Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

The official to whom he was referred, after looking at the bill,
expressed great surprise.

"Why, sir," he exclaimed, "this is as much as Daniel Webster
himself would have charged. We cannot allow such a claim."

"Why not?" asked Lincoln.

"We could have hired first-class lawyers at that figure," was the

"We won the case, didn't we?" queried Lincoln.

"Certainly," replied the official.

"Daniel Webster, then," retorted Lincoln in no amiable tone,
"couldn't have done more," and "Abe" walked out of the official's

Lincoln withdrew the bill, and started for home. On the way he
stopped at Bloomington, where he met Grant Goodrich, Archibald
Williams, Norman B. Judd, O. H. Browning, and other attorneys,
who, on learning of his modest charge for the valuable services
rendered the railroad, induced him to increase the demand to
$5,000, and to bring suit for that sum.

This was done at once. On the trial six lawyers certified that
the bill was reasonable, and judgment for that sum went by
default; the judgment was promptly paid, and, of course, his
partner, Herndon, got "your half Billy," without delay.

When a member of Congress, Lincoln went to Lexington, Kentucky,
to hear Henry Clay speak. The Westerner, a Kentuckian by birth,
and destined to reach the great goal Clay had so often sought,
wanted to meet the "Millboy of the Slashes." The address was a
tame affair, as was the personal greeting when Lincoln made
himself known. Clay was courteous, but cold. He may never have
heard of the man, then in his presence, who was to secure,
without solicitation, the prize which he for many years had
unsuccessfully sought. Lincoln was disenchanted; his ideal was
shattered. One reason why Clay had not realized his ambition had
become apparent.

Clay was cool and dignified; Lincoln was cordial and hearty.
Clay's hand was bloodless and frosty, with no vigorous grip in
it; Lincoln's was warm, and its clasp was expressive of
kindliness and sympathy.

President Lincoln had a little joke at the expense of General
George B. McClellan, the Democratic candidate for the Presidency
in opposition to the Westerner in 1864. McClellan was nominated
by the Democratic National Convention, which assembled at
Chicago, but after he had been named, and also during the
campaign, the military candidate was characteristically slow in
coming to the front.

President Lincoln had his eye upon every move made by General
McClellan during the campaign, and when reference was made one
day, in his presence, to the deliberation and caution of the New
Jerseyite, Mr. Lincoln remarked, with a twinkle in his eye,
"Perhaps he is intrenching."

The cartoon we reproduce appeared in "Harper's Weekly," September
17th, 1864, and shows General McClellan, with his little spade in
hand, being subjected to the scrutiny of the President--the man
who gave McClellan, when the latter was Commander-in-Chief of the
Union forces, every opportunity in the world to distinguish
himself. There is a smile on the face of "Honest Abe," which
shows conclusively that he does not regard his political opponent
as likely to prove formidable in any way. President Lincoln
"sized up" McClellan in 1861-2, and knew, to a fraction, how much
of a man he was, what he could do, and how he went about doing
it. McClellan was no politician, while the President was the
shrewdest of political diplomats.

When Washington had become an armed camp, and full of soldiers,
President Lincoln and his Cabinet officers drove daily to one or
another of these camps. Very often his outing for the day was
attending some ceremony incident to camp life: a military
funeral, a camp wedding, a review, a flag-raising. He did not
often make speeches. "I have made a great many poor speeches," he
said one day, in excusing himself, "and I now feel relieved that
my dignity does not permit me to be a public speaker."

Judge Kelly, of Pennsylvania, who was one of the committee to
advise Lincoln of his nomination, and who was himself a great
many feet high, had been eyeing Lincoln's lofty form with a
mixture of admiration and possibly jealousy.

This had not escaped Lincoln, and as he shook hands with the
judge he inquired, "What is your height?"

"Six feet three. What is yours, Mr. Lincoln?"

"Six feet four."

"Then," said the judge, "Pennsylvania bows to Illinois. My dear
man, for years my heart has been aching for a President that I
could look up to, and I've at last found him."

Mr. Jeriah Bonham, in describing a visit he paid Lincoln at his
room in the State House at Springfield, where he found him quite
alone, except that two of his children, one of whom was "Tad,"
were with him.

"The door was open.

"We walked in and were at once recognized and seated--the two
still continuing their play about the room. "Tad" was spinning
his top; and Lincoln, as we entered, had just finished adjusting
the string for him so as to give the top the greatest degree of
force. He remarked that he was having a little fun with the

At another time, at Lincoln's residence, "Tad" came into the
room, and, putting his hand to his mouth, and his mouth to his
father's ear, said, in a boy's whisper: "Ma says come to supper."

All heard the announcement; and Lincoln, perceiving this, said:
"You have heard, gentlemen, the announcement concerning the
interesting state of things in the dining-room. It will never do
for me, if elected, to make this young man a member of my
Cabinet, for it is plain he cannot be trusted with secrets of


A Union general, operating with his command in West Virginia,
allowed himself and his men to be trapped, and it was feared his
force would be captured by the Confederates. The President heard
the report read by the operator, as it came over the wire, and

"Once there was a man out West who was 'heading' a barrel, as
they used to call it. He worked like a good fellow in driving
down the hoops, but just about the time he thought he had the job
done, the head would fall in. Then he had to do the work all over

"All at once a bright idea entered his brain, and he wondered how
it was he hadn't figured it out before. His boy, a bright, smart
lad, was standing by,very much interested in the business, and,
lifting the young one up, he put him inside the barrel, telling
him to hold the head in its proper place, while he pounded down
the hoops on the sides. This worked like a charm, and he soon had
the 'heading' done.

"Then he realized that his boy was inside the barrel, and how to
get him out he couldn't for his life figure out. General Blank is
now inside the barrel, 'headed in,' and the job now is to get him

Government Printer Defrees, when one of the President's messages
was being printed, was a good deal disturbed by the use of the
term "sugar-coated," and finally went to Mr. Lincoln about it.

Their relations to each other being of the most intimate
character, he told the President frankly that he ought to
remember that a message to Congress was a different affair from a
speech at a mass meeting in Illinois; that the messages became a
part of history, and should be written accordingly.

"What is the matter now?" inquired the President.

"Why," said Defrees, "you have used an undignified expression in
the message"; and, reading the paragraph aloud, he added, "I
would alter the structure of that, if I were you."

"Defrees," replied the President, "that word expresses exactly my
idea, and I am not going to change it. The time will never come
in this country when people won't know exactly what
'sugar-coated' means."

When a grocery clerk at New Salem, the annual election came
around. A Mr. Graham was clerk, but his assistant was absent, and
it was necessary to find a man to fill his place. Lincoln, a
"tall young man," had already concentrated on himself the
attention of the people of the town, and Graham easily discovered
him. Asking him if he could write, "Abe" modestly replied, "I can
make a few rabbit-tracks." His rabbit-tracks proving to be
legible and even graceful, he was employed.

The voters soon discovered that the new assistant clerk was
honest and fair, and performed his duties satisfactorily, and
when, the work done, he began to "entertain them with stories,"
they found that their town had made a valuable personal and
social acquisition.

Marshal Ward Lamon was in President Lincoln's office in the White
House one day, and casually asked the President if he knew how
the currency of the country was made. Greenbacks were then under
full headway of circulation, these bits of paper being the
representatives of United State money.

"Our currency," was the President's answer, "is made, as the
lawyers would put it, in their legal way, in the following
manner, to-wit: The official engraver strikes off the sheets,
passes them over to the Register of the Currency, who, after
placing his earmarks upon them, signs the same; the Register
turns them over to old Father Spinner, who proceeds to embellish
them with his wonderful signature at the bottom; Father Spinner
sends them to Secretary of the Treasury Chase, and he, as a final
act in the matter, issues them to the public as money--and may
the good Lord help any fellow that doesn't take all he can
honestly get of them!"

Taking from his pocket a $5 greenback, with a twinkle in his eye,
the President then said: "Look at Spinner's signature! Was there
ever anything like it on earth? Yet it is unmistakable; no one
will ever be able to counterfeit it!"

Lamon then goes on to say:

"'But,' I said, 'you certainly don't suppose that Spinner
actually wrote his name on that bill, do you?'

"'Certainly, I do; why not?' queried Mr. Lincoln.

"I then asked, 'How much of this currency have we afloat?'

"He remained thoughtful for a moment, and then stated the amount.

"I continued: 'How many times do you think a man can write a
signature like Spinner's in the course of twenty-four hours?'

"The beam of hilarity left the countenance of the President at
once. He put the greenback into his vest pocket, and walked the
floor; after awhile he stopped, heaved a long breath and said:
'This thing frightens me!' He then rang for a messenger and told
him to ask the Secretary of the Treasury to please come over to
see him.

"Mr. Chase soon put in an appearance; President Lincoln stated
the cause of his alarm, and asked Mr. Chase to explain in detail
the operations, methods, system of checks, etc., in his office,
and a lengthy discussion followed, President Lincoln contending
there were not sufficient safeguards afforded in any degree in
the money-making department, and Secretary Chase insisting that
every protection was afforded he could devise."

Afterward the President called the attention of Congress to this
important question, and devices were adopted whereby a check was
put upon the issue of greenbacks that no spurious ones ever came
out of the Treasury Department, at least. Counterfeiters were
busy, though, but this was not the fault of the Treasury.

"General Grant is a copious worker and fighter," President
Lincoln wrote to General Burnside in July, 1863, "but a meagre
writer or telegrapher."

Grant never wrote a report until the battle was over.

President Lincoln wrote a letter to General Grant on July 13th,
1863, which indicated the strength of the hold the successful
fighter had upon the man in the White House.

It ran as follows:

"I do not remember that you and I ever met personally.

"I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost
inestimable service you have done the country.

"I write to say a word further.

"When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you
should do what you finally did--march the troops across the neck,
run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I
never had any faith, except a general hope, that you knew better
than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could

"When you got below and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf and
vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join General
Banks; and when you turned northward, east of Big Black, I feared
it was a mistake.

"I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were
right and I was wrong."
Lincoln never used profanity, except when he quoted it to
illustrate a point in a story. His favorite expressions when he
spoke with emphasis were "By dear!" and "By jing!"

Just preceding the Civil War he sent Ward Lamon on a ticklish
mission to South Carolina.

When the proposed trip was mentioned to Secretary Seward, he
opposed it, saying, "Mr. President, I fear you are sending Lamon
to his grave. I am afraid they will kill him in Charleston, where
the people are excited and desperate. We can't spare Lamon, and
we shall feel badly if anything happens to him."

Mr. Lincoln said in reply: "I have known Lamon to be in many a
close place, and he has never, been in one that he didn't get out
of, somehow. By jing! I'll risk him. Go ahead, Lamon, and God
bless you! If you can't bring back any good news, bring a
palmetto." Lamon brought back a palmetto branch, but no promise
of peace.

Lincoln had been in the telegraph office at Springfield during
the casting of the first and second ballots in the Republican
National Convention at Chicago, and then left and went over to
the office of the State Journal, where he was sitting conversing
with friends while the third ballot was being taken.

In a few moments came across the wires the announcement of the
result. The superintendent of the telegraph company wrote on a
scrap of paper: "Mr. Lincoln, you are nominated on the third
ballot," and a boy ran with the message to Lincoln.

He looked at it in silence, amid the shouts of those around him;
then rising and putting it in his pocket, he said quietly:
"There's a little woman down at our house would like to hear
this; I'll go down and tell her."

After Lincoln had finished that celebrated speech in "Egypt" (as
a section of Southern Illinois was formerly designated), in the
course of which he seized Congressman Ficklin by the coat collar
and shook him fiercely, he apologized. In return, Ficklin said
Lincoln had "nearly shaken the Democracy out of him." To this
Lincoln replied:

"That reminds me of what Paul said to Agrippa, which, in language
and substance, was about this: 'I would to God that such
Democracy as you folks here in Egypt have were not only almost,
but altogether, shaken out of, not only you, but all that heard
me this day, and that you would all join in assisting in shaking
off the shackles of the bondmen by all legitimate means, so that
this country may be made free as the good Lord intended it.'"

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