Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

"He then became serious and said: 'Well, let it go. I think the
Lord in His own good time and way will work this out all right.
God knows what is best.'

"These words he spoke with a sigh, and rather in a tone of
soliloquy, as if hardly noting my presence.

"Mr. Lincoln had another remarkable dream, which was repeated so
frequently during his occupancy of the White House that he came
to regard it is a welcome visitor. It was of a pleasing and
promising character, having nothing in it of the horrible.

"It was always an omen of a Union victory, and came with unerring
certainty just before every military or naval engagement where
our arms were crowned with success. In this dream he saw a ship
sailing away rapidly, badly damaged, and our victorious vessels
in close pursuit.

"He saw, also, the close of a battle on land, the enemy routed,
and our forces in possession of vantage ground of inestimable
importance. Mr. Lincoln stated it as a fact that he had this
dream just before the battles of Antietam, Gettysburg, and other
signal engagements throughout the War.

"The last time Mr. Lincoln had this dream was the night before
his assassination. On the morning of that lamentable day there
was a Cabinet meeting, at which General Grant was present. During
an interval of general discussion, the President asked General
Grant if he had any news from General Sherman, who was then
confronting Johnston. The reply was in the negative, but the
general added that he was in hourly expectation of a dispatch
announcing Johnston's surrender.

"Mr. Lincoln then, with great impressiveness, said, 'We shall
hear very soon, and the news will be important.'

"General Grant asked him why he thought so.

"'Because,' said Mr. Lincoln, 'I had a dream last night; and
ever since this War began I have had the same dream just before
every event of great national importance. It portends some
important event which will happen very soon.'

"On the night of the fateful 14th of April, 1865, Mrs. Lincoln's
first exclamation, after the President was shot, was, 'His dream
was prophetic!'

"Lincoln was a believer in certain phases of the supernatural.
Assured as he undoubtedly was by omens which, to his mind, were
conclusive, that he would rise to greatness and power, he was as
firmly convinced by the same tokens that he would be suddenly cut
off at the height of his career and the fullness of his fame. He
always believed that he would fall by the hand of an assassin.

"Mr. Lincoln had this further idea: Dreams, being natural
occurrences, in the strictest sense, he held that their best
interpreters are the common people; and this accounts, in great
measure, for the profound respect he always had for the
collective wisdom of plain people--'the children of Nature,' he
called them--touching matters belonging to the domain of
psychical mysteries. There was some basis of truth, he believed,
for whatever obtained general credence among these 'children of

"Concerning presentiments and dreams, Mr. Lincoln had a
philosophy of his own, which, strange as it may appear, was in
perfect harmony with his character in all other respects. He was
no dabbler in divination--astrology, horoscopy, prophecy, ghostly
lore, or witcheries of any sort.

As the time drew near at which Mr. Lincoln said he would issue
the Emancipation Proclamation, some clergymen, who feared the
President might change his mind, called on him to urge him to
keep his promise.

"We were ushered into the Cabinet room," says Dr. Sunderland. "It
was very dim, but one gas jet burning. As we entered, Mr. Lincoln
was standing at the farther end of the long table, which filled
the center of the room. As I stood by the door, I am so very
short, that I was obliged to look up to see the President. Mr.
Robbins introduced me, and I began at once by saying: 'I have
come, Mr. President, to anticipate the new year with my respects,
and if I may, to say to you a word about the serious condition of
this country.'

"'Go ahead, Doctor,' replied the President; 'every little
helps.' But I was too much in earnest to laugh at his sally at my

President Lincoln (at times) said he felt sure his life would end
with the War. A correspondent of a Boston paper had an interview
with him in July, 1864, and wrote regarding it:

"The President told me he was certain he should not outlast the
rebellion. As will be remembered, there was dissension then among
the Republican leaders. Many of his best friends had deserted
him, and were talking of an opposition convention to nominate
another candidate, and universal gloom was among the people.

"The North was tired of the War, and supposed an honorable peace
attainable. Mr. Lincoln knew it was not--that any peace at that
time would be only disunion. Speaking of it, he said: 'I have
faith in the people. They will not consent to disunion. The
danger is, they are misled. Let them know the truth, and the
country is safe.'

"He looked haggard and careworn; and further on in the interview
I remarked on his appearance, 'You are wearing yourself out with

"'I can't work less,' he answered; 'but it isn't that--work
never troubled me. Things look badly, and I can't avoid anxiety.
Personally, I care nothing about a re-election, but if our
divisions defeat us, I fear for the country.'

"When I suggested that right must eventually triumph, he replied,
'I grant that, but I may never live to see it. I feel a
presentiment that I shall not outlast the rebellion. When it is
over, my work will be done.'

"He never intimated, however, that he expected to be

Horace Greeley said, some time after the death of President

"After the Civil War began, Lincoln's tenacity of purpose
paralleled his former immobility; I believe he would have been
nearly the last, if not the very last, man in America to
recognize the Southern Confederacy had its armies been
triumphant. He would have preferred death."

London "Punch" was not satisfied with anything President Lincoln
did. On December 3rd, 1864, after Mr. Lincoln's re-election to
the Presidency, a cartoon appeared in one of the pages of that
genial publication, the reproduction being printed here, labeled
"The Federal Phoenix." It attracted great attention at the time,
and was particularly pleasing to the enemies of the United
States, as it showed Lincoln as the Phoenix arising from the
ashes of the Federal Constitution, the Public Credit, the Freedom
of the Press, State Rights and the Commerce of the North American

President Lincoln's endorsement by the people of the United
States meant that the Confederacy was to be crushed, no matter
what the cost; that the Union of States was to be preserved, and
that State Rights was a thing of the past. "Punch" wished to
create the impression that President Lincoln's re-election was a
personal victory; that he would set up a despotism, with himself
at its head, and trample upon the Constitution of the United
States and all the rights the citizens of the Republic ever

The result showed that "Punch" was suffering from an acute attack
of needless alarm.

Lincoln was particularly fascinated by the wonderful happenings
recorded in history. He loved to read of those mighty events
which had been foretold, and often brooded upon these subjects.
His early convictions upon occult matters led him to read all
books tending' to strengthen these convictions.

The following lines, in Byron's "Dream," were frequently quoted
by him:

"Sleep hath its own world,
A boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world
And a wide realm of wild reality.
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears and tortures, and the touch of joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight from off our waking toils,
They do divide our being."

Those with whom he was associated in his early youth and young
manhood, and with whom he was always in cordial sympathy, were
thorough believers in presentiments and dreams; and so Lincoln
drifted on through years of toil and exceptional hardship--
meditative, aspiring, certain of his star, but appalled at times
by its malignant aspect. Many times prior to his first election
to the Presidency he was both elated and alarmed by what seemed
to him a rent in the veil which hides from mortal view what the
future holds.

He saw, or thought he saw, a vision of glory and of blood,
himself the central figure in a scene which his fancy transformed
from giddy enchantment to the most appalling tragedy.

The suspense of the days when the capital was isolated, the
expected troops not arriving, and an hourly attack feared, wore
on Mr. Lincoln greatly.

"I begin to believe," he said bitterly, one day, to some
Massachusetts soldiers, "that there is no North. The Seventh
Regiment is a myth. Rhode Island is another. You are the only
real thing."

And again, after pacing the floor of his deserted office for a
half-hour, he was heard to exclaim to himself, in an anguished
tone: "Why don't they come! Why don't they come!"

Lincoln was not a man of impulse, and did nothing upon the spur
of the moment; action with him was the result of deliberation and
study. He took nothing for granted; he judged men by their
performances and not their speech.

If a general lost battles, Lincoln lost confidence in him; if a
commander was successful, Lincoln put him where he would be of
the most service to the country.

"Grant is a drunkard," asserted powerful and influential
politicians to the President at the White House time after time;
"he is not himself half the time; he can't be relied upon, and it
is a shame to have such a man in command of an army."

"So Grant gets drunk, does he?" queried Lincoln, addressing
himself to one of the particularly active detractors of the
soldier, who, at that period, was inflicting heavy damage upon
the Confederates.

"Yes, he does, and I can prove it," was the reply.

"Well," returned Lincoln, with the faintest suspicion of a
twinkle in his eye, "you needn't waste your time getting proof;
you just find out, to oblige me, what brand of whiskey Grant
drinks, because I want to send a barrel of it to each one of my

That ended the crusade against Grant, so far as the question of
drinking was concerned.

A New York firm applied to Abraham Lincoln, some years before he
became President, for information as to the financial standing of
one of his neighbors. Mr. Lincoln replied:

"I am well acquainted with Mr.-- and know his circumstances.
First of all, he has a wife and baby; together they ought to be
worth $50,000 to any man. Secondly, he has an office in which
there is a table worth $1.50 and three chairs worth, say, $1.
Last of all, there is in one corner a large rat hole, which will
bear looking into. Respectfully, A. Lincoln."

President Lincoln appointed as consul to a South American country
a young man from Ohio who was a dandy. A wag met the new
appointee on his way to the White House to thank the President.
He was dressed in the most extravagant style. The wag horrified
him by telling him that the country to which he was assigned was
noted chiefly for the bugs that abounded there and made life

"They'll bore a hole clean through you before a week has passed,"
was the comforting assurance of the wag as they parted at the
White House steps. The new consul approached Lincoln with
disappointment clearly written all over his face. Instead of
joyously thanking the President, he told him the wag's story of
the bugs. "I am informed, Mr. President," he said, "that the
place is full of vermin and that they could eat me up in a week's
time." "Well, young man," replied Lincoln, "if that's true, all
I've got to say is that if such a thing happened they would leave
a mighty good suit of clothes behind."

A. W. Swan, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, told this story on
Lincoln, being an eyewitness of the scene:

"One day President Lincoln was met in the park between the White
House and the War Department by an irate private soldier, who was
swearing in a high key, cursing the Government from the President
down. Mr. Lincoln paused and asked him what was the matter.
'Matter enough,' was the reply. 'I want my money. I have been
discharged here, and can't get my pay.' Mr. Lincoln asked if he
had his papers, saying that he used to practice law in a small
way, and possibly could help him.

"My friend and I stepped behind some convenient shrubbery where
we could watch the result. Mr. Lincoln took the papers from the
hands of the crippled soldier, and sat down with him at the foot
of a convenient tree, where he examined them carefully, and
writing a line on the back, told the soldier to take them to Mr.
Potts, Chief Clerk of the War Department, who would doubtless
attend to the matter at once.

"After Mr. Lincoln had left the soldier, we stepped out and asked
him if he knew whom he had been talking with. 'Some ugly old
fellow who pretends to be a lawyer,' was the reply. My companion
asked to see the papers, and on their being handed to him,
pointed to the indorsement they had received: This indorsement

"'Mr. Potts, attend to this man's case at once and see that he
gets his pay. A. L.'"

The following story illustrates the power of Mr. Lincoln's memory
of names and faces. When he was a comparatively young man, and a
candidate for the Illinois Legislature, he made a personal
canvass of the district. While "swinging around the circle" he
stopped one day and took dinner with a farmer in Sangamon county.

Years afterward, when Mr. Lincoln had become President, a soldier
came to call on him at the White House. At the first glance the
Chief Executive said: "Yes, I remember; you used to live on the
Danville road. I took dinner with you when I was running for the
Legislature. I recollect that we stood talking out at the
barnyard gate while I sharpened my jackknife."

"Y-a-a-s," drawled the soldier, "you did. But say, wherever did
you put that whetstone? I looked for it a dozen times, but I
never could find it after the day you used it. We allowed as how
mabby you took it 'long with you."

"No," said Lincoln, looking serious and pushing away a lot of
documents of state from the desk in front of him. "No, I put it
on top of that gatepost--that high one."

"Well!" exclaimed the visitor, "mabby you did. Couldn't anybody
else have put it there, and none of us ever thought of looking
there for it."

The soldier was then on his way home, and when he got there the
first thing he did was to look for the whetstone. And sure
enough, there it was, just where Lincoln had laid it fifteen
years before. The honest fellow wrote a letter to the Chief
Magistrate, telling him that the whetstone had been found, and
would never be lost again.

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