Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

“I felt badly to see him cut so,” says a witness of the scene.

Here was an opportunity for revenge. The humble laborer was his
employer’s captain, but the opportunity was never improved. Mr.
Lincoln frequently confessed that no subsequent success of his
life had given him half the satisfaction that this election did.

In one of his many stories of Lincoln, his law partner, W. H.
Herndon, told this as illustrating Lincoln’s shrewdness as a

“I was with Lincoln once and listened to an oral argument by him
in which he rehearsed an extended history of the law. It was a
carefully prepared and masterly discourse, but, as I thought,
entirely useless. After he was through and we were walking home,
I asked him why he went so far back in the history of the law. I
presumed the court knew enough history.

“‘That’s where you’re mistaken,’ was his instant rejoinder. ‘I
dared not just the case on the presumption that the court knows
everything–in fact I argued it on the presumption that the court
didn’t know anything,’ a statement, which, when one reviews the
decision of our appellate courts, is not so extravagant as one
would at first suppose.”

One day Thaddeus Stevens called at the White House with an
elderly woman, whose son had been in the army, but for some
offense had been court-martialed and sentenced to death. There
were some extenuating circumstances, and after a full hearing the
President turned to Stevens and said: “Mr. Stevens, do you think
this is a case which will warrant my interference?”

“With my knowledge of the facts and the parties,” was the reply,
“I should have no hesitation in granting a pardon.”

“Then,” returned Mr. Lincoln, “I will pardon him,” and proceeded
forthwith to execute the paper.

The gratitude of the mother was too deep for expression, save by
her tears, and not a word was said between her and Stevens until
they were half way down the stairs on their passage out, when she
suddenly broke forth in an excited manner with the words:

“I knew it was a copperhead lie!”

“What do you refer to, madam?” asked Stevens.

“Why, they told me he was an ugly-looking man,” she replied, with
vehemence. “He is the handsomest man I ever saw in my life.”

“Lincoln’s Last Warning” was the title of a cartoon which
appeared in “Harper’s Weekly,” on October 11, 1862. Under the
picture was the text:

“Now if you don’t come down I’ll cut the tree from under you.”

This illustration was peculiarly apt, as, on the 1st of January,
1863, President Lincoln issued his great Emancipation
Proclamation, declaring all slaves in the United States forever
free. “Old Abe” was a handy man with the axe, he having split
many thousands of rails with its keen edge. As the “Slavery Coon”
wouldn’t heed the warning, Lincoln did cut the tree from under
him, and so he came down to the ground with a heavy thump.

This Act of Emancipation put an end to the notion of the Southern
slave holders that involuntary servitude was one of the “sacred
institutions” on the Continent of North America. It also
demonstrated that Lincoln was thoroughly in earnest when he
declared that he would not only save the Union, but that he meant
what he said in the speech wherein he asserted, “This Nation
cannot exist half slave and half free.”

At fifteen years of age “Abe” wrote “pieces,” or compositions,
and even some doggerel rhyme, which he recited, to the great
amusement of his playmates.

One of his first compositions was against cruelty to animals. He
was very much annoyed and pained at the conduct of the boys, who
were in the habit of catching terrapins and putting coals of fire
on their backs, which thoroughly disgusted Abraham.

“He would chide us,” said “Nat” Grigsby, “tell us it was wrong,
and would write against it.”

When eighteen years old, “Abe” wrote a “piece” on “National
Politics,” and it so pleased a lawyer friend, named Pritchard,
that the latter had it printed in an obscure paper, thereby
adding much to the author’s pride. “Abe” did not conceal his
satisfaction. In this “piece” he wrote, among other things:

“The American government is the best form of government for an
intelligent people. It ought to be kept sound, and preserved
forever, that general education should be fostered and carried
all over the country; that the Constitution should be saved, the
Union perpetuated and the laws revered, respected and enforced.”

John A. Logan and a friend of Illinois called upon Lincoln at
Willard’s Hotel, Washington, February 23d, the morning of his
arrival, and urged a vigorous, firm policy.

Patiently listening, Lincoln replied seriously but cheerfully:

“As the country has placed me at the helm of the ship, I’ll try
to steer her through.”

Lincoln was a marked and peculiar young man. People talked about
him. His studious habits, his greed for information, his thorough
mastery of the difficulties of every new position in which he was
placed, his intelligence on all matters of public concern, his
unwearying good-nature, his skill in telling a story, his great
athletic power, his quaint, odd ways, his uncouth appearance–all
tended to bring him in sharp contrast with the dull mediocrity by
which he was surrounded.

Denton Offutt, his old employer, said, after having had a
conversation with Lincoln, that the young man “had talent enough
in him to make a President.”

When Lincoln was on his way to the National Cemetery at
Gettysburg, an old gentleman told him that his only son fell on
Little Round Top at Gettysburg, and he was going to look at the
spot. Mr. Lincoln replied: “You have been called on to make a
terrible sacrifice for the Union, and a visit to that spot, I
fear, will open your wounds afresh.

“But, oh, my dear sir, if we had reached the end of such
sacrifices, and had nothing left for us to do but to place
garlands on the graves of those who have already fallen, we could
give thanks even amidst our tears; but when I think of the
sacrifices of life yet to be offered, and the hearts and homes
yet to be made desolate before this dreadful war is over, my
heart is like lead within me, and I feel at times like hiding in
deep darkness.” At one of the stopping places of the train, a
very beautiful child, having a bunch of rosebuds in her hand, was
lifted up to an open window of the President’s car. “Floweth for
the President.” The President stepped to the window, took the
rosebuds, bent down and kissed the child, saying, “You are a
sweet little rosebud yourself. I hope your life will open into
perpetual beauty and goodness.”

There was a rough gallantry among the young people; and Lincoln’s
old comrades and friends in Indiana have left many tales of how
he “went to see the girls,” of how he brought in the biggest
back-log and made the brightest fire; of how the young people,
sitting around it, watching the way the sparks flew, told their

He helped pare apples, shell corn and crack nuts. He took the
girls to meeting and to spelling school, though he was not often
allowed to take part in the spelling-match, for the one who
“chose first” always chose “Abe” Lincoln, and that was equivalent
to winning, as the others knew that “he would stand up the

A lady reader or elocutionist came to Springfield in 1857. A
large crowd greeted her. Among other things she recited “Nothing
to Wear,” a piece in which is described the perplexities that
beset “Miss Flora McFlimsy” in her efforts to appear fashionable.

In the midst of one stanza in which no effort is made to say
anything particularly amusing, and during the reading of which
the audience manifested the most respectful silence and
attention, some one in the rear seats burst out with a loud,
coarse laugh, a sudden and explosive guffaw.

It startled the speaker and audience, and kindled a storm of
unsuppressed laughter and applause. Everybody looked back to
ascertain the cause of the demonstration, and were greatly
surprised to find that it was Mr. Lincoln.

He blushed and squirmed with the awkward diffidence of a
schoolboy. What caused him to laugh, no one was able to explain.
He was doubtless wrapped up in a brown study, and recalling some
amusing episode, indulged in laughter without realizing his
surroundings. The experience mortified him greatly.

Soon after Mr. Lincoln began to practice law at Springfield, he
was engaged in a criminal case in which it was thought there was
little chance of success. Throwing all his powers into it, he
came off victorious, and promptly received for his services five
hundred dollars. A legal friend, calling upon him the next
morning, found him sitting before a table, upon which his money
was spread out, counting it over and over.

“Look here, Judge,” said he. “See what a heap of money I’ve got
from this case. Did you ever see anything like it? Why, I never
had so much money in my life before, put it all together.” Then,
crossing his arms upon the table, his manner sobering down, he
added: “I have got just five hundred dollars; if it were only
seven hundred and fifty, I would go directly and purchase a
quarter section of land, and settle it upon my old step-mother.”

His friend said that if the deficiency was all he needed, he
would loan him the amount, taking his note, to which Mr. Lincoln
instantly acceded.

His friend then said:

“Lincoln, I would do just what you have indicated. Your
step-mother is getting old, and will not probably live many
years. I would settle the property upon her for her use during
her lifetime, to revert to you upon her death.”

With much feeling, Mr. Lincoln replied:

“I shall do no such thing. It is a poor return at best for all
the good woman’s devotion and fidelity to me, and there is not
going to be any halfway business about it.” And so saying, he
gathered up his money and proceeded forthwith to carry his
long-cherished purpose into execution.

Lincoln believed in preventing unnecessary litigation, and
carried out this in his practice. “Who was your guardian?” he
asked a young man who came to him to complain that a part of the
property left him had been withheld. “Enoch Kingsbury,” replied
the young man.

“I know Mr. Kingsbury,” said Lincoln, “and he is not the man to
have cheated you out of a cent, and I can’t take the case, and
advise you to drop the subject.”

And it was dropped.

Edwin M. Stanton was one of the attorneys in the great “reaper
patent” case heard in Cincinnati in 1855, Lincoln also having
been retained. The latter was rather anxious to deliver the
argument on the general propositions of law applicable to the
case, but it being decided to have Mr. Stanton do this, the
Westerner made no complaint.

Speaking of Stanton’s argument and the view Lincoln took of it,
Ralph Emerson, a young lawyer who was present at the trial, said:

“The final summing up on our side was by Mr. Stanton, and though
he took but about three hours in its delivery, he had devoted as
many, if not more, weeks to its preparation. It was very able,
and Mr. Lincoln was throughout the whole of it a rapt listener.
Mr. Stanton closed his speech in a flight of impassioned

“Then the court adjourned for the day, and Mr. Lincoln invited me
to take a long walk with him. For block after block he walked
rapidly forward, not saying a word, evidently deeply dejected.

“At last he turned suddenly to me, exclaiming, ‘Emerson, I am
going home.’ A pause. ‘I am going home to study law.’

“‘Why,’ I exclaimed, ‘Mr. Lincoln, you stand at the head of the
bar in llinois now! What are you talking about?’

“‘Ah, yes,’ he said, ‘I do occupy a good position there, and I
think that I can get along with the way things are done there
now. But these college-trained men, who have devoted their whole
lives to study, are coming West, don’t you see? And they study
their cases as we never do. They have got as far as Cincinnati
now. They will soon be in Illinois.’

“Another long pause; then stopping and turning toward me, his
countenance suddenly assuming that look of strong determination
which those who knew him best sometimes saw upon his face, he
exclaimed, ‘I am going home to study law! I am as good as any, of
them, and when they get out to Illinois, I will be ready for

The cartoon given here in facsimile was one of the posters which
decorated the picturesque Presidential campaign of 1864, and
assisted in making the period previous to the vote-casting a
lively and memorable one. This poster was a lithograph, and, as
the title, “The Rail-Splitter at Work Repairing the Union,” would
indicate, the President is using the Vice-Presidential candidate
on the Republican National ticket (Andrew Johnson) as an aid in
the work. Johnson was, in early life, a tailor, and he is
pictured as busily engaged in sewing up the rents made in the map
of the Union by the secessionists.

Both men are thoroughly in earnest, and, as history relates, the
torn places in the Union map were stitched together so nicely
that no one could have told, by mere observation, that a tear had
ever been made. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln upon the
assassination of the latter, was a remarkable man. Born in North
Carolina, he removed to Tennessee when young, was Congressman,
Governor, and United States Senator, being made military Governor
of his State in 1862. A strong, stanch Union man, he was
nominated for the Vice-Presidency on the Lincoln ticket to
conciliate the War Democrats. After serving out his term as
President, he was again elected United States Senator from
Tennessee, but died shortly after taking his seat. But he was
just the sort of a man to assist “Uncle Abe” in sewing up the
torn places in the Union map, and as military Governor of
Tennessee was a powerful factor in winning friends in the South
to the Union cause.

“Several of us lawyers,” remarked one of his colleagues, “in the
eastern end of the circuit, annoyed Lincoln once while he was
holding court for Davis by attempting to defend against a note to
which there were many makers. We had no legal, but a good moral
defense, but what we wanted most of all was to stave it off till
the next term of court by one expedient or another.

“We bothered ‘the court’ about it till late on Saturday, the day
of adjournment. He adjourned for supper with nothing left but
this case to dispose of. After supper he heard our twaddle for
nearly an hour, and then made this odd entry.

“‘L. D. Chaddon vs. J. D. Beasley et al. April Term, 1856.
Champaign county Court. Plea in abatement by B. Z. Green, a
defendant not served, filed Saturday at 11 o’clock a. m., April
24, 1856, stricken from the files by order of court. Demurrer to
declaration, if there ever was one, overruled. Defendants who are
served now, at 8 o’clock p. m., of the last day of the term, ask
to plead to the merits, which is denied by the court on the
ground that the offer comes too late, and therefore, as by nil
dicet, judgment is rendered for Pl’ff. Clerk assess damages. A.
Lincoln, Judge pro tem.’

«- 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.