“He Played on a Boy’s Harp all the Way”

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Next day he made some arrangement about his horse and buggy, and took the train to fill an appointment somewhere up north-west. I saw him start for the train: being obliged to ride over two miles in an old dilapidated omnibus, he was the sole occupant of the nondescript conveyance he had somehow procured, and had in his hand a small french harp, which he was making most execrable music with. I rallied him on this, to which, stopping his concert, he replied, “This is my band; Douglas had a brass band with him in Peoria, but this will dome:” and he resumed his uncouth solo as the vehicle drove off: and the primitive strains, somewhat shaken up by the jolting conveyance, floated out upon the air till distance intervened.

Quoted in Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, introduction and notes by Paul M. Angle (Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxon Printers, 1940), pp.31

“I shall never Forget his Reply”

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“Dear Herndon: “One morning, not long before Lincoln’s nomination-a year perhaps-I was in your office and heard the following! Mr. Lincoln, seated at the baize-covered table in the center of the office, listened attentively to a man who talked earnestly and in a low tone. After being thus engaged for some time Lincoln at length broke in, and I shall never forget his reply. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘we can doubtless gain your case for you; we can set a whole neighborhood at loggerheads; we can distress a widowed mother and her six fatherless children and thereby get for you six hundred dollars to which you seem to have a legal claim, but which rightfully belongs, it appears to me, as much to the woman and her children as it does to you. You must remember that somethings legally right are not morally right. We shall not take your case, but will give you a little advice for which we will charge you nothing. You seem to be a sprightly, energetic man; we would advise you to try your hand at making six hundred dollars in some other way.’ “Yours, “Lord.” From undated MS., about 1866.

Quoted in Herndon’s Lincoln: A True Story of a Great Life Written by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, ed.    Herndon-332-203-11-24

“I have never Served a President”

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It may well be supposed that President Lincoln suffered great anxiety during that eventful Sunday;but General Scott talked confidently of success, and Lincoln bore his impatience without any visible sign, and quietly went to church at eleven o’clock.Soon after noon copies of telegrams began to come to him at the Executive Mansion from the War Department and from army headquarters. They brought, however, no certain information, as they came only from the nearest station to the battlefield,and simply gave what the operator saw and heard. Towards three o’clock they became more frequent, and reported considerable fluctuation in the apparent course and progress of the cannonade.The President went to the office of General Scott,where he found the general asleep, and woke him to talk over the news. Scott said such reports were worth nothing as indications either way -that the changes in the currents of wind and the variation of the echoes made it impossible for a distant listener to determine the course of a battle.He still expressed his confidence in a successful result, and composed himself for another nap when the President left.

Dispatches continued to come about every ten or fifteen minutes, still based on hearing and hearsay;the rumors growing more cheering and definite.They reported that the battle had extended along nearly the whole line; that there had been considerable loss; but that the secession lines had been driven back two or three miles, some of the dispatches said, to the Junction. One of General Scott’s aides also brought the telegram of an engineer, repeating that McDowell had driven the enemy before him, that he had ordered the reserves to cross Bull Eun, and wanted reenf orcements without delay.

Quoted in John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Vol. 4 (New York: Century Co., 1917), p. 352.

A few days after the battle, in a conversation at the White House with several Illinois Members of Congress, in the presence of the President and the Secretary of War, Greneral Scott himself was so far nettled by the universal chagrin and fault-finding that he lost his temper and sought an entirely uncalled-for self-justification. “Sir, I am the greatest coward in America,” said he. “I will prove it. I have fought this battle, sir, against my judgment; I think the President of the United States ought to remove me to-day for doing it. As God is my judge, after my superiors had determined to fight it, I did all in my power to make the army efficient. I deserve removal because I did not stand up, when my army was not in a condition for fighting, and resist it to the last.”

The President said, “Your conversation seems to imply that I forced you to fight this battle.” General Scott then said, “I have never served a President who has been kinder to me than you have been.” Representative William A. Richardson, who in a complaining speech in Congress related the scene, then drew the inference that Scott intended to pay a personal compliment to Mr. Lincoln, but that he did not mean to exonerate the Cabinet; and when pressed by questions, further explained: “Let us have no misunderstanding about this matter. My colleagues understood that I gave the language as near as I could. Whether I have been correctly reported or not I do not know. If I did not then make the correct statement, let me do it now. I did not understand General Scott, nor did I mean so to be understood, as implying that the President had forced him to fight that battle.”

The incident illustrates how easily history may be perverted by-hot-blooded criticism. Scott’s irritation drove him to an inaccurate statement of events; Richardson’s partisanship warped Scott’s error to a still more unjustifiable deduction, and both reasoned from a changed condition of things. Two weeks before, Scott was confident of victory, and Richardson chafing at military inaction.

Quoted in John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Vol. 4 (New York: Century Co., 1917), p. 358.

“I Could not have Slept Well To-night”

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Lincoln had the tenderest heart for any one in distress, whether man, beast, or bird. Many of the gentle and touching sympathies of his nature, which flowered so frequently and beautifully in the humble citizen at home, fruited in the sunlight of the world when he had power and place. He carried from his home on the prairies to Washington the same gentleness of disposition and kindness of heart.

Six gentlemen, I being one, Lincoln, Baker, Hardin, and others were riding along a country road. We were strung along the road two and two together. We were passing through a thicket of wild plum and crab-apple trees. A violent wind-storm had just occurred. Lincoln and Hardin were behind.

There were two young birds by the roadside too young to fly. They had been blown from the nest by the storm. The old bird was fluttering about and wailing as a mother ever does for her babes. Lincoln stopped, hitched his horse, caught the birds, hunted the nest and placed them in it. The rest of us rode on to a creek, and while our horses were drinking Hardin rode up. ” Where is Lincoln,” said one? ” Oh, when I saw him last he had two little birds in his hand hunting for their nest.” In perhaps an hour he came. They laughed at him. He said with much emphasis, ” Gentlemen, you may laugh, but I could not have slept well to-night, if I had not saved those birds. Their cries would have rung in my ears.” This is one of the flowers of his prairie life. Now for the fruit.

Quoted in Joshua F. Speed, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln and Notes of a Visit to California(Louisville, Ky.: John P. Morton & Co., 1884), p. 25.

“That are Smarter at about Five than Ever After”

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To Joshua F. Speed [1]

Dear Speed: Springfield, Octr. 22nd. 1846

Owing to my absence, [2] yours of the 10th. Inst. was not received until yesterday. Since then I have been devoting myself to arive [sic] at a correct conclusion upon your matter of business. It may be that you do not precisely understand the nature and result of the suit against you and Bell’s estate. It is a chancery suit, and has been brought to a final decree, in which, you are treated as a nominal party only. The decree is, that Bell’s administrator pay the Nelson Fry debt, out of the proceeds of Bell’s half of the store. [3] So far, you are not injured; because you are released from the debt, without having paid any thing, and Hurst [4] is in no way left liable to you, because the debt he & Bell undertook to pay, is, or will be, paid without your paying it, or any part of it. The question, then, is,  “How are you injured?” By diverting so much of the assets of Bell’s estate, to the payment of the Fry debt, the general assets are lessened, and so, will pay a smaller dividend to general creditors; one of which creditors I suppose you are, in effect, as assignor of the note to W. P. Speed. [5] It incidentally enlarges your liability to W. P. Speed; and to that extent, you are injured. How much will this be? I think, $100- or $120- being the dividend of 25 or 30 per cent, that Hurst’s half of the Fry debt, would would [sic] pay on the W. P. S. debt. Hurst’s undertaking was, in effect, that he would pay the whole of the Fry debt, if Bell did not pay any part of it; but it was not his undertaking, that if Bell should pay the whole of it, he would refund the whole, so that Bell should be the better able to pay his other debts. You are not losing on the Fry debt, because that is, or will be paid; but your loss will be on the W. P. S. debt,—a debt that Hurst is under no obligation to indemnify you against. Hurst is bound to account to Bell’s estate, for one half of the Fry debt; because he owed half, and Bell’s estate pays all; and if, upon such accounting any thing is due the estate from Hurst, it will swell the estate, and so far enlarge the dividend to the W. P. S. debt. But when Bell’s estate shall call Hurst to account, he will will [sic] I am informed show that the estate, after paying the whole of the Fry debt is still indebted to him. If so, not much, if any thing can come from that quarter—nothing, unless it can be so turned, as to compel him [to?] pay all he owes the estate, and take a dividend only, upon what the estate owes him. If you had paid the Fry debt yourself, you could then turn on Hurst and make him refund you; but this would only bring [you?] where you started from, excepting it would leave Bell’s estate able to pay a larger dividend; and Hurst would then turn upon the estate to contribute one half, which would enlarge the indebtedness of the estate in the same proportion, and so reduce the dividend again. I believe the only thing that can be done for your advantage in the matter, is for Bell’s administrator to call Hurst to account for one half the Fry debt, and then fight off, the best he can, Hurst’s claim of indebtedness against the estate.

I should be much pleased to see [you?] here again; but I must, in candour, say I do not perceive how your personal presence would do any good in the business matter.

You, no doubt, assign the suspension of our correspondence to the true philosophical cause, though it must be confessed, by both of us, that this is rather a cold reason for allowing a friendship, such as ours, to die by degrees. I propose now, that, on the receipt of this, you shall be considered in my debt, and under obligation to pay soon, and that neither shall remain long in arrears hereafter. Are you agreed?

Being elected to Congress, though I am very grateful to our friends, for having done it, has not pleased me as much as I expected.

We have another boy, born the 10th. of March last. [6] He is very much such a child as Bob [7] was at his age—rather of a longer order. Bob is  “short and low,” and, I expect, always will be. He talks very plainly—almost as plainly as any body. He is quite smart enough. I some times fear he is one of the little rare-ripe sort, that are smarter at about five than ever after. He has a great deal of that sort of mischief, that is the offspring of much animal spirits. Since I began this letter a messenger came to tell me, Bob was lost; but by the time I reached the house, his mother had found him, and had him whip[p]ed—and, by now, very likely he is run away again.

Mary has read your letter, and wishes to be remembered to Mrs. S. and you, in which I most sincerely join her. As ever Yours—



[1] ALS, IHi.

[2] Lincoln had been on the circuit attending court.

[3] Nelson Fry got a judgment for $810 against William H. Herndon, administrator of James Bell, and Joshua F. Speed, on July 28, 1846.

[4] Charles R. Hurst who had bought Speed’s interest in Bell & Company.

[5] William Pope Speed, a brother.

[6] Edward Baker Lincoln, named for Edward D. Baker.

[7] Robert Todd Lincoln.

-Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 1.

“I Reckon It’s him”

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Only seventeen days from the incident narrated just now, the National Convention met at Philadelphia to nominate a national ticket, whose nominees should be inimical to the further spread of human slavery.

At the same time, an extra session of the Circuit Court of Champaign County convened at Urbana, Illinois, to dispose of a large mass of unfinished business. Judge Davis held the court, and Lincoln, having a few cases to try, attended.

At the Judge’s request, I secured a room for Lincoln, him and myself at the American House, kept by one John Dunaway. This primitive hostelry had three front entrances from the street, but not a single hall down-stairs; one of these entrances led directly into the ladies’ parlor and from it an entrance was obtained to the dining-room, and also from another corner a flight of stairs conducted us to our room. Close by the front and dining-room doors was kept a gong which our vulgar boniface was wont to beat vigorously, as a prelude to meals; he standing in the doorway immediately under our windows; and thereby causing us great annoyance.

This term of court was extremely prosaic, having for trial cases meagre both in amount and incident, tried usually by the court without the aid of a jury.

The weather was dry and hot: our surroundings were not conducive to comfort, and I don’t recollect to have ever attended a more uninteresting term of court.

The way we appropriated the news was thus: The Chicago Press used to reach town by the noon mail. Lincoln and Davis would go to the room direct from court, while I would go to the postoffice and gef Judge Cunningham’s paper. I would then read the news to them in our room.

While coming in one day with the paper I met Dunaway, our host, coming down from our room, where he had been and still was searching anxiously for his gong, which some ruthless hand had, alas, abstracted. When I had reached the room I was in the presence of the culprit. Lincoln sat awkwardly in a chair tilted up after his fashion, looking amused, silly and guilty, as if he had done something ridiculous, funny and reprehensible.

The Judge was equally amused; but said to him: “Now, Lincoln, that is a shame. Poor Dunaway is the most distressed being. You must put that back,” etc., etc.

It seems that Lincoln, in passing through the dining-room, had seen the offending and noisy instrument; and in a mischievous freak had secreted it between the top and false bottom of a center table, and where no one would have thought of looking for it. But he and I immediately repaired to the dining-room and while I held the two contiguous doors fast Lincoln restored the gong to its accustomed place, after which he bounded up the stairs, two steps at a time, I following.

I think it was on that very day — if not it was on the next day, at any rate it was on Thursday, June 19th, I read from the Chicago paper the following: “John C, Fremont was nominated for President on the first ballot. All the New England States went bodily for Fremont, except eleven votes for McLean. New York gave 93 for Fremont.” Next day at noon I was on hand with the paper again, from which I read the following, viz.: “The convention then proceeded to an informal ballot for Vice-President, which resulted as follows: Dayton, 259; Lincoln, 110; Ford, 7; King, 9; Banks, 29; Sumner, 30; Collamer, 15; Johnson, 2; Pennington, 7; Carey, 3. Mr. Eliot, of Massachusetts, withdrew the names of Sumner, Wilson and Banks at their requests. Wilmot’s name was then withdrawn. The motion was then carried to proceed to ‘a final ballot. Dayton was then unanimously nominated for Vice-President with the following exceptions: New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut 20 for Lincoln,” etc. Davis and I were greatly excited, but Lincoln was phlegmatic, listless and indifferent: his only remark was: “I reckon that ain’t me; there’s another great man in Massachusetts named Lincoln, and I reckon it’s him.”

Next day I got the paper, as usual, and saw, not only that it was our Lincoln, but learned what remarks were made in the convention. The Judge and I were especially incensed at Palmer’s reply to a question proposed, it being that we could carry Illinois either with or without Lincoln. The inquiry was made about Lincoln: “Will he fight ?” Lincoln betrayed no other feeling except that of amusement, at the sole qualification demanded.

I may observe, that we had not expected Lincoln to be a candidate at this time; all talk about his candidacy was abstract, and not concrete as yet: our favorite was Judge McLean.

The succeeding day I got the paper early and started to court with it before its adjournment. I met Lincoln at the west gate of the Court House square, quite alone, coming from court, which had not, even then, adjourned. He was grave, gloomy, thoughtful and abstrasted. I handed him the paper, which contained a wood cut of Fremont, and remarked: “It’s a shame for a man with such a head as that to beat Judge McLean.” Lincoln took the paper quite mechanically, and looked at it for a moment with no show of interest, and then handed it back, with the remark: “I don’t see anything wrong about that head.” I felt rebuked, for my remark was really unjust; but looking again, I said, handing him back the paper, “I think that a man who parts his hair in the middle, like a woman, ain’t fit to be President.” He took the paper again, quite mechanically, looked at the picture for a moment, and then, with no remark at all, handed it back, and resumed his walk ; gloomy and abstracted.

A day or two later he was ready to return home. He had collected $25 or $30 for that term’s business thus far, and one of our clients owed him $10, which he felt disappointed at not being able to collect; so I gave him a check for that amount, and went with him to the bank to collect it. The cashier, T. S. Hubbard, who paid it, is still living in Urbaua and will probably remember it. I do not remember to have seen him happier than when he had got his little earnings together, being less than §40, as I now recollect it, and had his carpet-bag packed, ready to start home.

Quoted in Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, introduction and notes by Paul M. Angle (Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxon Printers, 1940), pp.78


“I Know Meaner Things about Governor Chase”

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If Mr. Chase departed from the Cabinet with any unfriendness towards the President, we may be sure that Lincoln did not hold any such feeling towards Chase. When Roger B. Taney, Chief-Justice of the United States, died in 1864, the friends of Mr. Chase clamorously demanded that the ex-Secretary of the Treasury should take the place thus made vacant on the bench of the Supreme Court. Indeed, there was a very general public feeling that this appointment would be a wise one, although Mr. Lincoln’s immediate friends, mindful of Chase’s conduct in the Cabinet, remonstrated against his elevation to the lofty post of Chief-Justice. While this discussion was going on, the writer of these lines had occasion to visit the President in his private office. The President, who was in a happy frame of mind, jocularly asked, “What are people talking about now?” His caller replied that they were discussing the probability of Chase’s being appointed Chief-Justice. The smile on the President’s face faded, and he said with gravity and sadness: “My friends all over the country are trying to put up the bars between me and Governor Chase. I have a vast number of messages and letters, from men who think they are my friends, imploring and warning me not to appoint him.” He paused for a moment, and then, pointing to a pile of telegrams and letters on the table, said: “Now, I know meaner things about Governor Chase than any of those men can tell me; but I am going to nominate him.” Three days after that the appointment was made public.

Abraham Lincoln: the nation’s leader in the great struggle through which was maintained the existence of the United States,by Noah Brooks    Noah Brooks, “Personal Reminiscences of Lincoln,” Scribner’s Monthly 15 (March 1878), p. 677.

May 19, 1860,By Benjamin P. Thomas

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    The day after the adjournment of the Chicago convention a group of distinguished Republican politicians got off the train at Springfield to notify Lincoln officially of his nomination. He received them in the modest parlor of his home. Only a few of them had ever seen him; several were bitterly disappointed by his victory, and some had misgivings about his ability to fulfill the duties of the nation’s highest office. All of them scrutinized Lincoln closely as George Ashmun of Massachusetts, their chairman, presenting him with a letter of notification and a copy of the platform, made a short congratulatory speech.

    Standing quietly before them in his ill-fitting clothes, head sunk, shoulders drooping, his huge hands clasped in front of him, and a sad, impenetrable expression on his scraggy face, Lincoln seemed embarrassed and irresolute. Ashmun finished, and the bent head lifted. The drooping body straightened to its full height. The dull eyes lighted with an intelligence that animated the whole countenance. The irresolute figure took on a calm, sure dignity.
    Lincoln’s words were brief-thanks for the honor done him, a recognition of the responsibility of his position, a promise to respond formally in writing when he had studied the platform. He wished to take each visitor by the hand, he said, and with that he passed from man to man, greeting each one cordially, talking easily and sometimes humorously. Governor Edwin D.Morgan of New York was somewhat startled when Lincoln, appraising his lofty stature, asked how tall he was. Refreshments were served, and the committee left. “Why, sir, they told me he was a rough diamond,” said George Boutwell, Governor of Massachusetts, to one of Lincoln’s townsmen at a reception for the committee at the Chenery House. “Nothing could have been in better taste than that speech.” And Judge W.D. Kelley, of Pennsylvania, turning to Carl Schurz as the committeemen walked down Eighth Street, observed:”Well, we might have done a more brilliant thing, but we could certainly not have done a better thing.”

–Abraham Lincoln: A Biography By Benjamin P. Thomas, Michael Burlingame   Thomas-214-206-2

“But It’s Not All The Truth”

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In the Lincoln family, Matilda Johnston, or Tilda, as her mother called her, was the youngest child. After Abe had reached the estate of manhood, she was still in her ‘teens. It was Abe’s habit each morning one fall, to leave the house early, his axe on his shoulder, to clear a piece of forest which lay some distance from home. He frequently carried his dinner with him, and remained all day. Several times the young and frolicsome ‘Tilda sought to accompany him, but was each time restrained by her mother, who firmly forbade a repetition of the attempt. One morning the girl escaped maternal vigilance, and slyly followed after the young woodman, who had gone some distance from the house, and was already hidden from view behind the dense growth of trees and underbrush. Following a deer-path, he went singing along, little dreaming of the girl in close pursuit. The latter gained on him, and when within a few feet, darted forward and with a cat-like leap landed squarely on his back. With one hand on each shoulder, she planted her knee in the middle of his back, and dexterously brought the powerful frame of the rail-splitter to the ground. It was a trick familiar to every schoolboy. Abe, taken by surprise, was unable at first to turn around or learn who his assailant was. In the fall to the ground, the sharp edge of the axe imbedded itself in the young lady’s ankle, inflicting a wound from which there came a generous effusion of blood. With sundry pieces of cloth torn from Abe’s shirt and the young lady’s dress, the flow of blood was stanched, and the wound rudely bound up. The girl’s cries having lessened somewhat, her tall companion, looking at her in blank astonishment, knowing what an in-fraction the whole thing was of her mother’s oft-repeated instructions, asked; “‘Tilda, what are you going to tell mother about getting hurt?” “Tell her I did it with the axe,” she sobbed. “That will be the truth, won’t it?” To which last inquiry Abe manfully responded,    “Yes, that’s the truth, but it’s not all the truth. Tell the whole truth,’Tilda, and trust your good mother for the rest.”
By William H. Herndon,Jesse W. Weik “Herndon’s Lincoln: A True Story of a Great Life” Herndon-016-009-30