Time of Decision
Promptly at noon on September 22, 1862, the Cabinet was called to order by the President. Every member was present, despite the fact that the President had summoned them by special messenger only a few hours before. All were certain that Lincoln had an important announcement, but they had to wait until he cleared the air of the tension and anxiety that he sensed. And he had his own way of doing it. Artemus Ward, the humorist, had sent him a book of funny stories; and the President took this occasion to share with his heads of departments one of the funniest of all, “High-handed Outrage at Utica.”
His inimitable reading of the American tall tale evoked reactions that ranged from the President’s own hearty laugh to the solemn grimace by Stanton, the troubled and everserious Secretary of War. Some were genuinely amused, while others were merely courteous. All were doubtless preoccupied with speculations about what new statement of planning or policy their chief would now spring on them.
They did not have long to wait. Soon the reading was over, and Lincoln put aside the book. His voice took on a graver tone as he began to speak: