Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

Said Ficklin in rejoinder: "Lincoln, I remember of reading
somewhere in the same book from which you get your Agrippa story,
that Paul, whom you seem to desire to personate, admonished all
servants (slaves) to be obedient to them that are their masters
according to the flesh, in fear and trembling.

"It would seem that neither our Savior nor Paul saw the iniquity
of slavery as you and your party do. But you must not think that
where you fail by argument to convince an old friend like myself
and win him over to your heterodox abolition opinions, you are
justified in resorting to violence such as you practiced on me

"Why, I never had such a shaking up in the whole course of my
life. Recollect that that good old book that you quote from
somewhere says in effect this: 'Woe be unto him who goeth to
Egypt for help, for he shall fall. The holpen shall fall, and
they shall all fall together.'"

Lincoln's quarrel with Shields was his last personal encounter.
In later years it became his duty to give an official reprimand
to a young officer who had been court-martialed for a quarrel
with one of his associates. The reprimand is probably the
gentlest on record:

"Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself
can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford
to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his
temper and the loss of self-control. Yield larger things to which
you can show no more than equal right; and yield lesser ones,
though clearly your own.

"Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in
contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the

Some one came to the President with a story about a plot to
accomplish some mischief in the Government. Lincoln listened to
what was a very superficial and ill-formed story, and then said:
"There is one thing that I have learned, and that you have not.
It is only one word--'thorough.'"

Then, bringing his hand down on the table with a thump to
emphasize his meaning, he added, "thorough!"

Being in Washington one day, the Rev. Robert Collyer thought he'd
take a look around. In passing through the grounds surrounding
the White House, he cast a glance toward the Presidential
residence, and was astonished to see three pairs of feet resting
on the ledge of an open window in one of the apartments of the
second story. The divine paused for a moment, calmly surveyed the
unique spectacle, and then resumed his walk toward the War

Seeing a laborer at work not far from the Executive Mansion, Mr.
Collyer asked him what it all meant. To whom did the feet belong,
and, particularly, the mammoth ones? "You old fool," answered the
workman, "that's the Cabinet, which is a-settin', an' them thar
big feet belongs to 'Old Abe.'"

A soldier tells the following story of an attempt upon the life
Mr. Lincoln "One night I was doing sentinel duty at the entrance
to the Soldiers' Home. This was about the middle of August, 1864.
About eleven o'clock I heard a rifle shot, in the direction of
the city, and shortly afterwards I heard approaching hoof-beats.
In two or three minutes a horse came dashing up. I recognized the
belated President. The President was bareheaded. The President
simply thought that his horse had taken fright at the discharge
of the firearms.

"On going back to the place where the shot had been heard, we
found the President's hat. It was a plain silk hat, and upon
examination we discovered a bullet hole through the crown.

"The next day, upon receiving the hat, the President remarked
that it was made by some foolish marksman, and was not intended
for him; but added that he wished nothing said about the matter.

"The President said, philosophically: 'I long ago made up my mind
that if anybody wants to kill me, he will do it. Besides, in this
case, it seems to me, the man who would succeed me would be just
as objectionable to my enemies--if I have any.'

"One dark night, as he was going out with a friend, he took along
a heavy cane, remarking, good-naturedly: 'Mother (Mrs. Lincoln)
has got a notion into her head that I shall be assassinated, and
to please her I take a cane when I go over to the War Department
at night--when I don't forget it.'"

Two ladies from Tennessee called at the White House one day and
begged Mr. Lincoln to release their husbands, who were rebel
prisoners at Johnson's Island. One of the fair petitioners urged
as a reason for the liberation of her husband that he was a very
religious man, and rang the changes on this pious plea.

"Madam," said Mr. Lincoln, "you say your husband is a religious
man. Perhaps I am not a good judge of such matters, but in my
opinion the religion that makes men rebel and fight against their
government is not the genuine article; nor is the religion the
right sort which reconciles them to the idea of eating their
bread in the sweat of other men's faces. It is not the kind to
get to heaven on."

Later, however, the order of release was made, President Lincoln
remarking, with impressive solemnity, that he would expect the
ladies to subdue the rebellious spirit of their husbands, and to
that end he thought it would be well to reform their religion.
"True patriotism," said he, "is better than the wrong kind of

During the Presidential campaign of 1864 much ill-feeling was
displayed by the opposition to President Lincoln. The Democratic
managers issued posters of large dimensions, picturing the
Washington Administration as one determined to rule or ruin the
country, while the only salvation for the United States was the
election of McClellan.

We reproduce one of these 1864 campaign posters on this page, the
title of which is, "The True Issue; or 'That's What's the

The dominant idea or purpose of the cartoon-poster was to
demonstrate McClellan's availability. Lincoln, the Abolitionist,
and Davis, the Secessionist, are pictured as bigots of the worst
sort, who were determined that peace should not be restored to
the distracted country, except upon the lines laid down by them.
McClellan, the patriotic peacemaker, is shown as the man who
believed in the preservation of the Union above all things--a man
who had no fads nor vagaries.

This peacemaker, McClellan, standing upon "the War-is-a-failure"
platform, is portrayed as a military chieftain, who would stand
no nonsense; who would compel Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Davis to cease
their quarreling; who would order the soldiers on both sides to
quit their blood-letting and send the combatants back to the
farm, workshop and counting-house; and the man whose election
would restore order out of chaos, and make everything bright and

One day when President Lincoln was receiving callers a buxom
Irish woman came into the office, and, standing before the
President, with her hands on her hips, said:

"Mr. Lincoln, can't I sell apples on the railroad?"

President Lincoln replied: "Certainly, madam, you can sell all
you wish."

"But," she said, "you must give me a pass, or the soldiers will
not let me."

President Lincoln then wrote a few lines and gave them to her.

"Thank you, sir; God bless you!" she exclaimed as she departed

It was in the spring of 1830 that "Abe" Lincoln, "wearing a jean
jacket, shrunken buckskin trousers, a coonskin cap, and driving
an ox-team," became a citizen of Illinois. He was physically and
mentally equipped for pioneer work. His first desire was to
obtain a new and decent suit of clothes, but, as he had no money,
he was glad to arrange with Nancy Miller to make him a pair of
trousers, he to split four hundred fence rails for each yard of
cloth--fourteen hundred rails in all. "Abe" got the clothes after

It was three miles from his father's cabin to her wood-lot, where
he made the forest ring with the sound of his ax. "Abe" had
helped his father plow fifteen acres of land, and split enough
rails to fence it, and he then helped to plow fifty acres for
another settler.

Whenever the people of Lincoln's neighborhood engaged in dispute;
whenever a bet was to be decided; when they differed on points of
religion or politics; when they wanted to get out of trouble, or
desired advice regarding anything on the earth, below it, above
it, or under the sea, they went to "Abe."

Two fellows, after a hot dispute lasting some hours, over the
problem as to how long a man's legs should be in proportion to
the size of his body, stamped into Lincoln's office one day and
put the question to him.

Lincoln listened gravely to the arguments advanced by both
contestants, spent some time in "reflecting" upon the matter, and
then, turning around in his chair and facing the disputants,
delivered his opinion with all the gravity of a judge sentencing
a fellow-being to death.

"This question has been a source of controversy," he said, slowly
and deliberately, "for untold ages, and it is about time it
should be definitely decided. It has led to bloodshed in the
past, and there is no reason to suppose it will not lead to the
same in the future.

"After much thought and consideration, not to mention mental
worry and anxiety, it is my opinion, all side issues being swept
aside, that a man's lower limbs, in order to preserve harmony of
proportion, should be at least long enough to reach from his body
to the ground."

A Union officer in conversation one day told this story:

"The first week I was with my command there were twenty-four
deserters sentenced by court-martial to be shot, and the warrants
for their execution were sent to the President to be signed. He

"I went to Washington and had an interview. I said:

"'Mr. President, unless these men are made an example of, the
army itself is in danger. Mercy to the few is cruelty to the

"He replied: 'Mr. General, there are already too many weeping
widows in the United States. For God's sake, don't ask me to add
to the number, for I won't do it.'"

In the early stages of the war, after several battles had been
fought, Union troops seized a church in Alexandria, Va., and used
it as a hospital.

A prominent lady of the congregation went to Washington to see
Mr. Lincoln and try to get an order for its release.

"Have you applied to the surgeon in charge at Alexandria?"
inquired Mr. Lincoln.

"Yes, sir" but I can do nothing with him," was the reply.

"Well, madam," said Mr. Lincoln, "that is an end of it, then. We
put him there to attend to just such business, and it is
reasonable to suppose that he knows better what should be done
under the circumstances than I do."

The lady's face showed her keen disappointment. In order to learn
her sentiment, Mr. Lincoln asked:

"How much would you be willing to subscribe toward building a
hospital there?"

She said that the war had depreciated Southern property so much
that she could afford to give but little.

"This war is not over yet," said Mr. Lincoln, "and there will
likely be another fight very soon. That church may be very useful
in which to house our wounded soldiers. It is my candid opinion
that God needs that church for our wounded fellows; so, madam, I
can do nothing for you."

An amusing instance of the President's preoccupation of mind
occurred at one of his levees, when he was shaking hands with a
host of visitors passing him in a continuous stream.

An intimate acquaintance received the usual conventional
hand-shake and salutation, but perceiving that he was not
recognized, kept his ground instead of moving on, and spoke
again, when the President, roused to a dim consciousness that
something unusual had happened, perceived who stood before him,
and, seizing his friend's hand, shook it again heartily, saying:

"How do you do? How do you do? Excuse me for not noticing you. I
was thinking of a man down South."

"The man down South" was General W. T. Sherman, then on his march
to the sea.

When Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania described the terrible
butchery at the battle of Fredericksburg, Mr. Lincoln was almost

The Governor regretted that his description had so sadly affected
the President. He remarked: "I would give all I possess to know
how to rescue you from this terrible war." Then Mr. Lincoln's
wonderful recuperative powers asserted themselves and this
marvelous man was himself.

Lincoln's whole aspect suddenly changed, and he relieved his mind
by telling a story.

"This reminds me, Governor," he said, "of an old farmer out in
Illinois that I used to know.

"He took it into his head to go into hog-raising. He sent out to
Europe and imported the finest breed of hogs he could buy.

"The prize hog was put in a pen, and the farmer's two mischievous
boys, James and John, were told to be sure not to let it out. But
James, the worst of the two, let the brute out the next day. The
hog went straight for the boys, and drove John up a tree, then
the hog went for the seat of James' trousers, and the only way
the boy could save himself was by holding on to the hog's tail.

"The hog would not give up his hunt, nor the boy his hold! After
they had made a good many circles around the tree, the boy's
courage began to give out, and he shouted to his brother, 'I say,
John, come down, quick, and help me let go this hog!'

"Now, Governor, that is exactly my case. I wish some one would
come and help me to let the hog go."

Judge Joseph Gillespie, of Chicago, was a firm friend of Mr.
Lincoln, and went to Springfield to see him shortly before his
departure for the inauguration.

"It was," said judge Gillespie, "Lincoln's Gethsemane. He feared
he was not the man for the great position and the great events
which confronted him. Untried in national affairs, unversed in
international diplomacy, unacquainted with the men who were
foremost in the politics of the nation, he groaned when he saw
the inevitable War of the Rebellion coming on. It was in humility
of spirit that he told me he believed that the American people
had made a mistake in selecting him.

"In the course of our conversation he told me if he could select
his cabinet from the old bar that had traveled the circuit with
him in the early days, he believed he could avoid war or settle
it without a battle, even after the fact of secession.

"'But, Mr. Lincoln,' said I, 'those old lawyers are all

"'I know it,' was his reply. 'But I would rather have Democrats
whom I know than Republicans I don't know.'"

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