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stands beside Washington on our book of fame. You have already heard, however, how poor he was, how hard he worked to get an education, and how he rose step by step until, from a rawboned rail splitter, he became the most famous President of the United States.
LIII. LINCOLN STORIES.
LINCOLN was a true patriot in every sense of the I j word. In 1850, before any one suspected his name would be renowned, he once said,—speaking of some one who had passed away after spending a useless life,— "How hard, ah, how hard it is to die, and leave one's country no better than if one had never lived in it!"
When Lincoln first ran for office, and was defeated, some one asked him how he felt. Lincoln gazed at the speaker a moment in silence, and then said: "Like the boy who stubbed his toe: too bad to laugh, and too big to cry."
He was always gentle and tender-hearted toward every one, and very thoughtful about his wife and children, who simply adored him. The moment he heard he had been nominated for President, Lincoln caught up his hat, and started off, saying: "There is a little woman on Eighth Street who would like to hear about this."
In fact, he was not ashamed to own that a man's family is his dearest possession. Once, when asked just how much one of his acquaintances was worth, he answered that the man in question had a wife and baby which were certainly worth more than fifty thousand dollars, but that, as far as the rest was concerned, he thought he owned some office furniture and things, which might be valued at one dollar and fifty cents.
After the battle of Bull Run, when Lincoln first met the author, Mrs. Stowe, he wonderingly shook hands with her, saying: "And this is the little woman who caused this big war!" Another time he remarked: "Whichever way it ends, I have the impression that I sha'n't last long' after it."
Although some of the funniest stories you ever heard were told by Lincoln, he was a very sad man, and when he joked it was often to conceal the fact that he felt sad enough to cry. But people who did not know him well were often shocked by what they considered his levity.
Thus, a Congressman, who visited him at a trying time, rose impatiently in the midst of one of his stories, saying: "Mr. President, I did not come here this morning to hear stories; it is too serious a time." The President, who respected every one's feelings, no matter how different they were from his own, immediately answered: "Sit
down, Mr. A !I respect you as an earnest, sincere
man. You cannot be more anxious than I am constantly, and I say to you now that were it not for this occasional vent I should die!"
People around him knew this so well that when the cares of government pressed hard enough upon him to have broken down any man less strong, they used to long for some one to come and make him laugh, knowing it would do him more good than anything else.
Every President is bothered by people who make all
sorts of requests, and as Lincoln would not allow' any one to be sent away unheard, he had no rest. Of course, he would have been glad to grant all they asked, for he was generous to a fault; but that was impossible. In his funny way, he once showed how all these prayers troubled him, for when he took the varioloid he told his doctor: "Well, at last I've got something I can give to everybody if they want it!"
The news of the army was always sent to him, and whenever he had any bad tidings to announce, he took it so to heart that it made him ill. Once, after a defeat, he mournfully cried: "How willingly would I exchange places to-day with the soldier who sleeps on the ground in the Army of the Potomac!"
It is often difficult to know and do what is right, and even while Lincoln was doing his very best, many people found fault with all he said and did, thus making his task all the harder. Once, when one of the newspapers had been very unkind, one of Lincoln's friends told him he ought to deny the slander; but the President quietly answered:
"Oh, no; at least, not now. If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end. If the end brings me out right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference."
Once, gentlemen of great wealth and standing came to see the President, to ask his plans and give him their advice. Now, it happened that the President could not tell them his plans, as it was very important, just then, to keep them secret. Besides, it was quite impossible to take their advice. Still, he did not wish to offend them, so he resorted to what is probably the best known of all his stories, and, alluding to a famous tight-rope dancer, he said:
"Gentlemen, suppose all the property you were worth was in gold, and you had put it into the hands of Blondin to carry across the Niagara River on a tight rope. Would you shake the cable, and keep shouting to him: 'Blondin, stand up a little straighter! Blondin, stoop a little more! Blondin, go a little faster! Lean a little more to the north! Bend over a little more to the south!' No, gentlemen; you would hold your breath as well as your tongues, and keep your hands off until he was over. The government is carrying an immense weight. Untold treasure is in its hands. It is doing the very best it can. Do not badger us. Keep silence, and we will get you safe across."
The way in which he told this story made the gentlemen part with him in the most cordial way, whereas, had he stiffly told them that he could not impart state secrets, they would probably have left him in anger.
LIV. LINCOLN'S REBUKES.
LINCOLN could be firm and severe when there was _j occasion for him to be so, and he never allowed disrespect to God or disobedience to his generals. Two anecdotes will illustrate this. A man once came to him with a petition; before long this individual began to swear horribly. Lincoln gently, yet firmly, checked him. Still, in a few minutes the man swore harder than ever. Then Lincoln rose with great dignity, opened the door, and said:
"I thought that Senator had sent me a gentleman.
I find I am mistaken. There is the door, sir. Good evening."
Many of the Union soldiers had enlisted thinking the war would soon be over, and fancying they would surely be released at the end of three months at the latest. After the battle of Bull Run, an officer came to Sherman, and coolly announced that he was going home. Sherman reasoned with him a few moments; but perceiving that he