Joshua F.Speed

“I am Slow to Learn, and Slow to Forget.”

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I once remarked to him that his mind was a wonder to me; that impressions were easily made upon it and never effaced. ‘No,’ said he, ‘you are mistaken; I am slow to learn, and slow to forget that which I have learned. My mind is like a piece of steel-very hard to scratch anything on it, and almost impossible after you get it there to rub it out.’ I give this as his own illustration of the character of his mental faculties; it is as good as any I have seen from anyone.

Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 499 (Letter of Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon, December 6, 1866).  Herndon-313-04  ,Ludwig-136-13

“I Plucked a Thistle and Planted a Flower”

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 “The last interview but one I had with him was about ten days prior to his last inauguration. Congress was drawing to a close; it had been an important session; much attention had to be given to the important bills he was signing; a great war was upon him and the country; visitors were coming and going to the President with their varying complaints and grievances from morning till night with almost as much regularity as the ebb and flow of the tide; and he was worn down in health and spirits. On this occasion I was sent for, to come and see him. Instructions were given that when I came I should be admitted. When I entered his office it was quite full, and many more-among them not a few Senators and members of Congress-still waiting. As soon as I was fairly inside, the President remarked that he desired to see me as soon as he was through giving audiences, and that if I had nothing to do I could take the papers and amuse myself in that or any other way I saw fit till he was ready. In the room, when I entered, I observed sitting near the fireplace, dressed in humble attire, two ladies modestly waiting their turn. One after another of the visitors came and went, each bent on his own particular errand, some satisfied and others evidently displeased at the result of their mission.
The hour had arrived to close the door against all further callers. No one was left in the room now except the President, the two ladies, and me. With a rather peevish and fretful air he turned to them and said, ‘Well, ladies, what can I do for you?’ They both commenced to speak at once. From what they said he soon learned that one was the wife and the other the mother of two men imprisoned for resisting the draft in western Pennsylvania. ‘Stop,’ said he, ‘don’t say any more. Give me your petition.’ The old lady responded, ‘Mr. Lincoln, we’ve got no petition; we couldn’t write one and had no money to pay for writing one, and I thought best to come and see you.’ ‘Oh,’ said he, ‘I understand your cases.’ He rang his bell and ordered one of the messengers to tell General Dana to bring him the names of all the men in prison for resisting the draft in western Pennsylvania. The General soon came with the list. He enquired if there was any difference in the charges or degrees of guilt. The General replied that he knew of none. ‘Well, then,’ said he, ‘these fellows have suffered long enough, and I have thought so for some time, and now that my mind is on the subject I believe I will turn out the whole flock. So, draw up the order, General, and I will sign it.’ It was done and the General left the room. Turning to the women he said, ‘Now, ladies, you can go.’ The younger of the two ran forward and was in the act of kneeling in thankfulness. ‘Get up,’ he said; ‘don’t kneel to me, but thank God and go.’ The old lady now came forward with tears in her eyes to express her gratitude. ‘Good-bye, Mr. Lincoln,’ said she; ‘I shall probably never see you again till we meet in heaven.’ These were her exact words. She had the President’s hand in hers, and he was deeply moved. He instantly took her right hand in both of his and, following her to the door, said, ‘I am afraid with all my troubles I shall never get to the resting-place you speak of; but if I do I am sure I shall find you. That you wish me to get there is, I believe, the best wish you could make for me. Good-bye.’
“We were now alone. I said to him, ‘Lincoln, with my knowledge of your nervous sensibility, it is a wonder that such scenes as this don’t kill you.’ He thought for a moment and then answered in a languid voice, ‘Yes, you are to a certain degree right. I ought not to undergo what I so often do. I am very unwell now; my feet and hands of late seem to be always cold, and I ought perhaps to be in bed; but things of the sort you have just seen don’t hurt me, for, to tell you the truth, that scene is the only thing to-day that has made me forget my condition or given me any pleasure. I have, in that order, made two people happy and alleviated the distress of many a poor soul whom I never expect to see. That old lady,’ he continued, ‘was no counterfeit. The mother spoke out in all the features of her face. It is more than one can often say that in doing right one has made two people happy in one day. Speed, die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower when I thought a flower would grow.’ What a fitting sentiment! What a glorious recollection!”

William Henry Herndon,Jesse William Weik,“Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life” p.526;Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 157-158 (Letter of Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon, January 12, 1866).Herndon-313-20 ,Carnegie-185-178-23