Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

“It was noticed that the dog-owner was not over-enthusiastic in
the matter; he pleaded a ‘business engagement,’ but as he was the
most notorious and torpid of the town loafers, and wouldn’t have
recognized a ‘business engagement’ had he met it face to face,
his excuse was treated with contempt. Therefore he had to go.

“The dog, however, was glad enough to go, and so the party
started out. Wolves were in plenty, and soon a pack was
discovered, but when the ‘wolf-hound’ saw the ferocious animals
he lost heart, and, putting his tail between his legs, endeavored
to slink away. At last–after many trials–he was enticed into
the small growth of underbrush where the wolves had secreted
themselves, and yelps of terror betrayed the fact that the battle
was on.

“Away flew the wolves, the dog among them, the hunting party
following on horseback. The wolves seemed frightened, and the dog
was restored to public favor. It really looked as if he had the
savage creatures on the run, as he was fighting heroically when
last sighted.

“Wolves and dog soon disappeared, and it was not until the party
arrived at a distant farmhouse that news of the combatants was

‘Have you seen anything of a wolf-dog and a pack of wolves around
here?’ was the question anxiously put to the male occupant of the
house, who stood idly leaning upon the gate.

“‘Yep,’ was the short answer.

“‘How were they going?’

“‘Purty fast.’

“‘What was their position when you saw them?’

“‘Well,’ replied the farmer, in a most exasperatingly deliberate
way, ‘the dog was a leetle bit ahead.’

“Now, gentlemen,” concluded the President, “that’s the position
in which you’ll find most of these bragging generals when they
get into a fight with the enemy. That’s why I don’t like military

When Lincoln was nineteen years of age, he went to work for a Mr.
Gentry, and, in company with Gentry’s son, took a flatboat load
of provisions to New Orleans. At a plantation six miles below
Baton Rouge, while the boat was tied up to the shore in the dead
hours of the night, and Abe and Allen were fast asleep in the
bed, they were startled by footsteps on board. They knew
instantly that it was a gang of negroes come to rob and perhaps
murder them. Allen, thinking to frighten the negroes, called out,
“Bring guns, Lincoln, and shoot them!” Abe came without the guns,
but fell among the negroes with a huge bludgeon and belabored
them most cruelly, following them onto the bank. They rushed back
to their boat and hastily put out into the stream. It is said
that Lincoln received a scar in this tussle which he carried with
him to his grave. It was on this trip that he saw the workings of
slavery for the first time. The sight of New Orleans was like a
wonderful panorama to his eyes, for never before had he seen
wealth, beauty, fashion and culture. He returned home with new
and larger ideas and stronger opinions of right and justice.

“Every man has his own peculiar and particular way of getting at
and doing things,” said President Lincoln one day, “and he is
often criticised because that way is not the one adopted by
others. The great idea is to accomplish what you set out to do.
When a man is successful in whatever he attempts, he has many
imitators, and the methods used are not so closely scrutinized,
although no man who is of good intent will resort to mean,
underhanded, scurvy tricks.

“That reminds me of a fellow out in Illinois, who had better luck
in getting prairie chickens than any one in the neighborhood. He
had a rusty old gun no other man dared to handle; he never seemed
to exert himself, being listless and indifferent when out after
game, but he always brought home all the chickens he could carry,
while some of the others, with their finely trained dogs and
latest improved fowling-pieces, came home alone.

“‘How is it, Jake?’ inquired one sportsman, who, although a good
shot, and knew something about hunting, was often unfortunate,
‘that you never come home without a lot of birds?’

“Jake grinned, half closed his eyes, and replied: ‘Oh, I don’t
know that there’s anything queer about it. I jes’ go ahead an’
git ’em.’

“‘Yes, I know you do; but how do you do it?’

“‘You’ll tell.’

“‘Honest, Jake, I won’t say a word. Hope to drop dead this

“‘Never say nothing, if I tell you?’

“‘Cross my heart three times.’

“This reassured Jake, who put his mouth close to the ear of his
eager questioner, and said, in a whisper:

“‘All you got to do is jes’ to hide in a fence corner an’ make a
noise like a turnip. That’ll bring the chickens every time.'”

When Lincoln was a candidate for re-election to the Illinois
Legislature in 1836, a meeting was advertised to be held in the
court-house in Springfield, at which candidates of opposing
parties were to speak. This gave men of spirit and capacity a
fine opportunity to show the stuff of which they were made.

George Forquer was one of the most prominent citizens; he had
been a Whig, but became a Democrat–possibly for the reason that
by means of the change he secured the position of Government land
register, from President Andrew Jackson. He had the largest and
finest house in the city, and there was a new and striking
appendage to it, called a lightning-rod! The meeting was very
large. Seven Whig and seven Democratic candidates spoke.

Lincoln closed the discussion. A Kentuckian (Joshua F. Speed),
who had heard Henry Clay and other distinguished Kentucky
orators, stood near Lincoln, and stated afterward that he “never
heard a more effective speaker; . . . the crowd seemed to be
swayed by him as he pleased.” What occurred during the closing
portion of this meeting must be given in full, from Judge
Arnold’s book:

“Forquer, although not a candidate, asked to be heard for the
Democrats, in reply to Lincoln. He was a good speaker, and well
known throughout the county. His special task that day was to
attack and ridicule the young countryman from Salem.

“Turning to Lincoln, who stood within a few feet of him, he said:
‘This young man must be taken down, and I am truly sorry that the
task devolves upon me.’ He then proceeded, in a very overbearing
way, and with an assumption of great superiority, to attack
Lincoln and his speech. He was fluent and ready with the rough
sarcasm of the stump, and he went on to ridicule the person,
dress and arguments of Lincoln with so much success that
Lincoln’s friends feared that he would be embarrassed and

The Clary’s Grove boys were present, and were restrained with
difficulty from “getting up a fight” in behalf of their favorite
(Lincoln), they and all his friends feeling that the attack was
ungenerous and unmanly.)

“Lincoln, however, stood calm, but his flashing eye and pale
cheek indicated his indignation. As soon as Forquer had closed he
took the stand, and first answered his opponent’s arguments fully
and triumphantly. So impressive were his words and manner that a
hearer (Joshua F. Speed) believes that he can remember to this
day and repeat some of the expressions.

“Among other things he said: ‘The gentleman commenced his speech
by saying that “this young man,” alluding to me, “must be taken
down.” I am not so young in years as I am in the tricks and the
trades of a politician, but,’ said he, pointing to Forquer, ‘live
long or die young, I would rather die now than, like the
gentleman, change my politics, and with the change receive an
office worth $3,000 a year, and then,’ continued he, ‘feel
obliged to erect a lightning-rod over my house, to protect a
guilty conscience from an offended God!'”

Jefferson Davis insisted on being recognized by his official
title as commander or President in the regular negotiation with
the Government. This Mr. Lincoln would not consent to.

Mr. Hunter thereupon referred to the correspondence between King
Charles the First and his Parliament as a precedent for a
negotiation between a constitutional ruler and rebels. Mr.
Lincoln’s face then wore that indescribable expression which
generally preceded his hardest hits, and he remarked: “Upon
questions of history, I must refer you to Mr. Seward, for he is
posted in such things, and I don’t profess to be; but my only
distinct recollection of the matter is, that Charles lost his

Lincoln loved anything that savored of wit or humor among the
soldiers. He used to relate two stories to show, he said, that
neither death nor danger could quench the grim humor of the
American soldier:

“A soldier of the Army of the Potomac was being carried to the
rear of battle with both legs shot off, who, seeing a pie-woman,
called out, ‘Say, old lady, are them pies sewed or pegged?’

“And there was another one of the soldiers at the battle of
Chancellorsville, whose regiment, waiting to be called into the
fight, was taking coffee. The hero of the story put to his lips a
crockery mug which he had carried with care through several
campaigns. A stray bullet, just missing the tinker’s head, dashed
the mug into fragments and left only the handle on his finger.
Turning his head in that direction, he scowled, ‘Johnny, you
can’t do that again!'”

Captain T. W. S. Kidd of Springfield was the crier of the court
in the days when Mr. Lincoln used to ride the circuit.

“I was younger than he,” says Captain Kidd, “but he had a sort of
admiration for me, and never failed to get me into his stories. I
was a story-teller myself in those days, and he used to laugh
very heartily at some of the stories I told him.

“Now and then he got me into a good deal of trouble. I was a
Democrat, and was in politics more or less. A good many of our
Democratic voters at that time were Irishmen. They came to
Illinois in the days of the old canal, and did their honest share
in making that piece of internal improvement an accomplished

“One time Mr. Lincoln told the story of one of those important
young fellows–not an Irishman–who lived in every town, and have
the cares of state on their shoulders. This young fellow met an
Irishman on the street, and called to him, officiously: ‘Oh,
Mike, I’m awful glad I met you. We’ve got to do something to wake
up the boys. The campaign is coming on, and we’ve got to get out
voters. We’ve just had a meeting up here, and we’re going to have
the biggest barbecue that ever was heard of in Illinois. We are
going to roast two whole oxen, and we’re going to have Douglas
and Governor Cass and some one from Kentucky, and all the big
Democratic guns, and we’re going to have a great big time.’

“‘By dad, that’s good!’ says the Irishman. ‘The byes need
stirrin’ up.’

“‘Yes, and you’re on one of the committees, and you want to
hustle around and get them waked up, Mike.’

“‘When is the barbecue to be?’ asked Mike.

“‘Friday, two weeks.’

“‘Friday, is it? Well, I’ll make a nice committeeman, settin’
the barbecue on a day with half of the Dimocratic party of
Sangamon county can’t ate a bite of mate. Go on wid ye.’

“Lincoln told that story in one of his political speeches, and
when the laugh was over he said: ‘Now, gentlemen, I know that
story is true, for Tom Kidd told it to me.’ And then the
Democrats would make trouble for me for a week afterward, and I’d
have to explain.”

About two years before Lincoln was nominated for the Presidency
he went to Bloomington, Illinois, to try a case of some
importance. His opponent–who afterward reached a high place in
his profession–was a young man of ability, sensible but
sensitive, and one to whom the loss of a case was a great blow.
He therefore studied hard and made much preparation.

This particular case was submitted to the jury late at night,
and, although anticipating a favorable verdict, the young
attorney spent a sleepless night in anxiety. Early next morning
he learned, to his great chagrin, that he had lost the case.

Lincoln met him at the court-house some time after the jury had
come in, and asked him what had become of his case.

With lugubrious countenance and in a melancholy tone the young
man replied, “It’s gone to hell.”

“Oh, well,” replied Lincoln, “then you will see it again.”

When arguing a case in court, Mr. Lincoln never used a word which
the dullest juryman could not understand. Rarely, if ever, did a
Latin term creep into his arguments. A lawyer, quoting a legal
maxim one day in court, turned to Lincoln, and said: “That is so,
is it not, Mr. Lincoln?”

“If that’s Latin.” Lincoln replied, “you had better call another

Mr. Carpenter, the artist, relates the following incident: “Some
photographers came up to the White House to make some
stereoscopic studies for me of the President’s office. They
requested a dark closet in which to develop the pictures, and,
without a thought that I was infringing upon anybody’s rights, I
took them to an unoccupied room of which little ‘Tad’ had taken
possession a few days before, and, with the aid of a couple of
servants, had fitted up a miniature theater, with stage,
curtains, orchestra, stalls, parquette and all. Knowing that the
use required would interfere with none of his arrangements, I led
the way to this apartment.

“Everything went on well, and one or two pictures had been taken,
when suddenly there was an uproar. The operator came back to the
office and said that ‘Tad’ had taken great offense at the
occupation of his room without his consent, and had locked the
door, refusing all admission.

“The chemicals had been taken inside, and there was no way of
getting at them, he having carried off the key. In the midst of
this conversation ‘Tad’ burst in, in a fearful passion. He laid
all the blame upon me–said that I had no right to use his room,
and the men should not go in even to get their things. He had
locked the door and they should not go there again–‘they had no
business in his room!’

“Mr. Lincoln was sitting for a photograph, and was still in the
chair. He said, very mildly, ‘Tad, go and unlock the door.’ Tad
went off muttering into his mother’s room, refusing to obey. I
followed him into the passage, but no coaxing would pacify him.
Upon my return to the President, I found him still patiently in
the chair, from which he had not risen. He said: ‘Has not the boy
opened the door?’ I replied that we could do nothing with him–he
had gone off in a great pet. Mr. Lincoln’s lips came together
firmly, and then, suddenly rising, he strode across the passage
with the air of one bent on punishment, and disappeared in the
domestic apartments. Directly he returned with the key to the
theater, which he unlocked himself.

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