Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

"1. Equal pay to colored soldiers.

"2. Their promotion when they had earned it on the battle-field.

"3. Should they be taken prisoners and enslaved or hanged, as
Jefferson Davis had threatened, an equal number of Confederate
prisoners should be executed within our lines.

"A declaration to that effect I thought would prevent the
execution of the rebel threat. To all but the last, President
Lincoln assented. He argued, however, that neither equal pay nor
promotion could be granted at once. He said that in view of
existing prejudices it was a great step forward to employ colored
troops at all; that it was necessary to avoid everything that
would offend this prejudice and increase opposition to the

"He detailed the steps by which white soldiers were reconciled to
the employment of colored troops; how these were first employed
as laborers; how it was thought they should not be armed or
uniformed like white soldiers; how they should only be made to
wear a peculiar uniform; how they should be employed to hold
forts and arsenals in sickly locations, and not enter the field
like other soldiers.

"With all these restrictions and limitations he easily made me
see that much would be gained when the colored man loomed before
the country as a full-fledged United States soldier to fight,
flourish or fall in defense of the united republic. The great
soul of Lincoln halted only when he came to the point of

"The thought of hanging men in cold blood, even though the rebels
should murder a few of the colored prisoners, was a horror from
which he shrank.

"'Oh, Douglass! I cannot do that. If I could get hold of the
actual murderers of colored prisoners I would retaliate; but to
hang those who have no hand in such murders, I cannot.'

"The contemplation of such an act brought to his countenance such
an expression of sadness and pity that it made it hard for me to
press my point, though I told him it would tend to save rather
than destroy life. He, however, insisted that this work of blood,
once begun, would be hard to stop--that such violence would beget
violence. He argued more like a disciple of Christ than a
commander-in-chief of the army and navy of a warlike nation
already involved in a terrible war.

"How sad and strange the fate of this great and good man, the
saviour of his country, the embodiment of human charity, whose
heart, though strong, was as tender as a heart of childhood; who
always tempered justice with mercy; who sought to supplant the
sword with counsel of reason, to suppress passion by kindness and
moderation; who had a sigh for every human grief and a tear for
every human woe, should at last perish by the hand of a desperate
assassin, against whom no thought of malice had ever entered his

One of the campaign songs of 1860 which will never be forgotten
was Whittier's "The Quakers Are Out:--"

"Give the flags to the winds!
Set the hills all aflame!
Make way for the man with
The Patriarch's name!
Away with misgivings--away
With all doubt,
For Lincoln goes in when the
Quakers are out!"

Speaking of this song (with which he was greatly pleased) one day
at the White House, the President said: "It reminds me of a
little story I heard years ago out in Illinois. A political
campaign was on, and the atmosphere was kept at a high
temperature. Several fights had already occurred, many men having
been seriously hurt, and the prospects were that the result would
be close. One of the candidates was a professional politician
with a huge wart on his nose, this disfigurement having earned
for him the nickname of 'Warty.' His opponent was a young lawyer
who wore 'biled' shirts, 'was shaved by a barber, and had his
clothes made to fit him.

"Now, 'Warty' was of Quaker stock, and around election time made
a great parade of the fact. When there were no campaigns in
progress he was anything but Quakerish in his language or
actions. The young lawyer didn't know what the inside of a
meeting house looked like.

"Well, the night before election-day the two candidates came
together at a joint debate, both being on the speakers' platform.
The young lawyer had to speak after 'Warty,' and his reputation
suffered at the hands of the Quaker, who told the many Friends
present what a wicked fellow the young man was--never went to
church, swore, drank, smoked and gambled.

"After 'Warty' had finished the other arose and faced the
audience. 'I'm not a good man,' said he, 'and what my opponent
has said about me is true enough, but I'm always the same. I
don't profess religion when I run for office, and then turn
around and associate with bad people when the campaign's over.
I'm no hypocrite. I don't sing many psalms. Neither does my
opponent; and, talking about singing, I'd just like to hear my
friend who is running against me sing the song--for the benefit
of this audience--I heard him sing the night after he was
nominated. I yield the floor to him:

"Of course 'Warty' refused, his Quaker supporters grew
suspicious, and when they turned out at the polls the following
day they voted for the wicked young lawyer.

"So, it's true that when 'the Quakers are out' the man they
support is apt to go in."

"General Blank asks for more men," said Secretary of War Stanton
to the President one day, showing the latter a telegram from the
commander named appealing for re-enforcements.

"I guess he's killed off enough men, hasn't he?" queried the

"I don't mean Confederates--our own men. What's the use in
sending volunteers down to him if they're only used to fill

"His dispatch seems to imply that, in his opinion, you have not
the confidence in him he thinks he deserves," the War Secretary
went on to say, as he looked over the telegram again.

"Oh," was the President's reply, "he needn't lose any of his
sleep on that account. Just telegraph him to that effect; also,
that I don't propose to send him any more men."

During the progress of a Cabinet meeting the subject of food for
the men in the Army happened to come up. From that the
conversation changed to the study of the Latin language.

"I studied Latin once," said Mr. Lincoln, in a casual way.

"Were you interested in it?" asked Mr. Seward, the Secretary of

"Well, yes. I saw some very curious things," was the President's

"What?" asked Secretary Seward.

"Well, there's the word hominy, for instance. We have just
ordered a lot of that stuff for the troops. I see how the word
originated. I notice it came from the Latin word homo--a man.

"When we decline homo, it is:

"'Homo--a man.

"'Hominis--of man.

"'Homini--for man.'

"So you see, hominy, being 'for man,' comes from the Latin. I
guess those soldiers who don't know Latin will get along with it
all right--though I won't rest real easy until I hear from the
Commissary Department on it."

One day, while listening to one of the wise men who had called at
the White House to unload a large cargo of advice, the President
interjected a remark to the effect that he had a great reverence
for learning.

"This is not," President Lincoln explained, "because I am not an
educated man. I feel the need of reading. It is a loss to a man
not to have grown up among books."

"Men of force," the visitor answered, "can get on pretty well
without books. They do their own thinking instead of adopting
what other men think."

"Yes," said Mr. Lincoln, "but books serve to show a man that
those original thoughts of his aren't very new, after all."

This was a point the caller was not willing to debate, and so he
cut his call short.

Lincoln made his first speech when he was a mere boy, going
barefoot, his trousers held up by one suspender, and his shock of
hair sticking through a hole in the crown of his cheap straw hat.

"Abe," in company with Dennis Hanks, attended a political
meeting, which was addressed by a typical stump speaker--one of
those loud-voiced fellows who shouted at the top of his voice and
waved his arms wildly.

At the conclusion of the speech, which did not meet the views
either of "Abe" or Dennis, the latter declared that "Abe" could
make a better speech than that. Whereupon he got a dry-goods box
and called on "Abe" to reply to the campaign orator.

Lincoln threw his old straw hat on the ground, and, mounting the
dry-goods box, delivered a speech which held the attention of the
crowd and won him considerable applause. Even the campaign orator
admitted that it was a fine speech and answered every point in
his own "oration."

Dennis Hanks, who thought "Abe" was about the greatest man that
ever lived, was delighted, and he often told how young "Abe" got
the better of the trained campaign speaker.

It was in 1830, when "Abe" was just twenty-one years of age, that
the Lincoln family moved from Gentryville, Indiana, to near
Decatur, Illinois, their household goods being packed in a wagon
drawn by four oxen driven by "Abe."

The winter previous the latter had "worked" in a country store in
Gentryville and before undertaking the journey he invested all
the money he had--some thirty dollars--in notions, such as
needles, pins, thread, buttons and other domestic necessities.
These he sold to families along the route and made a profit of
about one hundred per cent.

This mercantile adventure of his youth "reminded" the President
of a very clever story while the members of the Cabinet were one
day solemnly debating a rather serious international problem. The
President was in the minority, as was frequently the case, and he
was "in a hole," as he afterwards expressed it. He didn't want to
argue the points raised, preferring to settle the matter in a
hurry, and an apt story was his only salvation.

Suddenly the President's fact brightened. "Gentlemen," said he,
addressing those seated at the Cabinet table, "the situation just
now reminds me of a fix I got into some thirty years or so ago
when I was peddling 'notions' on the way from Indiana to
Illinois. I didn't have a large stock, but I charged large
prices, and I made money. Perhaps you don't see what I am driving

Secretary of State Seward was wearing a most gloomy expression of
countenance; Secretary of War Stanton was savage and inclined to
be morose; Secretary of the Treasury Chase was indifferent and
cynical, while the others of the Presidential advisers resigned
themselves to the hearing of the inevitable "story."

"I don't propose to argue this matter," the President went on to
say, "because arguments have no effect upon men whose opinions
are fixed and whose minds are made up. But this little story of
mine will make some things which now are in the dark show up more

There was another pause, and the Cabinet officers, maintaining
their previous silence, began wondering if the President himself
really knew what he was "driving at."

"Just before we left Indiana and crossed into Illinois,"
continued Mr. Lincoln solemnly, speaking in a grave tone of
voice, "we came across a small farmhouse full of nothing but
children. These ranged in years from seventeen years to seventeen
months, and all were in tears. The mother of the family was
red-headed and red-faced, and the whip she held in her right hand
led to the inference that she had been chastising her brood. The
father of the family, a meek-looking, mild-mannered, tow-headed
chap, was standing in the front door-way, awaiting--to all
appearances--his turn to feel the thong.

"I thought there wasn't much use in asking the head of that house
if she wanted any 'notions.' She was too busy. It was evident an
insurrection had been in progress, but it was pretty well quelled
when I got there. The mother had about suppressed it with an iron
hand, but she was not running any risks. She kept a keen and wary
eye upon all the children, not forgetting an occasional glance at
the 'old man' in the doorway.

"She saw me as I came up, and from her look I thought she was of
the opinion that I intended to interfere. Advancing to the
doorway, and roughly pushing her husband aside, she demanded my

"'Nothing, madame,' I answered as gently as possible; 'I merely
dropped in as I came along to see how things were going.'

"'Well, you needn't wait,' was the reply in an irritated way;
'there's trouble here, an' lots of it, too, but I kin manage my
own affairs without the help of outsiders. This is jest a family
row, but I'll teach these brats their places ef I hev to lick the
hide off ev'ry one of them. I don't do much talkin', but I run
this house, an' I don't want no one sneakin' round tryin' to find
out how I do it, either.'

"That's the case here with us," the President said in conclusion.
"We must let the other nations know that we propose to settle our
family row in our own way, and 'teach these brats their places'
(the seceding States) if we have to 'lick the hide off' of each
and every one of them. And, like the old woman, we don't want any
'sneakin' 'round' by other countries who would like to find out
how we are to do it, either.

"Now, Seward, you write some diplomatic notes to that effect."

And the Cabinet session closed.

As the President considered it his duty to keep in touch with all
the improvements in the armament of the vessels belonging to the
United States Navy, he was necessarily interested in the various
types of these floating fortresses. Not only was it required of
the Navy Department to furnish seagoing warships, deep-draught
vessels for the great rivers and the lakes, but this Department
also found use for little gunboats which could creep along in the
shallowest of water and attack the Confederates in by-places and

The consequence of the interest taken by Mr. Lincoln in the Navy
was that he was besieged, day and night, by steamboat
contractors, each one eager to sell his product to the Washington
Government. All sorts of experiments were tried, some being dire
failures, while others were more than fairly successful. More
than once had these tiny war vessels proved themselves of great
service, and the United States Government had a large number of
them built.

There was one particular contractor who bothered the President
more than all the others put together. He was constantly
impressing upon Mr. Lincoln the great superiority of his boats,
because they would run in such shallow water.

"Oh, yes," replied the President, "I've no doubt they'll run
anywhere where the ground is a little moist!"

"It seems to me," remarked the President one day while reading,
over some of the appealing telegrams sent to the War Department
by General McClellan, "that McClellan has been wandering around
and has sort of got lost. He's been hollering for help ever since
he went South--wants somebody to come to his deliverance and get
him out of the place he's got into.

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.