Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

His devotion to Lamon was beautiful. I well remember at
Harrisburg on the night of February 22, 1861, when at a dinner
given by Governor Curtin to Mr. Lincoln, then on his way to
Washington, we decided, against the protest of Lincoln, that he
must change his route to Washington and make the memorable
midnight journey to the capital. It was thought to be best that
but one man should accompany him, and he was asked to choose.
There were present of his suite Colonel Sumner, afterwards one of
the heroic generals of the war, Norman B. Judd, who was chairman
of the Republican State Committee of Illinois, Colonel Lamon and
others, and he promptly chose Colonel Lamon, who alone
accompanied him on his journey from Harrisburg to Philadelphia
and thence to Washington.

Before leaving the room Governor Curtin asked Colonel Lamon
whether he was armed, and he answered by exhibiting a brace of
fine pistols, a huge bowie knife, a black jack, and a pair of
brass knuckles. Curtin answered: "You'll do," and they were
started on their journey after all the telegraph wires had been
cut. We awaited through what seemed almost an endless night,
until the east was purpled with the coming of another day, when
Colonel Scott, who had managed the whole scheme, reunited the
wires and soon received from Colonel Lamon this dispatch: "Plums
delivered nuts safely," which gave us the intensely gratifying
information that Lincoln had arrived in Washington.

Of all the Presidents of the United States, and indeed of all the
great statesmen who have made their indelible impress upon the
policy of the Republic, Abraham Lincoln stands out single and
alone in his individual qualities. He had little experience in
statesmanship when he was called to the Presidency. He had only a
few years of service in the State Legislature of Illinois, and a
single term in Congress ending twelve years before he became
President, but he had to grapple with the gravest problems ever
presented to the statesmanship of the nation for solution, and he
met each and all of them in turn with the most consistent
mastery, and settled them so successfully that all have stood
unquestioned until the present time, and are certain to endure
while the Republic lives.

In this he surprised not only his own cabinet and the leaders of
his party who had little confidence in him when he first became
President, but equally surprised the country and the world.

He was patient, tireless and usually silent when great conflicts
raged about him to solve the appalling problems which were
presented at various stages of the war for determination, and
when he reached his conclusion he was inexorable. The wrangles of
faction and the jostling of ambition were compelled to bow when
Lincoln had determined upon his line of duty.

He was much more than a statesman; he was one of the most
sagacious politicians I have ever known, although he was entirely
unschooled in the machinery by which political results are
achieved. His judgment of men was next to unerring, and when
results were to be attained he knew the men who should be
assigned to the task, and he rarely made a mistake.

I remember one occasion when he summoned Colonel Forney and
myself to confer on some political problem, he opened the
conversation by saying: "You know that I never was much of a
conniver; I don't know the methods of political management, and I
can only trust to the wisdom of leaders to accomplish what is

Lincoln's public acts are familiar to every schoolboy of the
nation, but his personal attributes, which are so strangely
distinguished from the attributes of other great men, are now the
most interesting study of young and old throughout our land, and
I can conceive of no more acceptable presentation to the public
than a compilation of anecdotes and incidents pertaining to the
life of the greatest of all our Presidents.

<A.K. McClure>

BY DR. NEWMAN HALL, of London.

When I have had to address a fagged and listless audience, I have
found that nothing was so certain to arouse them as to introduce
the name of Abraham Lincoln.


No other name has such electric power on every true heart, from
Maine to Mexico, as the name of Lincoln. If Washington is the
most revered, Lincoln is the best loved man that ever trod this
BY JOHN HAY, Former Private Secretary to President Lincoln, and
Later Secretary of State in President McKinley's Cabinet.

As, in spite of some rudeness, republicanism is the sole hope of
a sick world, so Lincoln, with all his foibles, is the greatest
character since Christ.
BY CHAUNCEY M. DEPEW, United States Senator from New York.

Mr. Lincoln said to me once: "They say I tell a great many
stories; I reckon I do, but I have found in the course of a long
experience that common people, take them as they run, are more
easily informed through the medium of a broad illustration than
in any other way, and as to what the hypercritical few may think,
I don't care."

BY GEO. S. BOUTWELL, Former Secretary of the United States

Mr. Lincoln's wit and mirth will give him a passport to the
thoughts and hearts of millions who would take no interest in the
sterner and more practical parts of his character.
BY ELIHU B. WASHBURNE, Former United States Minister to France.

Mr. Lincoln's anecdotes were all so droll, so original, so
appropriate and so illustrative of passing incidents, that one
never wearied.

Mr. Lincoln's flow of humor was a sparkling spring, gushing out
of a rock--the flashing water had a somber background which made
it all the brighter.
BY HUGH McCULLOCH, Former Secretary of the United States

Many of Mr. Lincoln's stories were as apt and instructive as the
best of Aesop's Fables.
BY GENERAL JAMES B. FRY, Former Adjutant-General United States

Mr. Lincoln was a humorist so full of fun that he could not keep
it all in.
BY LAWRENCE WELDON, Judge United States Court of Claims.

Mr. Lincoln's resources as a story-teller were inexhaustible, and
no condition could arise in a case beyond his capacity to furnish
an illustration with an appropriate anecdote.
BY BEN. PERLEY POORE, Former Editor of The Congressional Record.

Mr. Lincoln was recognized as the champion story-teller of the


1806--Marriage of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, June 12th,
Washington County, Kentucky.
1809--Born February 12th, Hardin (now La Rue County), Kentucky.
1816--Family Removed to Perry County, Indiana.
1818--Death of Abraham's Mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.
1819--Second Marriage Thomas Lincoln; Married Sally Bush
Johnston, December 2nd, at Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
1830--Lincoln Family Removed to Illinois, Locating in Macon
1831--Abraham Located at New Salem.
1832--Abraham a Captain in the Black Hawk War.
1833--Appointed Postmaster at New Salem.
1834--Abraham as a Surveyor. First Election to the Legislature.
1835--Love Romance with Anne Rutledge.
1836--Second Election to the Legislature.
1837--Licensed to Practice Law.
1838--Third Election to the Legislature.
1840--Presidential Elector on Harrison Ticket.
Fourth Election to the Legislature.
1842--Married November 4th, to Mary Todd. "Duel" with General
1843--Birth of Robert Todd Lincoln, August 1st.
1846--Elected to Congress. Birth of Edward Baker Lincoln, March
1848--Delegate to the Philadelphia National Convention.
1850--Birth of William Wallace Lincoln, December 2nd.
1853--Birth of Thomas Lincoln, April 4th.
1856--Assists in Formation Republican Party.
1858--Joint Debater with Stephen A. Douglas. Defeated for the
United States Senate.
1860--Nominated and Elected to the Presidency.
1861--Inaugurated as Prtsident, March 4th. 1863-Issued
Emancipation Proclamation. 1864-Re-elected to the Presidency.
1865--Assassinated by J. Wilkes Booth, April 14th. Died April
15th. Remains Interred at Springfield, Illinois, May 4th.

(From Harper's Weekly, April 13, 1901.)

Colonel Alexander K. McClure, the editorial director of the
Philadelphia Times, which he founded in 1875, began his forceful
career as a tanner's apprentice in the mountains of Pennsylvania
threescore years ago. He tanned hides all day, and read exchanges
nights in the neighboring weekly newspaper office. The learned
tanner's boy also became the aptest Inner in the county, and the
editor testified his admiration for young McClure's attainments
by sending him to edit a new weekly paper which the exigencies of
politics called into being in an adjoining county.

The lad was over six feet high, had the thews of Ajax and the
voice of Boanerges, and knew enough about shoe-leather not to be
afraid of any man that stood in it. He made his paper a success,
went into politics, and made that a success, studied law with
William McLellan, and made that a success, and actually went into
the army--and made that a success, by an interesting accident
which brought him into close personal relations with Abraham
Lincoln, whom he had helped to nominate, serving as chairman of
the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania through the

In 1862 the government needed troops badly, and in each
Pennsylvania county Republicans and Democrats were appointed to
assist in the enrollment, under the State laws. McClure, working
day and night at Harrisburg, saw conscripts coming in at the rate
of a thousand a day, only to fret in idleness against the army
red-tape which held them there instead of sending a regiment a
day to the front, as McClure demanded should be done. The
military officer continued to dispatch two companies a
day--leaving the mass of the conscripts to be fed by the

McClure went to Washington and said to the President, "You must
send a mustering offcer to Harrisburg who will do as I say; I
can't stay there any longer under existing conditions."

Lincoln sent into another room for Adjutant-General Thomas.
"General," said he, "what is the highest rank of military officer
at Harrisburg?" "Captain, sir," said Thomas. "Bring me a
commission for an Assistant Adjutant-General of the United States
Army," said Lincoln.

So Adjutant-General McClure was mustered in, and after that a
regiment a day of boys in blue left Harrisburg for the front.
Colonel McClure is one of the group of great Celt-American
editors, which included Medill, McCullagh and McLean.


Lincoln was, naturally enough, much surprised one day, when a man
of rather forbidding countenance drew a revolver and thrust the
weapon almost into his face. In such circumstances "Abe" at once
concluded that any attempt at debate or argument was a waste of
time and words.

"What seems to be the matter?" inquired Lincoln with all the
calmness and selfpossession he could muster.

"Well," replied the stranger, who did not appear at all excited,
"some years ago I swore an oath that if I ever came across an
uglier man than myself I'd shoot him on the spot."

A feeling of relief evidently took possession of Lincoln at this
rejoinder, as the expression upon his countenance lost all
suggestion of anxiety.

"Shoot me," he said to the stranger; "for if I am an uglier man
than you I don't want to live."

Thurlow Weed, the veteran journalist and politician, once related
how, when he was opposing the claims of Montgomery Blair, who
aspired to a Cabinet appointment, that Mr. Lincoln inquired of
Mr. Weed whom he would recommend, "Henry Winter Davis," was the

"David Davis, I see, has been posting you up on this question,"
retorted Lincoln. "He has Davis on the brain. I think Maryland
must be a good State to move from."

The President then told a story of a witness in court in a
neighboring county, who, on being asked his age, replied,
"Sixty." Being satisfied he was much older the question was
repeated, and on receiving the same answer the court admonished
the witness, saying, "The court knows you to be much older than

"Oh, I understand now," was the rejoinder, "you're thinking of
those ten years I spent on the eastern share of Maryland; that
was so much time lost, and didn't count."

Blair was made Postmaster-General.

Lincoln always took great pleasure in relating this yarn:

Riding at one time in a stage with an old Kentuckian who was
returning from Missouri, Lincoln excited the old gentleman's
surprise by refusing to accept either of tobacco or French

When they separated that afternoon--the Kentuckian to take
another stage bound for Louisville--he shook hands warmly with
Lincoln, and said, good-humoredly:

"See here, stranger, you're a clever but strange companion. I may
never see you again, and I don't want to offend you, but I want
to say this: My experience has taught me that a man who has no
vices has d--d few virtues. Good-day."

Miss Todd (afterwards Mrs. Lincoln) had a keen sense of the
ridiculous, and wrote several articles in the Springfield (Ill.)
"Journal" reflecting severefy upon General James Shields (who won
fame in the Mexican and Civil Wars, and was United States Senator
from three states), then Auditor of State.

Lincoln assumed the authorship, and was challenged by Shields to
meet him on the "field of honor." Meanwhile Miss Todd increased
Shields' ire by writing another letter to the paper, in which she
said: "I hear the way of these fire-eaters is to give the
challenged party the choice of weapons, which being the case,
I'll tell you in confidence that I never fight with anything but
broom-sticks, or hot water, or a shovelful of coals, the former
of which, being somewhat like a shillalah, may not be
objectionable to him."

Lincoln accepted the challenge, and selected broadswords as the
weapons. Judge Herndon (Lincoln's law partner) gives the closing
of this affair as follows

"The laws of Illinois prohibited dueling, and Lincoln demanded
that the meeting should be outside the state. Shields undoubtedly
knew that Lincoln was opposed to fighting a duel--that his moral
sense would revolt at the thought, and that he would not be
likely to break the law by fighting in the state. Possibly he
thought Lincoln would make a humble apology. Shields was brave,
but foolish, and would not listen to overtures for explanation.
It was arranged that the meeting should be in Missouri, opposite
Alton. "They proceeded to the place selected, but friends
interfered, and there was no duel. There is little doubt that the
man who had swung a beetle and driven iron wedges into gnarled
hickory logs could have cleft the skull of his antagonist, but he
had no such intention. He repeatedly said to the friends of
Shields that in writing the first article he had no thought of
anything personal. The Auditor's vanity had been sorely wounded
by the second letter, in regard to which Lincoln could not make
any explanation except that he had had no hand in writing it. The
affair set all Springfield to laughing at Shields."

Lincoln never told a better story than this:

A country meeting-house, that was used once a month, was quite a
distance from any other house.

The preacher, an old-line Baptist, was dressed in coarse linen
pantaloons, and shirt of the same material. The pants,
manufactured after the old fashion, with baggy legs, and a flap
in the front, were made to attach to his frame without the aid of

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