you. You are now almost as
poor as Lazarus, and if you don't make people pay you more for
your services you will die as poor as Job's turkey!'
"Judge O. L. Davis, the leading lawyer in that part of the State,
promptly applauded this malediction from the bench; but Lincoln
"'That money,' said he, 'comes out of the pocket of a poor,
demented girl, and I would rather starve than swindle her in this
DON'T AIM TOO HIGH.
"Billy, don't shoot too high--aim lower, and the common people
will understand you," Lincoln once said to a brother lawyer.
"They are the ones you want to reach--at least, they are the ones
you ought to reach.
"The educated and refined people will understand you, anyway. If
you aim too high, your idea will go over the heads of the masses,
and only hit those who need no hitting."
NOT MUCH AT RAIL-SPLITTING.
One who afterward became one of Lincoln's most devoted friends
and adherents tells this story regarding the manner in which
Lincoln received him when they met for the first time:
"After a comical survey of my fashionable toggery,--my
swallow-tail coat, white neck-cloth, and ruffled shirt (an
astonishing outfit for a young limb of the law in that
settlement), Lincoln said:
"'Going to try your hand at the law, are you? I should know at a
glance that you were a Virginian; but I don't think you would
succeed at splitting rails. That was my occupation at your age,
and I don't think I have taken as much pleasure in anything else
from that day to this.'"
GAVE THE SOLDIER THE PREFERENCE.
July 27th, 1863, Lincoln wrote the Postmaster-General:
"Yesterday little indorsements of mine went to you in two cases
of postmasterships, sought for widows whose husbands have fallen
in the battles of this war.
"These cases, occurring on the same day, brought me to reflect
more attentively than what I had before done as to what is fairly
due from us here in dispensing of patronage toward the men who,
by fighting our battles, bear the chief burden of saving our
"My conclusion is that, other claims and qualifications being
equal, they have the right, and this is especially applicable to
the disabled soldier and the deceased soldier's family."
THE PRESIDENT WAS NOT SCARED.
When told how uneasy all had been at his going to Richmond,
"Why, if any one else had been President and had gone to
Richmond, I would have been alarmed; but I was not scared about
myself a bit."
JEFF. DAVIS' REPLY TO LINCOLN.
On the 20th of July, 1864, Horace Greeley crossed into Canada to
confer with refugee rebels at Niagara. He bore with him this
paper from the President:
"To Whom It May Concern: Any proposition which embraces the
restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the
abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority
that can control the armies now at war with the United States,
will be received and considered by the executive government of
the United States, and will be met by liberal terms and other
substantial and collateral points, and the bearer or bearers
thereof shall have safe conduct both ways."
To this Jefferson Davis replied: "We are not fighting for
slavery; we are fighting for independence."
LINCOLN WAS a GENTLEMAN.
Lincoln was compelled to contend with the results of the
ill-judged zeal of politicians, who forced ahead his flatboat and
rail-splitting record, with the homely surroundings of his
earlier days, and thus, obscured for the time, the other fact
that, always having the heart, he had long since acquired the
manners of a true gentleman.
So, too, did he suffer from Eastern censors, who did not take
those surroundings into account, and allowed nothing for his
originality of character. One of these critics heard at
Washington that Mr. Lincoln, in speaking at different times of
some move or thing, said "it had petered out;" that some other
one's plan "wouldn't gibe;" and being asked if the War and the
cause of the Union were not a great care to him, replied:
"Yes, it is a heavy hog to hold."
The first two phrases are so familiar here in the West that they
need no explanation. Of the last and more pioneer one it may be
said that it had a special force, and was peculiarly Lincoln-like
in the way applied by him.
In the early times in Illinois, those having hogs, did their own
killing, assisted by their neighbors. Stripped of its hair, one
held the carcass nearly perpendicular in the air, head down,
while others put one point of the gambrel-bar through a slit in
its hock, then over the string-pole, and the other point through
the other hock, and so swung the animal clear of the ground.
While all this was being done, it took a good man to "hold the
hog," greasy, warmly moist, and weighing some two hundred pounds.
And often those with the gambrel prolonged the strain, being
provokingly slow, in hopes to make the holder drop his burden.
This latter thought is again expressed where President Lincoln,
writing of the peace which he hoped would "come soon, to stay;
and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time," added
that while there would "be some black men who can remember that
with silent tongue and clenched teeth and steady eye, and
well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great
consummation," he feared there would "be some white ones unable
to forget that, with malignant heart and deceitful tongue, they
had striven to hinder it."
He had two seemingly opposite elements little understood by
strangers, and which those in more intimate relations with him
find difficult to explain; an open, boyish tongue when in a happy
mood, and with this a reserve of power, a force of thought that
impressed itself without words on observers in his presence. With
the cares of the nation on his mind, he became more meditative,
and lost much of his lively ways remembered "back in Illinois."
HIS POOR RELATIONS.
One of the most beautiful traits of Mr. Lincoln's character was
his considerate regard for the poor and obscure relatives he had
left, plodding along in their humble ways of life. Wherever upon
his circuit he found them, he always went to their dwellings, ate
with them, and, when convenient, made their houses his home. He
never assumed in their presence the slightest superiority to
them. He gave them money when they needed it and he had it.
Countless times he was known to leave his companions at the
village hotel, after a hard day's work in the court-room, and
spend the evening with these old friends and companions of his
humbler days. On one occasion, when urged not to go, he replied,
"Why, Aunt's heart would be broken if I should leave town without
calling upon her;" yet, he was obliged to walk several miles to
make the call.
DESERTER'S SINS WASHED OUT IN BLOOD.
This was the reply made by Lincoln to an application for the
pardon of a soldier who had shown himself brave in war, had been
severely wounded, but afterward deserted:
"Did you say he was once badly wounded?
"Then, as the Scriptures say that in the shedding of blood is the
remission of sins, I guess we'll have to let him off this time."
SURE CURE FOR BOILS.
President Lincoln and Postmaster-General Blair were talking of
"Blair," said the President, "did you ever know that fright has
sometimes proven a cure for boils?" "No, Mr. President, how is
that?" "I'll tell you. Not long ago when a colonel, with his
cavalry, was at the front, and the Rebs were making things rather
lively for us, the colonel was ordered out to a reconnoissance.
He was troubled at the time with a big boil where it made
horseback riding decidedly uncomfortable. He finally dismounted
and ordered the troops forward without him. Soon he was startled
by the rapid reports of pistols and the helter-skelter approach
of his troops in full retreat before a yelling rebel force. He
forgot everything but the yells, sprang into his saddle, and made
capital time over the fences and ditches till safe within the
lines. The pain from his boil was gone, and the boil, too, and
the colonel swore that there was no cure for boils so sure as
fright from rebel yells."
PAY FOR EVERYTHING.
When President Lincoln issued a military order, it was usually
expressive, as the following shows:
"War Department, Washington, July 22, '62.
"First: Ordered that military commanders within the States of
Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi,
Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, in an orderly manner, seize and
use any property, real or personal, which may be necessary or
convenient for their several commands, for supplies, or for other
military purposes; and that while property may be all stored for
proper military objects, none shall be destroyed in wantonness or
"Second: That military and naval commanders shall employ as
laborers within and from said States, so many persons of African
descent as can be advantageously used for military or naval
purposes, giving them reasonable wages for their labor.
"Third: That as to both property and persons of African descent,
accounts shall be kept sufficiently accurate and in detail to
show quantities and amounts, and from whom both property and such
persons shall have come, as a basis upon which compensation can
be made in proper cases; and the several departments of this
Government shall attend to and perform their appropriate parts
towards the execution of these orders.
"By order of the President."
BASHFUL WITH LADIES.
Judge David Davis, Justice of the United States Supreme Court,
and United States Senator from Illinois, was one of Lincoln's
most intimate friends. He told this story on "Abe":
"Lincoln was very bashful when in the presence of ladies. I
remember once we were invited to take tea at a friend's house,
and while in the parlor I was called to the front gate to see
"When I returned, Lincoln, who had undertaken to entertain the
ladies, was twisting and squirming in his chair, and as bashful
as a schoolboy."
SAW HUMOR IN EVERYTHING.
There was much that was irritating and uncomfortable in the
circuit-riding of the Illinois court, but there was more which
was amusing to a temperament like Lincoln's. The freedom, the
long days in the open air, the unexpected if trivial adventures,
the meeting with wayfarers and settlers--all was an entertainment
to him. He found humor and human interest on the route where his
companions saw nothing but commonplaces.
"He saw the ludicrous in an assemblage of fowls," says H. C.
Whitney, one of his fellow-itinerants, "in a man spading his
garden, in a clothes-line full of clothes, in a group of boys, in
a lot of pigs rooting at a mill door, in a mother duck teaching
her brood to swim--in everything and anything."
SPECIFIC FOR FOREIGN "RASH."
It was in the latter part of 1863 that Russia offered its
friendship to the United States, and sent a strong fleet of
warships, together with munitions of war, to this country to be
used in any way the President might see fit. Russia was not
friendly to England and France, these nations having defeated her
in the Crimea a few years before. As Great Britain and the
Emperor of the French were continually bothering him, President
Lincoln used Russia's kindly feeling and action as a means of
keeping the other two powers named in a neutral state of mind.
Underneath the cartoon we here reproduce, which was labeled
"Drawing Things to a Head," and appeared in the issue of
"Harper's Weekly," of November 28, 1863, was this DR. LINCOLN (to
smart boy of the shop): "Mild applications of Russian Salve for
our friends over the way, and heavy doses--and plenty of it for
our Southern patient!!"
Secretary of State Seward was the "smart boy" of the shop, and
"our friend over the way" were England and France. The latter
bothered President Lincoln no more, but it is a fact that the
Confederate privateer Alabama was manned almost entirely by
British seamen; also, that when the Alabama was sunk by the
Kearsarge, in the summer of 1864, the Confederate seamen were
picked up by an English vessel, taken to Southhampton, and set at
FAVORED THE OTHER SIDE.
Lincoln was candor itself when conducting his side of a case in
court. General Mason Brayman tells this story as an illustration:
"It is well understood by the profession that lawyers do not read
authores favoring the opposite side. I once heard Mr. Lincoln, in
the Supreme Court of Illinois, reading from a reported case some
strong points in favor of his argument. Reading a little too far,
and before becoming aware of it, plunged into an authority
"Pausing a moment, he drew up his shoulders in a comical way, and
half laughing, went on, 'There, there, may it please the court, I
reckon I've scratched up a snake. But, as I'm in for it, I guess
I'll read it through.'
"Then, in his most ingenious and matchless manner, he went on
with his argument, and won his case, convincing the court that it
was not much of a snake after all."
LINCOLN AND THE "SHOW"
Lincoln was fond of going all by himself to any little show or
concert. He would often slip away from his fellow-lawyers and
spend the entire evening at a little magic lantern show intended
A traveling concert company was always sure of drawing Lincoln. A
Mrs. Hillis, a member of the "Newhall Family," and a good singer,
was the only woman who ever seemed to exhibit any liking for
him--so Lincoln said. He attended a negro-minstrel show in
Chicago, once, where he heard Dixie sung. It was entirely new,
and pleased him greatly.
"MIXING" AND "MINGLING."
An Eastern newspaper writer told how Lincoln, after his first
nomination, received callers, the majority of them at his law
"While talking to two or three gentlemen and standing up, a very
hard looking customer rolled in and tumbled into the only vacant
chair and the one lately occupied by Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln's
keen eye took in the fact, but gave no evidence of the notice.
"Turning around at last he spoke to the odd specimen, holding out
his hand at such a distance that our friend had to vacate the
chair if he accepted the proffered shake. Mr. Lincoln quietly
resumed his chair.
"It was a small matter, yet one giving proof more positively than
a larger event of that peculiar way the man has of mingling with
a mixed crowd."
TOOK PART OF THE BLAME.
Among the lawyers who traveled the circuit with Lincoln was Usher
F. Linder, whose daughter, Rose Linder Wilkinson, has left many
"One case in which Mr. Lincoln was interested concerned a member
of my own family," said Mrs. Wilkinson. "My brother, Dan, in the
heat of a quarrel, shot a young man named Ben Boyle and was
arrested. My father was seriously ill with inflammatory
rheumatism at the time, and could scarcely move hand or foot. He
certainly could not defend Dan. I was his secretary, and I
remember it was but a day or so after the shooting till letters
of sympathy began to pour in. In the first bundle which I picked
up there was a big letter, the handwriting on which I recognized
as that of Mr. Lincoln. The letter was very sympathetic.
"'I know how you feel, Linder,' it said. 'I can understand your
anger as a father, added to all the other sentiments. But may we
not be in a measure to blame? We have talked about the defense of
criminals before our children; about our success in defending
them; have left the impression that the greater the crime, the
greater the triumph of securing an acquittal. Dan knows your
success as a criminal lawyer, and he depends on you, little
knowing that of all cases you would be of least value in this.'
"He concluded by offering his services, an offer which touched my
father to tears.
"Mr. Lincoln tried to have Dan released on bail, but Ben Boyle's
family and friends declared the wounded man would die, and
feeling had grown so bitter that the judge would not grant any
bail. So the case was changed to Marshall county, but as Ben
finally recovered it was dismissed."
THOUGHT OF LEARNING A TRADE.
Lincoln at one time thought seriously of learning the
blacksmith's trade. He was without means, and felt the immediate
necessity of undertaking some business that would give him bread.
While entertaining this project an event occurred which, in his
undetermined state of mind, seemed to open a way to success in
Reuben Radford, keeper of a small store in the village of New
Salem, had incurred the displeasure of the "Clary Grove Boys,"
who exercised their "regulating" prerogatives by irregularly
breaking his windows. William G. Greene, a friend of young
Lincoln, riding by Radford's store soon afterward, was hailed by
him, and told that he intended to sell out. Mr. Greene went into
the store, and offered him at random $400 for his stock, which
offer was immediately accepted.
Lincoln "happened in" the next day, and being familiar with the
value of the goods, Mr. Greene proposed to him to take an
inventory of the stock, to see what sort of a bargain he had
made. This he did, and it was found that the goods were worth
Lincoln then made an offer of $125 for his bargain, with the
proposition that he and a man named Berry, as his partner, take
over Greene's notes given to Radford. Mr. Greene agreed to the
arrangement, but Radford declined it, except on condition that
Greene would be their security. Greene at last assented.
Lincoln was not afraid of the "Clary Grove Boys"; on the
contrary, they had been his most ardent friends since the time he
thrashed "Jack" Armstrong, champion bully of "The Grove"--but
their custom was not heavy.
The business soon became a wreck; Greene had to not only assist
in closing it up, but pay Radford's notes as well. Lincoln
afterwards spoke of these notes, which he finally made good to
Greene, as "the National Debt."
LINCOLN DEFENDS FIFTEEN MRS. NATIONS.
When Lincoln's sympathies were enlisted in any cause, he worked
like a giant to win. At one time (about 1855) he was in
attendance upon court at the little town of Clinton, Ill., and
one of the cases on the docket was where fifteen women from a
neighboring village were defendants, they having been indicted
for trespass. Their offense, as duly set forth in the indictment,
was that of swooping down upon one Tanner, the keeper of a saloon
in the village, and knocking in the heads of his barrels. Lincoln
was not employed in the case, but sat watching the trial as it
In defending the ladies, their attorney seemed to evince a little
want of tact, and this prompted one of the former to invite Mr.
Lincoln to add a few words to the jury, if he thought he could
aid their cause. He was too gallant to refuse, and their attorney
having consented, he made use of the following argument:
"In this case I would change the order of indictment and have it
read The State vs. Mr. Whiskey, instead of The State vs. The
Ladies; and touching these there are three laws: the law of
self-protection; the law of the land, or statute law; and the
moral law, or law of God.
"First the law of self-protection is a law of necessity, as
evinced by our forefathers in casting the tea overboard and
asserting their right to the pursuit of life, liberty and
happiness: In this case it is the only defense the Ladies have,
for Tanner neither feared God nor regarded man.
"Second, the law of the land, or statute law, and Tanner is
recreant to both.
"Third, the moral law, or law of God, and this is probably a law
for the violation of which the jury can fix no punishment."
Lincoln gave some of his own observations on the ruinous effects
of whiskey in society, and demanded its early suppression.
After he had concluded, the Court, without awaiting the return of
the jury, dismissed the ladies, saying:
"Ladies, go home. I will require no bond of you, and if any fine
is ever wanted of you, we will let you know."
AVOIDED EVEN APPEARANCE OF EVIL
Frank W. Tracy, President of the First National Bank of
Springfield, tells a story illustrative of two traits in Mr.
Lincoln's character. Shortly after the National banking law went
into effect the First National of Springield was chartered, and
Mr. Tracy wrote to Mr. Lincoln, with whom he was well acquainted
in a business way, and tendered him an opportunity to subscribe
for some of the stock.
In reply to the kindly offer Mr. Lincoln wrote, thanking Mr.
Tracy, but at the same time declining to subscribe. He said he
recognized that stock in a good National bank would be a good
thing to hold, but he did not feel that he ought, as President,
profit from a law which had been passed under his administration.
"He seemed to wish to avoid even the appearance of evil," said
Mr. Tracy, in telling of the incident. "And so the act proved
both his unvarying probity and his unfailing policy."
WAR DIDN'T ADMIT OF HOLIDAYS.
Lincoln wrote a letter on October 2d, 1862, in which he observed
"I sincerely wish war was a pleasanter and easier business than
it is, but it does not admit of holidays."
Old John Bull got himself into a precious fine scrape when he
went so far as to "play double" with the North, as well as the
South, during the great American Civil War. In its issue of
November 14th, 1863, London "Punch" printed a rather clever
cartoon illustrating the predicament Bull had created for
himself. John is being lectured by Mrs. North and Mrs. South--
both good talkers and eminently able to hold their own in either
social conversation, parliamentary debate or political argument--
but he bears it with the best grace possible. This is the way the
text underneath the picture runs:
MRS. NORTH. "How about the Alabama, you wicked old man?" MRS.
SOUTH: "Where's my rams? Take back your precious consols--
there!!" "Punch" had a good deal of fun with old John before it
was through with him, but, as the Confederate privateer Alabama
was sent beneath the waves of the ocean at Cherbourg by the
Kearsarge, and Mrs. South had no need for any more rams, John got
out of the difficulty without personal injury. It was a tight
squeeze, though, for Mrs. North was in a fighting humor, and
prepared to scratch or pull hair. The fact that the privateer
Alabama, built at an English shipyard and manned almost entirely
by English sailors, had managed to do about $10,000,000 worth of
damage to United States commerce, was enough to make any one
DAYS OF GLADNESS PAST.
After the war was well on, a patriot woman of the West urged
President Lincoln to make hospitals at the North where the sick
from the Army of the Mississippi could revive in a more bracing
air. Among other reasons, she said, feelingly: "If you grant my
petition, you will be glad as long as you live."
With a look of sadness impossible to describe, the President
"I shall never be glad any more."
WOULDN'T TAKE THE MONEY.
Lincoln always regarded himself as the friend and protector of
unfortunate clients, and such he would never press for pay for
his services. A client named Cogdal was unfortunate in business,
and gave a note in settlenent of legal fees. Soon afterward he
met with an accident by which he lost a hand. Meeting Lincoln
some time after on the steps of the State-House, the kind lawyer
asked him how he was getting along.
"Badly enough," replied Cogdal; "I am both broken up in business
and crippled." Then he added, "I have been thinking about that
note of yours."
Lincoln, who had probably known all about Cogdal's troubles, and
had prepared himself for the meeting, took out his pocket-book,
and saying, with a laugh, "Well, you needn't think any more about
it," handed him the note.
Cogdal protesting, Lincoln said, "Even if you had the money, I
would not take it," and hurried away.
GRANT HELD ON ALL THE TIME.
(Dispatch to General Grant, August 17th, 1864.)
"I have seen your dispatch expressing your unwillingness to break
your hold where you are. Neither am I willing.
"Hold on with a bulldog grip."
CHEWED THE CUD IN SOLITUDE.
As a student (if such a term could be applied to Lincoln), one
who did not know him might have called him indolent. He would
pick up a book and run rapidly over the pages, pausing here and
At the end of an hour--never more than two or three hours--he
would close the book, stretch himself out on the office lounge,
and then, with hands under his head and eyes shut, would digest
the mental food he had just taken.
"ABE'S" YANKEE INGENUITY.
War Governor Richard Yates (he was elected Governor of Illinois
in 1860, when Lincoln was first elected President) told a good
story at Springfield (Ill.) about Lincoln.
One day the latter was in the Sangamon River with his trousers
rolled up five feet--more or less--trying to pilot a flatboat
over a mill-dam. The boat was so full of water that it was hard
to manage. Lincoln got the prow over, and then, instead of
waiting to bail the water out, bored a hole through the
projecting part and let it run out, affording a forcible
illustration of the ready ingenuity of the future President.
LINCOLN PAID HOMAGE TO WASHINGTON.
The Martyr President thus spoke of Washington in the course of an
"Washington is the mightiest name on earth--long since the
mightiest in the cause of civil liberty, still mightiest in moral
"On that name a eulogy is expected. It cannot be.
"To add brightness to the sun or glory to the name of Washington
is alike impossible.
"Let none attempt it.
"In solemn awe pronounce the name, and, in its naked, deathless
splendor, leave it shining on."
STIRRED EVEN THE REPORTERS.
Lincoln's influence upon his audiences was wonderful. He could
sway people at will, and nothing better illustrates his
extraordinary power than he manner in which he stirred up the
newspaper reporters by his Bloomingon speech.
Joseph Medill, editor of the Chicago Tribune, told the story:
"It was my journalistic duty, though a delegate to the
convention, to make a 'longhand' report of the speeches delivered
for the Tribune. I did make a few paragraphs of what Lincoln said
in the first eight or ten minutes, but I became so absorbed in
his magnetic oratory that I forgot myself and ceased to take
notes, and joined with the convention in cheering and stamping
and clapping to the end of his speech.
"I well remember that after Lincoln sat down and calm had
succeeded the tempest, I waked out of a sort of hypnotic trance,
and then thought of my report for the paper. There was nothing
written but an abbreviated introduction.
"It was some sort of satisfaction to find that I had not been
'scooped,' as all the newspaper men present had been equally
carried away by the excitement caused by the wonderful oration
and had made no report or sketch of the speech."
WHEN "ABE" CAME IN.
When "Abe" was fourteen years of age, John Hanks journeyed from
Kentucky to Indiana and lived with the Lincolns. He described
"Abe's" habits thus:
"When Lincoln and I returned to the house from work, he would go
to the cupboard, snatch a piece of corn-bread, take down a book,
sit down on a chair, cock his legs up as high as his head, and
"He and I worked barefooted, grubbed it, plowed, mowed, cradled
together; plowed corn, gathered it, and shucked corn. 'Abe' read
constantly when he had an opportunity."
ETERNAL FIDELITY TO THE CAUSE OF LIBERTY.
During the Harrison Presidential campaign of 1840, Lincoln said,
in a speech at Springfield, Illinois:
"Many free countries have lost their liberty, and ours may lose
hers; but if she shall, be it my proudest plume, not that I was
last to desert, but that I never deserted her.
"I know that the great volcano at Washington, aroused and
directed by the evil spirit that reigns there, is belching forth
the lava of political corruption in a current broad and deep,
which is sweeping with frightful velocity over the whole length
and breadth of the land, bidding fair to leave unscathed no green
spot or living thing.
"I cannot deny that all may be swept away. Broken by it, I, too,
may be; bow to it I never will.
"The possibility that we may fail in the struggle ought not to
deter us from the support of a cause which we believe to be just.
It shall never deter me.
"If ever I feel the soul within me elevate and expand to those
dimensions not wholly unworthy of its Almighty Architect, it is
when I contemplate the cause of my country, deserted by all the
world beside, and I standing up boldly alone, and hurling
defiance at her victorious oppressors.
"Here, without contemplating consequences, before heaven, and in
the face of the world, I swear eternal fidelity to the just
cause, as I deem it, of the land of my life, my liberty, and my
love; and who that thinks with me will not fearlessly adopt the
oath that I take?
"Let none falter who thinks he is right, and we may succeed.
"But if, after all, we shall fail, be it so; we have the proud
consolation of saying to our consciences, and to the departed
shade of our country's freedom, that the cause approved of our
judgment, and, adorned of our hearts in disaster, in chains, in
death, we never faltered in defending."
Lincoln could not rest for as instant under the consciousness
that, even unwittingly, he had defrauded anybody. On one
occasion, while clerking in Offutt's store, at New Salem, he sold
a woman a little bale of goods, amounting, by the reckoning, to
$2.20. He received the money, and the woman went away.
On adding the items of the bill again to make himself sure of
correctness, he found that he had taken six and a quarter cents
It was night, and, closing and locking the store, he started out
on foot, a distance of two or three miles, for the house of his
defrauded customer, and, delivering to her the sum whose
possession had so much troubled him, went home satisfied.
On another occasion, just as he was closing the store for the
night, a wooman entered and asked for half a pound of tea. The
tea was weighed out and paid for, and the store was left for the
The next morning Lincoln, when about to begin the duties of the
day, discovered a four-ounce weight on the scales. He saw at once
that he had made a mistake, and, shutting the store, he took a
long walk before breakfast to deliver the remainder of the tea.
These are very humble incidents, but they illustrate the man's
perfect conscientiousness--his sensitive honesty--better,
perhaps, than they would if they were of greater moment.
HE WASN'T GUILELESS.
Leonard Swett, of Chicago, whose counsels were doubtless among
the most welcome to Lincoln, in summing up Lincoln's character,
"From the commencement of his life to its close I have sometimes
doubted whether he ever asked anybody's advice about anything. He
would listen to everybody; he would hear everybody; but he
rarely, if ever, asked for opinions.
"As a politician and as President he arrived at all his
conclusions from his own reflections, and when his conclusions
were once formed he never doubted but what they were right.
"One great public mistake of his (Lincoln's) character, as
generally received and acquiesced in, is that he is considered by
the people of this country as a frank, guileless, and
unsophisticated man. There never was a greater mistake.
"Beneath a smooth surface of candor and apparent declaration of
all his thoughts and feelings he exercised the most exalted tact
and wisest discrimination. He handled and moved men remotely as
we do pieces upon a chess-board.
"He retained through life all the friends he ever had, and he
made the wrath of his enemies to praise him. This was not by
cunning or intrigue in the low acceptation of the term, but by
far-seeing reason and discernment. He always told only enough of
his plans and purposes to induce the belief that he had
communicated all; yet he reserved enough to have communicated
SWEET, BUT MILD REVENGE.
When the United States found that a war with Black Hawk could not
be dodged, Governor Reynolds, of Illinois, issued a call for
volunteers, and among the companies that immediately responded
was one from Menard county, Illinois. Many of these volunteers
were from New Salem and Clary's Grove, and Lincoln, being out of
business, was the first to enlist.
The company being full, the men held a meeting at Richland for
the election of officers. Lincoln had won many hearts, and they
told him that he must be their captain. It was an office to which
he did not aspire, and for which he felt he had no special
fitness; but he finally consented to be a candidate.
There was but one other candidate, a Mr. Kirkpatrick, who was one
of the most influential men of the region. Previously,
Kirkpatrick had been an employer of Lincoln, and was so
overbearing in his treatment of the young man that the latter
The simple mode of electing a captain adopted by the company was
by placing the candidates apart, and telling the men to go and
stand with the one they preferred. Lincoln and his competitor
took their positions, and then the word was given. At least three
out of every four went to Lincoln at once.
When it was seen by those who had arranged themselves with the
other candidate that Lincoln was the choice of the majority of
the company, they left their places, one by one, and came over to
the successful side, until Lincoln's opponent in the friendly
strife was left standing almost alone.
"I felt badly to see him cut so," says a witness of the scene.
Here was an opportunity for revenge. The humble laborer was his
employer's captain, but the opportunity was never improved. Mr.
Lincoln frequently confessed that no subsequent success of his
life had given him half the satisfaction that this election did.
DIDN'T TRUST THE COURT.
In one of his many stories of Lincoln, his law partner, W. H.
Herndon, told this as illustrating Lincoln's shrewdness as a
"I was with Lincoln once and listened to an oral argument by him
in which he rehearsed an extended history of the law. It was a
carefully prepared and masterly discourse, but, as I thought,
entirely useless. After he was through and we were walking home,
I asked him why he went so far back in the history of the law. I
presumed the court knew enough history.
"'That's where you're mistaken,' was his instant rejoinder. 'I
dared not just the case on the presumption that the court knows
everything--in fact I argued it on the presumption that the court
didn't know anything,' a statement, which, when one reviews the
decision of our appellate courts, is not so extravagant as one
would at first suppose."
HANDSOMEST MAN ON EARTH.
One day Thaddeus Stevens called at the White House with an
elderly woman, whose son had been in the army, but for some
offense had been court-martialed and sentenced to death. There
were some extenuating circumstances, and after a full hearing the
President turned to Stevens and said: "Mr. Stevens, do you think
this is a case which will warrant my interference?"
"With my knowledge of the facts and the parties," was the reply,
"I should have no hesitation in granting a pardon."
"Then," returned Mr. Lincoln, "I will pardon him," and proceeded
forthwith to execute the paper.
The gratitude of the mother was too deep for expression, save by
her tears, and not a word was said between her and Stevens until
they were half way down the stairs on their passage out, when she
suddenly broke forth in an excited manner with the words:
"I knew it was a copperhead lie!"
"What do you refer to, madam?" asked Stevens.
"Why, they told me he was an ugly-looking man," she replied, with
vehemence. "He is the handsomest man I ever saw in my life."
THAT COON CAME DOWN.
"Lincoln's Last Warning" was the title of a cartoon which
appeared in "Harper's Weekly," on October 11, 1862. Under the
picture was the text:
"Now if you don't come down I'll cut the tree from under you."
This illustration was peculiarly apt, as, on the 1st of January,
1863, President Lincoln issued his great Emancipation
Proclamation, declaring all slaves in the United States forever
free. "Old Abe" was a handy man with the axe, he having split
many thousands of rails with its keen edge. As the "Slavery Coon"
wouldn't heed the warning, Lincoln did cut the tree from under
him, and so he came down to the ground with a heavy thump.
This Act of Emancipation put an end to the notion of the Southern
slave holders that involuntary servitude was one of the "sacred
institutions" on the Continent of North America. It also
demonstrated that Lincoln was thoroughly in earnest when he
declared that he would not only save the Union, but that he meant
what he said in the speech wherein he asserted, "This Nation
cannot exist half slave and half free."
WROTE "PIECES" WHEN VERY YOUNG.
At fifteen years of age "Abe" wrote "pieces," or compositions,
and even some doggerel rhyme, which he recited, to the great
amusement of his playmates.
One of his first compositions was against cruelty to animals. He
was very much annoyed and pained at the conduct of the boys, who
were in the habit of catching terrapins and putting coals of fire
on their backs, which thoroughly disgusted Abraham.
"He would chide us," said "Nat" Grigsby, "tell us it was wrong,
and would write against it."
When eighteen years old, "Abe" wrote a "piece" on "National
Politics," and it so pleased a lawyer friend, named Pritchard,
that the latter had it printed in an obscure paper, thereby
adding much to the author's pride. "Abe" did not conceal his
satisfaction. In this "piece" he wrote, among other things:
"The American government is the best form of government for an
intelligent people. It ought to be kept sound, and preserved
forever, that general education should be fostered and carried
all over the country; that the Constitution should be saved, the
Union perpetuated and the laws revered, respected and enforced."
"TRY TO STEER HER THROUGH."
John A. Logan and a friend of Illinois called upon Lincoln at
Willard's Hotel, Washington, February 23d, the morning of his
arrival, and urged a vigorous, firm policy.
Patiently listening, Lincoln replied seriously but cheerfully:
"As the country has placed me at the helm of the ship, I'll try
to steer her through."
GRAND, GLOOMY AND PECULIAR.
Lincoln was a marked and peculiar young man. People talked about
him. His studious habits, his greed for information, his thorough
mastery of the difficulties of every new position in which he was
placed, his intelligence on all matters of public concern, his
unwearying good-nature, his skill in telling a story, his great
athletic power, his quaint, odd ways, his uncouth appearance--all
tended to bring him in sharp contrast with the dull mediocrity by
which he was surrounded.
Denton Offutt, his old employer, said, after having had a
conversation with Lincoln, that the young man "had talent enough
in him to make a President."
ON THE WAY TO GETTYSBURG.
When Lincoln was on his way to the National Cemetery at
Gettysburg, an old gentleman told him that his only son fell on
Little Round Top at Gettysburg, and he was going to look at the
spot. Mr. Lincoln replied: "You have been called on to make a
terrible sacrifice for the Union, and a visit to that spot, I
fear, will open your wounds afresh.
"But, oh, my dear sir, if we had reached the end of such
sacrifices, and had nothing left for us to do but to place
garlands on the graves of those who have already fallen, we could
give thanks even amidst our tears; but when I think of the
sacrifices of life yet to be offered, and the hearts and homes
yet to be made desolate before this dreadful war is over, my
heart is like lead within me, and I feel at times like hiding in
deep darkness." At one of the stopping places of the train, a
very beautiful child, having a bunch of rosebuds in her hand, was
lifted up to an open window of the President's car. "Floweth for
the President." The President stepped to the window, took the
rosebuds, bent down and kissed the child, saying, "You are a
sweet little rosebud yourself. I hope your life will open into
perpetual beauty and goodness."
STOOD UP THE LONGEST.
There was a rough gallantry among the young people; and Lincoln's
old comrades and friends in Indiana have left many tales of how
he "went to see the girls," of how he brought in the biggest
back-log and made the brightest fire; of how the young people,
sitting around it, watching the way the sparks flew, told their
He helped pare apples, shell corn and crack nuts. He took the
girls to meeting and to spelling school, though he was not often
allowed to take part in the spelling-match, for the one who
"chose first" always chose "Abe" Lincoln, and that was equivalent
to winning, as the others knew that "he would stand up the
A MORTIFYING EXPERIENCE.
A lady reader or elocutionist came to Springfield in 1857. A
large crowd greeted her. Among other things she recited "Nothing
to Wear," a piece in which is described the perplexities that
beset "Miss Flora McFlimsy" in her efforts to appear fashionable.
In the midst of one stanza in which no effort is made to say
anything particularly amusing, and during the reading of which
the audience manifested the most respectful silence and
attention, some one in the rear seats burst out with a loud,
coarse laugh, a sudden and explosive guffaw.
It startled the speaker and audience, and kindled a storm of
unsuppressed laughter and applause. Everybody looked back to
ascertain the cause of the demonstration, and were greatly
surprised to find that it was Mr. Lincoln.
He blushed and squirmed with the awkward diffidence of a
schoolboy. What caused him to laugh, no one was able to explain.
He was doubtless wrapped up in a brown study, and recalling some
amusing episode, indulged in laughter without realizing his
surroundings. The experience mortified him greatly.
NO HALFWAY BUSINESS.
Soon after Mr. Lincoln began to practice law at Springfield, he
was engaged in a criminal case in which it was thought there was
little chance of success. Throwing all his powers into it, he
came off victorious, and promptly received for his services five
hundred dollars. A legal friend, calling upon him the next
morning, found him sitting before a table, upon which his money
was spread out, counting it over and over.
"Look here, Judge," said he. "See what a heap of money I've got
from this case. Did you ever see anything like it? Why, I never
had so much money in my life before, put it all together." Then,
crossing his arms upon the table, his manner sobering down, he
added: "I have got just five hundred dollars; if it were only
seven hundred and fifty, I would go directly and purchase a
quarter section of land, and settle it upon my old step-mother."
His friend said that if the deficiency was all he needed, he
would loan him the amount, taking his note, to which Mr. Lincoln
His friend then said:
"Lincoln, I would do just what you have indicated. Your
step-mother is getting old, and will not probably live many
years. I would settle the property upon her for her use during
her lifetime, to revert to you upon her death."
With much feeling, Mr. Lincoln replied:
"I shall do no such thing. It is a poor return at best for all
the good woman's devotion and fidelity to me, and there is not
going to be any halfway business about it." And so saying, he
gathered up his money and proceeded forthwith to carry his
long-cherished purpose into execution.
Lincoln believed in preventing unnecessary litigation, and
carried out this in his practice. "Who was your guardian?" he
asked a young man who came to him to complain that a part of the
property left him had been withheld. "Enoch Kingsbury," replied
the young man.
"I know Mr. Kingsbury," said Lincoln, "and he is not the man to
have cheated you out of a cent, and I can't take the case, and
advise you to drop the subject."
And it was dropped.
GOING HOME TO GET READY.
Edwin M. Stanton was one of the attorneys in the great "reaper
patent" case heard in Cincinnati in 1855, Lincoln also having
been retained. The latter was rather anxious to deliver the
argument on the general propositions of law applicable to the
case, but it being decided to have Mr. Stanton do this, the
Westerner made no complaint.
Speaking of Stanton's argument and the view Lincoln took of it,
Ralph Emerson, a young lawyer who was present at the trial, said:
"The final summing up on our side was by Mr. Stanton, and though
he took but about three hours in its delivery, he had devoted as
many, if not more, weeks to its preparation. It was very able,
and Mr. Lincoln was throughout the whole of it a rapt listener.
Mr. Stanton closed his speech in a flight of impassioned
"Then the court adjourned for the day, and Mr. Lincoln invited me
to take a long walk with him. For block after block he walked
rapidly forward, not saying a word, evidently deeply dejected.
"At last he turned suddenly to me, exclaiming, 'Emerson, I am
going home.' A pause. 'I am going home to study law.'
"'Why,' I exclaimed, 'Mr. Lincoln, you stand at the head of the
bar in llinois now! What are you talking about?'
"'Ah, yes,' he said, 'I do occupy a good position there, and I
think that I can get along with the way things are done there
now. But these college-trained men, who have devoted their whole
lives to study, are coming West, don't you see? And they study
their cases as we never do. They have got as far as Cincinnati
now. They will soon be in Illinois.'
"Another long pause; then stopping and turning toward me, his
countenance suddenly assuming that look of strong determination
which those who knew him best sometimes saw upon his face, he
exclaimed, 'I am going home to study law! I am as good as any, of
them, and when they get out to Illinois, I will be ready for
"THE 'RAIL-SPUTTER' REPAIRING THE UNION."
The cartoon given here in facsimile was one of the posters which
decorated the picturesque Presidential campaign of 1864, and
assisted in making the period previous to the vote-casting a
lively and memorable one. This poster was a lithograph, and, as
the title, "The Rail-Splitter at Work Repairing the Union," would
indicate, the President is using the Vice-Presidential candidate
on the Republican National ticket (Andrew Johnson) as an aid in
the work. Johnson was, in early life, a tailor, and he is
pictured as busily engaged in sewing up the rents made in the map
of the Union by the secessionists.
Both men are thoroughly in earnest, and, as history relates, the
torn places in the Union map were stitched together so nicely
that no one could have told, by mere observation, that a tear had
ever been made. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln upon the
assassination of the latter, was a remarkable man. Born in North
Carolina, he removed to Tennessee when young, was Congressman,
Governor, and United States Senator, being made military Governor
of his State in 1862. A strong, stanch Union man, he was
nominated for the Vice-Presidency on the Lincoln ticket to
conciliate the War Democrats. After serving out his term as
President, he was again elected United States Senator from
Tennessee, but died shortly after taking his seat. But he was
just the sort of a man to assist "Uncle Abe" in sewing up the
torn places in the Union map, and as military Governor of
Tennessee was a powerful factor in winning friends in the South
to the Union cause.
"FIND OUT FOR YOURSELVES."
"Several of us lawyers," remarked one of his colleagues, "in the
eastern end of the circuit, annoyed Lincoln once while he was
holding court for Davis by attempting to defend against a note to
which there were many makers. We had no legal, but a good moral
defense, but what we wanted most of all was to stave it off till
the next term of court by one expedient or another.
"We bothered 'the court' about it till late on Saturday, the day
of adjournment. He adjourned for supper with nothing left but
this case to dispose of. After supper he heard our twaddle for
nearly an hour, and then made this odd entry.
"'L. D. Chaddon vs. J. D. Beasley et al. April Term, 1856.
Champaign county Court. Plea in abatement by B. Z. Green, a
defendant not served, filed Saturday at 11 o'clock a. m., April
24, 1856, stricken from the files by order of court. Demurrer to
declaration, if there ever was one, overruled. Defendants who are
served now, at 8 o'clock p. m., of the last day of the term, ask
to plead to the merits, which is denied by the court on the
ground that the offer comes too late, and therefore, as by nil
dicet, judgment is rendered for Pl'ff. Clerk assess damages. A.
Lincoln, Judge pro tem.'
"The lawyer who reads this singular entry will appreciate its
oddity if no one else does. After making it, one of the lawyers,
on recovering from his astonishment, ventured to enquire: 'Well,
Lincoln, how can we get this case up again?'
"Lincoln eyed him quizzically for a moment, and then answered,
'You have all been so mighty smart about this case, you can find
out how to take it up again yourselves."'
ROUGH ON THE NEGRO.
Mr. Lincoln, one day, was talking with the Rev. Dr. Sunderland
about the Emancipation Proclamation and the future of the negro.
Suddenly a ripple of amusement broke the solemn tone of his
voice. "As for the negroes, Doctor, and what is going to become
of them: I told Ben Wade the other day, that it made me think of
a story I read in one of my first books, 'Aesop's Fables.' It was
an old edition, and had curious rough wood cuts, one of which
showed three white men scrubbing a negro in a potash kettle
filled with cold water. The text explained that the men thought
that by scrubbing the negro they might make him white. Just about
the time they thought they were succeeding, he took cold and
died. Now, I am afraid that by the time we get through this War
the negro will catch cold and die."
CHALLENGED ALL COMERS.
Personal encounters were of frequent occurrence in Gentryville in
early days, and the prestige of having thrashed an opponent gave
the victor marked social distinction. Green B. Taylor, with whom
"Abe" worked the greater part of one winter on a farm, furnished
an account of the noted fight between John Johnston, "Abe's"
stepbrother, and William Grigsby, in which stirring drama "Abe"
himself played an important role before the curtain was rung
Taylor's father was the second for Johnston, and William Whitten
officiated in a similar capacity for Grigsby. "They had a
terrible fight," related Taylor, "and it soon became apparent
that Grigsby was too much for Lincoln's man, Johnston. After they
had fought a long time without interference, it having been
agreed not to break the ring, 'Abe' burst through, caught
Grigsby, threw him off and some feet away. There Grigsby stood,
proud as Lucifer, and, swinging a bottle of liquor over his head,
swore he was 'the big buck of the lick.'
"'If any one doubts it,' he shouted, 'he has only to come on and
whet his horns.'"
A general engagement followed this challenge, but at the end of
hostilities the field was cleared and the wounded retired amid
the exultant shouts of their victors.
"GOVERNMENT RESTS IN PUBLIC OPINION."
Lincoln delivered a speech at a Republican banquet at Chicago,
December l0th, 1856, just after the Presidential campaign of that
year, in which he said:
"Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change
public opinion can change the government practically just so
"Public opinion, on any subject, always has a 'central idea,'
from which all its minor thoughts radiate.
"That 'central idea' in our political public opinion at the
beginning was, and until recently has continued to be, 'the
equality of man.'
"And although it has always submitted patiently to whatever of
inequality there seemed to be as a matter of actual necessity,
its constant working has been a steady progress toward the
practical equality of all men.
"Let everyone who really believes, and is resolved, that free
society is not and shall not be a failure, and who can
conscientiously declare that in the past contest he has done only
what he thought best--let every such one have charity to believe
that every other one can say as much.
"Thus, let bygones be bygones; let party differences as nothing
be, and with steady eye on the real issue, let us reinaugurate
the good old 'central ideas' of the Republic.
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