Learning Lincoln On-line


Story Articles about Abraham Lincoln and Related Items-- for Analysis

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"By the way," remarked President Lincoln one day to Colonel Cannon, a close personal friend, "I can tell you a good story about my hair. When I was nominated at Chicago, an enterprising fellow thought that a great many people would like to see how 'Abe' Lincoln looked, and, as I had not long before sat for a photograph, the fellow, having seen it, rushed over and bought the negative.

"He at once got no end of wood-cuts, and so active was their circulation they were soon selling in all parts of the country.

"Soon after they reached Springfield, I heard a boy crying them for sale on the streets. 'Here's your likeness of "Abe" Lincoln!' he shouted. 'Buy one; price only two shillings! Will look a great deal better when he gets his hair combed!"'




Secretary of State Seward was bothered considerably regarding the complication into which Spain had involved the United States government in connection with San Domingo, and related his troubles to the President. Negotiations were not proceeding satisfactorily, and things were mixed generally. We wished to conciliate Spain, while the negroes had appealed against Spanish oppression.

The President did not, to all appearances, look at the matter seriously, but, instead of treating the situation as a grave one, remarked that Seward's dilemma reminded him of an interview between two negroes in Tennessee.

One was a preacher, who, with the crude and strange notions of his ignorant race, was endeavoring to admonish and enlighten his brother African of the importance of religion and the danger of the future.

"Dar are," said Josh, the preacher, "two roads befo' you, Joe; be ca'ful which ob dese you take. Narrow am de way dat leads straight to destruction; but broad am de way dat leads right to damnation."

Joe opened his eyes with affright, and under the spell of the awful danger before him, exclaimed, "Josh, take which road you please; I shall go troo de woods."

"I am not willing," concluded the President, "to assume any new troubles or responsibilities at this time, and shall therefore avoid going to the one place with Spain, or with the negro to the other, but shall 'take to the woods.' We will maintain an honest and strict neutrality."




"My first strong impression of Mr. Lincoln," says a lady of Springfield, "was made by one of his kind deeds. I was going with a little friend for my first trip alone on the railroad cars. It was an epoch of my life. I had planned for it and dreamed of it for weeks. The day I was to go came, but as the hour of the train approached, the hackman, through some neglect, failed to call for my trunk. As the minutes went on, I realized, in a panic of grief, that I should miss the train. I was standing by the gate, my hat and gloves on, sobbing as if my heart would break, when Mr. Lincoln came by.

"'Why, what's the matter?' he asked, and I poured out all my story.

"'How big's the trunk? There's still time, if it isn't too big.' And he pushed through the gate and up to the door. My mother and I took him up to my room, where my little old-fashioned trunk stood, locked and tied. 'Oh, ho,' he cried, 'wipe your eyes and come on quick.' And before I knew what he was going to do, he had shouldered the trunk, was down stairs, and striding out of the yard. Down the street he went fast as his long legs could carry him, I trotting behind, drying my tears as I went. We reached the station in time. Mr. Lincoln put me on the train, kissed me good-bye, and told me to have a good time. It was just like him."




Lincoln never failed to take part in all political campaigns in Illinois, as his reputation as a speaker caused his services to be in great demand. As was natural, he was often the target at which many of the "Smart Alecks" of that period shot their feeble bolts, but Lincoln was so ready with his answers that few of them cared to engage him a second time.

In one campaign Lincoln was frequently annoyed by a young man who entertained the idea that he was a born orator. He had a loud voice, was full of language, and so conceited that he could not understand why the people did not recognize and appreciate his abilities.

This callow politician delighted in interrupting public speakers, and at last Lincoln determined to squelch him. One night while addressing a large meeting at Springfield, the fellow became so offensive that "Abe" dropped the threads of his speech and turned his attention to the tormentor.

"I don't object," said Lincoln, "to being interrupted with sensible questions, but I must say that my boisterous friend does not always make inquiries which properly come under that head. He says he is afflicted with headaches, at which I don't wonder, as it is a well-known fact that nature abhors a vacuum, and takes her own way of demonstrating it.

"This noisy friend reminds me of a certain steamboat that used to run on the Illinois river. It was an energetic boat, was always busy. When they built it, however, they made one serious mistake, this error being in the relative sizes of the boiler and the whistle. The latter was usually busy, too, and people were aware that it was in existence.

"This particular boiler to which I have reference was a six-foot one, and did all that was required of it in the way of pushing the boat along; but as the builders of the vessel had made the whistle a six-foot one, the consequence was that every time the whistle blew the boat had to stop."




President Lincoln one day remarked to a number of personal friends who had called upon him at the White House:

"General McClellan's tardiness and unwillingness to fight the enemy or follow up advantages gained, reminds me of a man back in Illinois who knew a few law phrases but whose lawyer lacked aggressiveness. The man finally lost all patience and springing to his feet vociferated, 'Why don't you go at him with a fi. fa., a demurrer, a capias, a surrebutter, or a ne exeat, or something; or a nundam pactum or a non est?'

"I wish McClellan would go at the enemy with something—I don't care what. General McClellan is a pleasant and scholarly gentleman. He is an admirable engineer, but he seems to have a special talent for a stationary engine."




One can only imagine the sights this hat has seen. Perched atop a man who towered over his peers at 6 foot 4 inches, this hat must have had quite a view.

"Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life" at the Smithsonian

It may have been there when a divided nation -- a devastating Civil War on the horizon -- elected a politician from Illinois as president. It could have watched as this president, so desperate to preserve the Union, carefully drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, thus changing the course of American history. And we know for sure that this hat was witness to a tragic April night when the same president was fatally shot while enjoying a play.

The iconic top hat, part of a collection of items associated with Abraham Lincoln, is now on display at the National Museum of American History. Nearly three years in the making, "Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life" is part of the Smithsonian Institution's bicentennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birth and a rare glimpse into the life of one of our nation's greatest presidents.

Nearly two centuries later, still adorned with a black band of mourning for a son who died too early, Lincoln's hat is worn-down, yet strangely magnificent. Maybe it is the hat's history that gives it such a majestic quality. Or perhaps it is simply that a top hat always commands a certain reverence -- an attribute that may reveal a great deal about the vanity of its owner.

"Why would somebody who is 6 foot 4 inches decide to wear a tall hat?" asks Harry Rubenstein, curator of the exhibit. "He clearly has this desire to stand out in the crowd, to make his place in it."

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Rubenstein hopes this is the type of intimate detail about our 16th president's life that people will take away from the ongoing Lincoln exhibit.

"This is the first time we've brought together all of the museum's best Lincoln objects to tell the story of Lincoln's life," Rubenstein says. "And I think it's a different kind of story that emerges -- one that's more intimate and more personal and one that brings this story to life in very tangible ways."

The Smithsonian Institution started its Lincoln collection more than 140 years ago, Rubenstein says.

The exhibit, which opened in January, houses more than 60 items from Abraham Lincoln's life, spanning his humble beginnings, his political career, his life in the White House, and even relics recovered in the wake of his assassination.

Rubenstein says the collection includes "little personal objects of things he touched and used at pivotal moments in his life," like his office suit, his gold pocket watch -- and a coffee cup he left on a windowsill the night of his assassination.

The exhibit is also home to more significant objects, such as the inkstand Lincoln used to draft the Emancipation Proclamation, and a patent model of a device he invented for lifting boats over sand bars.

Also on display is memorabilia from the 1860 presidential election campaign -- such as a replica poster portraying a young and masculine Lincoln splitting rail -- that reveal a candidate not impervious to the somewhat superficial aspects of the American political system. Rubenstein says that although Lincoln scoffed at his party's attempts to brand him as "Old Abe the Rail Splitter," he understood the importance of appealing to the masses and creating an image to "link him and his ideals in an iconic kind of way."

Perhaps no one is more aware of the power of Lincoln's iconic image than President Barack Obama, who frequently cited his Illinois predecessor as a source of inspiration for his own presidency.

While Rubenstein warns against drawing too much of a comparison between presidents -- the two Illinoisans have been linked by their reformist platforms, their penchant for eloquent speeches, and even for their physical likenesses -- he acknowledges the significance of the symbolic timing: As the first African-American becomes president, the nation celebrates the 200th birthday of the man who ended slavery.

"We have a president from Illinois -- the land of Lincoln -- who has found inspiration in the Lincoln story. ... It's clearly an historic moment," Rubenstein says.

Nonetheless, as the nation celebrates Obama's momentous election, "An Extraordinary Life" is a reminder of the relevance of Lincoln's legacy today and commemorates the incredible life that he led.

"It is amazing ...here is this individual from a family in the middle of the woods in Kentucky ... [struggling] to educate himself," Rubenstein says. "To then take on this incredible responsibility, [and] beyond that, his ability to articulate those ideas to inspire not only his generation, but for us today ... it's an extraordinary odyssey that he took."


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