Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

"You can see by this little yarn," remarked the President, "that
these boisterous people make too much noise in proportion to
their numbers."

Being asked one time by an "anxious" visitor as to what he would
do in certain contingencies--provided the rebellion was not
subdued after three or four years of effort on the part of the

"Oh," replied the President, "there is no alternative but to keep
'pegging' away!"

After the issue of the Emancipation Proclamation, Governor
Morgan, of New York, was at the White House one day, when the
President said:

"I do not agree with those who say that slavery is dead. We are
like whalers who have been long on a chase--we have at last got
the harpoon into the monster, but we must now look how we steer,
or, with one 'flop' of his tail, he will yet send us all into

President Lincoln was depicted as a headsman in a cartoon printed
in "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper," on February 14, 1863,
the title of the picture being "Lincoln's Dreams; or, There's a
Good Time Coming."

The cartoon, reproduced here, represents, on the right, the Union
Generals who had been defeated by the Confederates in battle, and
had suffered decapitation in consequence--McDowell, who lost at
Bull Run; McClellan, who failed to take Richmond, when within
twelve miles of that city and no opposition, comparatively; and
Burnside, who was so badly whipped at Fredericksburg. To the left
of the block, where the President is standing with the bloody axe
in his hand, are shown the members of the Cabinet--Secretary of
State Seward, Secretary of War Stanton, Secretary of the Navy
Welles, and others--each awaiting his turn. This part of the
"Dream" was never realized, however, as the President did not
decapitate any of his Cabinet officers.

It was the idea of the cartoonist to hold Lincoln up as a man who
would not countenance failure upon the part of subordinates, but
visit the severest punishment upon those commanders who did not
win victories. After Burnside's defeat at Fredericksburg, he was
relieved by Hooker, who suffered disaster at Chancellorsville;
Hooker was relieved by Meade, who won at Gettysburg, but was
refused promotion because he did not follow up and crush Lee;
Rosecrans was all but defeated at Chickamauga, and gave way to
Grant, who, of all the Union commanders, had never suffered
defeat. Grant was Lincoln's ideal fighting man, and the "Old
Commander" was never superseded.

Dr. Hovey, of Dansville, New York, thought he would call and see
the President.

Upon arriving at the White House he found the President on
horseback, ready for a start.

Approaching him, he said:

"President Lincoln, I thought I would call and see you before
leaving the city, and hear you tell a story."

The President greeted him pleasantly, and asked where he was

"From Western New York."

"Well, that's a good enough country without stories," replied the
President, and off he rode.

Lincoln's habits at the White House were as simple as they were
at his old home in Illinois.

He never alluded to himself as "President," or as occupying "the

His office he always designated as "the place."

"Call me Lincoln," said he to a friend; "Mr. President" had
become so very tiresome to him.

"If you see a newsboy down the street, send him up this way,"
said he to a passenger, as he stood waiting for the morning news
at his gate.

Friends cautioned him about exposing himself so openly in the
midst of enemies; but he never heeded them.

He frequently walked the streets at night, entirely unprotected;
and felt any check upon his movements a great annoyance.

He delighted to see his familiar Western friends; and he gave
them always a cordial welcome.

He met them on the old footing, and fell at once into the
accustomed habits of talk and story-telling.

An old acquaintance, with his wife, visited Washington. Mr. and
Mrs. Lincoln proposed to these friends a ride in the Presidential

It should be stated in advance that the two men had probably
never seen each other with gloves on in their lives, unless when
they were used as protection from the cold.

The question of each--Lincoln at the White House, and his friend
at the hotel--was, whether he should wear gloves.

Of course the ladies urged gloves; but Lincoln only put his in
his pocket, to be used or not, according to the circumstances.

When the Presidential party arrived at the hotel, to take in
their friends, they found the gentleman, overcome by his wife's
persuasions, very handsomely gloved.

The moment he took his seat he began to draw off the clinging
kids, while Lincoln began to draw his on!

"No! no! no!" protested his friend, tugging at his gloves. "It is
none of my doings; put up your gloves, Mr. Lincoln."

So the two old friends were on even and easy terms, and had their
ride after their old fashion.

President Lincoln was reading the draft of a speech. Edward, the
conservative but dignified butler of the White House, was seen
struggling with Tad and trying to drag him back from the window
from which was waving a Confederate flag, captured in some fight
and given to the boy. Edward conquered and Tad, rushing to find
his father, met him coming forward to make, as it proved, his
last speech.

The speech began with these words, "We meet this evening, not in
sorrow, but in gladness of heart." Having his speech written in
loose leaves, and being compelled to hold a candle in the other
hand, he would let the loose leaves drop to the floor one by one.
"Tad" picked them up as they fell, and impatiently called for
more as they fell from his father's hand.

President Lincoln, while entertaining a few select friends, is
said to have related the following anecdote of a man who knew too

He was a careful, painstaking fellow, who always wanted to be
absolutely exact, and as a result he frequently got the ill-will
of his less careful superiors.

During the administration of President Jackson there was a
singular young gentleman employed in the Public Postoffice in

His name was G.; he was from Tennessee, the son of a widow, a
neighbor of the President, on which account the old hero had a
kind feeling for him, and always got him out of difficulties with
some of the higher officials, to whom his singular interference
was distasteful.

Among other things, it is said of him that while employed in the
General Postoffice, on one occasion he had to copy a letter to
Major H., a high official, in answer to an application made by an
old gentleman in Virginia or Pennsylvania, for the establishment
of a new postoffice.

The writer of the letter said the application could not be
granted, in consequence of the applicant's "proximity" to another

When the letter came into G.'s hand to copy, being a great
stickler for plainness, he altered "proximity" to "nearness to."

Major H. observed it, and asked G. why he altered his letter.

"Why," replied G., "because I don't think the man would
understand what you mean by proximity."

"Well," said Major H., "try him; put in the 'proximity' again."

In a few days a letter was received from the applicant, in which
he very indignantly said that his father had fought for liberty
in the second war for independence, and he should like to have
the name of the scoundrel who brought the charge of proximity or
anything else wrong against him.

"There," said G., "did I not say so?"

G. carried his improvements so far that Mr. Berry, the
Postmaster-General, said to him: "I don't want you any longer;
you know too much."

Poor G. went out, but his old friend got him another place.

This time G.'s ideas underwent a change. He was one day very busy
writing, when a stranger called in and asked him where the Patent
Office was.

"I don't know," said G.

"Can you tell me where the Treasury Department is?" said the
stranger. "No," said G.

'Nor the President's house?"


The stranger finally asked him if he knew where the Capitol was.

"No," replied G.

"Do you live in Washington, sir?"

"Yes, sir," said G.

"Good Lord! and don't you know where the Patent Office, Treasury,
President's house and Capitol are?"

"Stranger," said G., "I was turned out of the postoffice for
knowing too much. I don't mean to offend in that way again.

"I am paid for keeping this book.

"I believe I know that much; but if you find me knowing anything
more you may take my head."

"Good morning," said the stranger.

"That every man may receive at least a moderate education, and
thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other
countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free
institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance; even
on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and
satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the
Scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature,
for themselves.

"For my part, I desire to see the time when education, by its
means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and integrity, shall become
much more general than at present, and should be gratified to
have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of
any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy

In a speech at Springfield, Illinois, June 26th, 1857, Lincoln
referred to the decision of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, of the
United States Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott case, in this

"The Chief justice does not directly assert, but plainly assumes
as a fact, that the public estimate of the black man is more
favorable now than it was in the days of the Revolution.

"In those days, by common consent, the spread of the black man's
bondage in the new countries was prohibited; but now Congress
decides that it will not continue the prohibition, and the
Supreme Court decides that it could not if it would.

"In those days, our Declaration of Independence was held sacred
by all, and thought to include all; but now, to aid in making the
bondage of the negro universal and eternal, it is assailed and
sneered at, and constructed and hawked at, and torn, till, if its
framers could rise from their graves, they could not at all
recognize it.

"All the powers of earth seem combining against the slave; Mammon
is after him, ambition follows, philosophy follows, and the
theology of the day is fast joining the cry."

Abraham Lincoln made many notable addresses and speeches during
his career previous to the time of his election to the

However, beautiful in thought and expression as they were, they
were not appreciated by those who heard and read them until after
the people of the United States and the world had come to
understand the man who delivered them.

Lincoln had the rare and valuable faculty of putting the most
sublime feeling into his speeches; and he never found it
necessary to incumber his wisest, wittiest and most famous
sayings with a weakening mass of words.

He put his thoughts into the simplest language, so that all might
comprehend, and he never said anything which was not full of the
deepest meaning.

Mr. Roland Diller, who was one of Mr. Lincoln's neighbors in
Springfield, tells the following:

"I was called to the door one day by the cries of children in the
street, and there was Mr. Lincoln, striding by with two of his
boys, both of whom were wailing aloud. 'Why, Mr. Lincoln, what's
the matter with the boys?' I asked.

"'Just what's the matter with the whole world,' Lincoln replied.
'I've got three walnuts, and each wants two.'"

One of the prettiest incidents in the closing days of the Civil
War occurred when the troops, 'marching home again,' passed in
grand form, if with well-worn uniforms and tattered bunting,
before the White House.

Naturally, an immense crowd had assembled on the streets, the
lawns, porches, balconies, and windows, even those of the
executive mansion itself being crowded to excess. A central
figure was that of the President, Abraham Lincoln, who, with
bared head, unfurled and waved our Nation's flag in the midst of
lusty cheers.

But suddenly there was an unexpected sight.

A small boy leaned forward and sent streaming to the air the
banner of the boys in gray. It was an old flag which had been
captured from the Confederates, and which the urchin, the
President's second son, Tad, had obtained possession of and
considered an additional triumph to unfurl on this all-important

Vainly did the servant who had followed him to the window plead
with him to desist. No, Master Tad, Pet of the White House, was
not to be prevented from adding to the loyal demonstration of the

To his surprise, however, the crowd viewed it differently. Had it
floated from any other window in the capital that day, no doubt
it would have been the target of contempt and abuse; but when the
President, understanding what had happened, turned, with a smile
on his grand, plain face, and showed his approval by a gesture
and expression, cheer after cheer rent the air.

President Lincoln attended a Ladies' Fair for the benefit of the
Union soldiers, at Washington, March 16th, 1864.

In his remarks he said:

"I appear to say but a word.

"This extraordinary war in which we are engaged falls heavily
upon all classes of people, but the most heavily upon the
soldiers. For it has been said, 'All that a man hath will he give
for his life,' and, while all contribute of their substance, the
soldier puts his life at stake, and often yields it up in his
country's cause.

"The highest merit, then, is due the soldiers.

"In this extraordinary war extraordinary developments have
manifested themselves such as have not been seen in former wars;
and among these manifestations nothing has been more remarkable
than these fairs for the relief of suffering soldiers and their
families, and the chief agents in these fairs are the women of

"I am not accustomed to the use of language of eulogy; I have
never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must
say that if all that has been said by orators and poets since the
creation of the world in praise of women were applied to the
women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct
during the war.

"I will close by saying, God bless the women of America!"

After the United States had enlisted former negro slaves as
soldiers to fight alongside the Northern troops for the
maintenance of the integrity of the Union, so great was the
indignation of the Confederate Government that President Davis
declared he would not recognize blacks captured in battle and in
uniform as prisoners of war. This meant that he would have them
returned to their previous owners, have them flogged and fined
for running away from their masters, or even shot if he felt like
it. This attitude of the President of the Confederate States of
America led to the promulgation of President Lincoln's famous
"Order No. 252," which, in effect, was a notification to the
commanding officers of the Southern forces that if negro
prisoners of war were not treated as such, the Union commanders
would retaliate. "Harper's Weekly" of August 15th, 1863,
contained a clever cartoon, which we reproduce, representing
President Lincoln holding the South by the collar, while "Old
Abe" shouts the following words of warning to Jeff Davis, who,
cat-o'-nine-tails in hand, is in pursuit of a terrified little
negro boy:

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