Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

This cartoon, labeled "A Job for the New Cabinetmaker," was
printed in "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper" on February 2d,
1861, a month and two days before Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated
President of the United States. The Southern states had seceded
from the Union, the Confederacy was established, with Jefferson
Davis as its President, the Union had been split in two, and the
task Lincoln had before him was to glue the two parts of the
Republic together. In his famous speech, delivered a short time
before his nomination for the Presidency by the Republican
National Convention at Chicago, in 1860, Lincoln had said: "A
house divided against itself cannot stand; this nation cannot
exist half slave and half free." After his inauguration as
President, Mr. Lincoln went to work to glue the two pieces
together, and after four years of bloody war, and at immense
cost, the job was finished; the house of the Great American
Republic was no longer divided; the severed sections--the North
and the South--were cemented tightly; the slaves were freed,
peace was firmly established, and the Union of states was glued
together so well that the nation is stronger now than ever
before. Lincoln was just the man for that job, and the work he
did will last for all time. "The New Cabinetmaker" knew his
business thoroughly, and finished his task of glueing in a
workmanlike manner. At the very moment of its completion, five
days after the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox, the
Martyr President fell at the hands of the assassin, J. Wilkes

United States Senator Benjamin Wade, of Ohio, Henry Winter Davis,
of Maryland, and Wendell Phillips were strongly opposed to
President Lincoln's re-election, and Wade and Davis issued a
manifesto. Phillips made several warm speeches against Lincoln
and his policy.

When asked if he had read the manifesto or any of Phillips'
speeches, the President replied:

"I have not seen them, nor do I care to see them. I have seen
enough to satisfy me that I am a failure, not only in the opinion
of the people in rebellion, but of many distinguished politicians
of my own party. But time will show whether I am right or they
are right, and I am content to abide its decision.

"I have enough to look after without giving much of my time to
the consideration of the subject of who shall be my successor in
office. The position is not an easy one; and the occupant,
whoever he may be, for the next four years, will have little
leisure to pluck a thorn or plant a rose in his own pathway."

It was urged that this opposition must be embarrassing to his
Administration, as well as damaging to the party. He replied:
"Yes, that is true; but our friends, Wade, Davis, Phillips, and
others are hard to please. I am not capable of doing so. I cannot
please them without wantonly violating not only my oath, but the
most vital principles upon which our government was founded.

"As to those who, like Wade and the rest, see fit to depreciate
my policy and cavil at my official acts, I shall not complain of
them. I accord them the utmost freedom of speech and liberty of
the press, but shall not change the policy I have adopted in the
full belief that I am right.

"I feel on this subject as an old Illinois farmer once expressed
himself while eating cheese. He was interrupted in the midst of
his repast by the entrance of his son, who exclaimed, 'Hold on,
dad! there's skippers in that cheese you're eating!'

"'Never mind, Tom,' said he, as he kept on munching his cheese,
'if they can stand it I can.'"

President Lincoln was compelled to acknowledge that he made at
least one mistake in "sizing up" men. One day a very dignified
man called at the White House, and Lincoln's heart fell when his
visitor approached. The latter was portly, his face was full of
apparent anxiety, and Lincoln was willing to wager a year's
salary that he represented some Society for the Easy and Speedy
Repression of Rebellions.

The caller talked fluently, but at no time did he give advice or
suggest a way to put down the Confederacy. He was full of humor,
told a clever story or two, and was entirely self-possessed.

At length the President inquired, "You are a clergyman, are you
not, sir?"

"Not by a jug full," returned the stranger heartily.

Grasping him by the hand Lincoln shook it until the visitor
squirmed. "You must lunch with us. I am glad to see you. I was
afraid you were a preacher."

"I went to the Chicago Convention," the caller said, "as a friend
of Mr. Seward. I have watched you narrowly ever since your
inauguration, and I called merely to pay my respects. What I want
to say is this: I think you are doing everything for the good of
the country that is in the power of man to do. You are on the
right track. As one of your constituents I now say to you, do in
future as you d-- please, and I will support you!"

This was spoken with tremendous effect.

"Why," said Mr. Lincoln in great astonishment, "I took you to be
a preacher. I thought you had come here to tell me how to take
Richmond," and he again grasped the hand of his strange visitor.

Accurate and penetrating as Mr. Lincoln's judgment was concerning
men, for once he had been wholly mistaken. The scene was comical
in the extreme. The two men stood gazing at each other. A smile
broke from the lips of the solemn wag and rippled over the wide
expanse of his homely face like sunlight overspreading a
continent, and Mr. Lincoln was convulsed with laughter.

He stayed to lunch.

President Lincoln, while entertaining a few friends, is said to
have related the following anecdote of a man who knew too much:

During the administration of President Jackson there was a
singular young gentleman employed in the Public Postoffice in

His name was G.; he was from Tennessee, the son of a widow, a
neighbor of the President, on which account the old hero had a
kind feeling for him, and always got him out of difficulties with
some of the higher officials, to whom his singular interference
was distasteful.

Among other things, it is said of him that while employed in the
General Postoffice, on one occasion he had to copy a letter to
Major H., a high official, in answer to an application made by an
old gentleman in Virginia or Pennsylvania, for the establishment
of a new postoffice.

The writer of the letter said the application could not be
granted, in consequence of the applicant's "proximity" to another

When the letter came into G.'s hand to copy, being a great
stickler for plainness, he altered "proximity" to "nearness to."

Major H. observed it, and asked G. why he altered his letter.

"Why," replied G., "because I don't think the man would
understand what you mean by proximity."

"Well," said Major H., "try him; put in the 'proximity' again."

In a few days a letter was received from the applicant, in which
he very indignantly said that his father had fought for liberty
in the second war for independence, and he should like to have
the name of the scoundrel who brought the charge of proximity or
anything else wrong against him.

"There," said G., "did I not say so?"

G. carried his improvements so far that Mr. Berry, the
Postmaster-General, said to him: "I don't want you any longer;
you know too much."

Poor G. went out, but his old friend got him another place.

This time G.'s ideas underwent a change. He was one day very
busy writing, when a stranger called in and asked him where the
Patent Office was.

"I don't know," said G.

"Can you tell me where the Treasury Department is?" said the

"No," said G.

"Nor the President's house?"


The stranger finally asked him if he knew where the Capitol was.

"No," replied G.

"Do you live in Washington, sir."

"Yes, sir," said G.

"Good Lord! and don't you know where the Patent Office, Treasury,
President's House and Capitol are?"

"Stranger," said G., "I was turned out of the postoffice for
knowing too much. I don't mean to offend in that way again.

"I am paid for keeping this book.

"I believe I know that much; but if you find me knowing anything
more you may take my head."

"Good morning," said the stranger.

Judge Breese, of the Supreme bench, one of the most distinguished
of American jurists, and a man of great personal dignity, was
about to open court at Springfield, when Lincoln called out in
his hearty way: "Hold on, Breese! Don't open court yet! Here's
Bob Blackwell just going to tell a story!" The judge passed on
without replying, evidently regarding it as beneath the dignity
of the Supreme Court to delay proceedings for the sake of a

In an argument against the opposite political party at one time
during a campaign, Lincoln said: "My opponent uses a figurative
expression to the effect that 'the Democrats are vulnerable in
the heel, but they are sound in the heart and head.' The first
branch of the figure--that is the Democrats are vulnerable in the
heel--I admit is not merely figuratively but literally true. Who
that looks but for a moment at their hundreds of officials
scampering away with the public money to Texas, to Europe, and to
every spot of the earth where a villain may hope to find refuge
from justice, can at all doubt that they are most distressingly
affected in their heels with a species of running itch?

"It seems that this malady of their heels operates on the
sound-headed and honest-hearted creatures very much as the cork
leg in the comic song did on its owner, which, when he once got
started on it, the more he tried to stop it, the more it would
run away.

"At the hazard of wearing this point threadbare, I will relate an
anecdote the situation calls to my mind, which seems to be too
strikingly in point to be omitted. A witty Irish soldier, who was
always boasting of his bravery when no danger was near, but who
invariably retreated without orders at the first charge of the
engagement, being asked by his captain why he did so, replied,
'Captain, I have as brave a heart as Julius Caesar ever had, but
somehow or other, whenever danger approaches, my cowardly legs
will run away with it.'

"So with the opposite party--they take the public money into
their hands for the most laudable purpose that wise heads and
honest hearts can dictate; but before they can possibly get it
out again, their rascally, vulnerable heels will run away with

Preston King once introduced A. J. Bleeker to the President, and
the latter, being an applicant for office, was about to hand Mr.
Lincoln his vouchers, when he was asked to read them. Bleeker had
not read very far when the President disconcerted him by the
exclamation, "Stop a minute! You remind me exactly of the man who
killed the dog; in fact, you are just like him."

"In what respect?" asked Bleeker, not feeling he had received a

"Well," replied the President, "this man had made up his mind to
kill his dog, an ugly brute, and proceeded to knock out his
brains with a club. He continued striking the dog after the
latter was dead until a friend protested, exclaiming, 'You
needn't strike him any more; the dog is dead; you killed him at
the first blow.'

"'Oh, yes,' said he, 'I know that; but I believe in punishment
after death.' So, I see, you do."

Bleeker acknowledged it was possible to overdo a good thing, and
then came back at the President with an anecdote of a good priest
who converted an Indian from heathenism to Christianity; the only
difficulty he had with him was to get him to pray for his
enemies. "This Indian had been taught to overcome and destroy all
his friends he didn't like," said Bleeker, "but the priest told
him that while that might be the Indian method, it was not the
doctrine of Christianity or the Bible. 'Saint Paul distinctly
says,' the priest told him, 'If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if
he thirst, give him drink.'

"The Indian shook his head at this, but when the priest added,
'For in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head,' Poor
Lo was overcome with emotion, fell on his knees, and with
outstretched hands and uplifted eyes invoked all sorts of
blessings on the heads of all his enemies, supplicating for
pleasant hunting-grounds, a large supply of squaws, lots of
papooses, and all other Indian comforts.

"Finally the good priest interrupted him (as you did me, Mr.
President), exclaiming, 'Stop, my son! You have discharged your
Christian duty, and have done more than enough.'

"'Oh, no, father,' replied the Indian; 'let me pray! I want to
burn him down to the stump! "

During the war, one of the Northern Governors, who was able,
earnest and untiring in aiding the administration, but always
complaining, sent dispatch after dispatch to the War Office,
protesting against the methods used in raising troops. After
reading all his papers, the President said, in a cheerful and
reassuring tone to the Adjutant-General:

"Never mind, never mind; those dispatches don't mean anything.
Just go right ahead. The Governor is like a boy I once saw at a
launching. When everything was ready, they picked out a boy and
sent him under the ship to knock away the trigger and let her go.

"At the critical moment everything depended on the boy. He had to
do the job well by a direct, vigorous blow, and then lie flat and
keep still while the boat slid over him.

"The boy did everything right, but he yelled as if he were being
murdered from the time he got under the keel until he got out. I
thought the hide was all scraped off his back, but he wasn't hurt
at all.

"The master of the yard told me that this boy was always chosen
for that job; that he did his work well; that he never had been
hurt, but that he always squealed in that way.

"That's just the way with Governor --. Make up your mind that he
is not hurt, and that he is doing the work right, and pay no
attention to his squealing. He only wants to make you understand
how hard his task is, and that he is on hand performing it."

Many requests and petitions made to Mr. Lincoln when he was
President were ludicrous and trifling, but he always entered into
them with that humor-loving spirit that was such a relief from
the grave duties of his great office.

Once a party of Southerners called on him in behalf of one Betsy
Ann Dougherty. The spokesman, who was an ex-Governor, said:

"Mr. President, Betsy Ann Dougherty is a good woman. She lived in
my county and did my washing for a long time. Her husband went
off and joined the rebel army, and I wish you would give her a
protection paper." The solemnity of this appeal struck Mr.
Lincoln as uncommonly ridiculous.

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