Lincoln's Washington: Recollections of a Journalist Who Knew Everybody
THE city of Washington during the Civil War was a desolation. The Capitol’s unfinished dome and wings looked like a Roman ruin. Secretary Seward and his clerks were cooped in a small and dingy brick building where the north end of the Treasury rears its superb classic colonnade, and Secretary Stanton with his small department filled an insignificant building where now is the forelawn of the White House.
Along the north edge of the Mall slowly crept and soaked through the city a fetid bayou called, by courtesy, ‘The Canal,’floating dead cats and all kinds of putridity and reeking with pestilential odors. Cattle, swine, goats, sheep, and geese ran at large everywhere. There were only two short sewers in the entire city, and these were so choked as to back the contents into cellars and stores on Pennsylvania Avenue. Happy hogs wallowed in the gutters. At night the city was in darkness, scarcely ameliorated by a faint glim on remote corners, and the rustic lantern was by no means unknown.
Few of the streets had any pretense of pavement. Some were paved with cobblestones so unstable as to be worse than none at all. On wet days Pennsylvania Avenue was a river of mud and filth in which carts and even light buggies were often mired so deep as to be extricated with great difficulty. The sidewalks were filled with Union soldiers on parole or absent without leave, and many of the houses concealed members of Mosby’s guerrillas acting as spies and waiting to dodge back across the river. There were forty-eight forts around the city, and within the circumvallation were eighteen vast hospitals, sheltering thousands of sick and wounded. To make the round of these was a melancholy task indeed.
It was in the fall of 1861 that our activities were suddenly increased. The battle of Bull Run was over; McClellan was slowly reorganizing the Army of the Potomac; masterly inactivity prevailed, and life in Washington was rather a sleepy affair. Opportunely a happy idea presented itself and moved me to insert in the morning paper of the city, the National Republican, this paragraph: —
Notice.—Young men in Washington who desire to have a course of lectures during the winter similar to those of northern cities are invited to meet this evening at—.
Responsive to the invitation, several young men, mostly strangers to each other, met at my rooms. A comparison of view’s revealed the fact that they were all heartily in favor of the abolition of slavery, and one, Lewis Clephane, manager of the National Era, which had a year before been the victim of a proslavery mob for publishing Mrs. Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had just been appointed postmaster of the city by President Lincoln. We took counsel together, and an adjourned meeting was held at Clephane’s residence the next week.
On that occasion at least twenty young men were present, and much interest was manifested. About nine o’clock there was a knock at the door and it was opened to admit a venerable man with long flowing white hair and beard like Raphael’s Saint Jerome, a quick, nervous manner, a glowing pink face, and vivacious and merry blue eyes. He paused, leaned against the door, and said, ‘Gentlemen, I saw an advertisement summoning young men to come here to consult to-night, and here I am!’
The little speech was greeted with a welcome of applause and laughter, and Mr. John R.French,of the Treasury Department, rose and introduced the newcomer as t lie Reverend John Pierpont. We knew that the poet and apostle of temperance had come down as chaplain of a Massachusetts regiment at the age of seventy-six, and that Charles Sumner had rescued him from the swamps of Virginia and induced him to accept a clerkship under Mr. Chase. Without much discussion, or even consideration, we elected this ‘young man’ to be our president, organizing as the Washington Lecture Association.
In our advertisement authorized by that meeting it was announced that, ‘desiring to aid in placing the community of which they form a part on a higher plane in regard to literature, loyalty, and liberty, one hundred citizens of Washington have united in an organization with the present design of a course of lectures by men who have earned a reputation for the highest culture and the most earnest patriotism.’ And we named the men already on our list — Wendell Phillips, Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Greeley, Edward Everett, Orestes A. Brownson, Daniel S. Dickinson, Bayard Taylor, James Russell Lowell, George B. Cheever, Charles G. Ames, Moncure D. Conway, George William Curtis, John Jay, William Goodell, Gerrit Smith, Frederick Douglass, Samuel J. May, Joseph Holt, Anna E. Dickinson, Richard S. Storrs, William Lloyd Garrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and George Thompson, the great English abolitionist. Not one of them had ever spoken south of Mason and Dixon’s line, and several of them enjoyed the exalted honor of having a perpetual bounty offered for their heads.
As secretary of the Association I was directed to ‘engage these lecturers and obtain a suitable hall.’ The former duty involved a voluminous correspondence but was comparatively easy, and, in fact, all of them except Everett, Garrison, Beecher, LowelI, and Miss Dickinson, appeared in the course.
The second duty assigned to me was much more easily defined than performed. There was no public hall in Washington that would seat a thousand people, but we wanted to seat two or three thousand. The churches were all closed to us. In this dilemma I made a bold and what seems to me at this distance an audacious request for the House of Representatives, but Speaker Grow instantly and peremptorily vetoed the suggestion. I have an impression that he spoke sharply and severely about it, but do not remember exactly what he said. He probably remarked that I was crazy to imagine that such a preposterous thing was possible.
At any rate, I gave it up, replenished my courage, and immediately went and asked Professor Joseph Henry to give us the large amphitheatre of the Smithsonian. This was apparently worse yet. He was struck with horror at the sacrilegious suggestion and froze me out with harsh words which made me almost wish that I had been burdened with less responsibility. Heavyhearted, I took all these troubles to the Honorable Owen Lovejoy, with whom I had the privilege of such acquaintance as a zealous young recruit might enjoy with a kind-hearted veteran, and he valiantly entered the lists. ’ Henry’s an old traitor!’ he exclaimed hotly. ’ We '11 bring him to terms. Come with me. And he led the way to the rooms of the Honorable Schuyler Colfax. Here, too, was a sympathetic listener. ’I am a regent of the Smithsonian,’Mr. Colfax said, ‘and Hamlin is another. I’ll see him to-day about it. Call at my residence to-morrow morning at ten o’clock and bring John Pierpont, and we '11 do something.'
Dr. Pierpont and I were at Mr. Colfax’s door promptly next morning, and were delighted to find the Vice President there waiting. They had arranged for an assault on the fortress of science without delay, and had sent word to Professor Henry and made an appointment. When we had crossed the broad but unkempt Mall and reached the red sandstone pile of Norman towers and turrets constituting the handsomest public building in Washington, its distinguished master was armed with arguments and protests and ready to receive us.
‘How can such lectures as you contemplate be permitted here,’ he asked, ‘when this institution, like science, is nonpartisan and peaceful, and when we do not allow a lecturer to speak even on chemistry without knowing in advance whether his theories are sound ?
Besides, you would be sure to offend some of the regents.’
This gave Vice President Hamlin the chance he sought.
‘Which of the regents would be offended?’ he asked.
‘Gentlemen from the South,’ replied the Professor.
‘They are getting scarce,’said Mr. Hamlin. ‘Jefferson Davis has gone and is not likely to return at present,’ he added, remembering, no doubt, how active Mr. Davis had been as a friend of the Smithsonian and how intimate his family had been with Professor Henry’s family.
‘Senator Mason is a regent yet,’suggested Mr. Colfax, ’but he has fled from Washington and will not come back to plague you.'
‘And the Mayor of Washington has resigned and gone to Richmond,’ pursued Hamlin. ‘Then look at this, he added, taking up a list of the new regents President Lincoln had selected, but had not yet appointed, and sticking a pen through it. to punctuate the names: ‘Fessenden, Trumbull, McPherson, W. B. Astor, W. L. Dayton — none of them will object, and as for Badger, of North Carolina, he has gone home, and is in very bad company; I guess he will not trouble you. If he does, Colfax and I will stand by you. Lincoln will.’ (A year later Mr. Badger was expelled from the Board of Regents on motion of Mr. Hamlin.)
For a fortnight, while lecturers were being engaged, the siege of the Smithsonian was carried on. Gradually Professor Henry weakened and prepared to surrender. Lincoln took a hand. If was finally agreed that the dreadful innovation should be tried, but the Professor stipulated that it must be published that it was against his remonstrance, and that the presiding officer should make it distinctly understood at every lecture that the Smithsonian Institution was in no way responsible for the sentiments avowed.
So, when John Pierpont, the venerable poet, came forward to introduce the first lecturer, Orestes A. Brownson, the distinguished Catholic of Protean creed, he said: —
‘Ladies and Gentlemen: I am requested by Professor Henry to announce that the Smithsonian Institution is not in any way responsible for this course of lectures. I do so with pleasure, and desire to add that the Washington Lecture Association is in no way responsible for the Smithsonian Institution.’
And so the course began. Even the first lecture was heard by an audience that crowded the large hall in every part, and it was noticeable that the most radical utterances concerning slavery received the warmest applause. Dr. Brownson became an abolitionist during the next few months, for his two sons had perished in the war.
The course was a success from the beginning. Brownson was followed by Daniel S. Dickinson, George William Curtis, and Bayard Taylor. For months the audiences increased, both in enthusiasm and in numbers, so far as a full hall could become fuller, till it was necessary to go very early to get a seat of any sort. There were always scores of Senators and Representatives in the hall. Cabinet officers often lent their approval by occupying seats on the platform; but when Wendell Phillips lectured, as he did three times, I think they avoided conspicuousness by taking seats in the body of the hall.
This period was marked by that outpouring of anonymous letters which often accompanies great excitement. Most of the lecturers experienced the sensation of having their lives threatened while they were in Washington. Mr. Pierpont was menaced both through the post office and orally, and even the unobtrusive secretary had his share of this unpleasant attention in letters bearing mysterious suggestions and a great variety of badly drawn skulls and amorphous coffins.
In response to the invitation to come, Horace Greeley replied, ‘Yes. I was intending to come down there to talk, anyway; and I am glad to have this chance — especially as I have already earned the reputation of being the poorest public speaker in America.’ When he arrived ho asked me if Lincoln would be present. I did not know, but at Ins suggestion I went at once to the White House and asked the President if he would attend.
‘Yes, I will,’ he said. ’I can get away, can’t I, Hay? I never heard Greeley, and I want to hear him. In print every one of his words seems to weigh about a ton; I want to see what he has to say about us.’
So the President came, and consented to be perched on the high platform immediately at the great: editor’s right. Near him were Secretaries Gideon Wells and Edward Bates, and at. Greeley’s left sat the chief of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, glowing with pleasure at the significance of the occasion. Before introducing the speaker, President Pierpont began, as usual, ‘It is my duty and pleasure to announce to you, ladies and gentlemen, that the Smithsonian Insti —’ The rest of the sentence, which had become amusingly familiar, was drowned in a great roar of laughter. Mr. Lincoln turned, with a puzzled smile, and asked the nearest officer of the Association what it meant. When it was briefly explained as the proclamation required by the Smithsonian at the beginning of each lecture, he joined in the laugh heartily, though a trifle behindhand. The object of it — Professor Henry — was within ten feet, concealed from the audience behind the little door that opened on the platform from the rear. Here, after the first lecture, he was generally found listening to the dangerous utterances, but in his next report to Congress he complained that the experiment had raised up enemies for the Smithsonian and ought not to be repeated.
When Mr. Greeley turned and addressed himself personally to Mr. Lincoln, who sat almost within arm’s length, appealing to him to cease trying to make peace with the Mammon of Unrighteousness, but to free the blacks and arm them, proving equal to his high responsibility in the crisis of the nation’s fate, the audience, which had already listened to the same injunction more than once, rose and uttered a wild and prolonged cheer and cry of joy. A more dramatic scene has seldom been witnessed by any popular assembly.
It will be noticed that four of our most distinguished orators did not appear in this course — Edward Everett, Anna Dickinson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Henry Ward Beecher.
Mr. Everett curtly replied to the secretary, ‘I thank you, but I cannot come. There has been too much talking already.’ It will be remembered that he had been defeated the year before for Vice President.
Miss Dickinson had peremptory engagements — her card was full. But she came two years later and delivered her ’Joan of Arc’ in the Senate Chamber to a record audience, the Vice President in the chair.
Mr. Garrison was not invited. Over him there was what might be called a quarrel in the executive committee of the Association, which was about evenly divided on the subject, part of the members insisting that he was the best representative of the principles which the government was contending for, and the other half insisting that a man who pronounced the Constitution of the United States ‘a covenant with death and a league with hell’ would not be likely to strengthen the war for the Union. The contest over him went on week after week without settlement, while he sat in the Liberator office at Boston, wondering why he did not hear from Washington.
Getting a negative from Mr. Beecher, I went to Brooklyn to make a personal appeal to him. When I called at the house on the Heights after dinner, he had already left to deliver a lecture, but was expected home at eleven. Mrs. Beecher kindly urged me to wait and see him.
‘Perhaps you may get him,’ she said. ‘I want him to go to Washington, and will add my appeal to yours. I want him to go, though I see so little of him. I do not complain of his absence, for a woman who marries a popular favorite must be ready to divide him with the public. It keeps getting worse, though, every year. When I married him I merely had to share him with the congregation, but since then,’ she added with a pathetic smile, ‘he has married the Platform and the Press and the Goddess of Liberty, and I miss him a good deal. However, I want him to go to Washington to speak, and I think it is a thing he ought to do.’
I waited. At last Mr. Beecher returned, and, leaving in the front parlor someone who had accompanied him, he came through into the family sitting room. Well remembered is the breezy gesture with which he flung off his overcoat, as who should say, ‘Here’s Vitality for you.'
Being presented, I told my errand, outlined our purpose, and offered him two hundred dollars for a lecture — the highest price then paid anywhere. ‘Don’t decide hastily, Henry,’ said Mrs. Beecher. ‘I think you ought to go. Mr. Lincoln will perhaps attend. You can do good there. It seems to me the occasion calls for you.’
He walked up and down the room a few times, talking about Washington city and asking questions about our course, and then he said, ‘No, I can’t think of going. I’ve got just all I can carry. I’d like to speak in Washington very much and especially to see Lincoln, but I can’t get away. I can fix you out, though. We have here the most brilliant and eloquent young man I have ever known. Take him!’ And he put his head out through the folding door and said, ‘Come here, Theodore!'
A tall and handsome youth entered and I was presented to him. We exclaimed that we had seen each other before. It was Theodore Tilton.
‘He’s just the man you want on these questions,’ persisted the great preacher. ‘An original thinker, and a fervent and electric speaker — and he’s one of my chickens!’ added Mr. Beecher. As Mr. Tilton blushed a little and disclaimed the compliment of eloquence, I recalled that my commission did not include the engagement of any substitute, but I thanked them for the chance presented and agreed to lay the suggestion before the board on returning to Washington. This was done, but the conclusion was unanimous that we would not hear from Plymouth Church vicariously. A few years later I sat through the fearful trial of Mr. Beecher in the suit brought by his ‘chicken’ for $100,000 damages for the destruction of his family.
I wrote to John G. Whittier and asked him if he would address such an audience as ours. He answered, ‘I do not talk in public. I wish that great good may come of thy work. But thy way is not my way.’
One or two other episodes of these lectures may be worth recalling. Emerson spoke on ‘American Civilization,’in February 1862, and Mr. Lincoln sat upon the platform. The lecturer declared, ‘Emancipation is the demand of civilization. That is a principle; everything else is intrigue. What is so foolish as the assertion that the blacks will be made furious and revengeful by being given freedom and wages?’ Like Thurlow Weed and many other publicists, he favored paying for the slaves, and he and Secretary Seward had a long talk with the President the next day upon the subject. It was in this lecture of Mr. Emerson that the fine epigram was first heard: ‘Let’s hitch our wagon to a star.’
When Wendell Phillips came to Washington I waited upon him to complete the business arrangements.
‘What sort of audience is it?’ he asked. I told him as well as I could.
‘I feel afraid and embarrassed,’ he said. When I expressed astonishment at hearing he was ever afraid of any audience, he said, ‘I am always afraid. It is a tremendous responsibility, to try to interest a crowd of intelligent, perhaps learned persons, whom you don’t know and never saw before. Why, I sometimes have stood paralyzed in front of an audience with the audacity of it — tongue-tied and not knowing what to say next.’
Phillips had a musical voice which rang out like a trumpet when his deep feeling was enlisted. His handsome face covered a volcanic and emotional nature and the pleasant lips easily broke into invective. He said to me on leaving for Boston, ‘A great, enterprise this of yours, but tell your association for me that it will leave its good work half done if it fails to secure Garrison.’
From Cincinnati Phillips wrote to Ann Phillips in Boston, ‘Assure Garrison that Washington is as safe for him as New York is. I think he ought to go there and lecture. He knows not the enthusiasm with which he will be received or the good he will do.’ Garrison replied to this, ‘One reason why I do not go to Washington is that I have not been invited.’ He then disposed of the objections that had been made to him by saying, ‘I am in the position of Benedick in the play. When I said I would not support the Constitution because it was a covenant with death and a league with hell, I had no idea that I should live to see death and hell secede from the Constitution.’ Garrison visited Washington later and had a pleasant interview with Mr. Lincoln. The President alluded to his guest’s experience in having been mobbed and put in jail in Baltimore in 1830, and, being told that the old jail was torn down, he added, ‘Then you could n’t get out of jail, eh? And now you can’t get in.’
John Jay lectured in full evening dress and wore white kid gloves which he quietly slipped off as he proceeded. After his lecture I called on him at Willard’s to see if he had been paid and had received proper attention. I asked if our treasurer had called.
‘No, I think not; have n’t seen him,’ he answered. And then, after a pause, he added, ‘I hope he’ll call soon.’
His anxiety seemed a trifle odd, but I reassured him, and said that such a visit would not be forgotten or long postponed, intending to remind and hasten the treasurer as soon as I went out. As I rose to go, Mr. Jay said with much earnestness, ‘I am afraid your treasurer will neglect to call. Can’t you and I fix it?’
Embarrassed at the suggestion, and somewhat confused by the impossibility of doing so, I merely murmured, ‘I am not prepared just now.’
‘How much do you need in all?’ he inquired.
I told him his question was not understood.
‘How much does your association need?’ he repeated.
The significance of his mistake struck me so humorously that I sat down and laughed, quite speechless. On recovering words I explained.
‘You meant to hire me?’ he gasped with astonishment. ‘Well, that beats all I ever heard of! This lecture course actually pays? And in Washington! Now I have hope of the country!’
So his fee was left in the treasury and on inquiry we found that he was a millionaire. The subject of his lecture was ‘The Great Conspiracy and England’s Neutrality.’ We cleared two thousand dollars that winter, and when summer came we divided it up and made personal distribution of food, medicines, and various luxuries among the soldiers, who were already clustered by the ten thousand in the hospitals on the hillsides above Washington.
It is not too much to say that these lectures helped to change the moral atmosphere of Washington. From being fanatically proslavery, the capital city became neutral; to intolerance succeeded lolcrance; totreason, loyalty; to sectionalism, nationalism; and even the army felt itself less a trespasser on the soil and rights of others after Greeley, Phillips, and Douglass had faced friends and enemies in the spacious semicircle of seats in the Smithsonian. Both Cabinet and Congress acknowledged the support which these courageous addresses gave, and it will never be known how much influence they had in the enactment of that law which six months later decreed the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.
During these tumultuous years Walt Whitman occupied the second-floor hall bedroom of the house where I boarded. One morning when we met on the stairs he told me he had been dismissed from his clerkship by Secretary Harlan. He did not know the cause, but the Secretary made no secret of the fact that he had turned the ‘good gray poet’ out of office because he considered Leaves of Grass an indecent book, the circulation of which ought to be diminished instead of increased. Of course the purpose miscarried, and a new edition of the improper book was immediately called for and exhausted.
Whitman laughed at the alleged salacity, and he was restored, or rather reappointed to another place within a year by Attorney-General Speed, who did not classify the book with erotic verse of an extreme type. In the resulting excitement Whitman was called to the lecture field, but the call was not a very loud one. His long and flowing white hair and beard made a picturesque halo around his face which his extravagant linen collar and cuffs emphasized. But all Byronic affectations did not avail, and he was never a success upon the platform.
I recall how one noon about this time I met six of the Treasury’s literati at the little lunch table spread in the lower west corridor of the Department. The venerable poet John Pierpont and 1, who greatly admired him, went downstairs together from our adjoining desks, — and it was something of a climb for the old man of eighty before the elevator era, — and there, seated on a bench near the door, taking rolls and coffee, ware Edmund Stedman, A. B. Johnson, Sumner’s private secretary, and John J. Piatt, also a fertile and delicate mind, afterward useful in diplomacy. They were congenial companions. As we were taking off the edge of the midday appetite, Walt Whitman and W. D. O’Connor, his enthusiastic laureate, appeared and joined the group. All of them had produced something notable, and all of them except Pierpont did much better work afterward.
One trifling detail of the luncheon I remember: Piatt ate mince pie, at which Stedman expressed his mocking horror, and Pierpont said, ‘Piatt, is that the ambrosia you eat when you go to Parnassus? When I eat it, I go to Tartarus!’ It is perhaps not odd that I never go out of the west door of the Treasury Department without thinking of Pierpont, Stedman, Piatt, Johnson, O’Connor, and Whitman, and the mince pie of that noontime long ago.
This small and studious coterie of clerks met weekly at this time to familiarize themselves with the French language. To one of them Victor Hugo kindly sent advance proofs of Les Misérables, and they employed their evenings in translating the novel orally into English, passing the proofs from hand to hand for that purpose. Whitman was the most expert interpreter, and when the rest were stalled, with the thieves’ argot, he was usually called on to clear away the obstruction and keep the story going.
One evening Whitman was an hour late, and on arriving explained that he had just come from the police station. He was walking quietly along F Street, he said, when a policeman grabbed him and charged him with being in disguise and wearing a mask. He was amazed and angry, but in the darkness he was sternly held as a dangerous lawbreaker and taken to the station. On close inspection the lieutenant on duty at once released him, but the officer who had brought him in tried to explain: ‘You looked so queer; your long white hair and whiskers, sir, and your eyes set well back, and your pink face looking as if it was painted. . . ‘Well, well, never mind,’ said the good-natured prisoner; ‘we all of us wear masks!'
Another poet I saw while in Washington — thenceforth a pleasant remembrance. I got the first glimpse of him from the Press Gallery. He was standing in a corner of the Senate, leaning forward and patiently trying to pick a bit of the thread of current business from the bewildering tangle. Obviously he was a lion, for Sumner, Hamlin, Sprague, General Halleck, and other such advanced to greet him. It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow — illustrious poet, linguist, and traveler. He was not tall; his dress was scrupulously neat; his hair was dark, with whiskers and moustache flowing together unmutilated. It would not have been surprising if they had been white as snow, for it was just after the awful accident in which his wife lost her life by fire. From a calm face he smiled welcome and good will on all, and maintained, through the formality of introduction and the running fire of conversation, an unflagging interest in the proceedings. Even from the gallery his identity was unmistakable.
The next day he called on Dr. Pierpont at the Treasury. As my desk was only ten or twelve feet farther off, I earnestly hoped and rather expected that Pierpont would do me the honor of introducing me; but they seemed to have a thousand Boston topics and people to discuss, and my great wish to meet our greatest poet was not gratified. Finally the visitor consulted his watch; whereupon they rose together and sauntered out — the Divine Comedy wafted to the door by the Airs of Palestine.
I have never knowm so great a change to take place in any man’s appearance as in Mr. Lincoln’s during the three years following the day when I first saw him — March 4, 1861. He was never handsome, indeed, but he grew more and more cadaverous and ungainly month by month. The terrible labor which the war imposed prevented him from taking systematic exercise, and he became constantly more lean and sallow. He had a very dejected appearance, and ugly black rings appeared under his eyes. I well remember how weary and sad he looked at one of the inevitable receptions as he stood near the folding doors where the central corridor empties itself into the East Room.
As there was a pause for a moment in the stream of visitors, I heard a lady standing near him ask if the incessant handshaking was not even more fatiguing than his work up in the office.
‘Oh, no — no,’ he answered. ‘Of course, this is tiresome physically; but I am pretty strong, and it rests me, after all, for here nobody is cross or exacting, and no man asks me for what I can’t give him!’ And he gave his hand to the next in line.
During the last two years of his life, he was constantly threatened with assassination. Of course no public notice was taken of the menaces, and he alluded to them only to protest against the military escort which he could not always escape. When Secretary Stanton or General Hitchcock warned him of danger, he said, ‘Nobody can escape assassination by dodging. Moreover, if they kill me, the next man will be just as bad as I am! Under a republic no man can defend himself with a bodyguard. If I had a platoon with drawn sabres always at the door, they would cry out that I was aiming to be emperor ! ’
He was always exposed to personal attack. There were at least two doorkeepers to pass before getting to his room, but they did not consider it necessary to be vigilant after office hours, and I often walked into the White House unchallenged and went straight up to the private secretary’s room adjoining his own, without seeing any person whatever. And it was no uncommon thing for him to go alone out of the house at almost any hour of the day or night, and walk across the lawn to the War Department for a consultation or to seek some news.
During the search that succeeded his assassination it was ascertained that very complete arrangements had been made to kidnap him, and the gloomy cellar of the old Van Ness mansion down by the river had been prepared for his prison.
If not afraid on his own account, however, Lincoln certainly had some fear for his family’s safety, and early in the war he sent them to Philadelphia out of harm’s way. He was not only prudent, but he was somewhat superstitious, for one day he telegraphed : —
Mrs. Lincoln. Phil.: Think you had better put Tod’s pistol away. I had an ugly dream about him. A. Lincoln.
If Mr. Lincoln had weaknesses they were of an amiable sort that ’lean’d to Virtue’s side’ and excited a vast amount of sympathy, love, and grateful enthusiasm, which recruited the Union armies from the ranks of those who hated battle and were moved to enlist only by the highest purpose.
He never was quite as sad as he looked, and amid his heaviest responsibilities he generally decorated the situation with a story, an allegory, or a joke—though the latter were less broad than reported. And on occasion he was not without real vigor.
Of a committee that came to protest against making the South so angry that it would never reunite, he asked, ‘Would you prosecute the contest in future with alder-stick squirts, filled with rose water?’
To a visit of Louisiana planters who complained of their great losses and besought him to get them back into the Union without further injury, he remarked, ‘Broken eggs cannot be mended. Louisiana has nothing to do now but to take her place in the Union as it was, barring the already broken eggs.’
An acquaintance of mine asked Air. Lincoln to appoint his son to the position of paymaster.
‘How old is he?’ the man was asked.
‘He is twenty — well, nearly twentyone,’ said the applicant.
‘Nearly twenty-one!’ shouted Mr. Lincoln. T would n’t appoint the angel Gabriel paymaster if he was n’t twenty-one !'
Frank B. Carpenter, the artist, dropped into the Treasury Department one morning and invited John Pierpont, Ed Stedman, and myself to go over to the White House and see the portrait of Mr. Chase which he was just finishing in the great historical group on which he was engaged — ‘Signing the Emancipation Proclamation.’ The large canvas was propped up against the wall in the state banquet room. It was the opinion of a majority that Mr. Chase’s unfinished portrait promised to be more lifelike than that of the President or any other of his Cabinet. Mr. Lincoln was the severest critic the artist had. He was not present on this occasion, but Mrs. Lincoln paused in passing through the room and said to John Pierpont, ‘What puzzles me is what on earth we are ever going to do with it ’ — evidently having a vague idea that it must somehow be got into the little wooden cottage they had left in Springfield, Illinois. Nobody could conjecture that Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson would come forward and pay $25,000 for it and give it to the country, so that it would find permanent place upon the walls of the Capitol.
In Washington during the war I was acquainted with an accomplished violinist named William Withers. I met him afterward and asked him to tell me the story of Booth and Lincoln, as I had heard that he was present on that dreadful night. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you know I was leader of the orchestra at Ford’s Theatre. That night when Lincoln came in and took his seat in the proscenium box up at my right he acknowledged with great cordiality the cheers of the audience. He stood for a minute or two bowing. Every bow seemed to say, “Lee has surrendered !“ and every cheer to answer, “You bet he has!”
‘Laura Keene was on in Our American Cousin, and I had written a song for her to sing that night. When she left it out I was mad. We had no cue, and the music was thrown out of gear. So I hurried round on the stage on my left to see what it was done for. I was just giving the stage manager a piece of my mind when Spangler, the scene shifter, came forward to the gas box and took hold of the handle with which they turn the gas out. Knowing he had no business there, I pushed him away, and saying, “Get out of here! Go back to where you belong!” I closed the box and sat on the lid. I sat there a minute talking, then started down the stairs to my place.
‘That minute I heard the pistol shot and ran back. Wilkes Booth was rushing madly across the stage toward me, brandishing a knife and shouting, “Out of the way!” He ran to the gas box, but was unable to turn out the gas for some reason, and jumped aside against me. He must have thought I struck him, for he made two savage passes at me with his knife, cutting me both times — once on the shoulder and once under the arm. I fell, and he sprang to the door and was gone. I was the first man arrested, and I told them the assassin was Wilkes Booth. I knew him intimately, and we had played billiards the very night before. I also knew Mr. Lincoln pretty well, for I had taught little Taddy how to play the drum, and he used to drum for the guards.’