Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

MR. LINCOLN: "Look here, Jeff Davis! If you lay a finger on that
boy, to hurt him, I'll lick this ugly cub of yours within an inch
of his life!"

Much to the surprise of the Confederates, the negro soldiers
fought valiantly; they were fearless when well led, obeyed orders
without hesitation, were amenable to discipline, and were eager
and anxious, at all times, to do their duty. In battle they were
formidable opponents, and in using the bayonet were the equal of
the best trained troops. The Southerners hated them beyond power
of expression.

The President walked through the streets of Richmond--without a
guard except a few seamen--in company with his son "Tad," and
Admiral Porter, on April 4th, 1865, the day following the
evacuation of the city.

Colored people gathered about him on every side, eager to see and
thank their liberator. Mr. Lincoln addressed the following
remarks to one of these gatherings:

"My poor friends, you are free--free as air. You can cast off the
name of slave and trample upon it; it will come to you no more.

"Liberty is your birthright. God gave it to you as He gave it to
others, and it is a sin that you have been deprived of it for so
many years.

"But you must try to deserve this priceless boon. Let the world
see that you merit it, and are able to maintain it by your good

"Don't let your joy carry you into excesses; learn the laws, and
obey them. Obey God's commandments, and thank Him for giving you
liberty, for to Him you owe all things.

"There, now, let me pass on; I have but little time to spare.

"I want to see the Capitol, and must return at once to Washington
to secure to you that liberty which you seem to prize so highly."

Lincoln fell in love with Miss Mary S. Owens about 1833 or so,
and, while she was attracted toward him she was not passionately
fond of him.

Lincoln's letter of proposal of marriage, sent by him to Miss
Owens, while singular, unique, and decidedly unconventional, was
certainly not very ardent. He, after the fashion of the lawyer,
presented the matter very cautiously, and pleaded his own cause;
then presented her side of the case, advised her not "to do it,"
and agreed to abide by her decision.

Miss Owens respected Lincoln, but promptly rejected him--really
very much to "Abe's" relief.

Not far from New Salem, Illinois, at a place called Clary's
Grove, a gang of frontier ruffians had established headquarters,
and the champion wrestler of "The Grove" was "Jack" Armstrong, a
bully of the worst type.

Learning that Abraham was something of a wrestler himself, "Jack"
sent him a challenge. At that time and in that community a
refusal would have resulted in social and business ostracism, not
to mention the stigma of cowardice which would attach.

It was a great day for New Salem and "The Grove" when Lincoln and
Armstrong met. Settlers within a radius of fifty miles flocked to
the scene, and the wagers laid were heavy and many. Armstrong
proved a weakling in the hands of the powerful Kentuckian, and
"Jack's" adherents were about to mob Lincoln when the latter's
friends saved him from probable death by rushing to the rescue.

The President was once speaking about an attack made on him by
the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War for a
certain alleged blunder in the Southwest--the matter involved
being one which had fallen directly under the observation of the
army officer to whom he was talking, who possessed official
evidence completely upsetting all the conclusions of the

"Might it not be well for me," queried the officer, "to set this
matter right in a letter to some paper, stating the facts as they
actually transpired?"

"Oh, no," replied the President, "at least, not now. If I were to
try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this
shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the
very best I know how the very best I can; and I mean to keep
doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what
is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me
out wrong, ten thousand angels swearing I was right would make no

Ward Hill Lamon was President Lincoln's Cerberus, his watch dog,
guardian, friend, companion and confidant. Some days before
Lincoln's departure for Washington to be inaugurated, he wrote to
Lamon at Bloomington, that he desired to see him at once. He went
to Springfield, and Lincoln said:

"Hill, on the 11th I go to Washington, and I want you to go along
with me. Our friends have already asked me to send you as Consul
to Paris. You know I would cheerfully give you anything for which
our friends may ask or which you may desire, but it looks as if
we might have war.

"In that case I want you with me. In fact, I must have you. So
get yourself ready and come along. It will be handy to have you
around. If there is to be a fight, I want you to help me to do my
share of it, as you have done in times past. You must go, and go
to stay."

This is Lamon's version of it.

To a party who wished to be empowered to negotiate reward for
promises of influence in the Chicago Convention, 1860, Mr.
Lincoln replied:

"No, gentlemen; I have not asked the nomination, and I will not
now buy it with pledges.

"If I am nominated and elected, I shall not go into the
Presidency as the tool of this man or that man, or as the
property of any factor or clique."

After some very bad news had come in from the army in the field,
Lincoln remarked to Schuyler Colfax:

"How willingly would I exchange places to-day with the soldier
who sleeps on the ground in the Army of the Potomac!"

In the campaign of 1852, Lincoln, in reply to Douglas' speech,
wherein he spoke of confidence in Providence, replied: "Let us
stand by our candidate (General Scott) as faithfully as he has
always stood by our country, and I much doubt if we do not
perceive a slight abatement of Judge Douglas' confidence in
Providence as well as the people. I suspect that confidence is
not more firmly fixed with the judge than it was with the old
woman whose horse ran away with her in a buggy. She said she
'trusted in Providence till the britchen broke,' and then she
'didn't know what in airth to do.'"

Lincoln's great generosity to his leaders was shown when, in
January, 1863, he assigned "Fighting Joe" Hooker to the command
of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker had believed in a military
dictatorship, and it was an open secret that McClellan might have
become such had he possessed the nerve. Lincoln, however, was not
bothered by this prattle, as he did not think enough of it to
relieve McClellan of his command. The President said to Hooker:

"I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently
saying that both the army and the Government needed a dictator.
Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have
given you the command. Only those generals who gain success can
be dictators.

"What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the

Lincoln also believed Hooker had not given cordial support to
General Burnside when he was in command of the army. In Lincoln's
own peculiarly plain language, he told Hooker that he had done "a
great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and
honorable brother officer."

At one time the President had the appointment of a large
additional number of brigadier and major generals. Among the
immense number of applications, Mr. Lincoln came upon one wherein
the claims of a certain worthy (not in the service at all), "for
a generalship" were glowingly set forth. But the applicant didn't
specify whether he wanted to be brigadier or major general.

The President observed this difficulty, and solved it by a lucid
indorsement. The clerk, on receiving the paper again, found
written across its back, "Major General, I reckon. A. Lincoln."

Judge Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, said that he never saw
Lincoln more cheerful than on the day previous to his departure
from Springfield for Washington, and Judge Gillespie, who visited
him a few days earlier, found him in excellent spirits.

"I told him that I believed it would do him good to get down to
Washington," said Herndon.

"I know it will," Lincoln replied. "I only wish I could have got
there to lock the door before the horse was stolen. But when I
get to the spot, I can find the tracks."

If all the days Lincoln attended school were added together, they
would not make a single year's time, and he never studied grammar
or geography or any of the higher branches. His first teacher in
Indiana was Hazel Dorsey, who opened a school in a log
schoolhouse a mile and a half from the Lincoln cabin. The
building had holes for windows, which were covered over with
greased paper to admit light. The roof was just high enough for a
man to stand erect. It did not take long to demonstrate that
"Abe" was superior to any scholar in his class. His next teacher
was Andrew Crawford, who taught in the winter of 1822-3, in the
same little schoolhouse. "Abe" was an excellent speller, and it
is said that he liked to show off his knowledge, especially if he
could help out his less fortunate schoolmates. One day the
teacher gave out the word "defied." A large class was on the
floor, but it seemed that no one would be able to spell it. The
teacher declared he would keep the whole class in all day and
night if "defied" was not spelled correctly.

When the word came around to Katy Roby, she was standing where
she could see young "Abe." She started, "d-e-f," and while trying
to decide whether to spell the word with an "i" or a "y," she
noticed that Abe had his finger on his eye and a smile on his
face, and instantly took the hint. She spelled the word correctly
and school was dismissed.

Lincoln never forgot anyone or anything.

At one of the afternoon receptions at the White House a stranger
shook hands with him, and, as he did so, remarked casually, that
he was elected to Congress about the time Mr. Lincoln's term as
representative expired, which happened many years before.

"Yes," said the President, "You are from--(mentioning the
State). "I remember reading of your election in a newspaper one
morning on a steamboat going down to Mount Vernon."

At another time a gentleman addressed him, saying, "I presume,
Mr, President, you have forgotten me?"

"No," was the prompt reply; "your name is Flood. I saw you last,
twelve years ago, at--" (naming the place and the occasion).

"I am glad to see," he continued, "that the Flood goes on."

Subsequent to his re-election a deputation of bankers from
various sections were introduced one day by the Secretary of the

After a few moments of general conversation, Lincoln turned to
one of them and said:

"Your district did not give me so strong a vote at the last
election as it did in 1860."

"I think, sir, that you must be mistaken," replied the banker. "I
have the impression that your majority was considerably increased
at the last election."

"No," rejoined the President, "you fell off about six hundred

Then taking down from the bookcase the official canvass of 1860
and 1864, he referred to the vote of the district named, and
proved to be quite right in his assertion.

As President Lincoln, arm in arm with ex-President Buchanan,
entered the Capitol, and passed into the Senate Chamber, filled
to overflowing with Senators, members of the Diplomatic Corps,
and visitors, the contrast between the two men struck every

"Mr. Buchanan was so withered and bowed with age," wrote George
W. Julian, of Indiana, who was among the spectators, "that in
contrast with the towering form of Mr. Lincoln he seemed little
more than half a man."

As soon as the result of the Presidential election of 1864 was
known, General Grant telegraphed from City Point his
congratulations, and added that "the election having passed off
quietly . . . is a victory worth more to the country than a
battle won."

London "Punch" persistently maintained throughout the War for the
Union that the question of what to do with the blacks was the
most bothersome of all the problems President Lincoln had to
solve. "Punch" thought the Rebellion had its origin in an effort
to determine whether there should or should not be slavery in the
United States, and was fought with this as the main end in view.
"Punch" of August 15th, 1863, contained the cartoon reproduced on
this page, the title being "Brutus and Caesar."

President Lincoln was pictured as Brutus, while the ghost of
Caesar, which appeared in the tent of the American Brutus during
the dark hours of the night, was represented in the shape of a
husky and anything but ghost-like African, whose complexion would
tend to make the blackest tar look like skimmed milk in
comparison. This was the text below the cartoon: (From the
American Edition of Shakespeare.) The Tent of Brutus (Lincoln).
Night. Enter the Ghost of Caesar.

BRUTUS: "Wall, now! Do tell! Who's you?"

CAESAR: "I am dy ebil genus, Massa Linking. Dis child am awful

"Punch's" cartoons were decidedly unfriendly in tone toward
President Lincoln, some of them being not only objectionable in
the display of bad taste, but offensive and vulgar. It is true
that after the assassination of the President, "Punch," in
illustrations, paid marked and deserved tribute to the memory of
the Great Emancipator, but it had little that was good to say of
him while he was among the living and engaged in carrying out the
great work for which he was destined to win eternal fame.

President Lincoln, well aware of Stanton's unfriendliness, was
surprised when Secretary of the Treasury Chase told him that
Stanton had expressed the opinion that the arrest of the
Confederate Commissioners, Mason and Slidell, was legal and
justified by international law. The President asked Secretary
Chase to invite Stanton to the White House, and Stanton came. Mr.
Lincoln thanked him for the opinion he had expressed, and asked
him to put it in writing.

Stanton complied, the President read it carefully, and, after
putting it away, astounded Stanton by offering him the portfolio
of War. Stanton was a Democrat, had been one of the President's
most persistent vilifiers, and could not realize, at first, that
Lincoln meant what he said. He managed, however to say:

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