Abraham Lincoln: From His Own Words and Contemporary Accounts

By Roy Edgar Appleman; Abraham Lincoln | Go to book overview

Mr. Seward said: "Gentlemen, I will tell you one thing, Mr. Lincoln never tells a joke for the joke's sake, they are like the parables of old-lessons of wisdom. When he first came to Washington he was inundated with office-seekers. One day he was particularly afflicted; about twenty place-hunters from all parts of the Union had taken possession of his room with bales of credentials and self-recommendations ten miles long. The President said:

"'Gentlemen, I must tell you a little story I read one day when I was minding a mudscow in one of the bayous near the Yazoo.

"'Once there was a certain king,' he said, 'who kept an astrologer to forewarn him of coming events and especially to tell him whether it was going to rain when he wanted to go on hunting expeditions. One day he had started off for the forest with his train of ladies and lords for a grand hunt, when the cavalcade met a farmer, riding a donkey, on the road. "Good morning, Farmer," said the king. "Good morning, King," said the farmer. "Where are you folks going?""Hunting," said the king. "Lord, you'll get wet," said the farmer. The king trusted his astrologer, of course, and went to the forest, but by midday there came on a terrific storm that drenched and buffeted the whole party. When the king returned to his palace he had the astrologer decapitated and sent for the farmer to take his place. "Law's sake," says the farmer when he arrived," it ain't me that knows when it's goin' to rain, it's my donkey. When it's goin' to be fair weather that donkey always carries his ears forward so.""Make the donkey the court astrologer!" shouted the king. It was done. But the king always declared that that appointment was the greatest mistake he ever made in his life.'

"Lincoln stopped there. 'Why did he say it was a mistake?' we asked him. 'Didn't the donkey do his duty?''Yes,' said the President, 'but after that time every donkey in the country assembled in front of the palace and wanted an office.'"

LESLIE'S WEEKLY, 1863, IN Lincoln Talks, EDITED BY EMANUEL HERTZ


32. THE PRESIDENT TAKES A HAND

There are numerous stories of the times that President Lincoln interfered to ameliorate the harshness of a military judgment or the severity of a court martial sentence. Always he was swayed by what he considered the inherent justice of the case and his deep sense of humanity. Stanton and others in the War Department opposed him in this on the ground that it undermined discipline and military authority. The following letter not only shows Lincoln's abiding sympathy for the common folk, but it also carries a lightly veiled stern rebuke to the Secretary of War for not carrying out a previous instruction.

My dear Sir: A poor widow, by the name of Baird, has a son in the army, that for some offense has been sentenced to serve a long time without pay, or at most with very little pay. I do not like this punishment of withholding pay--it falls

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