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MR. LINCOLN AND THE PETITIONERS.
A RECORD FROM THE EXECUTIVE CHAMBER.
It was the custom of Mr. Lincoln, during the later years of the Rebellion, to hear petitions at certain hours of the day from all who chose to present them to him the formality of an introduction from some Member of Congress being the condition on which they entered the Executive Chamber.
The writer of this record pleaded for the discharge from military service of a brother who had entered the army at fifteen years of age. The petition was granted, and the President kindly asked if he could do any thing more for her. She asked if she might be present at some of these public interviews, and write notes of them for publication. He answered that she could do so.
Of many hundred petitions she has selected a few only, and has endeavored to present a faithful record of what she actually saw and heard on the occasions described.*
All day long President Lincoln had received petitioners, and still they came. He could hear the murmur of voices in the outer rooms, as they were anxious to be admitted; yet, he must rest for a few moments.
“Tad, my dear son, go to your mother; you must be tired here."
"No, no, papa; I don't want to go now-I want to stay and see the people." And he forced his hands down deep into his pockets, threw himself on the floor under a writing-desk which stood near his father, and, settling his head on a cushion, continued: “Ain't you tired of folks, pa?"
The little bell which the President sounded—a signal for the doors to be opened-remained unrung, and he sat
*The authenticity of these "notes" is vouched for by the writer, whose good faith is well endorsed.
with his hands clasped together and his head drooping forward.
His little son moved softly from the room, returning in a few moments with a sad-faced woman, who held an infant in her arms. The President motioned her to a chair, and she modestly stated that she had come from a town in the far West to plead for the life of her husband, who was sentenced to die in six weeks for desertion.
"He ran away from his regiment, then?"
"No, sir; but they think he did.” The President frowned, and shook his head rapidly from side to side. "Of course, madam, you think that he did not."
"Oh, sir! oh!——" And she began to cry aloud, the baby joining the cho
The President seemed much annoyed, but, turning to her, kindly said:
"If you can prove to me that your husband did not run away from nor desert his regiment, I will have him pardoned. Will you go on with your story, and stop your crying?"
“How kind you are, sir!”
A faint smile played upon the President's face, as he answered, "Please go on with your story."
She told him she was dangerously sick, and her husband, hearing it from a comrade, went home, about three miles from the camp. The next day he was seized as a deserter, and dragged away. As soon as she could walk a little, she had gone to the officers to plead for him, but they would not listen to her. She was sick after that long walk, and as soon as she could get up again sho had started for Washington.
"It was a long and tiresome journey," he said, sympathetically.
'Yes, sir; but, someway, I felt, if I
could only see you and tell you, that you would believe my story. I have no letters to speak for me, only this one," moving her hand towards her pocket.
The President shook his head. He was twisting a piece of paper over and over through his fingers. Lifting his eyes suddenly to her face, he asked:
"Who is that letter from?"
"It is from a kind minister; I asked him to write it. He said you did not know him, and would in all probability not read the letter; yet, if it would be any comfort to me, he would write it." "Let me see it."
As he bent forward to take the letter, the infant seized his hand. The President patted the little hands and face, and then leaned toward the light to read.
How anxiously the woman watched him! But his countenance gave no indication of his thoughts. He folded the letter carefully; slowly he handed it back again, saying:
"I am satisfied with it. I believe your story. I shall pardon your husband."
The baby looked up steadily at him; the woman arose, as she exclaimed: "Oh, Mr. President, how can I thank you!"
"Take this note to the War Department, and they will give you a paper of release for your husband from the charge of desertion. It will make your journey home more comfortable. Good night."
In vain he shook his head and stamped his feet, and brought his hands violently down upon the table, telling them that he would not and could not listen to such petitions. They, with an assurance never to be imagined, would still go on.
Men with defiant faces, men whining and pleading, and forward women, grasped his arms to arrest his attention. His patience with such rudeness was wonderful. If he expressed contempt for affectations, he also did not forget to respect modesty and real sorrow when he met it.
Again the little bell was rung, and again the room was filled. Those who had just gone out muttered their dislike for the good man who listened from early morning until late at night to people of every grade.
Often the President was grave to sadness. For hours in succession he expressed no anger, no mirth. Petition after petition was presented in rapid succession. It was the same story of sorrow of fathers, brothers, and husbands in prison, each pleading for theirs to be the first released in the exchange of prisoners. Some had dear ones dying in camp, beyond the lines; they were begging to go to them. Hundreds had made the same request.
"Oh, let us go to them-only let us go!"
There were bands of poor, oppressed sewing-women stating their wrongsPeace commissioners, and Southern
"God bless you!" she answered, and refugees. was gone.
The President struck the little bell, and a tall usher opened wide the door, until the room was filled. Some of these petitioners were insolent beyond human endurance; some were silly to excess; some were ludicrous in their pompousness, displaying piles of letters of introduction, which the President would not look at. They would, however, persist in their endeavors to make him look at such letters from such per
The President soon became exasperated, as he listened to one and another.
Towards the close of the day the President was alone for a few moments. The door opened a little, softly, as though begging an invitation to open wide. A merry face and broad shoulders were visible; and, to the President's cheerful "Come in," the whole man entered.
"Nothing to do, eh?" said the President, lifting his eyebrows, and assuming for an instant the most mirth-provoking attitude.
"That's it just it, Mr. President, your honor! Ushers and watchers have only to stare at each other. I thought
I'd show my better bringing up;" and he apologized for laughing and laughed for apologizing, and the President helped him.
"So you thought you'd show your better bringing up-show off by coming up here to disturb me! Maybe you're afraid I rest too much-get too much sleep, eh?"
"Oh, no, Mr. President!" and the speaker shook his white head, adding, "You will be so funny! Only I thought I'd just step up and tell you that there is just one solitary lady wanting to speak to you, and you know——” 66 No, I dont know." "And you see▬▬ "No, I don't see."
"Beg pardon! but I meant to say, that I could not very well let her go away without telling you."
"Where is she?"
"Outside, in a carriage. There is an old black woman with her, who keeps telling her that 'Massa Linkum will sure for sartin' let her come up.'”
"Yes, yes-of course; I must not refuse any person; " and the President laughed again in a weary fashion. "Fetch her up," he added, an expression of fatigue sweeping over his face. The little man soon returned, saying:
"She won't be fetched. This is her name"-handing a card. "When I told her you said she could come right up, she turned pale, and trembled like a leaf, and said, 'Please ask the President if I may come in the morning, and I will be deeply grateful to him.' The black woman said she was 'jes' done ober trablin' in dem ingines. She'd be right pert in de mornin', and tell Pres'ent Linkum all 'bout it.'"
"I'm disengaged now," answered the President, with a frown; "but to-morrow-what do I know of to-morrow? Tell her to come right up. No-tell her to come to-morrow morning at precisely eleven o'clock."
"Deeply grateful!" laughed the President, when the door closed. "I hope there will be no more women here to-night," he added, wearily.
But there were women. Each set of petitioners were women, from first to last.
Many times the President started to go to his private room; but sad faces pressing up the stairway stopped him as he was crossing the hall, and he went back again.
"Do, kind President, grant my request ! "
The woman's voice was very plaintive, and large tears were falling, but she made no sound of crying.
'No, no, I cannot! I cannot, good woman-I cannot! I might grant such requests a thousand a-day. I can't turn the Government inside out and upside over. I can't please every body. I must do my duty-stern duty as I see it. Nobody wants their friends drafted-nobody wants them taken as deserters. He should not have been absent so long; he should not have taken upon himself the appearance of a deserter. How do I know--how does any body know-how does the War Department know-that he did not intend. to stay upon the boat where the soldiers found him? How does any body know that he didn't think about his furlough being ended? Didn't think! That was his business to think. I am sorry. Every body ought to be sorry for those who do wrong. When he knew the laws, why did, he break them? When he knew the penalty, why did he bring it upon himself? You plead for him, and tell me how upright he is. That's all very well. It is easy for us to overestimate the good. ness of those we love. You are his neighbor. It is very kind in you to come so far and plead so strongly; but -I can't-I can't do any thing for you!"
"Please, President Lincoln !"
"No, no! no, no! I can't-I won'tI won't!" and he sprang to his feet,. but in an instant resumed his former position in his chair, and leaned for-ward to snap the little bell.
It was a sound of intense grief, disappointment, and surprise, all mingled
together; coming up so from the heart as this peculiar sound did, it arrested the hand upon the bell, lifted the eyes that were growing cold and stern to the pleading face of the woman before him. She had left her chair, and stood so near that her clothes brushed against him. Heavy were the lines upon her face-lines of care and sorrow; earnest were the tear-dimmed eyes.
“Do, kind sir, consider my case a moment more-oh, President Lincoln ! Remember, you were poor once-andand-"
"Had no friends, do you mean? he interrupted, almost scornfully.
"No-oh, no!—had a few friendstried and true friends, who would never forsake you. Only one of them I know -one, who is alike a friend to you and to me. For his sake--for our dear Lor i's sake—grant my petition!"
There was a striking solemnity in her whole attitude; and the President turned very pale, his eyes misty, sad, and then sadder, as he repeated, slowly and reverently:
"For our dear Lord's sake!" "Here are three hundred dollars; it was made up by his neighbors. Couldn't you save him from an ignominious death, which he does not deserve?-no, he does not deserve!"
"Take back your money!" cried the President, throwing away from him her extended hand. "Take it back! 1 do
not want it!"
Quly an instant his hand and voice were raised, and then he resumed, kindly:
"I shall not have your money, good woman; the War Department will not have it. Take it back where it came from; and you shall take back his release. Your petition shall be wholly granted."
"Ob, President Lincoln! I believe you are a Christian. I thank God for it. I will pray for you every day with my whole heart."
"I have need of your prayers; I have need of all the prayers that can be of fered for me."
tian spirit—that is taith in Jesus! Oh, let me hear you say that you believe in Him!"
"I do," was the solemn answer. "I believe in my Saviour."
And when she arose to depart, the President also arose and opened the door for her, and led her through the outer room and across the hall to the head of the staircase, and shook hands, said "good-by," and went back again to receive more and still more petition
It was past three o'clock; the Executive Mansion was silent and dark, with only the shaded light beside the President, as he sat with folded hands and mournful eyes alone.
"Mr. President, your Honor," said a languid woman in a languid voice, opening and closing her pale-blue eyes, "Mr. President, your Honor," she repeated, with a slight emphasis, and then, as though it were the last effort she could ever make, succeeded in saying again, "Mr. President, your Honor."
He regarded her with an amused air, and said, 66 My name is Mr. LincolnAbraham Lincoln. I suppose you call me ‘Old Abe' when you're at home."
She dropped her head and raised her handkerchief to her face, heaving the folds of it with a deep-drawn sigh, as in one small eye one small tear stood irresolute, and she murmured, “How you mistake me, honored sir!"
She paused a moment to recover from her emotion, and another woman, less delicate, pushed her way up, and, with a stout voice and important manner, began to tell her qualifications and show her certificates, and wished to have a place given her in the Treasury Department.
"I'd have a different order of things there, Mr. President. I could do the work of two, and do it well. It's a bad thing," she went on, "to have so many young girls there; it's a crying shame -it's a disgrace. You ought to turn them all out, and put in their places persons of my age."
Before the President could answer, a "Oh, Mr. Lincoln, that is the Chris- very tall man stumbled over the feet of
It is an important thing to have a man you can trust, Mr. President-one who is perfect'y honest. It is an easy matter for money to get lost, if in the hands of easy, careless people."
"Yes, it certainly is; and, judging from the manner in which these precious letters of yours have been flying about, I should say Government property would be very, very safe with you." "But there is excuse for me now, sir. Time is very short with me."
"Time is short with all of us—or at least we ought to consider it so. No, sir; I can give you no appointment."
The man began to tell the President that he would never regret it; he would see how faithful he would be, and he would be satisfied that he was better fitted for paymaster-general than the one who held the position now.
"Oh, you wish to be paymaster-general! Well, well! you wish me to turn out the man I do know, and put you in his place, whom I don't know! You may go, sir."
The President frowned, and waved his hand toward him.
"And you," he said, turning to the woman with a stout voice, “you can't have an appointment. I am sorry so many young girls are in the Treasury Building; but that is something over which I have no control."
"And you, madam," turning to the
languid woman, "you have not yet stated your petition."
Another sigh, and then, as though reinforced by sudden vitality, she produced a parcel of letters, saying: "Read these, sir; they can tell you who I am. I am too timid." "That's nothing to me," he answered, sharply.
"Just read them, sir."
"I can't; I have no time." "They are from head people at the South."
I have no con
"I have no doubt of it." "They plead for me. fidence in myself."
The President was getting very much annoyed, and shook his head from side to side, as he always did when he was out of patience.
"If you can tell me, madam, what you wish, I will listen; if not, I will go on with the others."
"Read this one," she said, picking it out very carefully.
"No; I cannot." Then, suddenly looking up with an odd smile, he asked: "Have you one from Jeff. Davis?"
She did not see the expression of the President's face, and she replied, in a faint voice, with her eyes cast down, "I have not, but I can get one."
"Oh, don't put yourself to that trouble; I can know as much from you as from him. I'll take your word for it that you can get one." And the President's sleeves shook a little. "Please go on and tell me your story."
"Well-it is-it is-of great account to me. It's about-about my poor cow -which your cruel soldiers killed, and -and-I want the Government to restore the loss-to buy me a new cow."
"I am sorry for your poor cow; but we cannot buy you a new cow. I've had several cow-petitions. I expect next to have some person bewailing the loss of a cat. I have plenty of spare time, of course-have nothing to do, and ought by all means to see that every loss is made good."
"I'd like to go home," the woman said.