Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

Mr. Lincoln told his Illinois friend of the visit of a delegation
to him who claimed to have a message from God that the War would
not be successful without the freeing of the negroes, to whom Mr.
Lincoln replied: "Is it not a little strange that He should tell
this to you, who have so little to do with it, and should not
have told me, who has a great deal to do with it?"

At the same time he informed Professor Turner he had his
Proclamation in his pocket.

A writer who heard Mr. Lincoln's famous speech delivered in New
York after his nomination for President has left this record of
the event:

"When Lincoln rose to speak, I was greatly disappointed. He was
tall, tall, oh, so tall, and so angular and awkward that I had
for an instant a feeling of pity for so ungainly a man. He began
in a low tone of voice, as if he were used to speaking out of
doors and was afraid of speaking too loud.

"He said 'Mr. Cheerman,' instead of 'Mr. Chairman,' and employed
many other words with an old-fashioned pronunciation. I said to
myself, 'Old fellow, you won't do; it is all very well for the
Wild West, but this will never go down in New York.' But pretty
soon he began to get into the subject; he straightened up, made
regular and graceful gestures; his face lighted as with an inward
fire; the whole man was transfigured.

"I forgot the clothing, his personal appearance, and his
individual peculiarities. Presently, forgetting myself, I was on
my feet with the rest, yelling like a wild Indian, cheering the
wonderful man. In the close parts of his argument you could hear
the gentle sizzling of the gas burners.

"When he reached a climax the thunders of applause were terrific.
It was a great speech. When I came out of the hall my face was
glowing with excitement and my frame all a-quiver. A friend, with
his eyes aglow, asked me what I thought of 'Abe' Lincoln, the
rail-splitter. I said, 'He's the greatest man since St. Paul.'
And I think so yet."

President Lincoln one day noticed a small, pale, delicate-looking
boy, about thirteen years old, among the number in the White
House antechamber.

The President saw him standing there, looking so feeble and
faint, and said: "Come here, my boy, and tell me what you want."

The boy advanced, placed his hand on the arm of the President's
chair, and, with a bowed head and timid accents, said: "Mr.
President, I have been a drummer boy in a regiment for two years,
and my colonel got angry with me and turned me off. I was taken
sick and have been a long time in the hospital."

The President discovered that the boy had no home, no father--he
had died in the army--no mother.

"I have no father, no mother, no brothers, no sisters, and,"
bursting into tears, "no friends--nobody cares for me."

Lincoln's eyes filled with tears, and the boy's heart was soon
made glad by a request to certain officials "to care for this
poor boy."

One of the most noted murder cases in which Lincoln defended the
accused was tried in August, 1859. The victim, Crafton, was a
student in his own law office, the defendant, "Peachy" Harrison,
was a grandson of Rev. Peter Cartwright; both were connected with
the best families in the county; they were brothers-in-law, and
had always been friends.

Senator John M. Palmer and General John A. McClelland were on the
side of the prosecution. Among those who represented the
defendant were Lincoln and Senator Shelby M. Cullom. The two
young men had engaged in a political quarrel, and Crafton was
stabbed to death by Harrison. The tragic pathos of a case which
involved the deepest affections of almost an entire community
reached its climax in the appearance in court of the venerable
Peter Cartwright. Lincoln had beaten him for Congress in 1846.

Eccentric and aggressive as he was, he was honored far and wide;
and when he arose to take the witness stand, his white hair
crowned with this cruel sorrow, the most indifferent spectator
felt that his examination would be unbearable.

It fell to Lincoln to question Cartwright. With the rarest
gentleness he began to put his questions.

"How long have you known the prisoner?"

Cartwright's head dropped on his breast for a moment; then
straightening himself, he passed his hand across his eyes and
answered in a deep, quavering voice:

"I have known him since a babe, he laughed and cried on my knee."

The examination ended by Lincoln drawing from the witness the
story of how Crafton had said to him, just before his death: "I
am dying; I will soon part with all I love on earth, and I want
you to say to my slayer that I forgive him. I want to leave this
earth with a forgiveness of all who have in any way injured me."

This examination made a profound impression on the jury. Lincoln
closed his argument by picturing the scene anew, appealing to the
jury to practice the same forgiving spirit that the murdered man
had shown on his death-bed. It was undoubtedly to his handling of
the grandfather's evidence that Harrison's acquittal was due.

During the War Congress appropriated $10,000 to be expended by
the President in defending United States Marshals in cases of
arrests and seizures where the legality of their actions was
tested in the courts. Previously the Marshals sought the
assistance of the Attorney-General in defending them, but when
they found that the President had a fund for that purpose they
sought to control the money.

In speaking of these Marshals one day, Mr. Lincoln said:

"They are like a man in Illinois, whose cabin was burned down,
and, according to the kindly custom of early days in the West,
his neighbors all contributed something to start him again. In
his case they had been so liberal that he soon found himself
better off than before the fire, and he got proud. One day a
neighbor brought him a bag of oats, but the fellow refused it
with scorn.

"'No,' said he, 'I'm not taking oats now. I take nothing but

The resistance to the military draft of 1863 by the City of New
York, the result of which was the killing of several thousand
persons, was illustrated on August 29th, 1863, by "Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Newspaper," over the title of "The Naughty Boy,
Gotham, Who Would Not Take the Draft." Beneath was also the text:

MAMMY LINCOLN: "There now, you bad boy, acting that way, when
your little sister Penn (State of Pennsylvania) takes hers like a

Horatio Seymour was then Governor of New York, and a prominent
"the War is a failure" advocate. He was in Albany, the State
capital, when the riots broke out in the City of New York, July
13th, and after the mob had burned the Colored Orphan Asylum and
killed several hundred negroes, came to the city. He had only
soft words for the rioters, promising them that the draft should
be suspended. Then the Government sent several regiments of
veterans, fresh from the field of Gettysburg, where they had
assisted in defeating Lee. These troops made short work of the
brutal ruffians, shooting down three thousand or so of them, and
the rioting was subdued. The "Naughty Boy Gotham" had to take his
medicine, after all, but as the spirit of opposition to the War
was still rampant, the President issued a proclamation suspending
the writ of habeas corpus in all the States of the Union where
the Government had control. This had a quieting effect upon those
who were doing what they could in obstructing the Government.

Mr. Lincoln had advised Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott,
commanding the United States Army, of the threats of violence on
inauguration day, 1861. General Scott was sick in bed at
Washington when Adjutant-General Thomas Mather, of Illinois,
called upon him in President-elect Lincoln's behalf, and the
veteran commander was much wrought up. Said he to General Mather:

"Present my compliments to Mr. Lincoln when you return to
Springfield, and tell him I expect him to come on to Washington
as soon as he is ready; say to him that I will look after those
Maryland and Virginia rangers myself. I will plant cannon at both
ends of Pennsylvania avenue, and if any of them show their heads
or raise a finger, I'll blow them to h---."

One day, when the President was with the troops who were fighting
at the front, the wounded, both Union and Confederate, began to
pour in.

As one stretcher was passing Lincoln, he heard the voice of a lad
calling to his mother in agonizing tones. His great heart filled.
He forgot the crisis of the hour. Stopping the carriers, he
knelt, and bending over him, asked: "What can I do for you, my
poor child?"

"Oh, you will do nothing for me," he replied. "You are a Yankee.
I cannot hope that my message to my mother will ever reach her."

Lincoln, in tears, his voice full of tenderest love, convinced
the boy of his sincerity, and he gave his good-bye words without

The President directed them copied, and ordered that they be sent
that night, with a flag of truce, into the enemy's lines.

When Mr. Lincoln made his famous humorous speech in Congress
ridiculing General Cass, he began to speak from notes, but, as he
warmed up, he left his desk and his notes, to stride down the
alley toward the Speaker's chair.

Occasionally, as he would complete a sentence amid shouts of
laughter, he would return up the alley to his desk, consult his
notes, take a sip of water and start off again.

Mr. Lincoln received many congratulations at the close, Democrats
joining the Whigs in their complimentary comments.

One Democrat, however (who had been nicknamed "Sausage" Sawyer),
didn't enthuse at all.

"Sawyer," asked an Eastern Representative, "how did you like the
lanky Illinoisan's speech? Very able, wasn't it?"

"Well," replied Sawyer, "the speech was pretty good, but I hope
he won't charge mileage on his travels while delivering it."

The Virginia (Ill.) Enquirer, of March 1, 1879, tells this story:

"John McNamer was buried last Sunday, near Petersburg, Menard
county. A long while ago he was Assessor and Treasurer of the
County for several successive terms. Mr. McNamer was an early
settler in that section, and, before the town of Petersburg was
laid out, in business in Old Salem, a village that existed many
years ago two miles south of the present site of Petersburg.

"'Abe' Lincoln was then postmaster of the place and sold whisky
to its inhabitants. There are old-timers yet living in Menard who
bought many a jug of corn-juice from 'Old Abe' when he lived at
Salem. It was here that Anne Rutledge dwelt, and in whose grave
Lincoln wrote that his heart was buried.

"As the story runs, the fair and gentle Anne was originally John
McNamer's sweetheart, but 'Abe' took a 'shine' to the young lady,
and succeeded in heading off McNamer and won her affections. But
Anne Rutledge died, and Lincoln went to Springfield, where he
some time afterwards married.

"It is related that during the War a lady belonging to a
prominent Kentucky family visited Washington to beg for her son's
pardon, who was then in prison under sentence of death for
belonging to a band of guerrillas who had committed many murders
and outrages.

"With the mother was her daughter, a beautiful young lady, who
was an accomplished musician. Mr. Lincoln received the visitors
in his usual kind manner, and the mother made known the object of
her visit, accompanying her plea with tears and sobs and all the
customary romantic incidents.

"There were probably extenuating circumstances in favor of the
young rebel prisoner, and while the President seemed to be deeply
pondering the young lady moved to a piano near by and taking a
seat commenced to sing 'Gentle Annie,' a very sweet and pathetic
ballad which, before the War, was a familiar song in almost every
household in the Union, and is not yet entirely forgotten, for
that matter.

"It is to be presumed that the young lady sang the song with more
plaintiveness and effect than 'Old Abe' had ever heard it in
Springfield. During its rendition, he arose from his seat,
crossed the room to a window in the westward, through which he
gazed for several minutes with a 'sad, far-away look,' which has
so often been noted as one of his peculiarities.

"His memory, no doubt, went back to the days of his humble life
on the Sangamon, and with visions of Old Salem and its rustic
people, who once gathered in his primitive store, came a picture
of the 'Gentle Annie' of his youth, whose ashes had rested for
many long years under the wild flowers and brambles of the old
rural burying-ground, but whose spirit then, perhaps, guided him
to the side of mercy.

"Be that as it may, President Lincoln drew a large red silk
handkerchief from his coatpocket, with which he wiped his face
vigorously. Then he turned, advanced quickly to his desk, wrote a
brief note, which he handed to the lady, and informed her that it
was the pardon she sought.

"The scene was no doubt touching in a great degree and proves
that a nice song, well sung, has often a powerful influence in
recalling tender recollections. It proves, also, that Abraham
Lincoln was a man of fine feelings, and that, if the occurrence
was a put-up job on the lady's part, it accomplished the purpose
all the same."

Lincoln made a political speech at Pappsville, Illinois, when a
candidate for the Legislature the first time. A free-for-all
fight began soon after the opening of the meeting, and Lincoln,
noticing one of his friends about to succumb to the energetic
attack of an infuriated ruffian, edged his way through the crowd,
and, seizing the bully by the neck and the seat of his trousers,
threw him, by means of his strength and long arms, as one witness
stoutly insists, "twelve feet away." Returning to the stand, and
throwing aside his hat, he inaugurated his campaign with the
following brief but pertinent declaration

"Fellow-citizens, I presume you all know who I am. I am humble
Abraham Lincoln. I have been solicited by many friends to become
a candidate for the Legislature. My politics are short and sweet,
like the old woman's dance. I am in favor of the national bank; I
am in favor of the internal improvement system and a high
protective tariff. These are my sentiments; if elected, I shall
be thankful; if not, it will be all the same."

One day, when President Lincoln was alone and busily engaged on
an important subject, involving vexation and anxiety, he was
disturbed by the unwarranted intrusion of three men, who, without
apology, proceeded to lay their claim before him.

The spokesman of the three reminded the President that they were
the owners of some torpedo or other warlike invention which, if
the government would only adopt it, would soon crush the

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