Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

"The lawyer who reads this singular entry will appreciate its
oddity if no one else does. After making it, one of the lawyers,
on recovering from his astonishment, ventured to enquire: 'Well,
Lincoln, how can we get this case up again?'

"Lincoln eyed him quizzically for a moment, and then answered,
'You have all been so mighty smart about this case, you can find
out how to take it up again yourselves."'

Mr. Lincoln, one day, was talking with the Rev. Dr. Sunderland
about the Emancipation Proclamation and the future of the negro.
Suddenly a ripple of amusement broke the solemn tone of his
voice. "As for the negroes, Doctor, and what is going to become
of them: I told Ben Wade the other day, that it made me think of
a story I read in one of my first books, 'Aesop's Fables.' It was
an old edition, and had curious rough wood cuts, one of which
showed three white men scrubbing a negro in a potash kettle
filled with cold water. The text explained that the men thought
that by scrubbing the negro they might make him white. Just about
the time they thought they were succeeding, he took cold and
died. Now, I am afraid that by the time we get through this War
the negro will catch cold and die."

Personal encounters were of frequent occurrence in Gentryville in
early days, and the prestige of having thrashed an opponent gave
the victor marked social distinction. Green B. Taylor, with whom
"Abe" worked the greater part of one winter on a farm, furnished
an account of the noted fight between John Johnston, "Abe's"
stepbrother, and William Grigsby, in which stirring drama "Abe"
himself played an important role before the curtain was rung

Taylor's father was the second for Johnston, and William Whitten
officiated in a similar capacity for Grigsby. "They had a
terrible fight," related Taylor, "and it soon became apparent
that Grigsby was too much for Lincoln's man, Johnston. After they
had fought a long time without interference, it having been
agreed not to break the ring, 'Abe' burst through, caught
Grigsby, threw him off and some feet away. There Grigsby stood,
proud as Lucifer, and, swinging a bottle of liquor over his head,
swore he was 'the big buck of the lick.'

"'If any one doubts it,' he shouted, 'he has only to come on and
whet his horns.'"

A general engagement followed this challenge, but at the end of
hostilities the field was cleared and the wounded retired amid
the exultant shouts of their victors.

Lincoln delivered a speech at a Republican banquet at Chicago,
December l0th, 1856, just after the Presidential campaign of that
year, in which he said:

"Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change
public opinion can change the government practically just so

"Public opinion, on any subject, always has a 'central idea,'
from which all its minor thoughts radiate.

"That 'central idea' in our political public opinion at the
beginning was, and until recently has continued to be, 'the
equality of man.'

"And although it has always submitted patiently to whatever of
inequality there seemed to be as a matter of actual necessity,
its constant working has been a steady progress toward the
practical equality of all men.

"Let everyone who really believes, and is resolved, that free
society is not and shall not be a failure, and who can
conscientiously declare that in the past contest he has done only
what he thought best--let every such one have charity to believe
that every other one can say as much.

"Thus, let bygones be bygones; let party differences as nothing
be, and with steady eye on the real issue, let us reinaugurate
the good old 'central ideas' of the Republic.

"We can do it. The human heart is with us; God is with us.

"We shall never be able to declare that 'all States as States are
equal,' nor yet that 'all citizens are equal,' but to renew the
broader, better declaration, including both these and much more,
that 'all men are created equal.'"

Up to the very last moment of the life of the Confederacy, the
London "Punch" had its fling at the United States. In a cartoon,
printed February 18th, 1865, labeled "The Threatening Notice,"
"Punch" intimates that Uncle Sam is in somewhat of a hurry to
serve notice on John Bull regarding the contentions in connection
with the northern border of the United States.

Lincoln, however, as attorney for his revered Uncle, advises
caution. Accordingly, he tells his Uncle, according to the text
under the picture

ATTORNEY LINCOLN: "Now, Uncle Sam, you're in a darned hurry to
serve this here notice on John Bull. Now, it's my duty, as your
attorney, to tell you that you may drive him to go over to that
cuss, Davis." (Uncle Sam considers.) In this instance, President
Lincoln is given credit for judgment and common sense, his advice
to his Uncle Sam to be prudent being sound. There was trouble all
along the Canadian border during the War, while Canada was the
refuge of Northern conspirators and Southern spies, who, at
times, crossed the line and inflicted great damage upon the
States bordering on it. The plot to seize the great lake cities--
Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo and others--was
figured out in Canada by the Southerners and Northern allies.
President Lincoln, in his message to Congress in December, 1864,
said the United States had given notice to England that, at the
end of six months, this country would, if necessary, increase its
naval armament upon the lakes. What Great Britain feared was the
abrogation by the United States of all treaties regarding Canada.
By previous stipulation, the United States and England were each
to have but one war vessel on the Great Lakes.

This story cannot be repeated in Lincoln's own language, although
he told it often enough to intimate friends; but, as it was never
taken down by a stenographer in the martyred President's exact
words, the reader must accept a simple narration of the strange

It was not long after the first nomination of Lincoln for the
Presidency, when he saw, or imagined he saw, the startling
apparition. One day, feeling weary, he threw himself upon a
lounge in one of the rooms of his house at Springfield to rest.
Opposite the lounge upon which he was lying was a large, long
mirror, and he could easily see the reflection of his form, full

Suddenly he saw, or imagined he saw, two Lincolns in the mirror,
each lying full length upon the lounge, but they differed
strangely in appearance. One was the natural Lincoln, full of
life, vigor, energy and strength; the other was a dead Lincoln,
the face white as marble, the limbs nerveless and lifeless, the
body inert and still.

Lincoln was so impressed with this vision, which he considered
merely an optical illusion, that he arose, put on his hat, and
went out for a walk. Returning to the house, he determined to
test the matter again--and the result was the same as before. He
distinctly saw the two Lincolns--one living and the other dead.

He said nothing to his wife about this, she being, at that time,
in a nervous condition, and apprehensive that some accident would
surely befall her husband. She was particularly fearful that he
might be the victim of an assassin. Lincoln always made light of
her fears, but yet he was never easy in his mind afterwards.

To more thoroughly test the so-called "optical illusion," and
prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, whether it was a mere
fanciful creation of the brain or a reflection upon the broad
face of the mirror which might be seen at any time, Lincoln made
frequent experiments. Each and every time the result was the
same. He could not get away from the two Lincolns--one living and
the other dead.

Lincoln never saw this forbidding reflection while in the White
House. Time after time he placed a couch in front of a mirror at
a distance from the glass where he could view his entire length
while lying down, but the looking-glass in the Executive Mansion
was faithful to its trust, and only the living Lincoln was

The late Ward Lamon, once a law partner of Lincoln, and Marshal
of the District of Columbia during his first administration,
tells, in his "Recollections of Abraham Lincoln," of the dreams
the President had--all foretelling death.

Lamon was Lincoln's most intimate friend, being, practically, his
bodyguard, and slept in the White House. In reference to
Lincoln's "death dreams," he says:

"How, it may be asked, could he make life tolerable, burdened as
he was with that portentous horror, which, though visionary, and
of trifling import in our eyes, was by his interpretation a
premonition of impending doom? I answer in a word: His sense of
duty to his country; his belief that 'the inevitable' is right;
and his innate and irrepressible humor.

"But the most startling incident in the life of Mr. Lincoln was a
dream he had only a few days before his assassination. To him it
was a thing of deadly import, and certainly no vision was ever
fashioned more exactly like a dread reality. Coupled with other
dreams, with the mirror-scene and with other incidents, there was
something about it so amazingly real, so true to the actual
tragedy which occurred soon after, that more than mortal strength
and wisdom would have been required to let it pass without a
shudder or a pang.

"After worrying over it for some days, Mr. Lincoln seemed no
longer able to keep the secret. I give it as nearly in his own
words as I can, from notes which I made immediately after its
recital. There were only two or three persons present.

"The President was in a melancholy, meditative mood, and had been
silent for some time. Mrs. Lincoln, who was present, rallied him
on his solemn visage and want of spirit. This seemed to arouse
him, and, without seeming to notice her sally, he said, in slow
and measured tones:

"'It seems strange how much there is in the Bible about dreams.
There are, I think, some sixteen chapters in the Old Testament
and four or five in the New, in which dreams are mentioned; and
there are many other passages scattered throughout the book which
refer to visions. In the old days, God and His angels came to men
in their sleep and made themselves known in dreams.'

"Mrs. Lincoln here remarked, 'Why, you look dreadfully solemn; do
you believe in dreams?'

"'I can't say that I do,' returned Mr. Lincoln; 'but I had one
the other night which has haunted me ever since. After it
occurred the first time, I opened the Bible, and, strange as it
may appear, it was at the twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis, which
relates the wonderful dream Jacob had. I turned to other
passages, and seemed to encounter a dream or a vision wherever I
looked. I kept on turning the leaves of the old book, and
everywhere my eyes fell upon passages recording matters strangely
in keeping with my own thoughts--supernatural visitations,
dreams, visions, etc.'

"He now looked so serious and disturbed that Mrs. Lincoln
exclaimed 'You frighten me! What is the matter?'

"'I am afraid,' said Mr. Lincoln, observing the effect his words
had upon his wife, 'that I have done wrong to mention the subject
at all; but somehow the thing has got possession of me, and, like
Banquo's ghost, it will not down.'

"This only inflamed Mrs. Lincoln's curiosity the more, and while
bravely disclaiming any belief in dreams, she strongly urged him
to tell the dream which seemed to have such a hold upon him,
being seconded in this by another listener. Mr. Lincoln
hesitated, but at length commenced very deliberately, his brow
overcast with a shade of melancholy.

"'About ten days ago,' said he, 'I retired very late. I had been
up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not
have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was
weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a deathlike
stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of
people were weeping.

"'I thought I left my bed and wandered down-stairs. There the
silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners
were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in
sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I
passed along. It was light in all the rooms; every object was
familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving
as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What
could be the meaning of all this?

"'Determined to find the cause of a state of things so
mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East
Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise.
Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in
funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were
acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing
mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others
weeping pitifully.

"'"Who is dead in the White House?" I demanded of one of the

"'"The President," was his answer; "he was killed by an

"'Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awoke me
from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was
only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.'

"'That is horrid!' said Mrs. Lincoln. 'I wish you had not told
it. I am glad I don't believe in dreams, or I should be in terror
from this time forth.'

"'Well,' responded Mr. Lincoln, thoughtfully, 'it is only a
dream, Mary. Let us say no more about it, and try to forget it.'

"This dream was so horrible, so real, and so in keeping with
other dreams and threatening presentiments of his, that Mr.
Lincoln was profoundly disturbed by it. During its recital he was
grave, gloomy, and at times visibly pale, but perfectly calm. He
spoke slowly, with measured accents and deep feeling.

"In conversations with me, he referred to it afterwards, closing
one with this quotation from 'Hamlet': 'To sleep; perchance to
dream! ay, there's the rub!' with a strong accent upon the last
three words.

"Once the President alluded to this terrible dream with some show
of playful humor. 'Hill,' said he, 'your apprehension of harm to
me from some hidden enemy is downright foolishness. For a long
time you have been trying to keep somebody-the Lord knows who--
from killing me.

"'Don't you see how it will turn out? In this dream it was not
me, but some other fellow, that was killed. It seems that this
ghostly assassin tried his hand on some one else. And this
reminds me of an old farmer in Illinois whose family were made
sick by eating greens.

"'Some poisonous herb had got into the mess, and members of the
family were in danger of dying. There was a half-witted boy in
the family called Jake; and always afterward when they had greens
the old man would say, "Now, afore we risk these greens, let's
try 'em on Jake. If he stands 'em we're all right." Just so with
me. As long as this imaginary assassin continues to exercise
himself on others, I can stand it.'

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