How We Elected Lincoln
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STORIES AND INCIDENTS
APPARENTLY the world is never weary of asking what was the true Abraham Lincoln, and every side-light upon his character is significant.
A man whom I knew well discovered the President at his office counting greenbacks and inclosing them in an envelope. He asked Mr. Lincoln how he could spare the time for such a task in the midst of the important duties that were pressing upon him.
Lincoln replied: "The President of the United States has a multiplicity of duties not specified in the Constitution or the laws. This is one of them. It is money which belongs to a negro porter from the Treasury Department. He is now in the hospital, too sick to sign his name, and according to his wish I am putting a part of it aside in an envelope, properly labeled, to save it for him."
An eye-witness relates that one day while walking along a shaded path from the Executive Mansion to the War Office, he saw the tall form of
the President seated on the grass. He afterward learned that a wounded soldier, while on his way to the White House seeking back pay and a pension, had met the President and had asked his assistance. Whereupon Mr. Lincoln sat down, looked over the soldier's papers, and advised him what to do; he ended by giving him a note directing him to the proper place to secure attention.
Driving up to a hospital one day he saw one of the patients walking directly in the path of his team. The horses were checked none too soon; then Mr. Lincoln saw that he was nothing but a boy and had been wounded in both eyes. He got out of the carriage and questioned the poor fellow, asking him his name, his service, and his residence. "I am Abraham Lincoln," he said, upon leaving; and the sightless face lighted at the President's words of sympathy. The following day the chief of the hospital delivered to the boy a commission in the Army of the United States as first lieutenant. The papers bore the President's signature and were accompanied by an order retiring him on three-quarters pay for the years of helplessness that lay before him.
"Some of my generals complain that I impair discipline in the Army by my pardons and respites," Lincoln once said. "But it rests me, after a hard day's work, if I can find some excuse for saving a man's life, and I go to bed happy as
I think how joyous the signing of my name will make him and his family and his friends."
I once heard Mr. Lincoln telling a number of Congressmen in the anteroom of the White House that in the distribution of patronage care should be taken of the disabled soldiers and the widows and orphans of deceased soldiers, and these views were subsequently conveyed to the Senate in a message which contained the following language:
Yesterday a little endorsement of mine went to you in two cases of postmasterships sought for widows whose husbands have fallen in the battles of the war. These cases occurring on the same day brought me to reflect more attentively than I had before as to what is fairly due in the dispensing of patronage to the men who, by fighting our battles, bear the chief burden of saving our country. My conclusion is that, other claims and qualifications being equal, they have the better right; and this is especially applicable to the disabled soldier and the deceased soldier's family.
It may not be out of place to consider here what would be Mr. Lincoln's attitude toward the irrepressible conflict that has been raging with such fierceness all over the world, between capital and labor, and which is ever increasing in intensity. I quote the following extracts from Lincoln 's message to Congress as showing his views on that question:
It is not needed, not fitting here, that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there
is one point not so hackneyed to which I ask a brief attention –it is an effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of the Government. Capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much higher consideration.
It will thus be seen that the President's sympathies were with struggling labor, and against the powerful capitalists, and that he would exercise his constitutional powers to promote the welfare of the laboring class. That attitude is in keeping with the broad humanitarian principles that always influenced Mr. Lincoln's actions. Truly, Lincoln 's great, tender heart was always open to the sufferings of humanity; certainly his sympathy was never branded by the limitations of creed or dogma. He never became a member of any church, but no one could doubt that he was a man of deep religious feeling. I remember on one occasion hearing him say, "Religion is a matter of faith; all good men will be saved." Judging by our standard of to-day, this utterance would class him with the Unitarians.
Upon one occasion, after he had become our President, he visited the Five Points Mission in New York , at that time a notorious slum, and addressed a number of children; while there he gave no intimation that he was President of the United States. When he was leaving the teacher
thanked him, and asked who he was. He simply answered, "Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois."
I have spoken of seeing Lincoln smile, but I never remember hearing him laugh heartily, even when he was convulsing every one about him with one of his inimitably told stories. And yet he apparently enjoyed exciting the mirth of others, and to that extent, at least, he seemed to enter into the spirit of the comedy. Many of the great humorists of the world have been men of melancholy mood, and both tears and laughter are based on the same precious essence.
I was often in Washington in those days, and I recollect frequently seeing the great President walking on Pennsylvania Avenue , with "Little Tad" clasping his hand. The fact that he took Tad with him on his important mission to Richmond , where he attended the conference with some of the leaders of the Confederacy, shows the companionship and intense affection between the President and the son of his old age.
Once while Mrs. Lincoln was at Manchester, Vermont, she received a message from the President, saying, "All is well, including Tad's pony and the goats." A little later he asked her to tell "dear Tad that poor nanny-goat is lost."
I often saw the President sitting in the White House in carpet slippers, and wearing an old bombazine coat out at the elbows. Indeed, Mr.
Lincoln was not created to adorn fashionable society, and did not care for it. Clothing never troubled him, while Mrs. Lincoln set much store upon appearances and was concerned over her husband's indifference to them.
The severe trials which confronted him, greater than any other President encountered, and the heavy burden that rested on him, did not blunt his finer feelings.
In a conversation with Mr. Lincoln , in which his visit to Richmond came up, I casually inquired what he thought should be done with Jefferson Davis at the end of the war, which appeared then to be approaching. After a moment's deliberation his sad face brightened as he answered that, if lie had his way, he would let him die in peace on his Southern plantation. I remember well that at that time my interpretation of his words was that he would not permit any punishment to be inflicted on Jefferson Davis, unless it were absolutely demanded by the American people.
During the early part of President Johnson's administration, after the collapse of the rebellion, Davis was captured and brought on habeas corpus proceedings before a Virginia court and released on bail. Horace Greeley, Gerritt Smith, and other Northern anti-slavery men became sureties on the bail bond, but no proceedings were ever taken to bring Davis to trial. He was al-
lowed to die in peace on his Southern plantation.
Can history show any thought more magnanimous in the life of a ruler or statesman than this? Lincoln urged Meade, after the battle of Gettysburg to pursue Lee in retreat and with one bold stroke end the war. The order was peremptory, but a friendly note was attached, as follows:
The order I enclose is not of record. If you succeed, you need not publish the order. If you fail, publish it. Then, if you succeed, you will have all the credit of the movement. If not, I'll take care of the responsibility.
A striking example of the President's unselfish refusal to use his official position for the advancement of any member of his family, is found in his letter to General Grant, asking for a commission for his son, Robert.
Please read and answer this letter as though I was not President, but only a friend. My son, now in his twenty-second year, having graduated at Harvard, wishes to see something of the war before it ends. I do not wish to put him in the ranks, nor yet give him a commission to which those who have already served long are better entitled and better qualified to hold.
Could he, without embarrassment to you or detriment to the service, go into your military family with some nominal rank; I, and not the public, furnishing his necessary means? If not, say so without the least hesitation, because I am as anxious and as deeply interested that you shall not be encumbered as you can be yourself.
Mr. Lincoln was famous for disposing of officeseekers without leaving a sting behind. H. C. Whitney told this story to a friend of mine:
"I had business in Washington in 1861 pertaining to the Indian service, and I remarked to Mr. Lincoln that, 'Everything is drifting into the war, and I guess you will have to put me in the Army.' Lincoln smiled and said: 'I'm making generals now. In a few days I'll be making quartermasters, then I'll see to you."'
Lincoln, referring to the criticisms made upon the administration, particularly in regard to matters entirely outside of its jurisdiction, said that he was reminded of a certain Long Island fisherman who was accustomed to go out eeling every morning. In the old days, he asserted, he never caught less than a pailful of eels, but since this administration came into power he had to be content with half a pailful. Therefore he was going to vote for the Democratic party; he wanted a change.
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