Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

Joe opened his eyes with affright, and under the spell of the
awful danger before him, exclaimed, "Josh, take which road you
please; I shall go troo de woods."

"I am not willing," concluded the President, "to assume any new
troubles or responsibilities at this time, and shall therefore
avoid going to the one place with Spain, or with the negro to the
other, but shall 'take to the woods.' We will maintain an honest
and strict neutrality."

"My first strong impression of Mr. Lincoln," says a lady of
Springfield, "was made by one of his kind deeds. I was going with
a little friend for my first trip alone on the railroad cars. It
was an epoch of my life. I had planned for it and dreamed of it
for weeks. The day I was to go came, but as the hour of the train
approached, the hackman, through some neglect, failed to call for
my trunk. As the minutes went on, I realized, in a panic of
grief, that I should miss the train. I was standing by the gate,
my hat and gloves on, sobbing as if my heart would break, when
Mr. Lincoln came by.

"'Why, what's the matter?' he asked, and I poured out all my

"'How big's the trunk? There's still time, if it isn't too big.'
And he pushed through the gate and up to the door. My mother and
I took him up to my room, where my little old-fashioned trunk
stood, locked and tied. 'Oh, ho,' he cried, 'wipe your eyes and
come on quick.' And before I knew what he was going to do, he had
shouldered the trunk, was down stairs, and striding out of the
yard. Down the street he went fast as his long legs could carry
him, I trotting behind, drying my tears as I went. We reached the
station in time. Mr. Lincoln put me on the train, kissed me
good-bye, and told me to have a good time. It was just like him."

Lincoln never failed to take part in all political campaigns in
Illinois, as his reputation as a speaker caused his services to
be in great demand. As was natural, he was often the target at
which many of the "Smart Alecks" of that period shot their feeble
bolts, but Lincoln was so ready with his answers that few of them
cared to engage him a second time.

In one campaign Lincoln was frequently annoyed by a young man who
entertained the idea that he was a born orator. He had a loud
voice, was full of language, and so conceited that he could not
understand why the people did not recognize and appreciate his

This callow politician delighted in interrupting public speakers,
and at last Lincoln determined to squelch him. One night while
addressing a large meeting at Springfield, the fellow became so
offensive that "Abe" dropped the threads of his speech and turned
his attention to the tormentor.

"I don't object," said Lincoln, "to being interrupted with
sensible questions, but I must say that my boisterous friend does
not always make inquiries which properly come under that head. He
says he is afflicted with headaches, at which I don't wonder, as
it is a well-known fact that nature abhors a vacuum, and takes
her own way of demonstrating it.

"This noisy friend reminds me of a certain steamboat that used to
run on the Illinois river. It was an energetic boat, was always
busy. When they built it, however, they made one serious mistake,
this error being in the relative sizes of the boiler and the
whistle. The latter was usually busy, too, and people were aware
that it was in existence.

"This particular boiler to which I have reference was a six-foot
one, and did all that was required of it in the way of pushing
the boat along; but as the builders of the vessel had made the
whistle a six-foot one, the consequence was that every time the
whistle blew the boat had to stop."

President Lincoln one day remarked to a number of personal
friends who had called upon him at the White House:

"General McClellan's tardiness and unwillingness to fight the
enemy or follow up advantages gained, reminds me of a man back in
Ilinois who knew a few law phrases but whose lawyer lacked
aggressiveness. The man finally lost all patience and springing
to his feet vociferated, 'Why don't you go at him with a fi. fa.,
a demurrer, a capias, a surrebutter, or a ne exeat, or something;
or a nundam pactum or a non est?'

"I wish McClellan would go at the enemy with something--I don't
care what. General McClellan is a pleasant and scholarly
gentleman. He is an admirable engineer, but he seems to have a
special talent for a stationary engine."

One of the last, if not the very last story told by President
Lincoln, was to one of his Cabinet who came to see him, to ask if
it would be proper to permit "Jake" Thompson to slip through
Maine in disguise and embark for Portland.

The President, as usual, was disposed to be merciful, and to
permit the arch-rebel to pass unmolested, but Secretary Stanton
urged that he should be arrested as a traitor.

"By permitting him to escape the penalties of treason," persisted
the War Secretary, "you sanction it."

"Well," replied Mr. Lincoln, "let me tell you a story. There was
an Irish soldier here last summer, who wanted something to drink
stronger than water, and stopped at a drug-shop, where he espied
a soda-fountain. 'Mr. Doctor,' said he, 'give me, plase, a glass
of soda-wather, an' if yez can put in a few drops of whiskey
unbeknown to any one, I'll be obleeged.' Now, continued Mr.
Lincoln, "if 'Jake' Thompson is permitted to go through Maine
unbeknown to any one, what's the harm? So don't have him


The President was bothered to death by those persons who
boisterously demanded that the War be pushed vigorously; also,
those who shouted their advice and opinions into his weary ears,
but who never suggested anything practical. These fellows were
not in the army, nor did they ever take any interest, in a
personal way, in military matters, except when engaged in dodging

"That reminds me," remarked Mr. Lincoln one day, "of a farmer who
lost his way on the Western frontier. Night came on, and the
embarrassments of his position were increased by a furious
tempest which suddenly burst upon him. To add to his discomfort,
his horse had given out, leaving him exposed to all the dangers
of the pitiless storm.

"The peals of thunder were terrific, the frequent flashes of
lightning affording the only guide on the road as he resolutely
trudged onward, leading his jaded steed. The earth seemed fairly
to tremble beneath him in the war of elements. One bolt threw him
suddenly upon his knees.

"Our traveler was not a prayerful man, but finding himself
involuntarily brought to an attitude of devotion, he addressed
himself to the Throne of Grace in the following prayer for his

"'O God! hear my prayer this time, for Thou knowest it is not
often that I call upon Thee. And, O Lord! if it is all the same
to Thee, give us a little more light and a little less noise.'

"I wish," the President said, sadly, "there was a stronger
disposition manifested on the part of our civilian warriors to
unite in suppressing the rebellion, and a little less noise as to
how and by whom the chief executive office shall be

Lincoln made the best of everything, and if he couldn't get what
he wanted he took what he could get. In matters of policy, while
President he acted according to this rule. He would take perilous
chances, even when the result was, to the minds of his friends,
not worth the risk he had run.

One day at a meeting of the Cabinet, it being at the time when it
seemed as though war with England and France could not be
avoided, Secretary of State Seward and Secretary of War Stanton
warmly advocated that the United States maintain an attitude, the
result of which would have been a declaration of hostilities by
the European Powers mentioned.

"Why take any more chances than are absolutely necessary?" asked
the President.

"We must maintain our honor at any cost," insisted Secretary

"We would be branded as cowards before the entire world,"
Secretary Stanton said.

"But why run the greater risk when we can take a smaller one?"
queried the President calmly. "The less risk we run the better
for us. That reminds me of a story I heard a day or two ago, the
hero of which was on the firing line during a recent battle,
where the bullets were flying thick.

"Finally his courage gave way entirely, and throwing down his
he ran for dear life.

"As he was flying along at top speed he came across an officer
who drew his revolver and shouted, 'Go back to your regiment at
once or I will shoot you !'

"'Shoot and be hanged,' the racer exclaimed. 'What's one bullet
to a whole hatful?'"

Among the reminiscences of Lincoln left by Editor Henry J.
Raymond, is the following:

Among the stories told by Lincoln, which is freshest in my mind,
one which he related to me shortly after its occurrence, belongs
to the history of the famous interview on board the River Queen,
at Hampton Roads, between himself and Secretary Seward and the
rebel Peace Commissioners. It was reported at the time that the
President told a "little story" on that occasion, and the inquiry
went around among the newspapers, "What was it?"

The New York Herald published what purported to be a version of
it, but the "point" was entirely lost, and it attracted no
attention. Being in Washington a few days subsequent to the
interview with the Commissioners (my previous sojourn there
having terminated about the first of last August), I asked Mr.
Lincoln one day if it was true that he told Stephens, Hunter and
Campbell a story.

"Why, yes," he replied, manifesting some surprise, "but has it
leaked out? I was in hopes nothing would be said about it, lest
some over-sensitive people should imagine there was a degree of
levity in the intercourse between us." He then went on to relate
the circumstances which called it out.

"You see," said he, "we had reached and were discussing the
slavery question. Mr. Hunter said, substantially, that the
slaves, always accustomed to an overseer, and to work upon
compulsion, suddenly freed, as they would be if the South should
consent to peace on the basis of the 'Emancipation Proclamation,'
would precipitate not only themselves, but the entire Southern
society, into irremediable ruin. No work would be done, nothing
would be cultivated, and both blacks and whites would starve!"

Said the President: "I waited for Seward to answer that argument,
but as he was silent, I at length said: 'Mr. Hunter, you ought to
know a great deal better about this argument than I, for you have
always lived under the slave system. I can only say, in reply to
your statement of the case, that it reminds me of a man out in
Illinois, by the name of Case, who undertook, a few years ago, to
raise a very large herd of hogs. It was a great trouble to feed
them, and how to get around this was a puzzle to him. At length
he hit on the plan of planting an immense field of potatoes, and,
when they were sufficiently grown, he turned the whole herd into
the field, and let them have full swing, thus saving not only the
labor of feeding the hogs, but also that of digging the potatoes.
Charmed with his sagacity, he stood one day leaning against the
fence, counting his hogs, when a neighbor came along.

"'Well, well,' said he, 'Mr. Case, this is all very fine. Your
hogs are doing very well just now, but you know out here in
Illinois the frost comes early, and the ground freezes for a foot
deep. Then what you going to do?'

"This was a view of the matter which Mr. Case had not taken into
account. Butchering time for hogs was 'way on in December or
January! He scratched his head, and at length stammered: 'Well,
it may come pretty hard on their snouts, but I don't see but that
it will be "root, hog, or die."'"

When Lincoln was a young lawyer in Illinois, he and a certain
Judge once got to bantering one another about trading horses; and
it was agreed that the next morning at nine o'clock they should
make a trade, the horses to be unseen up to that hour, and no
backing out, under a forfeiture of $25. At the hour appointed,
the Judge came up, leading the sorriest-looking specimen of a
horse ever seen in those parts. In a few minutes Mr. Lincoln was
seen approaching with a wooden saw-horse upon his shoulders.

Great were the shouts and laughter of the crowd, and both were
greatly increased when Lincoln, on surveying the Judge's animal,
set down his saw-horse, and exclaimed:

"Well, Judge, this is the first time I ever got the worst of it
in a horse trade."

The President had made arrangements to visit New York, and was
told that President Garrett, of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad,
would be glad to furnish a special train.

"I don't doubt it a bit," remarked the President, "for I know Mr.
Garrett, and like him very well, and if I believed--which I
don't, by any means--all the things some people say about his
'secesh' principles, he might say to you as was said by the
Superintendent of a certain railroad to a son of one my
predecessors in office. Some two years after the death of
President Harrison, the son of his successor in this office
wanted to take his father on an excursion somewhere or other, and
went to the Superintendent's office to order a special train.

"This Superintendent was a Whig of the most uncompromising sort,
who hated a Democrat more than all other things on the earth, and
promptly refused the young man's request, his language being to
the effect that this particular railroad was not running special
trains for the accommodation of Presidents of the United States
just at that season.

"The son of the President was much surprised and exceedingly
annoyed. 'Why,' he said, 'you have run special Presidential
trains, and I know it. Didn't you furnish a special train for the
funeral of President Harrison?'

"'Certainly we did,' calmly replied the Superintendent, with no
relaxation of his features, 'and if you will only bring your
father here in the same shape as General Harrison was, you shall
have the best train on the road."'

When the laughter had subsided, the President said: "I shall take
pleasure in accepting Mr. Garrett's offer, as I have no doubts
whatever as to his loyalty to the United States government or his
respect for the occupant of the Presidential office."

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