Ida M. (Ida Minerva) Tarbell.

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HE KNEW LINCOLN ***




Produced by Richard Tonsing and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This file was
produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)






[Illustration]




HE KNEW LINCOLN


BY
IDA M. TARBELL

AUTHOR OF “LIFE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN”

[Illustration]

NEW YORK
McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.
MCMVII




_Copyright, 1907, by McClure, Phillips & Co._


Copyright, 1907, by The Phillips Publishing Company

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_To My Mother_




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


_Facing page_

“_Come and set by the stove by the hour and tell stories 4
and talk and argue_”

“_Horace Greeley, he came in here to buy quinine_” 16

“_Aunt Sally, you couldn’t a done nuthin’ which would 18
have pleased me better_”

“_He just talked to us that time out of his heart_” 24

“_You’re actin’ like a lot of cowards. You’ve helped make 26
this war, and you’ve got to help fight it_”

“_We went out on the back stoop and sat down and talked 30
and talked_”




HE KNEW LINCOLN


“Did I know Lincoln? Well, I should say. See that chair there? Take it,
set down. That’s right. Comfortable, ain’t it? Well, sir, Abraham
Lincoln has set in that chair hours, him and Little ‘Doug,’ and Logan
and Judge Davis, all of ’em, all the big men in this State, set in that
chair. See them marks? Whittlin’. Judge Logan did it, all-firedest man
to whittle. Always cuttin’ away at something. I just got that chair new,
paid six dollars for it, and I be blamed if I didn’t come in this store
and find him slashin’ right into that arm. I picked up a stick and said:
‘Here, Judge, s’posin’ you cut this.’ He just looked at me and then
flounced out, mad as a wet hen. Mr. Lincoln was here, and you ought to
heard him tee-hee. He was always here. Come and set by the stove by the
hour and tell stories and talk and argue. I’d ruther heard the debates
them men had around this old stove than heard Webster and Clay and
Calhoun and the whole United States Senate. There wan’t never no United
States Senate that could beat just what I’ve heard right here in this
room with Lincoln settin’ in that very chair where you are this minute.

[Illustration: “_Come and set by the stove by the hour and tell stories
and talk and argue_”]

“He traded here. I’ve got his accounts now. See here, ‘quinine, quinine,
quinine.’ Greatest hand to buy quinine you ever seen. Give it to his
constituents. Oh, he knew 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, a real
old-fashioned Jackson Democrat, and my blood just would rise up
sometimes hearin’ him discuss. He was a dangerous man—a durned dangerous
man to have agin you. He’d make you think a thing when you knew it wan’t
so, and cute! Why, he’d just slide in when you wan’t expectin’ it and do
some unexpected thing that just’d make you laugh, and then he’d get your
vote. You’d vote for him because you liked him—just because you liked
him and because he was so all-fired smart, and do it when you knew he
was wrong and it was agin the interest of the country.

“Tell stories? Nobody ever could beat him at that, and how he’d enjoy
’em, just slap his hands on his knees and jump up and turn around and
then set down, laughin’ to kill. Greatest man to git new yarns that ever
lived, always askin’, ‘Heard any new stories, Billy?’ And if I had I’d
trot ’em out, and how he’d laugh. Often and often when I’ve told him
something new and he’d kin’ a forgit how 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
smart lawyers. They had great doin’s. Nuthin’ to do evenings but to set
around the tavern stove tellin’ stories. That was enough when Lincoln
was there. They was all lost without him. Old Judge Davis was boss of
that lot, and he never would settle down till Lincoln got around. I’ve
heard ’em laugh lots of times how the Judge would fuss around and keep
askin’, ‘Where’s Mr. Lincoln, why don’t Mr. Lincoln come? Somebody go
and find Lincoln,’ and when Lincoln came he would just settle back and
get him started to yarning, and there they’d set half the night.

“When he got home he’d come right in here first time he was downtown and
tell me every blamed yarn he’d heard. Whole crowd would get in here
sometimes and talk over the trip, and I tell you it was something to
hear ’em laugh. You could tell how Lincoln kept things stirred up. He
was so blamed quick. Ever hear Judge Weldon tell that story about what
Lincoln said one day up to Bloomington when they was takin’ up a
subscription to buy Jim Wheeler a new pair of pants? No? Well, perhaps I
oughten to tell it to you, ma says it ain’t nice. It makes me mad to
hear people objectin’ to Mr. Lincoln’s stories. Mebbe he did say words
you wouldn’t expect to hear at a church supper, but he never put no
meanin’ into ’em that wouldn’t ‘a’ been fit for the minister to put into
a sermon, and that’s a blamed sight more’n you can say of a lot of
stories I’ve heard some of the people tell who stick up their noses at
Mr. Lincoln’s yarns.

“Yes, sir, he used to keep things purty well stirred up on that circuit.
That time I was a speakin’ of he made Judge Davis real mad; it happened
right in court and everybody got to gigglin’ fit to kill. The Judge knew
’twas something Lincoln had said and he began to sputter.

“‘I am not going to stand this any longer, Mr. Lincoln, you’re always
disturbin’ this court with your tomfoolery. I’m goin’ to fine you. The
clerk will fine Mr. Lincoln five dollars for disorderly conduct.’ The
boys said Lincoln never said a word; he just set lookin’ down with his
hand over his mouth, tryin’ not to laugh. About a minute later the
Judge, who was always on pins and needles till he knew all the fun that
was goin’ on, called up Weldon and whispered to him, ‘What was that
Lincoln said?’ Weldon told him, and I’ll be blamed if the Judge didn’t
giggle right out loud there in court. The joke was on him then, and he
knew it, and soon as he got his face straight he said, dignified like,
‘The clerk may remit Mr. 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 out of stories than he did
out of law books, and the queer part was you couldn’t answer ’em—they
just made you see it and you couldn’t get around it. I’m a Democrat, but
I’ll be blamed if I didn’t have to vote for Mr. Lincoln as President,
couldn’t help it, and it was all on account of that snake story of his’n
illustratin’ the takin’ of slavery into Kansas and Nebraska. Remember
it? I heard him tell it in a speech once.

“‘If I saw a pizen snake crawlin’ in the road,’ he says, ‘I’d kill it
with the first thing I could grab; but if I found it in bed with my
children, I’d be mighty careful how I touched it fear I’d make it bite
the children. If I found it in bed with somebody else’s children I’d let
them take care of it; but if I found somebody puttin’ a whole batch of
young snakes into an empty bed where mine or anybody’s children was
going to sleep pretty soon, I’d stop him from doin’ it if I had to fight
him.’ Perhaps he didn’t say ‘fight him,’ but somehow I always tell that
story that way because I know I would and so would he or you or anybody.
That was what it was all about when you come down to it. They was trying
to put a batch of snakes into an empty bed that folks was goin’ to sleep
in.

“Before I heard that story I’d heard Lincoln say a hundred times,
settin’ right there in that chair, where you are, ‘Boys, we’ve got to
stop slavery or it’s goin’ to spread all over this country,’ but,
somehow, I didn’t see it before. Them snakes finished me. Then I knew
he’d got it right and 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 States Senate and knew all the big bugs all
over the country. Sort o’ looked and talked great. Wan’t no comparison
between him and 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 days
Lincoln was too all-fired honest—kind of innocent honest. He couldn’t
stand it nohow to have things said that wan’t so. He just felt plumb bad
about lies. I remember once bein’ in court over to Decatur when Mr.
Lincoln was tryin’ a case. There was a fellow agin him that didn’t have
no prejudices against lyin’ in a lawsuit, and he was tellin’ how Lincoln
had said this an’ that, tryin’ to mix up the jury. 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 off one shoe and was settin’ there holdin’
up his great big foot, his forehead all puckered up, listenin’ to that
ornery lawyer’s lies. All at onct he jumped up and hopped right out into
the middle of the court-room.

“‘Now, Judge,’ he says, ‘that ain’t fair. I didn’t say no sich thing,
and he knows I didn’t. I ain’t goin’ to have this jury all fuddled up.’

“You never see anything so funny in a court-room as that big fellow
standin’ there in one stockin’ foot, a shoe in his hand, talking so
earnest. No, sir, he couldn’t stand a lie.

“‘Think he was a big man, then?’ Nope—never did. Just as I said, we all
thought Douglas was _our_ big man. You know I felt kind of sorry for
Lincoln when they began to talk about him for President. It seemed
almost as if somebody was makin’ fun of him. He didn’t look like a
president. I never had seen one, but we had pictures of ’em, all of ’em
from George Washington down, and they looked somehow as if they were
different kind of timber from us. Leastwise that’s always the way it
struck me. Now Mr. Lincoln he was just like your own folks—no trouble to
talk to him, no siree. Somehow you just settled down comfortable to
visitin’ the minute he come in. I couldn’t imagine George Washington or
Thomas Jefferson settin’ here in that chair you’re in tee-heein’ over
some blamed yarn of mine. None of us around town took much stock in his
bein’ elected at first—that is, none of the men, the women was
different. They always believed in him, and used to say, ‘You mark my
word, Mr. Lincoln will be president. He’s just made for it, he’s good,
he’s the best man ever lived and he ought to be president.’ I didn’t see
no logic in that then, but I dunno but there was some after all.

“It seems all right now though. I reckon I learned somethin’ watchin’
him be President—learned a lot—not that it made any difference in _him_.
Funniest thing to see him goin’ around in this town—not a mite
changed—and the whole United States a watchin’ him and the biggest men
in the country runnin’ after him and reporters hangin’ around to talk to
him and fellers makin’ his pictures in ile and every other way. That
didn’t make no difference to him—only he didn’t like bein’ so busy he
couldn’t come in here much. He had a room over there in the Court
House—room on that corner there. I never looked up that it wan’t chuck
full of people wantin’ him. This old town was full of people all the
time—delegations and committees and politicians and newspaper men. Only
time I ever see Horace Greeley, he came in here to buy quinine. Mr.
Lincoln sent him. Think of that, Horace Greeley buyin’ quinine of _me_.

[Illustration: “_Horace Greeley, he came in here to buy quinine_”]

“No end of other great men around. He saw ’em all. Sometimes I used to
step over and watch him—didn’t bother him a mite to see a big man—not a
mite. He’d jest shake hands and talk as easy and natural as if ’twas
me—and he didn’t do no struttin’ either. Some of the fellers who come to
see him looked as if _they_ was goin’ to be president, but Mr. Lincoln
didn’t put on any airs. No, sir, and he didn’t cut any of his old
friends either. Tickled to death to see ’em every time, and they all
come—blamed if every old man and woman in Sangamon County didn’t trot up
here to see him. They’d all knowed him when he was keepin’ store down to
New Salem and swingin’ a chain—surveyed lots of their towns for ’em—he
had—and then he’d electioneered all over that county, too, so they just
come in droves to bid him good-by. I was over there one day when old
Aunt Sally Lowdy came in the door. Aunt Sally lived down near New Salem,
and I expect she’d mended Mr. Lincoln’s pants many a time; for all them
old women down there just doted on him and took care of him as if he was
their own boy. Well, Aunt Sally stood lookin’ kind a scared seein’ so
many strangers and not knowin’ precisely what to do, when Mr. Lincoln
spied her. Quick as a wink he said, ‘Excuse me, gentlemen,’ and he just
rushed over to that old woman and shook hands with both of his’n and
says, ‘Now, Aunt Sally, this is real kind of you to come and see me. How
are you and how’s Jake?’ (Jake was her boy.) ‘Come right over here,’ and
he led her over, as if she was the biggest lady in Illinois, and says,
‘Gentlemen, this is a good old friend of mine. She can make the best
flapjacks you ever tasted, and she’s baked ’em for me many a time.’ Aunt
Sally was jest as pink as a rosy, she was so tickled. And she says,
‘Abe’—all the old folks in Sangamon called him Abe. They knowed him as a
boy, but don’t you believe anybody ever did up here. No, sir, we said
Mr. Lincoln. He was like one of us, but he wan’t no man to be over
familiar with. ‘Abe,’ says Aunt Sally, ‘I had to come and say good-by.
They say down our way they’re goin’ to kill you if they get you down to
Washington, but I don’t believe it. I just tell ’em you’re too smart to
let ’em git ahead of you that way. I thought I’d come and bring you a
present, knit ’em myself,’ and I’ll be blamed if that old lady didn’t
pull out a great big pair of yarn socks and hand ’em to Mr. Lincoln.

[Illustration: “_Aunt Sally, you couldn’t a done nuthin’ which would
have pleased me better_”]

“Well, sir, it was the funniest thing to see Mr. Lincoln’s face pucker
up and his eyes twinkle and twinkle. He took them socks and held ’em up
by the toes, one in each hand. They was the longest socks I ever see.
‘The lady got my latitude and longitude ’bout right, didn’t she,
gentlemen?’ he says, and then he laid ’em down and he took Aunt Sally’s
hand and he says tender-like, ‘Aunt Sally, you couldn’t a done nothin’
which would have pleased me better. I’ll take ’em to Washington and wear
’em, and think of you when I do it.’ And I declare he said it so first
thing I knew I was almost blubberin’, and I wan’t the only one nuther,
and I bet he did wear ’em in Washington. I can jest see him pullin’ off
his shoe and showin’ them socks to Sumner or Seward or some other big
bug that was botherin’ him when he wanted to switch off on another
subject and tellin’ ’em the story about Aunt Sally and her flapjacks.

“‘Was there much talk about his bein’ killed?’ Well, there’s an awful
lot of fools in this world and when they don’t git what they want
they’re always for killin’ somebody. Mr. Lincoln never let on, but I
reckon his mail was pretty lively readin’ sometimes. He got pictures of
gallows and pistols and other things and lots of threats, so they said.
I don’t think that worried him much. He was more bothered seein’ old
Buchanan givin’ the game away. ‘I wish I could have got down there
before the horse was stole,’ I heard him say onct in here, talkin’ to
some men. ‘But I reckon I can find the tracks when I do git there.’ It
was his cabinet bothered him most, I always thought. He didn’t know the
men he’d got to take well enough. Didn’t know how far he could count on
’em. He and Judge Gillespie and one or two others was in here one day
sittin’ by the stove talkin,’ and he says, ‘Judge, I wisht I could take
all you boys down to Washington with me, Democrats and all, and make a
cabinet out of you. I’d know where every man would fit and we could git
right down to work. Now, I’ve got to learn my men before I can do much.’
‘Do you mean, Mr. Lincoln, you’d take a Democrat like Logan?’ says the
Judge, sort of shocked. ‘Yes, sir, I would; I know Logan. He’s agin me
now and that’s all right, but if we have trouble you can count on Logan
to do the right thing by the country, and that’s the kind of men I
want—them as will do the right thing by the country. ‘Tain’t a question
of Lincoln, or Democrat or Republican, Judge; it’s a question of the
country.’

“Of course he seemed pretty cheerful always. He wan’t no man to show out
all he felt. Lots of them little stuck-up chaps that came out here to
talk to him said, solemn as owls, ‘He don’t realize the gravity of the
situation.’ Them’s their words, ‘gravity of the situation.’ Think of
that, Mr. Lincoln not realizing. They ought to heard him talk to us the
night he went away. I’ll never forgit that speech—nor any man who heard
it. I can see him now just how he looked, standin’ there on the end of
his car. He’d been shakin’ hands with the crowd in the depot, laughing
and talking, just like himself, but when he got onto that car he seemed
suddint to be all changed. You never seen a face so sad in all the
world. I tell you he had woe in his heart that minute, woe. He knew he
was leavin’ us for good, nuthin’ else could explain the way he looked
and what he said. He knew he never was comin’ back alive. It was rainin’
hard, but when we saw him standin’ there in bare head, his great big
eyes lookin’ at us so lovin’ and mournful, every man of us took off his
hat, just as if he’d been in church. You never heard him make a speech,
of course? You missed a lot. Curious voice. You could hear it away
off—kind of shrill, but went right to your heart—and that night it
sounded sadder than anything I ever heard. You know I always hear it to
this day, nights when the wind howls around the house. Ma says it makes
her nervous to hear me talk about him such nights, but I can’t help it;
just have to let out.

“He stood a minute lookin’ at us, and then he began to talk. There ain’t
a man in this town that heard him that ever forgot what he said, but I
don’t believe there’s a man that ever said it over out loud—he couldn’t,
without cryin’. He just talked to us that time out of his heart. Somehow
we felt all of a suddint how we loved him and how he loved us. We hadn’t
taken any stock in all that talk about his bein’ killed, but when he
said he was goin’ away not knowin’ where or whether ever he would return
I just got cold all over. I begun to _see_ that minute and everybody
did. The women all fell to sobbin’ and a kind of groan went up, and when
he asked us to pray for him I don’t believe that there was a man in that
crowd, whether he ever went to church in his life, that didn’t want to
drop right down on his marrow bones and ask the Lord to take care of
Abraham Lincoln and bring him back to us, where he belonged.

[Illustration: “_He just talked to us that time out of his heart_”]

“‘Ever see him again?’ Yes, onct down in Washington, summer of ’64.
Things was lookin’ purty blue that summer. Didn’t seem to be anybody who
thought he’d git reëlected. Greeley was abusin’ him in _The Tribune_ for
not makin’ peace, and you know there was about half the North that
always let Greeley do their thinkin’ fer ’em. The war wan’t comin’ on at
all—seemed as if they never would do nuthin’. Grant was hangin’ on to
Petersburg like a dog to a root, but it didn’t seem to do no good. Same
with Sherman, who was tryin’ to take Atlanta. The country was just
petered out with the everlastin’ taxes an’ fightin’ an’ dyin’. It wan’t
human nature to be patient any longer, and they just spit it out on Mr.
Lincoln, and then, right on top of all the grumblin’ and abusin’, he up
and made another draft. Course he was right, but I tell you nobody but a
brave man would ‘a’ done such a thing at that minute; but he did it. It
was hard on us out here. I tell you there wan’t many houses in this
country where there wan’t mournin’ goin’ on. It didn’t seem as if we
_could_ stand any more blood lettin.’ Some of the boys round the State
went down to see him about it. They came back lookin’ pretty sheepish.
Joe Medill, up to Chicago, told me about it onct. He said, ‘We just told
Mr. Lincoln we couldn’t stand another draft. We was through sendin’ men
down to Petersburg to be killed in trenches. He didn’t say nuthin’; just
stood still, lookin’ down till we’d all talked ourselves out; and then,
after a while, he lifted up his head, and looked around at us,
slow-like; and I tell you, Billy, I never knew till that minute that
Abraham Lincoln could get mad clean through. He was just white he was
that mad. “Boys,” he says, “you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
You’re actin’ like a lot of cowards. You’ve helped make this war, and
you’ve got to help fight it. You go home and raise them men and don’t
you dare come down here again blubberin’ about what I tell you to do. I
won’t stan’ it.” We was so scared we never said a word. We just took our
hats and went out like a lot of school-boys. Talk about Abraham Lincoln
bein’ easy! When it didn’t matter mebbe he was easy, but when it did you
couldn’t stir him any more’n you could a mountain.’

[Illustration: “_You’re actin’ like a lot of cowards. You’ve helped make
this war, and you’ve got to help fight it_”]

“Well, I kept hearin’ about the trouble he was havin’ with everybody,
and I just made up my mind I’d go down and see him and swap yarns and
tell him how we was all countin’ on his gettin’ home. Thought maybe it
would cheer him up to know we set such store on his comin’ home if they
didn’t want him for president. So I jest picked up and went right off.
Ma was real good about my goin’. She says, ‘I shouldn’t wonder if
’twould do him good, William. And don’t you ask him no questions about
the war nor about politics. You just talk home to him and tell him some
of them foolish stories of yourn.’

“Well, I had a brother in Washington, clerk in a department—awful set up
’cause he had an office—and when I got down there I told him I’d come to
visit Mr. Lincoln. He says, ‘William, be you a fool? Folks don’t visit
the President of the United States without an invitation, and he’s too
busy to see anybody but the very biggest people in this administration.
Why, he don’t even see me,’ he says. Well, it made me huffy to hear him
talk. ‘Isaac,’ I says, ‘I don’t wonder Mr. Lincoln don’t see you. But
it’s different with me. Him and me is friends.’

“‘Well’ he says, ‘you’ve got to have cards anyway.’ ‘Cards,’ I says,
‘what for? What kind?’ ‘Why,’ he says, ‘visitin’ cards—with your name
on.’ ‘Well,’ I says, ‘it’s come to a pretty pass, if an old friend like
me can’t see Mr. Lincoln without sendin’ him a piece of pasteboard. I’d
be ashamed to do such a thing, Isaac Brown. Do you suppose he’s
forgotten me? Needs to see my name printed out to know who I am? You
can’t make me believe any such thing,’ and I walked right out of the
room, and that night I footed it up to the Soldiers’ Home where Mr.


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Online LibraryIda M. (Ida Minerva) TarbellHe knew Lincoln → online text (page 1 of 2)