Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

To this Jefferson Davis replied: "We are not fighting for
slavery; we are fighting for independence."

Lincoln was compelled to contend with the results of the
ill-judged zeal of politicians, who forced ahead his flatboat and
rail-splitting record, with the homely surroundings of his
earlier days, and thus, obscured for the time, the other fact
that, always having the heart, he had long since acquired the
manners of a true gentleman.

So, too, did he suffer from Eastern censors, who did not take
those surroundings into account, and allowed nothing for his
originality of character. One of these critics heard at
Washington that Mr. Lincoln, in speaking at different times of
some move or thing, said "it had petered out;" that some other
one's plan "wouldn't gibe;" and being asked if the War and the
cause of the Union were not a great care to him, replied:

"Yes, it is a heavy hog to hold."

The first two phrases are so familiar here in the West that they
need no explanation. Of the last and more pioneer one it may be
said that it had a special force, and was peculiarly Lincoln-like
in the way applied by him.

In the early times in Illinois, those having hogs, did their own
killing, assisted by their neighbors. Stripped of its hair, one
held the carcass nearly perpendicular in the air, head down,
while others put one point of the gambrel-bar through a slit in
its hock, then over the string-pole, and the other point through
the other hock, and so swung the animal clear of the ground.
While all this was being done, it took a good man to "hold the
hog," greasy, warmly moist, and weighing some two hundred pounds.
And often those with the gambrel prolonged the strain, being
provokingly slow, in hopes to make the holder drop his burden.

This latter thought is again expressed where President Lincoln,
writing of the peace which he hoped would "come soon, to stay;
and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time," added
that while there would "be some black men who can remember that
with silent tongue and clenched teeth and steady eye, and
well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great
consummation," he feared there would "be some white ones unable
to forget that, with malignant heart and deceitful tongue, they
had striven to hinder it."

He had two seemingly opposite elements little understood by
strangers, and which those in more intimate relations with him
find difficult to explain; an open, boyish tongue when in a happy
mood, and with this a reserve of power, a force of thought that
impressed itself without words on observers in his presence. With
the cares of the nation on his mind, he became more meditative,
and lost much of his lively ways remembered "back in Illinois."

One of the most beautiful traits of Mr. Lincoln's character was
his considerate regard for the poor and obscure relatives he had
left, plodding along in their humble ways of life. Wherever upon
his circuit he found them, he always went to their dwellings, ate
with them, and, when convenient, made their houses his home. He
never assumed in their presence the slightest superiority to
them. He gave them money when they needed it and he had it.
Countless times he was known to leave his companions at the
village hotel, after a hard day's work in the court-room, and
spend the evening with these old friends and companions of his
humbler days. On one occasion, when urged not to go, he replied,
"Why, Aunt's heart would be broken if I should leave town without
calling upon her;" yet, he was obliged to walk several miles to
make the call.

This was the reply made by Lincoln to an application for the
pardon of a soldier who had shown himself brave in war, had been
severely wounded, but afterward deserted:

"Did you say he was once badly wounded?

"Then, as the Scriptures say that in the shedding of blood is the
remission of sins, I guess we'll have to let him off this time."

President Lincoln and Postmaster-General Blair were talking of
the war.

"Blair," said the President, "did you ever know that fright has
sometimes proven a cure for boils?" "No, Mr. President, how is
that?" "I'll tell you. Not long ago when a colonel, with his
cavalry, was at the front, and the Rebs were making things rather
lively for us, the colonel was ordered out to a reconnoissance.
He was troubled at the time with a big boil where it made
horseback riding decidedly uncomfortable. He finally dismounted
and ordered the troops forward without him. Soon he was startled
by the rapid reports of pistols and the helter-skelter approach
of his troops in full retreat before a yelling rebel force. He
forgot everything but the yells, sprang into his saddle, and made
capital time over the fences and ditches till safe within the
lines. The pain from his boil was gone, and the boil, too, and
the colonel swore that there was no cure for boils so sure as
fright from rebel yells."

When President Lincoln issued a military order, it was usually
expressive, as the following shows:

"War Department, Washington, July 22, '62.

"First: Ordered that military commanders within the States of
Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi,
Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, in an orderly manner, seize and
use any property, real or personal, which may be necessary or
convenient for their several commands, for supplies, or for other
military purposes; and that while property may be all stored for
proper military objects, none shall be destroyed in wantonness or

"Second: That military and naval commanders shall employ as
laborers within and from said States, so many persons of African
descent as can be advantageously used for military or naval
purposes, giving them reasonable wages for their labor.

"Third: That as to both property and persons of African descent,
accounts shall be kept sufficiently accurate and in detail to
show quantities and amounts, and from whom both property and such
persons shall have come, as a basis upon which compensation can
be made in proper cases; and the several departments of this
Government shall attend to and perform their appropriate parts
towards the execution of these orders.

"By order of the President."

Judge David Davis, Justice of the United States Supreme Court,
and United States Senator from Illinois, was one of Lincoln's
most intimate friends. He told this story on "Abe":

"Lincoln was very bashful when in the presence of ladies. I
remember once we were invited to take tea at a friend's house,
and while in the parlor I was called to the front gate to see

"When I returned, Lincoln, who had undertaken to entertain the
ladies, was twisting and squirming in his chair, and as bashful
as a schoolboy."

There was much that was irritating and uncomfortable in the
circuit-riding of the Illinois court, but there was more which
was amusing to a temperament like Lincoln's. The freedom, the
long days in the open air, the unexpected if trivial adventures,
the meeting with wayfarers and settlers--all was an entertainment
to him. He found humor and human interest on the route where his
companions saw nothing but commonplaces.

"He saw the ludicrous in an assemblage of fowls," says H. C.
Whitney, one of his fellow-itinerants, "in a man spading his
garden, in a clothes-line full of clothes, in a group of boys, in
a lot of pigs rooting at a mill door, in a mother duck teaching
her brood to swim--in everything and anything."

It was in the latter part of 1863 that Russia offered its
friendship to the United States, and sent a strong fleet of
warships, together with munitions of war, to this country to be
used in any way the President might see fit. Russia was not
friendly to England and France, these nations having defeated her
in the Crimea a few years before. As Great Britain and the
Emperor of the French were continually bothering him, President
Lincoln used Russia's kindly feeling and action as a means of
keeping the other two powers named in a neutral state of mind.
Underneath the cartoon we here reproduce, which was labeled
"Drawing Things to a Head," and appeared in the issue of
"Harper's Weekly," of November 28, 1863, was this DR. LINCOLN (to
smart boy of the shop): "Mild applications of Russian Salve for
our friends over the way, and heavy doses--and plenty of it for
our Southern patient!!"

Secretary of State Seward was the "smart boy" of the shop, and
"our friend over the way" were England and France. The latter
bothered President Lincoln no more, but it is a fact that the
Confederate privateer Alabama was manned almost entirely by
British seamen; also, that when the Alabama was sunk by the
Kearsarge, in the summer of 1864, the Confederate seamen were
picked up by an English vessel, taken to Southhampton, and set at

Lincoln was candor itself when conducting his side of a case in
court. General Mason Brayman tells this story as an illustration:

"It is well understood by the profession that lawyers do not read
authores favoring the opposite side. I once heard Mr. Lincoln, in
the Supreme Court of Illinois, reading from a reported case some
strong points in favor of his argument. Reading a little too far,
and before becoming aware of it, plunged into an authority
against himself.

"Pausing a moment, he drew up his shoulders in a comical way, and
half laughing, went on, 'There, there, may it please the court, I
reckon I've scratched up a snake. But, as I'm in for it, I guess
I'll read it through.'

"Then, in his most ingenious and matchless manner, he went on
with his argument, and won his case, convincing the court that it
was not much of a snake after all."

Lincoln was fond of going all by himself to any little show or
concert. He would often slip away from his fellow-lawyers and
spend the entire evening at a little magic lantern show intended
for children.

A traveling concert company was always sure of drawing Lincoln. A
Mrs. Hillis, a member of the "Newhall Family," and a good singer,
was the only woman who ever seemed to exhibit any liking for
him--so Lincoln said. He attended a negro-minstrel show in
Chicago, once, where he heard Dixie sung. It was entirely new,
and pleased him greatly.

An Eastern newspaper writer told how Lincoln, after his first
nomination, received callers, the majority of them at his law

"While talking to two or three gentlemen and standing up, a very
hard looking customer rolled in and tumbled into the only vacant
chair and the one lately occupied by Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln's
keen eye took in the fact, but gave no evidence of the notice.

"Turning around at last he spoke to the odd specimen, holding out
his hand at such a distance that our friend had to vacate the
chair if he accepted the proffered shake. Mr. Lincoln quietly
resumed his chair.

"It was a small matter, yet one giving proof more positively than
a larger event of that peculiar way the man has of mingling with
a mixed crowd."

Among the lawyers who traveled the circuit with Lincoln was Usher
F. Linder, whose daughter, Rose Linder Wilkinson, has left many
Lincoln reminiscences.

"One case in which Mr. Lincoln was interested concerned a member
of my own family," said Mrs. Wilkinson. "My brother, Dan, in the
heat of a quarrel, shot a young man named Ben Boyle and was
arrested. My father was seriously ill with inflammatory
rheumatism at the time, and could scarcely move hand or foot. He
certainly could not defend Dan. I was his secretary, and I
remember it was but a day or so after the shooting till letters
of sympathy began to pour in. In the first bundle which I picked
up there was a big letter, the handwriting on which I recognized
as that of Mr. Lincoln. The letter was very sympathetic.

"'I know how you feel, Linder,' it said. 'I can understand your
anger as a father, added to all the other sentiments. But may we
not be in a measure to blame? We have talked about the defense of
criminals before our children; about our success in defending
them; have left the impression that the greater the crime, the
greater the triumph of securing an acquittal. Dan knows your
success as a criminal lawyer, and he depends on you, little
knowing that of all cases you would be of least value in this.'

"He concluded by offering his services, an offer which touched my
father to tears.

"Mr. Lincoln tried to have Dan released on bail, but Ben Boyle's
family and friends declared the wounded man would die, and
feeling had grown so bitter that the judge would not grant any
bail. So the case was changed to Marshall county, but as Ben
finally recovered it was dismissed."

Lincoln at one time thought seriously of learning the
blacksmith's trade. He was without means, and felt the immediate
necessity of undertaking some business that would give him bread.
While entertaining this project an event occurred which, in his
undetermined state of mind, seemed to open a way to success in
another quarter.

Reuben Radford, keeper of a small store in the village of New
Salem, had incurred the displeasure of the "Clary Grove Boys,"
who exercised their "regulating" prerogatives by irregularly
breaking his windows. William G. Greene, a friend of young
Lincoln, riding by Radford's store soon afterward, was hailed by
him, and told that he intended to sell out. Mr. Greene went into
the store, and offered him at random $400 for his stock, which
offer was immediately accepted.

Lincoln "happened in" the next day, and being familiar with the
value of the goods, Mr. Greene proposed to him to take an
inventory of the stock, to see what sort of a bargain he had
made. This he did, and it was found that the goods were worth

Lincoln then made an offer of $125 for his bargain, with the
proposition that he and a man named Berry, as his partner, take
over Greene's notes given to Radford. Mr. Greene agreed to the
arrangement, but Radford declined it, except on condition that
Greene would be their security. Greene at last assented.

Lincoln was not afraid of the "Clary Grove Boys"; on the
contrary, they had been his most ardent friends since the time he
thrashed "Jack" Armstrong, champion bully of "The Grove"--but
their custom was not heavy.

The business soon became a wreck; Greene had to not only assist
in closing it up, but pay Radford's notes as well. Lincoln
afterwards spoke of these notes, which he finally made good to
Greene, as "the National Debt."

When Lincoln's sympathies were enlisted in any cause, he worked
like a giant to win. At one time (about 1855) he was in
attendance upon court at the little town of Clinton, Ill., and
one of the cases on the docket was where fifteen women from a
neighboring village were defendants, they having been indicted
for trespass. Their offense, as duly set forth in the indictment,
was that of swooping down upon one Tanner, the keeper of a saloon
in the village, and knocking in the heads of his barrels. Lincoln
was not employed in the case, but sat watching the trial as it

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