Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

"Now," said the spokesman, "we have been here to see you time and
again; you have referred us to the Secretary of War, the Chief of
Ordnance, and the General of the Army, and they give us no
satisfaction. We have been kept here waiting, till money and
patience are exhausted, and we now come to demand of you a final
reply to our application."

Mr. Lincoln listened to this insolent tirade, and at its close
the old twinkle came into his eye.

"You three gentlemen remind me of a story I once heard," said he,
"of a poor little boy out West who had lost his mother. His
father wanted to give him a religious education, and so placed
him in the family of a clergyman, whom he directed to instruct
the little fellow carefully in the Scriptures. Every day the boy
had to commit to memory and recite one chapter of the Bible.
Things proceeded smoothly until they reached that chapter which
details the story of the trial of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
in the fiery furnace. When asked to repeat these three names the
boy said he had forgotten them.

"His teacher told him that he must learn them, and gave him
another day to do so. The next day the boy again forgot them.

"'Now,' said the teacher, 'you have again failed to remember
those names and you can go no farther until you have learned
them. I will give you another day on this lesson, and if you
don't repeat the names I will punish you.'

"A third time the boy came to recite, and got down to the
stumbling block, when the clergyman said: 'Now tell me the names
of the men in the fiery furnace.'

"'Oh,' said the boy, 'here come those three infernal bores! I
wish the devil had them!'"

Having received their "final answer," the three patriots retired,
and at the Cabinet meeting which followed, the President, in high
good humor, related how he had dismissed his unwelcome visitors.

In the Chicago Convention of 1860 the fight for Seward was
maintained with desperate resolve until the final ballot was
taken. Thurlow Weed was the Seward leader, and he was simply
incomparable as a master in handling a convention. With him were
Governor Morgan, Henry J. Raymond, of the New York Times, with
William M. Evarts as chairman of the New York delegation, whose
speech nominating Seward was the most impressive utterance of his
life. The Bates men (Bates was afterwards Lincoln's
Attorney-General) were led by Frank Blair, the only Republican
Congressman from a slave State, who was nothing if not heroic,
aided by his brother Montgomery (afterwards Lincoln's Postmaster
General), who was a politician of uncommon cunning. With them was
Horace Greeley, who was chairman of the delegation from the then
almost inaccessible State of Oregon.

It was Lincoln's friends, however, who were the "hustlers" of
that battle. They had men for sober counsel like David Davis; men
of supreme sagacity like Leonard Swett; men of tireless effort
like Norman B. Judd; and they had what was more important than
all--a seething multitude wild with enthusiasm for "Old Abe."

On one occasion when Mr. Lincoln was going to attend a political
convention one of his rivals, a liveryman, provided him with a
slow horse, hoping that he would not reach his destination in
time. Mr. Lincoln got there, however, and when he returned with
the horse he said: "You keep this horse for funerals, don't you?"
"Oh, no," replied the liveryman. "Well, I'm glad of that, for if
you did you'd never get a corpse to the grave in time for the

General McClellan, after being put in command of the Army,
resented any "interference" by the President. Lincoln, in his
anxiety to know the details of the work in the army, went
frequently to McClellan's headquarters. That the President had a
serious purpose in these visits McClellan did not see.

"I enclose a card just received from 'A. Lincoln,'" he wrote to
his wife one day; "it shows too much deference to be seen

In another letter to Mrs. McClellan he spoke of being
"interrupted" by the President and Secretary Seward, "who had
nothing in particular to say," and again of concealing himself
"to dodge all enemies in shape of 'browsing' Presidents," etc.

"I am becoming daily more disgusted with this Administration--
perfectly sick of it," he wrote early in October; and a few days
later, "I was obliged to attend a meeting of the Cabinet at 8 P.
M., and was bored and annoyed. There are some of the greatest
geese in the Cabinet I have ever seen--enough to tax the patience
of Job."

At a Cabinet meeting once, the advisability of putting a legend
greenbacks similar to the In God We Trust legend on the silver
coins was discussed, and the President was asked what his view
was. He replied: "If you are going to put a legend on the
greenback, I would suggest that of Peter and Paul: 'Silver and
gold we have not, but what we have we'll give you.'"

One of Mr. Lincoln's notable religious utterances was his reply
to a deputation of colored people at Baltimore who presented him
a Bible. He said:

"In regard to the great book, I have only to say it is the best
gift which God has ever given man. All the good from the Savior
of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for
this book we could not know right from wrong. All those things
desirable to man are contained in it."

When Lincoln was President he told this story of the Black Hawk

The only time he ever saw blood in this campaign, was one morning
when, marching up a little valley that makes into the Rock River
bottom, to reinforce a squad of outposts that were thought to be
in danger, they came upon the tent occupied by the other party
just at sunrise. The men had neglected to place any guard at
night, and had been slaughtered in their sleep.

As the reinforcing party came up the slope on which the camp had
been made, Lincoln saw them all lying with their heads towards
the rising sun, and the round red spot that marked where they had
been scalped gleamed more redly yet in the ruddy light of the
sun. This scene years afterwards he recalled with a shudder.

For a while during the Civil War, General Fremont was without a
command. One day in discussing Fremont's case with George W.
Julian, President Lincoln said he did not know where to place
him, and that it reminds him of the old man who advised his son
to take a wife, to which the young man responded: "All right;
whose wife shall I take?"

On April 14, 1865, a few hours previous to his assassination,
President Lincoln sent a message by Congressman Schuyler Colfax,
Vice-President during General Grant's first term, to the miners
in the Rocky Mountains and the regions bounded by the Pacific
ocean, in which he said:

"Now that the Rebellion is overthrown, and we know pretty nearly
the amount of our National debt, the more gold and silver we
we make the payment of that debt so much easier.

"Now I am going to encourage that in every possible way. We shall
have hundreds of thousands of disbanded soldiers, and many have
feared that their return home in such great numbers might
paralyze industry by furnishing, suddenly, a greater supply of
labor than there will be demand for. I am going to try to attract
them to the hidden wealth of our mountain ranges, where there is
room enough for all. Immigration, which even the War has not
stopped, will land upon our shores hundreds of thousands more per
year from overcrowded Europe. I intend to point them to the gold
and silver that wait for them in the West.

"Tell the miners for me that I shall promote their interests to
the utmost of my ability; because their prosperity as the
prosperity of the nation; and," said he, his eye kindling with
enthusiasm, "we shall prove, in a very few years, that we are
indeed the treasury of the world."

President Lincoln made a significant remark to a clergyman in the
early days of the War.

"Let us have faith, Mr. President," said the minister, "that the
Lord is on our side in this great struggle."

Mr. Lincoln quietly answered: "I am not at all concerned about
that, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the
right; but it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this
nation may be on the Lord's side."

It was Lincoln's custom to hold an informal reception once a
week, each caller taking his turn.

Upon one of these eventful days an old friend from Illinois stood
in line for almost an hour. At last he was so near the President
his voice could reach him, and, calling out to his old associate,
he startled every one by exclaiming, "Hallo, 'Abe'; how are ye?
I'm in line and hev come for an orfice, too."

Lincoln singled out the man with the stentorian voice, and

"a particularly old friend, one whose wife had befriended him at
a peculiarly trying time, the President responded to his greeting
in a cordial manner, and told him "to hang onto himself and not
kick the traces. Keep in line and you'll soon get here."

They met and shook hands with the old fervor and renewed their

The informal reception over, Lincoln sent for his old friend, and
the latter began to urge his claims.

After having given him some good advice, Lincoln kindly told him
he was incapable of holding any such position as he asked for.
The disappointment of the Illinois friend was plainly shown, and
with a perceptible tremor in his voice he said, "Martha's dead,
the gal is married, and I've guv Jim the forty."

Then looking at Lincoln he came a little nearer and almost
whispered, "I knowed I wasn't eddicated enough to git the place,
but I kinder want to stay where I ken see 'Abe' Lincoln."

He was given employment in the White House grounds.

Afterwards the President said, "These brief interviews, stripped
of even the semblance of ceremony, give me a better insight into
the real character of the person and his true reason for seeking

William H. Seward, idol of the Republicans of the East, six
months after Lincoln had made his "Divided House" speech,
delivered an address at Rochester, New York, containing this
famous sentence:

"It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring
forces, and it means that the United States must, and will,
sooner or later, become either entirely a slave-holding nation,
or entirely a free-labor nation."

Seward, who had simply followed in Lincoln's steps, was defeated
for the Presidential nomination at the Republican National
Convention of 1860, because he was "too radical," and Lincoln,
who was still "radicaler," was named.

The chief interest of the Illinois campaign of 1843 lay in the
race for Congress in the Capital district, which was between
Hardin--fiery, eloquent, and impetuous Democrat--and Lincoln--
plain, practical, and ennobled Whig. The world knows the result.
Lincoln was elected.

It is not so much his election as the manner in which he secured
his nomination with which we have to deal. Before that
ever-memorable spring Lincoln vacillated between the courts of
Springfield, rated as a plain, honest, logical Whig, with no
ambition higher politically than to occupy some good home office.

Late in the fall of 1842 his name began to be mentioned in
connection with Congressional aspirations, which fact greatly
annoyed the leaders of his political party, who had already
selected as the Whig candidate E. D. Baker, afterward the gallant
Colonel who fell so bravely and died such an honorable death on
the battlefield of Ball's Bluff.

Despite all efforts of his opponents within his party, the name
of the "gaunt railsplitter" was hailed with acclaim by the
masses, to whom he had endeared himself by his witticisms, honest
tongue, and quaint philosophy when on the stump, or mingling with
them in their homes.

The convention, which met in early spring, in the city of
Springfield, was to be composed of the usual number of delegates.
The contest for the nomination was spirited and exciting.

A few weeks before the meeting of the convention the fact was
found by the leaders that the advantage lay with Lincoln, and
that unless they pulled some very fine wires nothing could save

They attempted to play the game that has so often won, by
"convincing" delegates under instructions for Lincoln to violate
them, and vote for Baker. They had apparently succeeded.

"The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley." So it was
in this case. Two days before the convention Lincoln received an
intimation of this, and, late at night, wrote the following

The letter was addressed to Martin Morris, who resided at
Petersburg, an intimate friend of his, and by him circulated
among those who were instructed for him at the county convention.

It had the desired effect. The convention met, the scheme of the
conspirators miscarried, Lincoln was nominated, made a vigorous
canvass, and was triumphantly elected, thus paving the way for
his more extended and brilliant conquests.

This letter, Lincoln had often told his friends, gave him
ultimately the Chief Magistracy of the nation. He has also said,
that, had he been beaten before the convention, he would have
been forever obscured. The following is a verbatim copy of the

"April 14, 1843.

"Friend Morris: I have heard it intimated that Baker is trying to
get you or Miles, or both of you, to violate the instructions of
the meeting that appointed you, and to go for him. I have
insisted, and still insist, that this cannot be true.

"Sure Baker would not do the like. As well might Hardin ask me to
vote for him in the convention.

"Again, it is said there will be an attempt to get instructions
in your county requiring you to go for Baker. This is all wrong.
Upon the same rule, why might I not fly from the decision against
me at Sangamon and get up instructions to their delegates to go
for me. There are at least 1,200 Whigs in the county that took no
part, and yet I would as soon stick my head in the fire as
attempt it.

"Besides, if any one should get the nomination by such
extraordinary means, all harmony in the district would inevitably
be lost. Honest Whigs (and very nearly all of them are honest)
would not quietly abide such enormities.

"I repeat, such an attempt on Baker's part cannot be true. Write
me at Springfield how the matter is. Don't show or speak of this

Mr. Morris did show the letter, and Mr. Lincoln always thanked
his stars that he did.

Mr. Lincoln's favorite poem was "Oh! Why Should the Spirit of
Mortal Be Proud?" written by William Knox, a Scotchman, although
Mr. Lincoln never knew the author's name. He once said to a

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