Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

Long after Lincoln had disappeared from Sangamon, "Abe's log"
remained, and until it had rotted away people pointed it out, and
repeated the droll stories of the stranger.

President Lincoln, in company with General Grant, was inspecting
the Dutch Gap Canal at City Point. "Grant, do you know what this
reminds me of? Out in Springfield, Ill., there was a blacksmith
who, not having much to do, took a piece of soft iron and
attempted to weld it into an agricultural implement, but
discovered that the iron would not hold out; then he concluded it
would make a claw hammer; but having too much iron, attempted to
make an ax, but decided after working awhile that there was not
enough iron left. Finally, becoming disgusted, he filled the
forge full of coal and brought the iron to a white heat; then
with his tongs he lifted it from the bed of coals, and thrusting
it into a tub of water near by, exclaimed: 'Well, if I can't make
anything else of you, I will make a fizzle, anyhow.'" "I was
afraid that was about what we had done with the Dutch Gap Canal,"
said General Grant.

When Lincoln was in the Black Hawk War as captain, the volunteer
soldiers drank in with delight the jests and stories of the tall
captain. Aesop's Fables were given a new dress, and the tales of
the wild adventures that he had brought from Kentucky and Indiana
were many, but his inspiration was never stimulated by recourse
to the whisky jug.

When his grateful and delighted auditors pressed this on him he
had one reply: "Thank you, I never drink it."

President Lincoln was passing down Pennsylvania avenue in
Washington one day, when a man came running after him, hailed
him, and thrust a bundle of papers in his hands.

It angered him not a little, and he pitched the papers back,
saying, "I'm not going to open shop here."

Lincoln delivered a remarkable speech at Springfield, Illinois,
when but twenty-eight years of age, upon the liberty possessed by
the people of the United States.

In part, he said:

"In the great journal of things happening under the sun, we, the
American people, find our account running under date of the
nineteenth century of the Christian era.

"We find ourselves in the peaceful possession of the fairest
portion of the earth as regards extent of territory, fertility of
soil, and salubrity of climate.

"We find ourselves under the government of a system of political
institutions conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and
religious liberty than any of which history of former times tells

"We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the
legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings.

"We toiled not in the acquisition or establishment of them; they
are a legacy bequeathed to us by a once hardy, brave, and
patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors.

"Theirs was the task (and nobly did they perform it) to possess
themselves, us, of this goodly land, to uprear upon its hills and
valleys a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; 'tis
ours to transmit these--the former unprofaned by the foot of an
intruder, the latter undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by
usurpation--to the generation that fate shall permit the world to

"This task, gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty
to posterity--all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

"How, then, shall we perform it? At what point shall we expect
the approach of danger?

"Shall we expect some trans-Atlantic military giant to step the
ocean and crush us at a blow?

"Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa, combined, with
all the treasures of the earth (our own excepted) in their
military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not, by
force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue
Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

"At what point, then, is this approach of danger to be expected?

"I answer, if ever it reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It
cannot come from abroad.

"If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and

"As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time or die by

"I hope I am not over-wary; but, if I am not, there is even now
something of ill-omen amongst us.

"I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the
country, the disposition to substitute the wild and furious
passions in lieu of the sober judgment of courts, and the worse
than savage mobs for the executive ministers of justice.

"This disposition is awfully fearful in any community, and that
it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit
it, it would be a violation of truth and an insult to deny.

"Accounts of outrages committed by mobs form the every-day news
of the times.

"They have pervaded the country from New England to Louisiana;
they are neither peculiar to the eternal snows of the former, nor
the burning sun of the latter.

"They are not the creatures of climate, neither are they confined
to the slave-holding or non-slave-holding States.

"Alike they spring up among the pleasure-hunting Southerners and
the order-loving citizens of the land of steady habits.

"Whatever, then, their cause may be, it is common to the whole

"Many great and good men, sufficiently qualified for any task
they may undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would
aspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or
Presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the
lion, or the tribe of the eagle.

"What! Think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a
Caesar, or a Napoleon? Never!

"Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions
hitherto unexplored.

"It seeks no distinction in adding story to story upon the
monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others.

"It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief.

"It scorns to tread in the footpaths of any predecessor, however

"It thirsts and burns for distinction, and, if possible, it will
have it, whether at the expense of emancipating the slaves or
enslaving freemen.

"Another reason which once was, but which to the same extent is
now no more, has done much in maintaining our institutions thus

"I mean the powerful influence which the interesting scenes of
the Revolution had upon the passions of the people, as
distinguished from their judgment.

"But these histories are gone. They can be read no more forever.
They were a fortress of strength.

"But what the invading foeman could never do, the silent
artillery of time has done,the levelling of the walls.

"They were a forest of giant oaks, but the all-resisting
hurricane swept over them and left only here and there a lone
trunk, despoiled of its verdure, shorn of its foliage, unshading
and unshaded, to murmur in a few more gentle breezes and to
combat with its mutilated limbs a few more rude storms, then to
sink and be no more.

"They were the pillars of the temple of liberty, and now that
they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, the
descendants, supply the places with pillars hewn from the same
solid quarry of sober reason.

"Passion has helped us, but can do so no more. It will in future
be our enemy.

"Reason--cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason--must furnish
all the materials for our support and defense.

"Let those materials be molded into general intelligence, sound
morality, and, in particular, a reverence for the Constitution
and the laws; and then our country shall continue to improve, and
our nation, revering his name, and permitting no hostile foot to
pass or desecrate his resting-place, shall be the first to hear
the last trump that shall awaken our Washington.

"Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest as the rock of
its basis, and as truly as has been said of the only greater
institution, 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'"

One of Mr. Lincoln's warm friends was Dr. Robert Boal, of Lacon,
Illinois. Telling of a visit he paid to the White House soon
after Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, he said: "I found him the same
Lincoln as a struggling lawyer and politician that I did in
Washington as President of the United States, yet there was a
dignity and self-possession about him in his high official
authority. I paid him a second call in the evening. He had thrown
off his reserve somewhat, and would walk up and down the room
with his hands to his sides and laugh at the joke he was telling,
or at one that was told to him. I remember one story he told to
me on this occasion.

"Tom Corwin, of Ohio, had been down to Alexandria, Va., that day
and had come back and told Lincoln a story which pleased him so
much that he broke out in a hearty laugh and said: 'I must tell
you Tom Corwin's latest. Tom met an old man at Alexandria who
knew George Washington, and he told Tom that George Washington
often swore. Now, Corwin's father had always held the father of
our country up as a faultless person and told his son to follow
in his footsteps.

"'"Well," said Corwin, "when I heard that George Washington was
addicted to the vices and infirmities of man, I felt so relieved
that I just shouted for joy."'"

The lawyers on the circuit traveled by Lincoln got together one
night and tried him on the charge of accepting fees which tended
to lower the established rates. It was the understood rule that a
lawyer should accept all the client could be induced to pay. The
tribunal was known as "The Ogmathorial Court."

Ward Lamon, his law partner at the time, tells about it:

"Lincoln was found guilty and fined for his awful crime against
the pockets of his brethren of the bar. The fine he paid with
great good humor, and then kept the crowd of lawyers in
uproarious laughter until after midnight.

"He persisted in his revolt, however, declaring that with his
consent his firm should never during its life, or after its
dissolution, deserve the reputation enjoyed by those shining
lights of the profession, 'Catch 'em and Cheat 'em.'"

Lincoln had assisted in the prosecution of a man who had robbed
his neighbor's hen roosts. Jogging home along the highway with
the foreman of the jury that had convicted the hen stealer, he
was complimented by Lincoln on the zeal and ability of the
prosecution, and remarked: "Why, when the country was young, and
I was stronger than I am now, I didn't mind packing off a sheep
now and again, but stealing hens!" The good man's scorn could not
find words to express his opinion of a man who would steal hens.

A lawyer, who was a stranger to Mr. Lincoln, once expressed to
General Linder the opinion that Mr. Lincoln's practice of telling
stories to the jury was a waste of time.

"Don't lay that flattering unction to your soul," Linder
answered; "Lincoln is like Tansey's horse, he 'breaks to win.'"

On the 3rd of January, 1863, "Harper's Weekly" appeared with a
cartoon representing Columbia indignantly demanding of President
Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton that they restore to her
those of her sons killed in battle. Below the picture is the
reading matter

COLUMBIA: "Where are my 15,000 sons--murdered at Fredericksburg?"

LINCOLN: "This reminds me of a little joke--"

COLUMBIA: "Go tell your joke at Springfield!!"

The battle of Fredericksburg was fought on December 13th, 1862,
between General Burnside, commanding the Army of the Potomac, and
General Lee's force. The Union troops, time and again, assaulted
the heights where the Confederates had taken position, but were
driven back with frightful losses. The enemy, being behind
breastworks, suffered comparatively little. At the beginning of
the fight the Confederate line was broken, but the result of the
engagement was disastrous to the Union cause. Burnside had one
thousand one hundred and fifty-two killed, nine thousand one
hundred and one wounded, and three thousand two hundred and
thirty-four missing, a total of thirteen thousand seven hundred
and seventy-one. General Lee's losses, all told, were not much
more than five thousand men.

Burnside had succeeded McClellan in command of the Army of the
Potomac, mainly, it was said, through the influence of Secretary
of War Stanton. Three months before, McClellan had defeated Lee
at Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the War, Lee's losses
footing up more than thirteen thousand men. At Fredericksburg,
Burnside had about one hundred and twenty thousand men; at
Antietam, McClellan had about eighty thousand. It has been
maintained that Burnside should not have fought this battle, the
chances of success being so few.

"Abe's" school teacher, Crawford, endeavored to teach his pupils
some of the manners of the "polite society" of Indiana--1823 or
so. This was a part of his system:

One of the pupils would retire, and then come in as a stranger,
and another pupil would have to introduce him to all the members
of the school n what was considered "good manners."

As "Abe" wore a linsey-woolsey shirt, buckskin breeches which
were too short and very tight, and low shoes, and was tall and
awkward, he no doubt created considerable merriment when his turn
came. He was growing at a fearful rate; he was fifteen years of
age, and two years later attained his full height of six feet
four inches.

Early in 1831, "Abe" was one of the guests of honor at a
boat-launching, he and two others having built the craft. The
affair was a notable one, people being present from the territory
surrounding. A large party came from Springfield with an ample
supply of whisky, to give the boat and its builders a send-off.
It was a sort of bipartisan mass-meeting, but there was one
prevailing spirit, that born of rye and corn. Speeches were made
in the best of feeling, some in favor of Andrew Jackson and some
in favor of Henry Clay. Abraham Lincoln, the cook, told a number
of funny stories, and it is recorded that they were not of too
refined a character to suit the taste of his audience. A
sleight-of-hand performer was present, and among other tricks
performed, he fried some eggs in Lincoln's hat. Judge Herndon
says, as explanatory to the delay in passing up the hat for the
experiment, Lincoln drolly observed: "It was out of respect for
the eggs, not care for my hat."

William G. Greene, an old-time friend of Lincoln, was a student
at Illinois College, and one summer brought home with him, on a
vacation, Richard Yates (afterwards Governor of Illinois) and
some other boys, and, in order to entertain them, took them up to
see Lincoln.

He found him in his usual position and at his usual occupation--
flat on his back, on a cellar door, reading a newspaper. This was
the manner in which a President of the United States and a
Governor of Illinois became acquainted with each other.

Greene says Lincoln repeated the whole of Burns, and a large
quantity of Shakespeare for the entertainment of the college
boys, and, in return, was invited to dine with them on bread and
milk. How he managed to upset his bowl of milk is not a matter of
history, but the fact is that he did so, as is the further fact
that Greene's mother, who loved Lincoln, tried to smooth over the
accident and relieve the young man's embarrassment.

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