He Knew Lincoln
The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.
HE KNEW LINCOLN
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
|“Come and set by the stove by the hour and tell stories and talk and argue”||4|
|“Horace Greeley, he came in here to buy quinine”||16|
|“Aunt Sally, you couldn’t a done nuthin’ which would have pleased me better”||18|
|“He just talked to us that time out of his heart”||24|
|“You’re actin’ like a lot of cowards. You’ve helped make this war, and you’ve got to help fight it”||26|
|“We went out on the back stoop and sat down and talked and talked”||30|
HE KNEW LINCOLN
“Did I know Lincoln? Well,I should say. See thatchair there? Take it, setdown. That’s right. Comfortable,ain’t it? Well, sir, Abraham Lincolnhas set in that chair hours, him andLittle ‘Doug,’ and Logan and JudgeDavis, all of ’em, all the big men in thisState, set in that chair. See them marks?Whittlin’. Judge Logan did it, all-firedestman to whittle. Always cuttin’ away atsomething. I just got that chair new, paidsix dollars for it, and I be blamed if Ididn’t come in this store and find himslashin’ right into that arm. I picked upa stick and said: ‘Here, Judge, s’posin’you cut this.’ He just looked at me and4then flounced out, mad as a wet hen.Mr. Lincoln was here, and you ought toheard him tee-hee. He was always here.Come and set by the stove by the hourand tell stories and talk and argue. I’druther heard the debates them men hadaround this old stove than heard Websterand Clay and Calhoun and the wholeUnited States Senate. There wan’t neverno United States Senate that could beatjust what I’ve heard right here in thisroom with Lincoln settin’ in that verychair where you are this minute.
“Come and set by the stove by the hour and tell stories and talk and argue”
5“He traded here. I’ve got his accountsnow. See here, ‘quinine, quinine, quinine.’Greatest hand to buy quinine you everseen. Give it to his constituents. Oh, heknew how to be popular, Mr. Lincoln did.Cutest man in politics. I wan’t a Whig.I was then and I am now a Democrat, areal old-fashioned Jackson Democrat, andmy blood just would rise up sometimeshearin’ him discuss. He was a dangerousman—a durned dangerous man to haveagin you. He’d make you think a thingwhen you knew it wan’t so, and cute!Why, he’d just slide in when you wan’texpectin’ it and do some unexpectedthing that just’d make you laugh, andthen he’d get your vote. You’d vote forhim because you liked him—just becauseyou liked him and because he wasso all-fired smart, and do it when youknew he was wrong and it was agin theinterest of the country.
“Tell stories? Nobody ever could beathim at that, and how he’d enjoy ’em, justslap his hands on his knees and jump upand turn around and then set down,laughin’ to kill. Greatest man to git newyarns that ever lived, always askin’,‘Heard any new stories, Billy?’ And if6I had I’d trot ’em out, and how he’dlaugh. Often and often when I’ve toldhim something new and he’d kin’ a forgithow it went, he’d come in and say, ‘Billy,how was that story you’se tellin’ me?’and then I’d tell it all over.
“He was away a lot, you know, ridin’the circuit along with some right smartlawyers. They had great doin’s. Nuthin’to do evenings but to set around thetavern stove tellin’ stories. That wasenough when Lincoln was there. Theywas all lost without him. Old Judge Daviswas boss of that lot, and he never wouldsettle down till Lincoln got around. I’veheard ’em laugh lots of times how theJudge would fuss around and keep askin’,‘Where’s Mr. Lincoln, why don’t Mr.Lincoln come? Somebody go and findLincoln,’ and when Lincoln came hewould just settle back and get him started7to yarning, and there they’d set half thenight.
“When he got home he’d come right inhere first time he was downtown and tellme every blamed yarn he’d heard. Wholecrowd would get in here sometimes andtalk over the trip, and I tell you it wassomething to hear ’em laugh. You couldtell how Lincoln kept things stirred up.He was so blamed quick. Ever hear JudgeWeldon tell that story about what Lincolnsaid one day up to Bloomingtonwhen they was takin’ up a subscriptionto buy Jim Wheeler a new pair of pants?No? Well, perhaps I oughten to tell it toyou, ma says it ain’t nice. It makes memad to hear people objectin’ to Mr.Lincoln’s stories. Mebbe he did saywords you wouldn’t expect to hear at achurch supper, but he never put no meanin’into ’em that wouldn’t ‘a’ been fit for8the minister to put into a sermon, andthat’s a blamed sight more’n you can sayof a lot of stories I’ve heard some of thepeople tell who stick up their noses atMr. Lincoln’s yarns.
“Yes, sir, he used to keep things purtywell stirred up on that circuit. That timeI was a speakin’ of he made Judge Davisreal mad; it happened right in court andeverybody got to gigglin’ fit to kill. TheJudge knew ’twas something Lincolnhad said and he began to sputter.
“‘I am not going to stand this anylonger, Mr. Lincoln, you’re always disturbin’this court with your tomfoolery.I’m goin’ to fine you. The clerk will fineMr. Lincoln five dollars for disorderlyconduct.’ The boys said Lincoln neversaid a word; he just set lookin’ down withhis hand over his mouth, tryin’ not tolaugh. About a minute later the Judge,9who was always on pins and needles tillhe knew all the fun that was goin’ on,called up Weldon and whispered to him,‘What was that Lincoln said?’ Weldontold him, and I’ll be blamed if the Judgedidn’t giggle right out loud there in court.The joke was on him then, and he knewit, and soon as he got his face straight hesaid, dignified like, ‘The clerk may remitMr. Lincoln’s fine.’
“Yes, he was a mighty cute story-teller,but he knew what he was about tellin’’em. I tell you he got more arguments outof stories than he did out of law books,and the queer part was you couldn’tanswer ’em—they just made you see itand you couldn’t get around it. I’m aDemocrat, but I’ll be blamed if I didn’thave to vote for Mr. Lincoln as President,couldn’t help it, and it was all on accountof that snake story of his’n illustratin’10the takin’ of slavery into Kansas and Nebraska.Remember it? I heard him tellit in a speech once.
“‘If I saw a pizen snake crawlin’ inthe road,’ he says, ‘I’d kill it with thefirst thing I could grab; but if I found itin bed with my children, I’d be mightycareful how I touched it fear I’d make itbite the children. If I found it in bed withsomebody else’s children I’d let themtake care of it; but if I found somebodyputtin’ a whole batch of young snakesinto an empty bed where mine or anybody’schildren was going to sleep prettysoon, I’d stop him from doin’ it if I hadto fight him.’ Perhaps he didn’t say ‘fighthim,’ but somehow I always tell thatstory that way because I know I wouldand so would he or you or anybody. Thatwas what it was all about when you comedown to it. They was trying to put a batch11of snakes into an empty bed that folkswas goin’ to sleep in.
“Before I heard that story I’d heardLincoln say a hundred times, settin’ rightthere in that chair, where you are, ‘Boys,we’ve got to stop slavery or it’s goin’ tospread all over this country,’ but, somehow,I didn’t see it before. Them snakesfinished me. Then I knew he’d got it rightand I’d got to vote for him. Pretty tough,though, for me to go back on Little‘Doug.’ You see he was our great man,so we thought. Been to the United StatesSenate and knew all the big bugs all overthe country. Sort o’ looked and talkedgreat. Wan’t no comparison between himand Lincoln in looks and talk. Of course,we all knew he wan’t honest, like Lincoln,but blamed if I didn’t think in them daysLincoln was too all-fired honest—kindof innocent honest. He couldn’t stand it12nohow to have things said that wan’t so.He just felt plumb bad about lies. I rememberonce bein’ in court over to Decaturwhen Mr. Lincoln was tryin’ a case.There was a fellow agin him that didn’thave no prejudices against lyin’ in a lawsuit,and he was tellin’ how Lincoln hadsaid this an’ that, tryin’ to mix up thejury. It was snowin’ bad outside, and Mr.Lincoln had wet his feet and he was tryin’to dry ’em at the stove. He had pulled offone shoe and was settin’ there holdin’ uphis great big foot, his forehead all puckeredup, listenin’ to that ornery lawyer’slies. All at onct he jumped up and hoppedright out into the middle of the court-room.
“‘Now, Judge,’ he says, ‘that ain’tfair. I didn’t say no sich thing, and heknows I didn’t. I ain’t goin’ to have thisjury all fuddled up.’
13“You never see anything so funny in acourt-room as that big fellow standin’there in one stockin’ foot, a shoe in hishand, talking so earnest. No, sir, hecouldn’t stand a lie.
“‘Think he was a big man, then?’Nope—never did. Just as I said, we allthought Douglas was our big man. Youknow I felt kind of sorry for Lincolnwhen they began to talk about him forPresident. It seemed almost as if somebodywas makin’ fun of him. He didn’tlook like a president. I never had seenone, but we had pictures of ’em, all of’em from George Washington down, andthey looked somehow as if they were differentkind of timber from us. Leastwisethat’s always the way it struck me. NowMr. Lincoln he was just like your ownfolks—no trouble to talk to him, nosiree. Somehow you just settled down14comfortable to visitin’ the minute he comein. I couldn’t imagine George Washingtonor Thomas Jefferson settin’ here inthat chair you’re in tee-heein’ over someblamed yarn of mine. None of us aroundtown took much stock in his bein’ electedat first—that is, none of the men, thewomen was different. They always believedin him, and used to say, ‘You markmy word, Mr. Lincoln will be president.He’s just made for it, he’s good, he’s thebest man ever lived and he ought to bepresident.’ I didn’t see no logic in thatthen, but I dunno but there was someafter all.
“It seems all right now though. I reckonI learned somethin’ watchin’ him bePresident—learned a lot—not that itmade any difference in him. Funniestthing to see him goin’ around in thistown—not a mite changed—and the15whole United States a watchin’ him andthe biggest