Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

In defending the ladies, their attorney seemed to evince a little
want of tact, and this prompted one of the former to invite Mr.
Lincoln to add a few words to the jury, if he thought he could
aid their cause. He was too gallant to refuse, and their attorney
having consented, he made use of the following argument:

“In this case I would change the order of indictment and have it
read The State vs. Mr. Whiskey, instead of The State vs. The
Ladies; and touching these there are three laws: the law of
self-protection; the law of the land, or statute law; and the
moral law, or law of God.

“First the law of self-protection is a law of necessity, as
evinced by our forefathers in casting the tea overboard and
asserting their right to the pursuit of life, liberty and
happiness: In this case it is the only defense the Ladies have,
for Tanner neither feared God nor regarded man.

“Second, the law of the land, or statute law, and Tanner is
recreant to both.

“Third, the moral law, or law of God, and this is probably a law
for the violation of which the jury can fix no punishment.”

Lincoln gave some of his own observations on the ruinous effects
of whiskey in society, and demanded its early suppression.

After he had concluded, the Court, without awaiting the return of
the jury, dismissed the ladies, saying:

“Ladies, go home. I will require no bond of you, and if any fine
is ever wanted of you, we will let you know.”

Frank W. Tracy, President of the First National Bank of
Springfield, tells a story illustrative of two traits in Mr.
Lincoln’s character. Shortly after the National banking law went
into effect the First National of Springield was chartered, and
Mr. Tracy wrote to Mr. Lincoln, with whom he was well acquainted
in a business way, and tendered him an opportunity to subscribe
for some of the stock.

In reply to the kindly offer Mr. Lincoln wrote, thanking Mr.
Tracy, but at the same time declining to subscribe. He said he
recognized that stock in a good National bank would be a good
thing to hold, but he did not feel that he ought, as President,
profit from a law which had been passed under his administration.

“He seemed to wish to avoid even the appearance of evil,” said
Mr. Tracy, in telling of the incident. “And so the act proved
both his unvarying probity and his unfailing policy.”

Lincoln wrote a letter on October 2d, 1862, in which he observed

“I sincerely wish war was a pleasanter and easier business than
it is, but it does not admit of holidays.”

Old John Bull got himself into a precious fine scrape when he
went so far as to “play double” with the North, as well as the
South, during the great American Civil War. In its issue of
November 14th, 1863, London “Punch” printed a rather clever
cartoon illustrating the predicament Bull had created for
himself. John is being lectured by Mrs. North and Mrs. South–
both good talkers and eminently able to hold their own in either
social conversation, parliamentary debate or political argument–
but he bears it with the best grace possible. This is the way the
text underneath the picture runs:

MRS. NORTH. “How about the Alabama, you wicked old man?” MRS.
SOUTH: “Where’s my rams? Take back your precious consols–
there!!” “Punch” had a good deal of fun with old John before it
was through with him, but, as the Confederate privateer Alabama
was sent beneath the waves of the ocean at Cherbourg by the
Kearsarge, and Mrs. South had no need for any more rams, John got
out of the difficulty without personal injury. It was a tight
squeeze, though, for Mrs. North was in a fighting humor, and
prepared to scratch or pull hair. The fact that the privateer
Alabama, built at an English shipyard and manned almost entirely
by English sailors, had managed to do about $10,000,000 worth of
damage to United States commerce, was enough to make any one

After the war was well on, a patriot woman of the West urged
President Lincoln to make hospitals at the North where the sick
from the Army of the Mississippi could revive in a more bracing
air. Among other reasons, she said, feelingly: “If you grant my
petition, you will be glad as long as you live.”

With a look of sadness impossible to describe, the President

“I shall never be glad any more.”

Lincoln always regarded himself as the friend and protector of
unfortunate clients, and such he would never press for pay for
his services. A client named Cogdal was unfortunate in business,
and gave a note in settlenent of legal fees. Soon afterward he
met with an accident by which he lost a hand. Meeting Lincoln
some time after on the steps of the State-House, the kind lawyer
asked him how he was getting along.

“Badly enough,” replied Cogdal; “I am both broken up in business
and crippled.” Then he added, “I have been thinking about that
note of yours.”

Lincoln, who had probably known all about Cogdal’s troubles, and
had prepared himself for the meeting, took out his pocket-book,
and saying, with a laugh, “Well, you needn’t think any more about
it,” handed him the note.

Cogdal protesting, Lincoln said, “Even if you had the money, I
would not take it,” and hurried away.

(Dispatch to General Grant, August 17th, 1864.)

“I have seen your dispatch expressing your unwillingness to break
your hold where you are. Neither am I willing.

“Hold on with a bulldog grip.”

As a student (if such a term could be applied to Lincoln), one
who did not know him might have called him indolent. He would
pick up a book and run rapidly over the pages, pausing here and

At the end of an hour–never more than two or three hours–he
would close the book, stretch himself out on the office lounge,
and then, with hands under his head and eyes shut, would digest
the mental food he had just taken.

War Governor Richard Yates (he was elected Governor of Illinois
in 1860, when Lincoln was first elected President) told a good
story at Springfield (Ill.) about Lincoln.

One day the latter was in the Sangamon River with his trousers
rolled up five feet–more or less–trying to pilot a flatboat
over a mill-dam. The boat was so full of water that it was hard
to manage. Lincoln got the prow over, and then, instead of
waiting to bail the water out, bored a hole through the
projecting part and let it run out, affording a forcible
illustration of the ready ingenuity of the future President.

The Martyr President thus spoke of Washington in the course of an

“Washington is the mightiest name on earth–long since the
mightiest in the cause of civil liberty, still mightiest in moral

“On that name a eulogy is expected. It cannot be.

“To add brightness to the sun or glory to the name of Washington
is alike impossible.

“Let none attempt it.

“In solemn awe pronounce the name, and, in its naked, deathless
splendor, leave it shining on.”

Lincoln’s influence upon his audiences was wonderful. He could
sway people at will, and nothing better illustrates his
extraordinary power than he manner in which he stirred up the
newspaper reporters by his Bloomingon speech.

Joseph Medill, editor of the Chicago Tribune, told the story:

“It was my journalistic duty, though a delegate to the
convention, to make a ‘longhand’ report of the speeches delivered
for the Tribune. I did make a few paragraphs of what Lincoln said
in the first eight or ten minutes, but I became so absorbed in
his magnetic oratory that I forgot myself and ceased to take
notes, and joined with the convention in cheering and stamping
and clapping to the end of his speech.

“I well remember that after Lincoln sat down and calm had
succeeded the tempest, I waked out of a sort of hypnotic trance,
and then thought of my report for the paper. There was nothing
written but an abbreviated introduction.

“It was some sort of satisfaction to find that I had not been
‘scooped,’ as all the newspaper men present had been equally
carried away by the excitement caused by the wonderful oration
and had made no report or sketch of the speech.”

When “Abe” was fourteen years of age, John Hanks journeyed from
Kentucky to Indiana and lived with the Lincolns. He described
“Abe’s” habits thus:

“When Lincoln and I returned to the house from work, he would go
to the cupboard, snatch a piece of corn-bread, take down a book,
sit down on a chair, cock his legs up as high as his head, and

“He and I worked barefooted, grubbed it, plowed, mowed, cradled
together; plowed corn, gathered it, and shucked corn. ‘Abe’ read
constantly when he had an opportunity.”

During the Harrison Presidential campaign of 1840, Lincoln said,
in a speech at Springfield, Illinois:

“Many free countries have lost their liberty, and ours may lose
hers; but if she shall, be it my proudest plume, not that I was
last to desert, but that I never deserted her.

“I know that the great volcano at Washington, aroused and
directed by the evil spirit that reigns there, is belching forth
the lava of political corruption in a current broad and deep,
which is sweeping with frightful velocity over the whole length
and breadth of the land, bidding fair to leave unscathed no green
spot or living thing.

“I cannot deny that all may be swept away. Broken by it, I, too,
may be; bow to it I never will.

“The possibility that we may fail in the struggle ought not to
deter us from the support of a cause which we believe to be just.
It shall never deter me.

“If ever I feel the soul within me elevate and expand to those
dimensions not wholly unworthy of its Almighty Architect, it is
when I contemplate the cause of my country, deserted by all the
world beside, and I standing up boldly alone, and hurling
defiance at her victorious oppressors.

“Here, without contemplating consequences, before heaven, and in
the face of the world, I swear eternal fidelity to the just
cause, as I deem it, of the land of my life, my liberty, and my
love; and who that thinks with me will not fearlessly adopt the
oath that I take?

“Let none falter who thinks he is right, and we may succeed.

“But if, after all, we shall fail, be it so; we have the proud
consolation of saying to our consciences, and to the departed
shade of our country’s freedom, that the cause approved of our
judgment, and, adorned of our hearts in disaster, in chains, in
death, we never faltered in defending.”

Lincoln could not rest for as instant under the consciousness
that, even unwittingly, he had defrauded anybody. On one
occasion, while clerking in Offutt’s store, at New Salem, he sold
a woman a little bale of goods, amounting, by the reckoning, to
$2.20. He received the money, and the woman went away.

On adding the items of the bill again to make himself sure of
correctness, he found that he had taken six and a quarter cents
too much.

It was night, and, closing and locking the store, he started out
on foot, a distance of two or three miles, for the house of his
defrauded customer, and, delivering to her the sum whose
possession had so much troubled him, went home satisfied.

On another occasion, just as he was closing the store for the
night, a wooman entered and asked for half a pound of tea. The
tea was weighed out and paid for, and the store was left for the

The next morning Lincoln, when about to begin the duties of the
day, discovered a four-ounce weight on the scales. He saw at once
that he had made a mistake, and, shutting the store, he took a
long walk before breakfast to deliver the remainder of the tea.

These are very humble incidents, but they illustrate the man’s
perfect conscientiousness–his sensitive honesty–better,
perhaps, than they would if they were of greater moment.

Leonard Swett, of Chicago, whose counsels were doubtless among
the most welcome to Lincoln, in summing up Lincoln’s character,

“From the commencement of his life to its close I have sometimes
doubted whether he ever asked anybody’s advice about anything. He
would listen to everybody; he would hear everybody; but he
rarely, if ever, asked for opinions.

“As a politician and as President he arrived at all his
conclusions from his own reflections, and when his conclusions
were once formed he never doubted but what they were right.

“One great public mistake of his (Lincoln’s) character, as
generally received and acquiesced in, is that he is considered by
the people of this country as a frank, guileless, and
unsophisticated man. There never was a greater mistake.

“Beneath a smooth surface of candor and apparent declaration of
all his thoughts and feelings he exercised the most exalted tact
and wisest discrimination. He handled and moved men remotely as
we do pieces upon a chess-board.

“He retained through life all the friends he ever had, and he
made the wrath of his enemies to praise him. This was not by
cunning or intrigue in the low acceptation of the term, but by
far-seeing reason and discernment. He always told only enough of
his plans and purposes to induce the belief that he had
communicated all; yet he reserved enough to have communicated

When the United States found that a war with Black Hawk could not
be dodged, Governor Reynolds, of Illinois, issued a call for
volunteers, and among the companies that immediately responded
was one from Menard county, Illinois. Many of these volunteers
were from New Salem and Clary’s Grove, and Lincoln, being out of
business, was the first to enlist.

The company being full, the men held a meeting at Richland for
the election of officers. Lincoln had won many hearts, and they
told him that he must be their captain. It was an office to which
he did not aspire, and for which he felt he had no special
fitness; but he finally consented to be a candidate.

There was but one other candidate, a Mr. Kirkpatrick, who was one
of the most influential men of the region. Previously,
Kirkpatrick had been an employer of Lincoln, and was so
overbearing in his treatment of the young man that the latter
left him.

The simple mode of electing a captain adopted by the company was
by placing the candidates apart, and telling the men to go and
stand with the one they preferred. Lincoln and his competitor
took their positions, and then the word was given. At least three
out of every four went to Lincoln at once.

When it was seen by those who had arranged themselves with the
other candidate that Lincoln was the choice of the majority of
the company, they left their places, one by one, and came over to
the successful side, until Lincoln’s opponent in the friendly
strife was left standing almost alone.

«- 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.