Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

A single button held his shirt in position, and that was at the
collar. He rose up in the pulpit, and with a loud voice announced
his text thus: "I am the Christ whom I shall represent to-day."

About this time a little blue lizard ran up his roomy pantaloons.
The old preacher, not wishing to interrupt the steady flow of his
sermon, slapped away on his leg, expecting to arrest the
intruder, but his efforts were unavailing, and the little fellow
kept on ascending higher and higher.

Continuing the sermon, the preacher loosened the central button
which graced the waistband of his pantaloons, and with a kick off
came that easyfitting garment.

But, meanwhile, Mr. Lizard had passed the equatorial line of the
waistband, and was calmly exploring that part of the preacher's
anatomy which lay underneath the back of his shirt.

Things were now growing interesting, but the sermon was still
grinding on. The next movement on the preacher's part was for the
collar button, and with one sweep of his arm off came the tow
linen shirt.

The congregation sat for an instant as if dazed; at length one
old lady in the rear part of the room rose up, and, glancing at
the excited object in the pulpit, shouted at the top of her
voice: "If you represent Christ, then I'm done with the Bible."

Once, when Lincoln was pleading a case, the opposing lawyer had
all the advantage of the law; the weather was warm, and his
opponent, as was admissible in frontier courts, pulled off his
coat and vest as he grew warm in the argument.

At that time, shirts with buttons behind were unusual. Lincoln
took in the situation at once. Knowing the prejudices of the
primitive people against pretension of all sorts, or any
affectation of superior social rank, arising, he said: "Gentlemen
of the jury, having justice on my side, I don't think you will be
at all influenced by the gentleman's pretended knowledge of the
law, when you see he does not even know which side of his shirt
should be in front." There was a general laugh, and Lincoln's
case was won.

President Lincoln once told the following story of Colonel W.,
who had been elected to the Legislature, and had also been judge
of the County Court. His elevation, however, had made him
somewhat pompous, and he became very fond of using big words. On
his farm he had a very large and mischievous ox, called "Big
Brindle," which very frequently broke down his neighbors' fences,
and committed other depredations, much to the Colonel's

One morning after breakfast, in the presence of Lincoln, who had
stayed with him over night, and who was on his way to town, he
called his overseer and said to him:

"Mr. Allen, I desire you to impound 'Big Brindle,' in order that
I may hear no animadversions on his eternal depredations,"

Allen bowed and walked off, sorely puzzled to know what the
Colonel wanted him to do. After Colonel W. left for town, he went
to his wife and asked her what the Colonel meant by telling him
to impound the ox.

"Why, he meant to tell you to put him in a pen," said she.

Allen left to perform the feat, for it was no inconsiderable one,
as the animal was wild and vicious, but, after a great deal of
trouble and vexation, succeeded.

"Well," said he, wiping the perspiration from his brow and
soliloquizing, "this is impounding, is it? Now, I am dead sure
that the Colonel will ask me if I impounded 'Big Brindle,' and
I'll bet I puzzle him as he did me."

The next day the Colonel gave a dinner party, and as he was not
aristrocratic, Allen, the overseer, sat down with the company.
After the second or third glass was discussed, the Colonel turned
to the overseer and said

"Eh, Mr. Allen, did you impound 'Big Brindle,' sir?"

Allen straightened himself, and looking around at the company,

"Yes, I did, sir; but 'Old Brindle' transcended the impannel of
the impound, and scatterlophisticated all over the equanimity of
the forest."

The company burst into an immoderate fit of laughter, while the
Colonel's face reddened with discomfiture.

"What do you mean by that, sir?" demanded the Colonel.

"Why, I mean, Colonel," replied Allen, "that 'Old Brindle,' being
prognosticated with an idea of the cholera, ripped and teared,
snorted and pawed dirt, jumped the fence, tuck to the woods, and
would not be impounded nohow."

This was too much; the company roared again, the Colonel being
forced to join in the laughter, and in the midst of the jollity
Allen left the table, saying to himself as he went, "I reckon the
Colonel won't ask me to impound any more oxen."

Some of Mr. Lincoln's intimate friends once called his attention
to a certain member of his Cabinet who was quietly working to
secure a nomination for the Presidency, although knowing that Mr.
Lincoln was to be a candidate for re-election. His friends
insisted that the Cabinet officer ought to be made to give up his
Presidential aspirations or be removed from office. The situation
reminded Mr. Lincoln of a story:

"My brother and I," he said, "were once plowing corn, I driving
the horse and he holding the plow. The horse was lazy, but on one
occasion he rushed across the field so that I, with my long legs,
could scarcely keep pace with him. On reaching the end of the
furrow, I found an enormous chin-fly fastened upon him, and
knocked him off. My brother asked me what I did that for. I told
him I didn't want the old horse bitten in that way. 'Why,' said
my brother, 'that's all that made him go.' Now," said Mr.
Lincoln, "if Mr.-- has a Presidential chin-fly biting him, I'm
not going to knock him off, if it will only make his department

Mr. T. W. S. Kidd, of Springfield, says that he once heard a
lawyer opposed to Lincoln trying to convince a jury that
precedent was superior to law, and that custom made things legal
in all cases. When Lincoln arose to answer him he told the jury
he would argue his case in the same way.

"Old 'Squire Bagly, from Menard, came into my office and said,
'Lincoln, I want your advice as a lawyer. Has a man what's been
elected justice of the peace a right to issue a marriage
I told him he had not; when the old 'squire threw himself back in
his chair very indignantly, and said, 'Lincoln, I thought you was
a lawyer. Now Bob Thomas and me had a bet on this thing, and we
agreed to let you decide; but if this is your opinion I don't
want it, for I know a thunderin' sight better, for I have been
'squire now for eight years and have done it all the time.'"

When the President, early in the War, was anxious about the
defenses of Washington, he told a story illustrating his feelings
in the case. General Scott, then Commander-in-Chief of the United
States Army, had but 1,500 men, two guns and an old sloop of war,
the latter anchored in the Potomac, with which to protect the
National Capital, and the President was uneasy.

To one of his queries as to the safety of Washington, General
Scott had replied, "It has been ordained, Mr. President, that the
city shall not be captured by the Confederates."

"But we ought to have more men and guns here," was the Chief
Executive's answer. "The Confederates are not such fools as to
let a good chance to capture Washington go by, and even if it has
been ordained that the city is safe, I'd feel easier if it were
better protected. All this reminds me of the old trapper out in
the West who had been assured by some 'city folks' who had hired
him as a guide that all matters regarding life and death were

"'It is ordained,' said one of the party to the old trapper,
'that you are to die at a certain time, and no one can kill you
before that time. If you met a thousand Indians, and your death
had not been ordained for that day, you would certainly escape.'

"'I don't exactly understand this "ordained" business,' was the
trapper's reply. 'I don't care to run no risks. I always have my
gun with me, so that if I come across some reds I can feel sure
that I won't cross the Jordan 'thout taking some of 'em with me.
Now, for instance, if I met an Indian in the woods; he drew a
bead on me--sayin', too, that he wasn't more'n ten feet away--an'
I didn't have nothing to protect myself; say it was as bad as
that, the redskin bein' dead ready to kill me; now, even if it
had been ordained that the Indian (sayin' he was a good shot),
was to die that very minute, an' I wasn't, what would I do 'thout
my gun?'

"There you are," the President remarked; "even if it has been
ordained that the city of Washington will never be taken by the
Southerners, what would we do in case they made an attack upon
the place, without men and heavy guns?"

Judge T. Lyle Dickey of Illinois related that when the excitement
over the Kansas Nebraska bill first broke out, he was with
and several friends attending court. One evening several persons,
including himself and Lincoln, were discussing the slavery
question. Judge Dickey contended that slavery was an institution
which the Constitution recognized, and which could not be
disturbed. Lincoln argued that ultimately slavery must become
extinct. "After awhile," said Judge Dickey, "we went upstairs to
bed. There were two beds in our room, and I remember that Lincoln
sat up in his night shirt on the edge of the bed arguing the
point with me. At last we went to sleep. Early in the morning I
woke up and there was Lincoln half sitting up in bed. 'Dickey,'
said he, 'I tell you this nation cannot exist half slave and half
free.' 'Oh, Lincoln,' said I, 'go to sleep."'

President Lincoln, while eager that the United States troops
should be supplied with the most modern and serviceable weapons,
often took occasion to put his foot down upon the mania for
experimenting with which some of his generals were afflicted.
While engaged in these experiments much valuable time was wasted,
the enemy was left to do as he thought best, no battles were
fought, and opportunities for winning victories allowed to pass.

The President was an exceedingly practical man, and when an
invention, idea or discovery was submitted to him, his first step
was to ascertain how any or all of them could be applied in a way
to be of benefit to the army. As to experimenting with
"contrivances" which, to his mind, could never be put to
practical use, he had little patience.

"Some of these generals," said he, "experiment so long and so
much with newfangled, fancy notions that when they are finally
brought to a head they are useless. Either the time to use them
has gone by, or the machine, when put in operation, kills more
than it cures.

"One of these generals, who has a scheme for 'condensing'
rations, is willing to swear his life away that his idea, when
carried to perfection, will reduce the cost of feeding the Union
troops to almost nothing, while the soldiers themselves will get
so fat that they'll 'bust out' of their uniforms. Of course,
uniforms cost nothing, and real fat men are more active and
vigorous than lean, skinny ones, but that is getting away from my

"There was once an Irishman--a cabman--who had a notion that he
could induce his horse to live entirely on shavings. The latter
he could get for nothing, while corn and oats were pretty
high-priced. So he daily lessened the amount of food to the
horse, substituting shavings for the corn and oats abstracted, so
that the horse wouldn't know his rations were being cut down.

"However, just as he had achieved success in his experiment, and
the horse had been taught to live without other food than
shavings, the ungrateful animal 'up and died,' and he had to buy

"So far as this general referred to is concerned, I'm afraid the
soldiers will all be dead at the time when his experiment is
demonstrated as thoroughly successful."

Speed, who was a prosperous young merchant of Springfield,
reports that Lincoln's personal effects consisted of a pair of
saddle-bags, containing two or three lawbooks, and a few pieces
of clothing. Riding on a borrowed horse, he thus made his
appearance in Springfield. When he discovered that a single
bedstead would cost seventeen dollars he said, "It is probably
cheap enough, but I have not enough money to pay for it." When
Speed offered to trust him, he said: "If I fail here as a lawyer,
I will probably never pay you at all." Then Speed offered to
share large double bed with him.

"Where is your room?" Lincoln asked.

"Upstairs," said Speed, pointing from the store leading to his

Without saying a word, he took his saddle-bags on his arm, went
upstairs, set them down on the floor, came down again, and with a
face beaming with pleasure and smiles, exclaimed: "Well, Speed,
I'm moved."

"By the way," remarked President Lincoln one day to Colonel
Cannon, a close personal friend, "I can tell you a good story
about my hair. When I was nominated at Chicago, an enterprising
fellow thought that a great many people would like to see how
'Abe' Lincoln looked, and, as I had not long before sat for a
photograph, the fellow, having seen it, rushed over and bought
the negative.

"He at once got no end of wood-cuts, and so active was their
circulation they were soon selling in all parts of the country.

"Soon after they reached Springfield, I heard a boy crying them
for sale on the streets. 'Here's your likeness of "Abe" Lincoln!'
he shouted. 'Buy one; price only two shillings! Will look a great
deal better when he gets his hair combed!"'

Secretary of State Seward was bothered considerably regarding the
complication into which Spain had involved the United States
government in connection with San Domingo, and related his
troubles to the President. Negotiations were not proceeding
satisfactorily, and things were mixed generally. We wished to
conciliate Spain, while the negroes had appealed against Spanish

The President did not, to all appearances, look at the matter
seriously, but, instead of treating the situation as a grave one,
remarked that Seward's dilemma reminded him of an interview
between two negroes in Tennessee.

One was a preacher, who, with the crude and strange notions of
his ignorant race, was endeavoring to admonish and enlighten his
brother African of the importance of religion and the danger of
the future.

"Dar are," said Josh, the preacher, "two roads befo' you, Joe; be
ca'ful which ob dese you take. Narrow am de way dat leads
straight to destruction; but broad am de way dat leads right to

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