Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

Nothing in Lincoln's entire career better illustrated the
surprising resources of his mind than his manner of dealing with
"The Trent Affair." The readiness and ability with which he met
this perilous emergency, in a field entirely new to his
experience, was worthy the most accomplished diplomat and
statesman. Admirable, also, was his cool courage and
self-reliance in following a course radically opposed to the
prevailing sentiment throughout the country and in Congress, and
contrary to the advice of his own Cabinet.

Secretary of the Navy Welles hastened to approve officially the
act of Captain Wilkes in apprehending the Confederate
Commissioners Mason and Slidell, Secretary Stanton publicly
applauded, and even Secretary of State Seward, whose long public
career had made him especially conservative, stated that he was
opposed to any concession or surrender of Mason and Slidell.

But Lincoln, with great sagacity, simply said, "One war at a

The President made his last public address on the evening of
April 11th, 1865, to a gathering at the White House. Said he

"We meet this evening not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart.

"The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of
the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy
peace, whose joyous expression cannot be restrained.

"In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow
must not be forgotten.

"Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing
be overlooked; their honors must not be parceled out with others.

"I myself was near the front, and had the high pleasure of
transmitting the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for
plan or execution, is mine.

"To General Grant, his skillful officers and brave men, all

One day an old lady from the country called on President Lincoln,
her tanned face peering up to his through a pair of spectacles.
Her errand was to present Mr. Lincoln a pair of stockings of her
own make a yard long. Kind tears came to his eyes as she spoke to
him, and then, holding the stockings one in each hand, dangling
wide apart for general inspection, he assured her that he should
take them with him to Washington, where (and here his eyes
twinkled) he was sure he should not be able to find any like

Quite a number of well-known men were in the room with the
President when the old lady made her presentation. Among them was
George S. Boutwell, who afterwards became Secretary of the

The amusement of the company was not at all diminished by Mr.
Boutwell's remark, that the lady had evidently made a very
correct estimate of Mr. Lincoln's latitude and longitude.

Lincoln was appointed postmaster at New Salem by President
Jackson. The office was given him because everybody liked him,
and because he was the only man willing to take it who could make
out the returns. Lincoln was pleased, because it gave him a
chance to read every newspaper taken in the vicinity. He had
never been able to get half the newspapers he wanted before.

Years after the postoffice had been discontinued and Lincoln had
become a practicing lawyer at Springfield, an agent of the
Postoffice Department entered his office and inquired if Abraham
Lincoln was within. Lincoln responded to his name, and was
informed that the agent had called to collect the balance due the
Department since the discontinuance of the New Salem office.

A shade of perplexity passed over Lincoln's face, which did not
escape the notice of friends present. One of them said at once:

"Lincoln, if you are in want of money, let us help you."

He made no reply, but suddenly rose, and pulled out from a pile
of books a little old trunk, and, returning to the table, asked
the agent how much the amount of his debt was.

The sum was named, and then Lincoln opened the trunk, pulled out
a little package of coin wrapped in a cotton rag, and counted out
the exact sum, amounting to more than seventeen dollars.

After the agent had left the room, he remarked quietly that he
had never used any man's money but his own. Although this sum had
been in his hands during all those years, he had never regarded
it as available, even for any temporary use of his own.

At a Saturday afternoon reception at the White House, many
persons noticed three little girls, poorly dressed, the children
of some mechanic or laboring man, who had followed the visitors
into the White House to gratify their curiosity. They passed
around from room to room, and were hastening through the
reception-room, with some trepidation, when the President called
to them:

"Little girls, are you going to pass me without shaking hands?"

Then he bent his tall, awkward form down, and shook each little
girl warmly by the hand. Everybody in the apartment was
spellbound by the incident, so simple in itself.

Uncle Sam was pretty well satisfied with his horse, "Old Abe,"
and, as shown at the Presidential election of 1864, made up his
mind to keep him, and not "swap" the tried and true animal for a
strange one. "Harper's Weekly" of November 12th, 1864, had a
cartoon which illustrated how the people of the United States
felt about the matter better than anything published at the time.
We reproduce it on this page. Beneath the picture was this text:

JOHN BULL: "Why don't you ride the other horse a bit? He's the
best animal." (Pointing to McClellan in the bushes at the rear.)

BROTHER JONATHAN: "Well, that may be; but the fact is, OLD ABE is
just where I can put my finger on him; and as for the other
--though they say he's some when out in the scrub yonder--I never
know where to find him."

"One time I remember I asked Mr. Lincoln what attribute he
considered most valuable to the successful politician," said
Captain T. W. S. Kidd, of Springfield.

"He laid his hand on my shoulder and said, very earnestly:

"'To be able to raise a cause which shall produce an effect, and
then fight the effect.'

"The more you think about it, the more profound does it become."

A cashiered officer, seeking to be restored through the power of
the executive, became insolent, because the President, who
believed the man guilty, would not accede to his repeated
requests, at last said, "Well, Mr. President, I see you are fully
determined not to do me justice!"

This was too aggravating even for Mr. Lincoln; rising he suddenly
seized the disgraced officer by the coat collar, and marched him
forcibly to the door, saying as he ejected him into the passage:

"Sir, I give you fair warning never to show your face in this
room again. I can bear censure, but not insult. I never wish to
see your face again."

Salmon P. Chase, when Secretary of the Treasury, had a
disagreement with other members of the Cabinet, and resigned.

The President was urged not to accept it, as "Secretary Chase is
to-day a national necessity," his advisers said.

"How mistaken you are!" Lincoln quietly observed. "Yet it is not
strange; I used to have similar notions. No! If we should all be
turned out to-morrow, and could come back here in a week, we
should find our places filled by a lot of fellows doing just as
well as we did, and in many instances better.

"Now, this reminds me of what the Irishman said. His verdict was
that 'in this country one man is as good as another; and, for the
matter of that, very often a great deal better.' No; this
Government does not depend upon the life of any man."

George B. Lincoln, a prominent merchant of Brooklyn, was
traveling through the West in 1855-56, and found himself one
night in a town on the Illinois River, by the name of Naples. The
only tavern of the place had evidently been constructed with
reference to business on a small scale. Poor as the prospect
seemed, Mr. Lincoln had no alternative but to put up at the

The supper-room was also used as a lodging-room. Mr. Lincoln told
his host that he thought he would "go to bed."

"Bed!" echoed the landlord. "There is no bed for you in this
house unless you sleep with that man yonder. He has the only one
we have to spare."

"Well," returned Mr. Lincoln, "the gentleman has possession, and
perhaps would not like a bed-fellow."

Upon this a grizzly head appeared out of the pillows, and said:

"What is your name?"

"They call me Lincoln at home," was the reply.

"Lincoln!" repeated the stranger; "any connection of our Illinois

"No," replied Mr. Lincoln. "I fear not."

"Well," said the old gentleman, "I will let any man by the name
of 'Lincoln' sleep with me, just for the sake of the name. You
have heard of Abe?" he inquired.

"Oh, yes, very often," replied Mr. Lincoln. "No man could travel
far in this State without hearing of him, and I would be very
glad to claim connection if I could do so honestly."

"Well," said the old gentleman, "my name is Simmons. 'Abe' and I
used to live and work together when young men. Many a job of
woodcutting and rail-splitting have I done up with him. Abe
Lincoln was the likeliest boy in God's world. He would work all
day as hard as any of us and study by firelight in the loghouse
half the night; and in this way he made himself a thorough,
practical surveyor. Once, during those days, I was in the upper
part of the State, and I met General Ewing, whom President
Jackson had sent to the Northwest to make surveys. I told him
about Abe Lincoln, what a student he was, and that I wanted he
should give him a job. He looked over his memorandum, and,
holding out a paper, said:

"'There is County must be surveyed; if your friend can do the
work properly, I shall be glad to have him undertake it--the
compensation will be six hundred dollars.'

"Pleased as I could be, I hastened to Abe, after I got home, with
an account of what I had secured for him. He was sitting before
the fire in the log-cabin when I told him; and what do you think
was his answer? When I finished, he looked up very quietly, and

"'Mr. Simmons, I thank you very sincerely for your kindness, but
I don't think I will undertake the job.'

"'In the name of wonder,' said I, 'why? Six hundred does not
grow upon every bush out here in Illinois.'

"'I know that,' said Abe, 'and I need the money bad enough,
Simmons, as you know; but I have never been under obligation to a
Democratic Administration, and I never intend to be so long as I
can get my living another way. General Ewing must find another
man to do his work.'"

A friend related this story to the President one day, and asked
him if it were true.

"Pollard Simmons!" said Lincoln. "Well do I remember him. It is
correct about our working together, but the old man must have
stretched the facts somewhat about the survey of the county. I
think I should have been very glad of the job at the time, no
matter what Administration was in power."

President Lincoln said, long before the National political
campaign of 1864 had opened:

"If the unworthy ambition of politicians and the jealousy that
exists in the army could be repressed, and all unite in a common
aim and a common endeavor, the rebellion would soon be crushed."

The President once explained to a friend the theory of the
Rebellion by the aid of the maps before him.

Running his long fore-finger down the map, he stopped at

"We must drive them away from here" (Manassas Gap), he said, "and
clear them out of this part of the State so that they cannot
threaten us here (Washington) and get into Maryland.

"We must keep up a good and thorough blockade of their ports. We
must march an army into East Tennessee and liberate the Union
sentiment there. Finally we must rely on the people growing tired
and saying to their leaders, 'We have had enough of this thing,
we will bear it no longer.'"

Such was President Lincoln's plan for headingoff the Rebellion in
the summer of 1861. How it enlarged as the War progressed, from a
call for seventy thousand volunteers to one for five hundred
thousand men and $500,000,000 is a matter of well-known history.

Three or four days after the battle of Bull Run, some gentlemen
who had been on the field called upon the President.

He inquired very minutely regarding all the circumstances of the
affair, and, after listening with the utmost attention, said,
with a touch of humor: "So it is your notion that we whipped the
rebels and then ran away from them!"

Old Dennis Hanks was sent to Washington at one time by persons
interested in securing the release from jail of several men
accused of being copperheads. It was thought Old Dennis might
have some influence with the President.

The latter heard Dennis' story and then said: "I will send for
Mr. Stanton. It is his business."

Secretary Stanton came into the room, stormed up and down, and
said the men ought to be punished more than they were. Mr.
Lincoln sat quietly in his chair and waited for the tempest to
subside, and then quietly said to Stanton he would like to have
the papers next day.

When he had gone, Dennis said:

"'Abe,' if I was as big and as ugly as you are, I would take him
over my knee and spank him."

The President replied: "No, Stanton is an able and valuable man
for this Nation, and I am glad to bear his anger for the service
he can give the Nation."

The quaint remark of the President to an applicant, "My dear sir,
I have not much influence with the Administration," was one of
Lincoln's little jokes.

Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, once replied to an order from the
President to give a colonel a commission in place of the
resigning brigadier:

"I shan't do it, sir! I shan't do it! It isn't the way to do it,
sir, and I shan't do it. I don't propose to argue the question
with you, sir."

A few days after, the friend of the applicant who had presented
the order to Secretary Stanton called upon the President and
related his reception. A look of vexation came over the face of
the President, and he seemed unwilling to talk of it, and desired
the friend to see him another day. He did so, when he gave his
visitor a positive order for the promotion. The latter told him
he would not speak to Secretary Stanton again until he

"Oh," said the President, "Stanton has gone to Fortress Monroe,
and Dana is acting. He will attend to it for you."

This he said with a manner of relief, as if it was a piece of
good luck to find a man there who would obey his orders.

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