Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

“‘Well,’ asked the Governor, impatiently, ‘I suppose you’re
innocent like the rest of these fellows?’

“‘No, Governor,’ was the unexpected answer; ‘I was guilty of the
crime they charged against me, and I got just what I deserved.’

“When he had recovered from his astonishment, the Governor,
looking the fellow squarely in the face, remarked with emphasis:
‘I’ll have to pardon you, because I don’t want to leave so bad a
man as you are in the company of such innocent sufferers as I
have discovered your fellow-convicts to be. You might corrupt
them and teach them wicked tricks. As soon as I get back to the
capital, I’ll have the papers made out.’

“You gentlemen,” continued the President, “ought to be glad that
so bad a man, as you represent this officer to be, is to get his
promotion, for then you won’t be forced to associate with him and
suffer the contamination of his presence and influence. I will do
all I can to have the Senate confirm him.”

And he was confirmed.

The President was often in opposition to the general public
sentiment of the North upon certain questions of policy, but he
bided his time, and things usually came out as he wanted them. It
was Lincoln’s opinion, from the first, that apology and
reparation to England must be made by the United States because
of the arrest, upon the high seas, of the Confederate
Commissioners, Mason and Slidell. The country, however (the
Northern States), was wild for a conflict with England.

“One war at a time,” quietly remarked the President at a Cabinet
meeting, where he found the majority of his advisers unfavorably
disposed to “backing down.” But one member of the Cabinet was a
really strong supporter of the President in his attitude.

“I am reminded,” the President said after the various arguments
had been put forward by the members of the Cabinet, “of a fellow
out in my State of Illinois who happened to stray into a church
while a revival meeting was in progress. To be truthful, this
individual was not entirely sober, and with that instinct which
seems to impel all men in his condition to assume a prominent
part in proceedings, he walked up the aisle to the very front

“All noticed him, but he did not care; for awhile he joined
audibly in the singing, said ‘Amen’ at the close of the prayers,
but, drowsiness overcoming him, he went to sleep. Before the
meeting closed, the pastor asked the usual question–‘Who are on
the Lord’s side?’–and the congregation arose en masse. When he
asked, ‘Who are on the side of the Devil?’ the sleeper was about
waking up. He heard a portion of the interrogatory, and, seeing
the minister on his feet, arose.

“‘I don’t exactly understand the question,’ he said, ‘but I’ll
stand by you, parson, to the last. But it seems to me,’ he added,
‘that we’re in a hopeless minority.’

“I’m in a hopeless minority now,” said the President, “and I’ll
have to admit it.”

John Morrissey, the noted prize fighter, was the “Boss” of
Tammany Hall during the Civil War period. It pleased his fancy to
go to Congress, and his obedient constituents sent him there.
Morrissey was such an absolute despot that the New York City
democracy could not make a move without his consent, and many of
the Tammanyites were so afraid of him that they would not even
enter into business ventures without consulting the autocrat.

President Lincoln had been seriously annoyed by some of his
generals, who were afraid to make the slightest move before
asking advice from Washington. One commander, in particular, was
so cautious that he telegraphed the War Department upon the
slightest pretext, the result being that his troops were lying in
camp doing nothing, when they should have been in the field.

“This general reminds me,” the President said one day while
talking to Secretary Stanton, at the War Department, “of a story
I once heard about a Tammany man. He happened to meet a friend,
also a member of Tammany, on the street, and in the course of the
talk the friend, who was beaming with smiles and good nature,
told the other Tammanyite that he was going to be married.

“This first Tammany man looked more serious than men usually do
upon hearing of the impending happiness of a friend. In fact, his
face seemed to take on a look of anxiety and worry.

“‘Ain’t you glad to know that I’m to get married?’ demanded the
second Tammanyite, somewhat in a huff.

“‘Of course I am,’ was the reply; ‘but,’ putting his mouth close
to the ear of the other, ‘have ye asked Morrissey yet?’

“Now, this general of whom we are speaking, wouldn’t dare order
out the guard without asking Morrissey,” concluded the President.

At one time, when Lincoln and Douglas were “stumping” Illinois,
they met at a certain town, and it was agreed that they would
have a joint debate. Douglas was the first speaker, and in the
course of his talk remarked that in early life, his father, who,
he said, was an excellent cooper by trade, apprenticed him out to
learn the cabinet business.

This was too good for Lincoln to let pass, so when his turn came
to reply, he said:

“I had understood before that Mr. Douglas had been bound out to
learn the cabinet-making business, which is all well enough, but
I was not aware until now that his father was a cooper. I have no
doubt, however, that he was one, and I am certain, also, that he
was a very good one, for (here Lincoln gently bowed toward
Douglas) he has made one of the best whiskey casks I have ever

As Douglas was a short heavy-set man, and occasionally imbibed,
the pith of the joke was at once apparent, and most heartily
enjoyed by all.

On another occasion, Douglas made a point against Lincoln by
telling the crowd that when he first knew Lincoln he was a
“grocery-keeper,” and sold whiskey, cigars, etc.

“Mr. L.,” he said, “was a very good bar-tender!” This brought the
laugh on Lincoln, whose reply, however, soon came, and then the
laugh was on the other side.

“What Mr. Douglas has said, gentlemen,” replied Lincoln, “is true
enough; I did keep a grocery and I did sell cotton, candles and
cigars, and sometimes whiskey; but I remember in those days that
Mr. Douglas was one of my best customers.”
“I can also say this; that I have since left my side of the
counter, while Mr. Douglas still sticks to his!”

This brought such a storm of cheers and laughter that Douglas was
unable to reply.

Mrs. Lincoln knew her husband was not “pretty,” but she liked to
have him presentable when he appeared before the public. Stephen
Fiske, in “When Lincoln Was First Inaugurated,” tells of Mrs.
Lincoln’s anxiety to have the President-elect “smoothed down” a
little when receiving a delegation that was to greet them upon
reaching New York City.

“The train stopped,” writes Mr. Fiske, “and through the windows
immense crowds could be seen; the cheering drowning the blowing
off of steam of the locomotive. Then Mrs. Lincoln opened her
handbag and said:

“‘Abraham, I must fix you up a bit for these city folks.’

“Mr. Lincoln gently lifted her upon the seat before him; she
parted, combed and brushed his hair and arranged his black

“‘Do I look nice now, mother?’ he affectionately asked.

“‘Well, you’ll do, Abraham,’ replied Mrs. Lincoln critically. So
he kissed her and lifted her down from the seat, and turned to
meet Mayor Wood, courtly and suave, and to have his hand shaken
by the other New York officials.”

The Rev. Mr. Shrigley, of Philadelphia, a Universalist, had been
nominated for hospital chaplain, and a protesting delegation went
to Washington to see President Lincoln on the subject.

“We have called, Mr. President, to confer with you in regard to
the appointment of Mr. Shrigley, of Philadelphia, as hospital

The President responded: “Oh, yes, gentlemen. I have sent his
name to the Senate, and he will no doubt be confirmed at an early
date.” One of the young men replied: “We have not come to ask for
the appointment, but to solicit you to withdraw the nomination.”

“Ah!” said Lincoln, “that alters the case; but on what grounds do
you wish the nomination withdrawn?”

The answer was: “Mr. Shrigley is not sound in his theological

The President inquired: “On what question is the gentleman

Response: “He does not believe in endless punishment; not only
so, sir, but he believes that even the rebels themselves will be
finally saved.”

“Is that so?” inquired the President.

The members of the committee responded, “Yes, yes.’

“Well, gentlemen, if that be so, and there is any way under
Heaven whereby the rebels can be saved, then, for God’s sake and
their sakes, let the man be appointed.”

The Rev. Mr. Shrigley was appointed, and served until the close
of the war.

John M. Palmer, Major-General in the Volunteer Army, Governor of
the State of Illinois, and United States Senator from the Sucker
State, became acquainted with Lincoln in 1839, and the last time
he saw the President was at the White House in February, 1865.
Senator Palmer told the story of his interview as follows:

“I had come to Washington at the request of the Governor, to
complain that Illinois had been credited with 18,000 too few
troops. I saw Mr. Lincoln one afternoon, and he asked me to come
again in the morning.

“Next morning I sat in the ante-room while several officers were
relieved. At length I was told to enter the President’s room. Mr.
Lincoln was in the hands of the barber.

“‘Come in, Palmer,’ he called out, ‘come in. You’re home folks.
I can shave before you. I couldn’t before those others, and I
have to do it some time.’

“We chatted about various matters, and at length I said:

“‘Well, Mr. Lincoln, if anybody had told me that in a great
crisis like this the people were going out to a little one-horse
town and pick out a one-horse lawyer for President I wouldn’t
have believed it.’

“Mr. Lincoln whirled about in his chair, his face white with
lather, a towel under his chin. At first I thought he was angry.
Sweeping the barber away he leaned forward, and, placing one hand
on my knee, said:

“‘Neither would I. But it was time when a man with a policy
would have been fatal to the country. I have never had a policy.
I have simply tried to do what seemed best each day, as each day

England was anything but pleased when the Czar Alexander, of
Russia, showed his friendship for the United States by sending a
strong fleet to this country with the accompanying suggestion
that Uncle Sam, through his representative, President Lincoln,
could do whatever he saw fit with the ironclads and the munitions
of war they had stowed away in their holds.

London “Punch,” on November 7th, 1863, printed the cartoon shown
on this page, the text under the picture reading in this way:
“Holding a candle to the * * * * *.” (Much the same thing.)

Of course, this was a covert sneer, intended to convey the
impression that President Lincoln, in order to secure the support
and friendship of the Emperor of Russia as long as the War of the
Rebellion lasted, was willing to do all sorts of menial offices,
even to the extent of holding the candle and lighting His Most
Gracious Majesty, the White Czar, to his imperial bed-chamber.

It is a somewhat remarkable fact that the Emperor Alexander, who
tendered inestimable aid to the President of the United States,
was the Lincoln of Russia, having given freedom to millions of
serfs in his empire; and, further than that, he was, like
the victim of assassination. He was literally blown to pieces by
a bomb thrown under his carriage while riding through the streets
near the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg.

“I was told a mighty good story,” said the President one day at a
Cabinet meeting, “by Colonel Granville Moody, ‘the fighting
Methodist parson,’ as they used to call him in Tennessee. I
happened to meet Moody in Philadelphia, where he was attending a

“The story was about ‘Andy’ Johnson and General Buell. Colonel
Moody happened to be in Nashville the day it was reported that
Buell had decided to evacuate the city. The rebels, strongly
re-inforced, were said to be within two days’ march of the
capital. Of course, the city was greatly excited. Moody said he
went in search of Johnson at the edge of the evening and found
him at his office closeted with two gentlemen, who were walking
the floor with him, one on each side. As he entered they retired,
leaving him alone with Johnson, who came up to him, manifesting
intense feeling, and said:

“‘Moody, we are sold out. Buell is a traitor. He is going to
evacuate the city, and in forty-eight hours we will all be in the
hands of the rebels!’

“Then he commenced pacing the floor again, twisting his hands and
chafing like a caged tiger, utterly insensible to his friend’s
entreaties to become calm. Suddenly he turned and said:

“‘Moody, can you pray?’

“‘That is my business, sir, as a minister of the gospel,’
returned the colonel.

“‘Well, Moody, I wish you would pray,’ said Johnson, and
instantly both went down upon their knees at opposite sides of
the room.

“As the prayer waxed fervent, Johnson began to respond in true
Methodist style. Presently he crawled over on his hands and knees
to Moody’s side and put his arms over him, manifesting the
deepest emotion.

“Closing the prayer with a hearty ‘amen’ from each, they arose.

“Johnson took a long breath, and said, with emphasis:

“‘Moody, I feel better.’

“Shortly afterward he asked:

“‘Will you stand by me?’

“‘Certainly I will,’ was the answer.

“‘Well, Moody, I can depend upon you; you are one in a hundred

“He then commenced pacing the floor again. Suddenly he wheeled,
the current of his thought having changed, and said:

“‘Oh, Moody, I don’t want you to think I have become a religious
man because I asked you to pray. I am sorry to say it, I am not,
and never pretended to be religious. No one knows this better
than you, but, Moody, there is one thing about it, I do believe
in Almighty God, and I believe also in the Bible, and I say, d–n
me if Nashville shall be surrendered!’

“And Nashville was not surrendered!”

General Fisk, attending a reception at the White House, saw
waiting in the ante-room a poor old man from Tennessee, and
learned that he had been waiting three or four days to get an
audience, on which probably depended the life of his son, under
sentence of death for some military offense.

General Fisk wrote his case in outline on a card and sent it in,
with a a special request that the President would see the man. In
a moment the order came; and past impatient senators, governors
and generals, the old man went.

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