Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

“There won’t be a tar barrel left in Illinois to-night,” said
Senator Stephen A. Douglas, in Washington, to his Senatorial
friends, who asked him, when the news of the nomination of
Lincoln reached them, “Who is this man Lincoln, anyhow?”

Douglas was right. Not only the tar barrels, but half the fences
of the State of Illinois went up in the fire of rejoicing.
THE “GREAT SNOW” OF 1830-31.

In explanation of Lincoln’s great popularity, D. W. Bartlett, in
his “Life and Speeches of Abraham Lincoln,” published in 1860
makes this statement of “Abe’s” efficient service to his
neighbors in the “Great Snow” of 1830-31:

“The deep snow which occurred in 1830-31 was one of the chief
troubles endured by the early settlers of central and southern
Illinois. Its consequences lasted through several years. The
people were ill-prepared to meet it, as the weather had been
mild and pleasant–unprecedentedly so up to Christmas–when a
snow-storm set in which lasted two days, something never before
known even among the traditions of the Indians, and never
approached in the weather of any winter since.

“The pioneers who came into the State (then a territory) in 1800
say the average depth of snow was never, previous to 1830, more
than knee-deep to an ordinary man, while it was breast-high all
that winter.

It became crusted over, so as, in some cases, to bear teams.
Cattle and horses perished, the winter wheat was killed, the
meager stock of provisions ran out, and during the three months’
continuance of the snow, ice and continuous cold weather the most
wealthy settlers came near starving, while some of the poor ones
actually did. It was in the midst of such scenes that Abraham
Lincoln attained his majority, and commenced his career of bold
and manly independence . . . . .

“Communication between house and house was often entirely
obstructed for teams, so that the young and strong men had to do
all the traveling on foot; carrying from one neighbor what of his
store he could spare to another, and bringing back in return
something of his store sorely needed. Men living five, ten,
twenty and thirty miles apart were called ‘neighbors’ then. Young
Lincoln was always ready to perform these acts of humanity, and
was foremost in the counsels of the settlers when their troubles
seemed gathering like a thick cloud about them.”

A certain rich man in Springfield, Illinois, sued a poor attorney
for $2.50, and Lincoln was asked to prosecute the case. Lincoln
urged the creditor to let the matter drop, adding, “You can make
nothing out of him, and it will cost you a good deal more than
the debt to bring suit.” The creditor was still determined to
have his way, and threatened to seek some other attorney. Lincoln
then said, “Well, if you are determined that suit should be
brought, I will bring it; but my charge will be $10.”

The money was paid him, and peremptory orders were given that the
suit be brought that day. After the client’s departure Lincoln
went out of the office, returning in about an hour with an amused
look on his face.

Asked what pleased him, he replied, “I brought suit against –,
and then hunted him up, told him what I had done, handed him half
of the $10, and we went over to the squire’s office. He confessed
judgment and paid the bill.”

Lincoln added that he didn’t see any other way to make things
satisfactory for his client as well as the other.

Judge Thomas B. Bryan, of Chicago, a member of the Union Defense
Committee during the War, related the following concerning the
original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation:

“I asked Mr. Lincoln for the original draft of the Proclamation,”
said Judge Bryan, “for the benefit of our Sanitary Fair, in 1865.
He sent it and accompanied it with a note in which he said:

“‘I had intended to keep this paper, but if it will help the
soldiers, I give it to you.’

“The paper was put up at auction and brought $3,000. The buyer
afterward sold it again to friends of Mr. Lincoln at a greatly
advanced price, and it was placed in the rooms of the Chicago
Historical Society, where it was burned in the great fire of

An elegantly dressed young Virginian assured Lincoln that he had
done a great deal of hard manual labor in his time. Much amused
at this solemn declaration, Lincoln said:

“Oh, yes; you Virginians shed barrels of perspiration while
standing off at a distance and superintending the work your
slaves do for you. It is different with us. Here it is every
fellow for himself, or he doesn’t get there.”

When young Lincoln had fully demonstrated that he was the
champion wrestler in the country surrounding New Salem, the men
of “de gang” at Clary’s Grove, whose leader “Abe” had downed,
were his sworn political friends and allies.

Their work at the polls was remarkably effective. When the
“Butcherknife boys,” the “huge-pawed boys,” and the
“half-horse-half-alligator men” declared for a candidate the
latter was never defeated.

Soon after the opening of Congress in 1861, Mr. Shannon, from
California, made the customary call at the White House. In the
conversation that ensued, Mr Shannon said: “Mr. President, I met
an old friend of yours in California last summer, a Mr. Campbell,
who had a good deal to say of your Springfield life.”

“Ah!” returned Mr. Lincoln, “I am glad to hear of him. Campbell
used to be a dry fellow in those days,” he continued. “For a time
he was Secretary of State. One day during the legislative
vacation, a meek, cadaverous-looking man, with a white neckcloth,
introduced himself to him at his office, and, stating that he had
been informed that Mr. C. had the letting of the hall of
representatives, he wished to secure it, if possible, for a
course of lectures he desired to deliver in Springfield.

“‘May I ask,’ said the Secretary, ‘what is to be the subject of
your lectures?’

“‘Certainly,’ was the reply, with a very solemn expression of
countenance. ‘The course I wish to deliver is on the Second
Coming of our Lord.’

“‘It is of no use,’ said C.; ‘if you will take my advice, you
will not waste your time in this city. It is my private opinion
that, if the Lord has been in Springfield once, He will never
come the second time!'”

J. S. Moulton, of Chicago, a master in chancery and influential
in public affairs, looked upon the candidacy of Mr. Lincoln for
President as something in the nature of a joke. He did not rate
the Illinois man in the same class with the giants of the East.
In fact he had expressed himself as by no means friendly to the
Lincoln cause.

Still he had been a good friend to Lincoln and had often met him
when the Springfield lawyer came to Chicago. Mr. Lincoln heard of
Moulton’s attitude, but did not see Moulton until after the
election, when the President-elect came to Chicago and was
tendered a reception at one of the big hotels.

Moulton went up in the line to pay his respects to the
newly-elected chief magistrate, purely as a formality, he
explained to his companions. As Moulton came along the line Mr.
Lincoln grasped Moulton’s hand with his right, and with his left
took the master of chancery by the shoulder and pulled him out of
the line.

“You don’t belong in that line, Moulton,” said Mr. Lincoln. “You
belong here by me.”

Everyone at the reception was a witness to the honoring of
Moulton. From that hour every faculty that Moulton possessed was
at the service of the President. A little act of kindness,
skillfully bestowed, had won him; and he stayed on to the end.

If a client did not pay, Lincoln did not believe in suing for the
fee. When a fee was paid him his custom was to divide the money
into two equal parts, put one part into his pocket, and the other
into an envelope labeled “Herndon’s share.”

It is recorded that when “Abe” was born, the household goods of
his father consisted of a few cooking utensils, a little bedding,
some carpenter tools, and four hundred gallons of the fierce
product of the mountain still.

One of the cartoon-posters issued by the Democratic National
Campaign Committee in the fall of 1864 is given here. It had the
legend, “Running the Machine,” printed beneath; the “machine” was
Secretary Chase’s “Greenback Mill,” and the mill was turning out
paper money by the million to satisfy the demands of greedy
contractors. “Uncle Abe” is pictured as about to tell one of his
funny stories, of which the scene “reminds” him; Secretary of War
Stanton is receiving a message from the front, describing a great
victory, in which one prisoner and one gun were taken; Secretary
of State Seward is handing an order to a messenger for the arrest
of a man who had called him a “humbug,” the habeas corpus being
suspended throughout the Union at that period; Secretary of the
Navy Welles–the long-haired, long-bearded man at the head of the
table–is figuring out a naval problem; at the side of the table,
opposite “Uncle Abe,” are seated two Government contractors,
shouting for “more greenbacks,” and at the extreme left is
Secretary of the Treasury Fessenden (who succeeded Chase when the
latter was made Chief Justice of the United States Supreme
Court), who complains that he cannot satisfy the greed of the
contractors for “more greenbacks,” although he is grinding away
at the mill day and night.

Lincoln was the actual head of the administration, and whenever
he chose to do so he controlled Secretary of War Stanton as well
as the other Cabinet ministers.

Secretary Stanton on one occasion said: “Now, Mr. President,
those are the facts and you must see that your order cannot be

Lincoln replied in a somewhat positive tone: “Mr. Secretary, I
reckon you’ll have to execute the order.”

Stanton replied with vigor: “Mr. President, I cannot do it. This
order is an improper one, and I cannot execute it.”

Lincoln fixed his eyes upon Stanton, and, in a firm voice and
accent that clearly showed his determination, said: “Mr.
Secretary, it will have to be done.”

It was done.

Ward Lamon, once Lincoln’s law partner, relates a story which
places Lincoln’s high sense of honor in a prominent light. In a
certain case, Lincoln and Lamon being retained by a gentleman
named Scott, Lamon put the fee at $250, and Scott agreed to pay
it. Says Lamon:

“Scott expected a contest, but, to his surprise, the case was
tried inside of twenty minutes; our success was complete. Scott
was satisfied, and cheerfully paid over the money to me inside
the bar, Lincoln looking on. Scott then went out, and Lincoln
asked, ‘What did you charge that man?’

“I told him $250. Said he: ‘Lamon, that is all wrong. The service
was not worth that sum. Give him back at least half of it.’

“I protested that the fee was fixed in advance; that Scott was
perfectly satisfied, and had so expressed himself. ‘That may be,’
retorted Lincoln, with a look of distress and of undisguised
displeasure, ‘but I am not satisfied. This is positively wrong.
Go, call him back and return half the money at least, or I will
not receive one cent of it for my share.’

“I did go, and Scott was astonished when I handed back half the

“This conversation had attracted the attention of the lawyers and
the court. Judge David Davis, then on our circuit bench
(afterwards Associate Justice on the United States Supreme
bench), called Lincoln to him. The Judge never could whisper, but
in this instance he probably did his best. At all events, in
attempting to whisper to Lincoln he trumpeted his rebuke in about
these words, and in rasping tones that could be heard all over
the court-room: ‘Lincoln, I have been watching you and Lamon. You
are impoverishing this bar by your picayune charges of fees, and
the lawyers have reason to complain of you. You are now almost as
poor as Lazarus, and if you don’t make people pay you more for
your services you will die as poor as Job’s turkey!’

“Judge O. L. Davis, the leading lawyer in that part of the State,
promptly applauded this malediction from the bench; but Lincoln
was immovable.

“‘That money,’ said he, ‘comes out of the pocket of a poor,
demented girl, and I would rather starve than swindle her in this

“Billy, don’t shoot too high–aim lower, and the common people
will understand you,” Lincoln once said to a brother lawyer.

“They are the ones you want to reach–at least, they are the ones
you ought to reach.

“The educated and refined people will understand you, anyway. If
you aim too high, your idea will go over the heads of the masses,
and only hit those who need no hitting.”

One who afterward became one of Lincoln’s most devoted friends
and adherents tells this story regarding the manner in which
Lincoln received him when they met for the first time:

“After a comical survey of my fashionable toggery,–my
swallow-tail coat, white neck-cloth, and ruffled shirt (an
astonishing outfit for a young limb of the law in that
settlement), Lincoln said:

“‘Going to try your hand at the law, are you? I should know at a
glance that you were a Virginian; but I don’t think you would
succeed at splitting rails. That was my occupation at your age,
and I don’t think I have taken as much pleasure in anything else
from that day to this.'”

July 27th, 1863, Lincoln wrote the Postmaster-General:

“Yesterday little indorsements of mine went to you in two cases
of postmasterships, sought for widows whose husbands have fallen
in the battles of this war.

“These cases, occurring on the same day, brought me to reflect
more attentively than what I had before done as to what is fairly
due from us here in dispensing of patronage toward the men who,
by fighting our battles, bear the chief burden of saving our

“My conclusion is that, other claims and qualifications being
equal, they have the right, and this is especially applicable to
the disabled soldier and the deceased soldier’s family.”

When told how uneasy all had been at his going to Richmond,
Lincoln replied:

“Why, if any one else had been President and had gone to
Richmond, I would have been alarmed; but I was not scared about
myself a bit.”

On the 20th of July, 1864, Horace Greeley crossed into Canada to
confer with refugee rebels at Niagara. He bore with him this
paper from the President:

“To Whom It May Concern: Any proposition which embraces the
restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the
abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority
that can control the armies now at war with the United States,
will be received and considered by the executive government of
the United States, and will be met by liberal terms and other
substantial and collateral points, and the bearer or bearers
thereof shall have safe conduct both ways.”

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