Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

"These letters speak freely of the 'painful imbecility of
Lincoln,' of the 'venality and corruption' which ran riot in the
government, and expressed the belief that no better condition of
things was possible 'until Jeff Davis turns out the whole

"He was firmly impressed for some weeks after the battle of Bull
Run that the government was utterly overthrown, as he repeatedly
refers to the coming of Davis into the National Capital.

"In one letter he says that 'in less than thirty days Davis will
be in possession of Washington;' and it is an open secret that
Stanton advised the revolutionary overthrow of the Lincoln
government, to be replaced by General McClellan as military
dictator. These letters, bad as they are, are not the worst
letters written by Stanton to Buchanan. Some of them were so
violent in their expressions against Lincoln and the
administration that they have been charitably withheld from the
public, but they remain in the possession of the surviving
relatives of President Buchanan.

"Of course, Lincoln had no knowledge of the bitterness exhibited
by Stanton to himself personally and to his administration, but
if he had known the worst that Stanton ever said or wrote about
him, I doubt not that he would have called him to the Cabinet in
January, 1862. The disasters the army suffered made Lincoln
forgetful of everything but the single duty of suppressing the

"Lincoln was not long in discovering that in his new Secretary of
War he had an invaluable but most troublesome Cabinet officer,
but he saw only the great and good offices that Stanton was
performing for the imperilled Republic.

"Confidence was restored in financial circles by the appointment
of Stanton, and his name as War Minister did more to strengthen
the faith of the people in the government credit than would have
been probable from the appointment of any other man of that day.

"He was a terror to all the hordes of jobbers and speculators and
camp-followers whose appetites had been whetted by a great war,
and he enforced the strictest discipline throughout our armies.

"He was seldom capable of being civil to any officer away from
the army on leave of absence unless he had been summoned by the
government for conference or special duty, and he issued the
strictest orders from time to time to drive the throng of
military idlers from the capital and keep them at their posts. He
was stern to savagery in his enforcement of military law. The
wearied sentinel who slept at his post found no mercy in the
heart of Stanton, and many times did Lincoln's humanity overrule
his fiery minister.

"Any neglect of military duty was sure of the swiftest
punishment, and seldom did he make even just allowance for
inevitable military disaster. He had profound, unfaltering faith
in the Union cause, and, above all, he had unfaltering faith in

"He believed that he was in all things except in name
Commander-in-Chief of the armies and the navy of the nation, and
it was with unconcealed reluctance that he at times deferred to
the authority of the President."

In one of his political speeches, Judge Douglas made use of the
following figure of speech: "As between the crocodile and the
negro, I take the side of the negro; but as between the negro and
the white man--I would go for the white man every time."

Lincoln, at home, noted that; and afterwards, when he had
occasion to refer to the remark, he said: "I believe that this is
a sort of proposition in proportion, which may be stated thus:
'As the negro is to the white man, so is the crocodile to the
negro; and as the negro may rightfully treat the crocodile as a
beast or reptile, so the white man may rightfully treat the negro
as a beast or reptile.'"

On one occasion, Colonel Baker was speaking in a court-house,
which had been a storehouse, and, on making some remarks that
were offensive to certain political rowdies in the crowd, they
cried: "Take him off the stand!"

Immediate confusion followed, and there was an attempt to carry
the demand into execution. Directly over the speaker's head was
an old skylight, at which it appeared Mr. Lincoln had been
listening to the speech. In an instant, Mr. Lincoln's feet came
through the skylight, followed by his tall and sinewy frame, and
he was standing by Colonel Baker's side. He raised his hand and
the assembly subsided into silence. "Gentlemen," said Mr.
Lincoln, "let us not disgrace the age and country in which we
live. This is a land where freedom of speech is guaranteed. Mr.
Baker has a right to speak, and ought to be permitted to do so. I
am here to protect him, and no man shall take him from this stand
if I can prevent it." The suddenness of his appearance, his
perfect calmness and fairness, and the knowledge that he would do
what he had promised to do, quieted all disturbance, and the
speaker concluded his remarks without difficulty.

Two young men called on the President from Springfield, Illinois.
Lincoln shook hands with them, and asked about the crops, the
weather, etc.

Finally one of the young men said, "Mother is not well, and she
sent me up to inquire of you how the suit about the Wells
property is getting on."

Lincoln, in the same even tone with which he had asked the
question, said: "Give my best wishes and respects to your mother,
and tell her I have so many outside matters to attend to now that
I have put that case, and others, in the hands of a lawyer friend
of mine, and if you will call on him (giving name and address) he
will give you the information you want."

After they had gone, a friend, who was present, said: "Mr.
Lincoln, you did not seem to know the young men?"

He laughed and replied: "No, I had never seen them before, and I
had to beat around the bush until I found who they were. It was
up-hill work, but I topped it at last."

President Lincoln wrote to General Hooker on June 5, 1863,
warning Hooker not to run any risk of being entangled on the
Rappahannock "like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to
be torn by dogs, front and rear, without a fair chance to give
one way or kick the other." On the l0th he warned Hooker not to
go south of the Rappahannock upon Lee's moving north of it. "I
think Lee's army and not Richmond is your true objective power.
If he comes toward the upper Potomac, follow on his flank, and on
the inside track, shortening your lines while he lengthens his.
Fight him, too, when opportunity offers. If he stay where he is,
fret him, and fret him."

On the 14th again he says: "So far as we can make out here, the
enemy have Milroy surrounded at Winchester, and Tyler at
Martinsburg. If they could hold out for a few days, could you
help them? If the head of Lee's army is at Martinsburg, and the
tail of it on the flank road between Fredericksburg and
Chancellorsville, the animal must be very slim somewhere; could
you not break him?"

In the issue of London "Punch" of September 24th, 1864, President
Lincoln is pictured as sitting at a table in his law office,
while in a chair to his tight is a client, Mrs. North. The latter
is a fine client for any attorney to have on his list, being
wealthy and liberal, but as the lady is giving her counsel, who
has represented her in a legal way for four years, notice that
she proposes to put her legal business in the hands of another
lawyer, the dejected look upon the face of Attorney Lincoln is
easily accounted for. "Punch" puts these words in the lady's

MRS. NORTH: "You see, Mr. Lincoln, we have failed utterly in our
course of action; I want peace, and so, if you cannot effect an
amicable arrangement, I must put the case into other hands."

In this cartoon, "Punch" merely reflected the idea, or sentiment,
current in England in 1864, that the North was much dissatisfied
with the War policy of President Lincoln; and would surely elect
General McClellan to succeed the Westerner in the White House. At
the election McClellan carried but one Northern State--New
Jersey, where he was born--President Lincoln sweeping the country
like a prairie fire.

"Punch" had evidently been deceived by some bold, bad man, who
wanted a little spending money, and sold the prediction to the
funny journal with a certificate of character attached, written
by--possibly--a member of the Horse Marines. "Punch," was very
much disgusted to find that its credulity and faith in mankind
had been so imposed upon, especially when the election returns
showed that "the-War-is-a-failure" candidate ran so slowly that
Lincoln passed him as easily as though the Democratic nominee was
tied to a post.

In the far-away days when "Abe" went to school in Indiana, they
had exercises, exhibitions and speaking-meetings in the
schoolhouse or the church, and "Abe" was the "star." His father
was a Democrat, and at that time "Abe" agreed with his parent. He
would frequently make political and other speeches to the boys
and explain tangled questions.

Booneville was the county seat of Warrick county, situated about
fifteen miles from Gentryville. Thither "Abe" walked to be
present at the sittings of the court, and listened attentively to
the trials and the speeches of the lawyers.

One of the trials was that of a murderer. He was defended by Mr.
John Breckinridge, and at the conclusion of his speech "Abe" was
so enthusiastic that he ventured to compliment him. Breckinridge
looked at the shabby boy, thanked him, and passed on his way.

Many years afterwards, in 1862, Breckinridge called on the
President, and he was told, "It was the best speech that I, up to
that time, had ever heard. If I could, as I then thought, make as
good a speech as that, my soul would be satisfied."

Mr. Alcott, of Elgin, Ill., tells of seeing Mr. Lincoln coming
away from church unusually early one Sunday morning. "The sermon
could not have been more than half way through," says Mr. Alcott.
"'Tad' was slung across his left arm like a pair of saddlebags,
and Mr. Lincoln was striding along with long, deliberate steps
toward his home. On one of the street corners he encountered a
group of his fellow-townsmen. Mr. Lincoln anticipated the
question which was about to be put by the group, and, taking his
figure of speech from practices with which they were only too
familiar, said: 'Gentlemen, I entered this colt, but he kicked
around so I had to withdraw him."'

No matter who was with the President, or how intently absorbed,
his little son "Tad" was always welcome. He almost always
accompanied his father.

Once, on the way to Fortress Monroe, he became very troublesome.
The President was much engaged in conversation with the party who
accompanied him, and he at length said:

"'Tad,' if you will be a good boy, and not disturb me any more
until we get to Fortress Monroe, I will give you a dollar."

The hope of reward was effectual for awhile in securing silence,
but, boylike, "Tad" soon forgot his promise, and was as noisy as
ever. Upon reaching their destination, however, he said, very
promptly: "Father, I want my dollar." Mr. Lincoln looked at him
half-reproachfully for an instant, and then, taking from his
pocketbook a dollar note, he said "Well, my son, at any rate, I
will keep my part of the bargain."

Henry J. Raymond, the famous New York editor, thus tells of Mr.
Lincoln's fondness for the Nasby letters:

"It has been well said by a profound critic of Shakespeare, and
it occurs to me as very appropriate in this connection, that the
spirit which held the woe of Lear and the tragedy of "Hamlet"
would have broken had it not also had the humor of the "Merry
Wives of Windsor" and the merriment of the "Midsummer Night's

"This is as true of Mr. Lincoln as it was of Shakespeare. The
capacity to tell and enjoy a good anecdote no doubt prolonged his

"The Saturday evening before he left Washington to go to the
front, just previous to the capture of Richmond, I was with him
from seven o'clock till nearly twelve. It had been one of his
most trying days. The pressure of office-seekers was greater at
this juncture than I ever knew it to be, and he was almost worn

"Among the callers that evening was a party composed of two
Senators, a Representative, an ex-Lieutenant-Governor of a
Western State, and several private citizens. They had business of
great importance, involving the necessity of the President's
examination of voluminous documents. Pushing everything aside,
he said to one of the party:

"'Have you seen the Nasby papers?'

"'No, I have not,' was the reply; 'who is Nasby?'

"'There is a chap out in Ohio,' returned the President, 'who has
been writing a series of letters in the newspapers over the
signature of Petroleum V. Nasby. Some one sent me a pamphlet
collection of them the other day. I am going to write to
"Petroleum" to come down here, and I intend to tell him if he
will communicate his talent to me, I will swap places with him!'

"Thereupon he arose, went to a drawer in his desk, and, taking
out the 'Letters,' sat down and read one to the company, finding
in their enjoyment of it the temporary excitement and relief
which another man would have found in a glass of wine. The
instant he had ceased, the book was thrown aside, his countenance
relapsed into its habitual serious expression, and the business
was entered upon with the utmost earnestness."

On the occasion of a serenade, the President was called for by
the crowd assembled. He appeared at a window with his wife (who
was somewhat below the medium height), and made the following
"brief remarks":

"Here I am, and here is Mrs. Lincoln. That's the long and the
short of it."

Some gentlemen were once finding fault with the President because
certain generals were not given commands.

"The fact is," replied President Lincoln, "I have got more pegs
than I have holes to put them in."

Lincoln "got even" with the Illinois Central Railroad Company, in
1855, in a most substantial way, at the same time secured sweet
revenge for an insult, unwarranted in every way, put upon him by
one of the officials of that corporation.

Lincoln and Herndon defended the Illinois Central Railroad in an
action brought by McLean County, Illinois, in August, 1853, to
recover taxes alleged to be due the county from the road. The
Legislature had granted the road immunity from taxation, and this
was a case intended to test the constitutionality of the law. The
road sent a retainer fee of $250.

In the lower court the case was decided in favor of the railroad.
An appeal to the Supreme Court followed, was argued twice, and
finally decided in favor of the road. This last decision was
rendered some time in 1855. Lincoln then went to Chicago and
presented the bill for legal services. Lincoln and Herndon only
asked for $2,000 more.

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