Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

Afterward, he said: “Well, now, I never thought Mr.– had
anything more than average ability, when we were young men
together. But, then, I suppose he thought the same thing about
me, and–here I am!”

At the celebrated Peace Conference, whereat there was much
“pow-wow” and no result, President Lincoln, in response to
certain remarks by the Confederate commissioners, commented with
some severity upon the conduct of the Confederate leaders, saying
they had plainly forfeited all right to immunity from punishment
for their treason.

Being positive and unequivocal in stating his views concerning
individual treason, his words were of ominous import. There was a
pause, during which Commissioner Hunter regarded the speaker with
a steady, searching look. At length, carefully measuring his
words, Mr. Hunter said:

“Then, Mr. President, if we understand you correctly, you think
that we of the Confederacy have committed treason; are traitors
to your Government; have forfeited our rights, and are proper
subjects for the hangman. Is not that about what your words

“Yes,” replied President Lincoln, “you have stated the
proposition better than I did. That is about the size of it!”

Another pause, and a painful one succeeded, and then Hunter, with
a pleasant smile remarked:

“Well, Mr. Lincoln, we have about concluded that we shall not be
hanged as long as you are President–if we behave ourselves.”

And Hunter meant what he said.

On one occasion, in going to meet an appointment in the southern
part of the Sucker State–that section of Illinois called
Egypt–Lincoln, with other friends, was traveling in the
“caboose” of a freight train, when the freight was switched off
the main track to allow a special train to pass.

Lincoln’s more aristocratic rival (Stephen A. Douglas) was being
conveyed to the same town in this special. The passing train was
decorated with banners and flags, and carried a band of music,
which was playing “Hail to the Chief.”

As the train whistled past, Lincoln broke out in a fit of
laughter, and said: “Boys, the gentleman in that car evidently
smelt no royalty in our carriage.”

Ward Lamon told this story of President Lincoln, whom he found
one day in a particularly gloomy frame of mind. Lamon said:

“The President remarked, as I came in, ‘I fear I have made
Senator Wade, of Ohio, my enemy for life.’

“‘How?’ I asked.

“‘Well,’ continued the President, ‘Wade was here just now urging
me to dismiss Grant, and, in response to something he said, I
remarked, “Senator, that reminds me of a story.'”

“‘What did Wade say?’ I inquired of the President.

“‘He said, in a petulant way,’ the President responded, ‘”It is
with you, sir, all story, story! You are the father of every
military blunder that has been made during the war. You are on
your road to hell, sir, with this government, by your obstinacy,
and you are not a mile off this minute.”‘

“‘What did you say then?’

” I good-naturedly said to him,’ the President replied,
‘”Senator, that is just about from here to the Capitol, is it
not?” He was very angry, grabbed up his hat and cane, and went

President Lincoln had not been in the White House very long
before Mrs. Lincoln became seized with the idea that a fine new
barouche was about the proper thing for “the first lady in the
land.” The President did not care particularly about it one way
or the other, and told his wife to order whatever she wanted.

Lincoln forgot all about the new vehicle, and was overcome with
astonishment one afternoon when, having acceded to Mrs. Lincoln’s
desire to go driving, he found a beautiful barouche standing in
front of the door of the White House.

His wife watched him with an amused smile, but the only remark he
made was, “Well, Mary, that’s about the slickest ‘glass hack’ in
town, isn’t it?”

Lincoln, in the days of his youth, was often unfaithful to his
Quaker traditions. On the day of election in 1840, word came to
him that one Radford, a Democratic contractor, had taken
possession of one of the polling places with his workmen, and was
preventing the Whigs from voting. Lincoln started off at a gait
which showed his interest in the matter in hand.

He went up to Radford and persuaded him to leave the polls,
remarking at the same time: “Radford, you’ll spoil and blow, if
you live much longer.”

Radford’s prudence prevented an actual collision, which, it is
said, Lincoln regretted. He told his friend Speed he wanted
Radford to show fight so that he might “knock him down and leave
him kicking.”

President Lincoln was at all times an advocate of peace, provided
it could be obtained honorably and with credit to the United
States. As to the cause of the Civil War, which side of Mason and
Dixon’s line was responsible for it, who fired the first shots,
who were the aggressors, etc., Lincoln did not seem to bother
about; he wanted to preserve the Union, above all things.
Slavery, he was assured, was dead, but he thought the former
slaveholders should be recompensed.

To illustrate his feelings in the matter he told this story:

“Some of the supporters of the Union cause are opposed to
accommodate or yield to the South in any manner or way because
the Confederates began the war; were determined to take their
States out of the Union, and, consequently, should be held
responsible to the last stage for whatever may come in the
future. Now this reminds me of a good story I heard once, when I
lived in Illinois.

“A vicious bull in a pasture took after everybody who tried to
cross the lot, and one day a neighbor of the owner was the
victim. This man was a speedy fellow and got to a friendly tree
ahead of the bull, but not in time to climb the tree. So he led
the enraged animal a merry race around the tree, finally
succeeding in seizing the bull by the tail.

“The bull, being at a disadvantage, not able to either catch the
man or release his tail, was mad enough to eat nails; he dug up
the earth with his feet, scattered gravel all around, bellowed
until you could hear him for two miles or more, and at length
broke into a dead run, the man hanging onto his tail all the

“While the bull, much out of temper, was legging it to the best
of his ability, his tormentor, still clinging to the tail, asked,
‘Darn you, who commenced this fuss?’

“It’s our duty to settle this fuss at the earliest possible
moment, no matter who commenced it. That’s my idea of it.”

When General W. T. Sherman, November 12th, 1864, severed all
communication with the North and started for Savannah with his
magnificent army of sixty thousand men, there was much anxiety
for a month as to his whereabouts. President Lincoln, in response
to an inquiry, said: “I know what hole Sherman went in at, but I
don’t know what hole he’ll come out at.”

Colonel McClure had been in consultation with the President one
day, about two weeks after Sherman’s disappearance, and in this
connection related this incident

“I was leaving the room, and just as I reached the door the
President turned around, and, with a merry twinkling of the eye,
inquired, ‘McClure, wouldn’t you like to hear something from

“The inquiry electrified me at the instant, as it seemed to imply
that Lincoln had some information on the subject. I immediately
answered, ‘Yes, most of all, I should like to hear from Sherman.’

“To this President Lincoln answered, with a hearty laugh: ‘Well,
I’ll be hanged if I wouldn’t myself.'”

Although himself a most polished, even a fastidious, gentleman,
Senator Sumner never allowed Lincoln’s homely ways to hide his
great qualities. He gave him a respect and esteem at the start
which others accorded only after experience. The Senator was most
tactful, too, in his dealings with Mrs. Lincoln, and soon had a
firm footing in the household. That he was proud of this, perhaps
a little boastful, there is no doubt.

Lincoln himself appreciated this. “Sumner thinks he runs me,” he
said, with an amused twinkle, one day.

When Hood’s army had been scattered into fragments, President
Lincoln, elated by the defeat of what had so long been a menacing
force on the borders of Tennessee was reminded by its collapse of
the fate of a savage dog belonging to one of his neighbors in the
frontier settlements in which he lived in his youth. “The dog,”
he said, “was the terror of the neighborhood, and its owner, a
churlish and quarrelsome fellow, took pleasure in the brute’s
forcible attitude.

“Finally, all other means having failed to subdue the creature, a
man loaded a lump of meat with a charge of powder, to which was
attached a slow fuse; this was dropped where the dreaded dog
would find it, and the animal gulped down the tempting bait.

“There was a dull rumbling, a muffled explosion, and fragments of
the dog were seen flying in every direction. The grieved owner,
picking up the shattered remains of his cruel favorite, said: ‘He
was a good dog, but as a dog, his days of usefulness are over.’
Hood’s army was a good army,” said Lincoln, by way of comment,
“and we were all afraid of it, but as an army, its usefulness is

Judge Baldwin, of California, being in Washington, called one day
on General Halleck, then Commander-in-Chief of the Union forces,
and, presuming upon a familiar acquaintance in California a few
years since, solicited a pass outside of our lines to see a
brother in Virginia, not thinking that he would meet with a
refusal, as both his brother and himself were good Union men.

“We have been deceived too often,” said General Halleck, “and I
regret I can’t grant it.”

Judge B. then went to Stanton, and was very briefly disposed of
with the same result. Finally, he obtained an interview with Mr.
Lincoln, and stated his case.

“Have you applied to General Halleck?” inquired the President.

“Yes, and met with a flat refusal,” said Judge B.

“Then you must see Stanton,” continued the President.

“I have, and with the same result,” was the reply.

“Well, then,” said Mr. Lincoln, with a smile, “I can do nothing;
for you must know that I have very little influence with this
Administration, although I hope to have more with the next.”

Many ladies attended the famous debates between Lincoln and
Douglas, and they were the most unprejudiced listeners. “I can
recall only one fact of the debates,” says Mrs. William Crotty,
of Seneca, Illinois, “that I felt so sorry for Lincoln while
Douglas was speaking, and then to my surprise I felt so sorry for
Douglas when Lincoln replied.”

The disinterested to whom it was an intellectual game, felt the
power and charm of both men.

“What made the deepest impression upon you?” inquired a friend
one day, “when you stood in the presence of the Falls of Niagara,
the greatest of natural wonders?”

“The thing that struck me most forcibly when I saw the Falls,”
Lincoln responded, with characteristic deliberation, “was, where
in the world did all that water come from?”

The second election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency of the
United States was the reward of his courage and genius bestowed
upon him by the people of the Union States. General George B.
McClellan was his opponent in 1864 upon the platform that “the
War is a failure,” and carried but three States–New Jersey,
Delaware and Kentucky. The States which did not think the War was
a failure were those in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, all
the Western commonwealths, West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana,
Arkansas and the new State of Nevada, admitted into the Union on
October 31st. President Lincoln’s popular majority over
McClellan, who never did much toward making the War a success,
was more than four hundred thousand. Underneath the cartoon
reproduced here, from “Harper’s Weekly” of November 26th, 1864,
were the words, “Long Abraham Lincoln a Little Longer.”

But the beloved President’s time upon earth was not to be much
longer, as he was assassinated just one month and ten days after
his second inauguration. Indeed, the words, “a little longer,”
printed below the cartoon, were strangely prophetic, although not
intended to be such.

The people of the United States had learned to love “Long Abe,”
their affection being of a purely personal nature, in the main.
No other Chief Executive was regarded as so sincerely the friend
of the great mass of the inhabitants of the Republic as Lincoln.
He was, in truth, one of “the common people,” having been born
among them, and lived as one of them.

Lincoln’s great height made him an easy subject for the
cartoonist, and they used it in his favor as well as against him.

A Commissioner to the Hawaiian Islands was to be appointed, and
eight applicants had filed their papers, when a delegation from
the South appeared at the White House on behalf of a ninth. Not
only was their man fit–so the delegation urged–but was also in
bad health, and a residence in that balmy climate would be of
great benefit to him.

The President was rather impatient that day, and before the
members of the delegation had fairly started in, suddenly closed
the interview with this remark:

“Gentlemen, I am sorry to say that there are eight other
applicants for that place, and they are all ‘sicker’n’ your man.”

An officer of low volunteer rank persisted in telling and
re-telling his troubles to the President on a summer afternoon
when Lincoln was tired and careworn.

After listening patiently, he finally turned upon the man, and,
looking wearily out upon the broad Potomac in the distance, said
in a peremptory tone that ended the interview:

“Now, my man, go away, go away. I cannot meddle in your case. I
could as easily bail out the Potomac River with a teaspoon as
attend to all the details of the army.”

When the Emancipation Proclamation was taken to Mr. Lincoln by
Secretary Seward, for the President’s signature, Mr. Lincoln took
a pen, dipped it in the ink, moved his hand to the place for the
signature, held it a moment, then removed his hand and dropped
the pen. After a little hesitation, he again took up the pen and
went through the same movement as before. Mr. Lincoln then turned
to Mr. Seward and said:

“I have been shaking hands since nine o’clock this morning, and
my right arm is almost paralyzed. If my name ever goes into
history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it. If
my hand trembles when I sign the Proclamation, all who examine
the document hereafter will say, ‘He hesitated.'”

He then turned to the table, took up the pen again, and slowly,
firmly wrote “Abraham Lincoln,” with which the whole world is now

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