Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

"I am both surprised and embarrassed, Mr. President, and would
ask a couple of days to consider this most important matter."

Lincoln fully understood what was going on in Stanton's mind, and
then said:

"This is a very critical period in the life of the nation, Mr.
Stanton, as you are well aware, and I well know you are as much
interested in sustaining the government as myself or any other
man. This is no time to consider mere party issues. The life of
the nation is in danger. I need the best counsellors around me. I
have every confidence in your judgment, and have concluded to ask
you to become one of my counsellors. The office of the Secretary
of War will soon be vacant, and I am anxious to have you take Mr.
Cameron's place."

Stanton decided to accept.


"Abe" Lincoln's father was never at loss for an answer. An old
neighbor of Thomas Lincoln--"Abe's" father--was passing the
Lincoln farm one day, when he saw "Abe's" father grubbing up some
hazelnut bushes, and said to him: "Why, Grandpap, I thought you
wanted to sell your farm?"

"And so I do," he replied, "but I ain't goin' to let my farm know

"'Abe's' jes' like his father," the old ones would say.

One of the most notable of Lincoln's law cases was that in which
he defended William D. Armstrong, charged with murder. The case
was one which was watched during its progress with intense
interest, and it had a most dramatic ending.

The defendant was the son of Jack and Hannah Armstrong. The
father was dead, but Hannah, who had been very motherly and
helpful to Lincoln during his life at New Salem, was still
living, and asked Lincoln to defend him. Young Armstrong had been
a wild lad, and was often in bad company.

The principal witness had sworn that he saw young Armstrong
strike the fatal blow, the moon being very bright at the time.

Lincoln brought forward the almanac, which showed that at the
time the murder was committed there was no moon at all. In his
argument, Lincoln's speech was so feelingly made that at its
close all the men in the jury-box were in tears. It was just half
an hour when the jury returned a verdict of acquittal.

Lincoln would accept no fee except the thanks of the anxious

Lincoln's reading in his early days embraced a wide range. He was
particularly fond of all stories containing fun, wit and humor,
and every one of these he came across he learned by heart, thus
adding to his personal store.

He improved as a reciter and retailer of the stories he had read
and heard, and as the reciter of tales of his own invention, and
he had ready and eager auditors.

Judge Herndon, in his "Abraham Lincoln," relates that as a mimic
Lincoln was unequalled. An old neighbor said: "His laugh was
striking. Such awkward gestures belonged to no other man. They
attracted universal attention, from the old and sedate down to
the schoolboy. Then, in a few moments, he was as calm and
thoughtful as a judge on the bench, and as ready to give advice
on the most important matters; fun and gravity grew on him

During the year Lincoln was in Denton Offutt's store at New
Salem, that gentleman, whose business was somewhat widely and
unwisely spread about the country, ceased to prosper in his
finances and finally failed. The store was shut up, the mill was
closed, and Abraham Lincoln was out of business.

The year had been one of great advance, in many respects. He had
made new and valuable acquaintances, read many books, mastered
the grammar of his own tongue, won multitudes of friends, and
became ready for a step still further in advance.

Those who could appreciate brains respected him, and those whose
ideas of a man related to his muscles were devoted to him. It was
while he was performing the work of the store that he acquired
the sobriquet of "Honest Abe"--a characterization he never
dishonored, and an abbreviation that he never outgrew.

He was judge, arbitrator, referee, umpire, authority, in all
disputes, games and matches of man-flesh, horse-flesh, a
pacificator in all quarrels; everybody's friend; the
best-natured, the most sensible, the best-informed, the most
modest and unassuming, the kindest, gentlest, roughest,
strongest, best fellow in all New Salem and the region round

Enduring friendship and love of old associations were prominent
characteristics of President Lincoln. When about to leave
Springfield for Washington, he went to the dingy little law
office which had sheltered his saddest hours.

He sat down on the couch, and said to his law partner, Judge

"Billy, you and I have been together for more than twenty years,
and have never passed a word. Will you let my name stay on the
old sign until I come back from Washington?"

The tears started to Herndon's eyes. He put out his hand. "Mr.
Lincoln," said he, "I never will have any other partner while you
live"; and to the day of assassination, all the doings of the
firm were in the name of "Lincoln & Herndon."

Early in January, 1861, Colonel Alex. K. McClure, of
Philadelphia, received a telegram from President-elect Lincoln,
asking him (McClure) to visit him at Springfield, Illinois.
Colonel McClure described his disappointment at first sight of
Lincoln in these words:

"I went directly from the depot to Lincoln's house and rang the
bell, which was answered by Lincoln himself opening the door. I
doubt whether a wholly concealed my disappointment at meeting

"Tall, gaunt, ungainly, ill clad, with a homeliness of manner
that was unique in itself, I confess that my heart sank within me
as I remembered that this was the man chosen by a great nation to
become its ruler in the gravest period of its history.

"I remember his dress as if it were but yesterday--snuff-colored
and slouchy pantaloons, open black vest, held by a few brass
buttons; straight or evening dresscoat, with tightly fitting
sleeves to exaggerate his long, bony arms, and all supplemented
by an awkwardness that was uncommon among men of intelligence.

"Such was the picture I met in the person of Abraham Lincoln. We
sat down in his plainly furnished parlor, and were uninterrupted
during the nearly four hours that I remained with him, and little
by little, as his earnestness, sincerity and candor were
developed in conversation, I forgot all the grotesque qualities
which so confounded me when I first greeted him."

"If a man is honest in his mind," said Lincoln one day, long
before he became President, "you are pretty safe in trusting

"Abe's" nephew--or one of them--related a story in connection
with Lincoln's first love (Anne Rutledge), and his subsequent
marriage to Miss Mary Todd. This nephew was a plain, every-day
farmer, and thought everything of his uncle, whose greatness he
quite thoroughly appreciated, although he did not pose to any
extreme as the relative of a President of the United States.

Said he one day, in telling his story:

"Us child'en, w'en we heerd Uncle 'Abe' wuz a-goin' to be
married, axed Gran'ma ef Uncle 'Abe' never hed hed a gal afore,
an' she says, sez she, 'Well, "Abe" wuz never a han' nohow to run
'round visitin' much, or go with the gals, neither, but he did
fall in love with a Anne Rutledge, who lived out near
Springfield, an' after she died he'd come home an' ev'ry time
he'd talk 'bout her, he cried dreadful. He never could talk of
her nohow 'thout he'd jes' cry an' cry, like a young feller.'

"Onct he tol' Gran'ma they wuz goin' ter be hitched, they havin'
promised each other, an' thet is all we ever heered 'bout it.
But, so it wuz, that arter Uncle 'Abe' hed got over his mournin',
he wuz married ter a woman w'ich hed lived down in Kentuck.

"Uncle 'Abe' hisself tol' us he wuz married the nex' time he come
up ter our place, an' w'en we ast him why he didn't bring his
wife up to see us, he said: 'She's very busy and can't come.'

"But we knowed better'n that. He wuz too proud to bring her
up,'cause nothin' would suit her, nohow. She wuzn't raised the
way we wuz, an' wuz different from us, and we heerd, tu, she wuz
as proud as cud be.

"No, an' he never brought none uv the child'en, neither.

"But then, Uncle 'Abe,' he wuzn't to blame. We never thought he
wuz stuck up."

Replying to an editorial written by Horace Greeley, the President

"My paramount object is to save the Union, and not either to save
or to destroy slavery.

"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do

"If I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and
if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I
would also do that.

"What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I
believe it helps to save this Union; and what I forbear, I
forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.

"I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts
the cause, and I shall do more whenever I believe doing more will
help the cause."

One of President Lincoln's friends, visiting at the White House,
was finding considerable fault with the constant agitation in
Congress of the slavery question. He remarked that, after the
adoption of the Emancipation policy, he had hoped for something

"There was a man down in Maine," said the President, in reply,
"who kept a grocery store, and a lot of fellows used to loaf
around for their toddy. He only gave 'em New England rum, and
they drank pretty considerable of it. But after awhile they began
to get tired of that, and kept asking for something new--
something new--all the time. Well, one night, when the whole
crowd were around, the grocer brought out his glasses, and says
he, 'I've got something New for you to drink, boys, now.'

"'Honor bright?' said they.

"'Honor bright,' says he, and with that he sets out a jug.
'Thar' says he, 'that's something new; it's New England rum!'
says he.

"Now," remarked the President, in conclusion, "I guess we're a
good deal like that crowd, and Congress is a good deal like that

When Mr. Lincoln was quite a small boy he met with an accident
that almost cost him his life. He was saved by Austin Gollaher, a
young playmate. Mr. Gollaher lived to be more than ninety years
of age, and to the day of his death related with great pride his
boyhood association with Lincoln.

"Yes," Mr. Gollaher once said, "the story that I once saved
Abraham Lincoln's life is true. He and I had been going to school
together for a year or more, and had become greatly attached to
each other. Then school disbanded on account of there being so
few scholars, and we did not see each other much for a long

"One Sunday my mother visited the Lincolns, and I was taken
along. 'Abe' and I played around all day. Finally, we concluded
to cross the creek to hunt for some partridges young Lincoln had
seen the day before. The creek was swollen by a recent rain, and,
in crossing on the narrow footlog, 'Abe' fell in. Neither of us
could swim. I got a long pole and held it out to 'Abe,' who
grabbed it. Then I pulled him ashore.

"He was almost dead, and I was badly scared. I rolled and pounded
him in good earnest. Then I got him by the arms and shook him,
the water meanwhile pouring out of his mouth. By this means I
succeeded in bringing him to, and he was soon all right.

"Then a new difficulty confronted us. If our mothers discovered
our wet clothes they would whip us. This we dreaded from
experience, and determined to avoid. It was June, the sun was
very warm, and we soon dried our clothing by spreading it on the
rocks about us. We promised never to tell the story, and I never
did until after Lincoln's tragic end."

In conversation with some friends at the White House on New
Year's evening, 1863, President Lincoln said, concerning his
Emancipation Proclamation

"The signature looks a little tremulous, for my hand was tired,
but my resolution was firm.

"I told them in September, if they did not return to their
allegiance, and cease murdering our soldiers, I would strike at
this pillar of their strength.

"And now the promise shall be kept, and not one word of it will I
ever recall."

During the time the enemies of General Grant were making their
bitterest attacks upon him, and demanding that the President
remove him from command, "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper,"
of June 13, 1863, came out with the cartoon reproduced. The text
printed under the picture was to the following effect:

OLD ABE: "Greeley be hanged! I want no more new brooms. I begin
to think that the worst thing about my old ones was in not being
handled right."

The old broom the President holds in his right hand is labeled
"Grant." The latter had captured Fort Donelson, defeated the
Confederates at Shiloh, Iuka, Port Gibson, and other places, and
had Vicksburg in his iron grasp. When the demand was made that
Lincoln depose Grant, the President answered, "I can't spare this
man; he fights!" Grant never lost a battle and when he found the
enemy he always fought him. McClellan, Burnside, Pope and Hooker
had been found wanting, so Lincoln pinned his faith to Grant. As
noted in the cartoon, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York
Tribune, Thurlow Weed, and others wanted Lincoln to try some
other new brooms, but President Lincoln was wearied with defeats,
and wanted a few victories to offset them. Therefore; he stood by
Grant, who gave him victories.

Abraham Lincoln
his hand and pen
he will be good
but god Knows When

These lines were found written in young Lincoln's own hand at the
bottom of a page whereon he had been ciphering. Lincoln always
wrote a clear, regular "fist." In this instance he evidently did
not appreciate the sacredness of the name of the Deity, when he
used a little "g."

Lincoln once said he did not remember the time when he could not

It was the custom in Sangamon for the "menfolks" to gather at
noon and in the evening, when resting, in a convenient lane near
the mill. They had rolled out a long peeled log, on which they
lounged while they whittled and talked.

Lincoln had not been long in Sangamon before he joined this
circle. At once he became a favorite by his jokes and good-humor.
As soon as he appeared at the assembly ground the men would start
him to story-telling. So irresistibly droll were his "yarns" that
whenever he'd end up in his unexpected way the boys on the log
would whoop and roll off. The result of the rolling off was to
polish the log like a mirror. The men, recognizing Lincoln's part
in this polishing, christened their seat "Abe's log."

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.