Six Months at the White House/LXIX
The last story told by Mr. Lincoln was drawn out by a circumstance which occurred just before the interview with Messrs. Colfax and Ashmun, on the evening of his assassination.
Marshal Lamon of Washington had called upon him with an application for the pardon of a soldier. After a brief hearing the President took the application, and when about to write his name upon the back of it, he looked up and said: "Lamon, have you ever heard how the Patagonians eat oysters? They open them and throw the shells out of the window until the pile gets higher than the house, and then they move;" adding: "I feel to-day like commencing a new pile of pardons, and I may as well begin it just here."
At the subsequent interview with Messrs. Colfax and Ashmun, Mr. Lincoln was in high spirits. The uneasiness felt by his friends during his visit to Richmond was dwelt upon, when he sportively replied that he "supposed he should have been uneasy also, had any other man been President and gone there; but as it was, he felt no apprehension of danger whatever." Turning to Speaker Colfax, he said: "Sumner has the 'gavel' of the Confederate Congress, which he got at Richmond, and intended to give to the Secretary of War, but I insisted he must give it to you; and you tell him from me to hand it over."
Mr. Ashmun, who was the presiding officer of the Chicago Convention in 1860, alluded to the "gavel" used on that occasion, saying he had preserved it as a valuable memento.
Mr. Ashmun then referred to a matter of business connected with a cotton claim, preferred by a client of his, and said that he desired to have a "commission" appointed to examine and decide upon the merits of the case. Mr. Lincoln replied, with considerable warmth of manner, "I have done with 'commissions.' I believe they are contrivances to cheat the Government out of every pound of cotton they can lay their hands on." Mr. Ashmun's face flushed, and he replied that he hoped the President meant no personal imputation.
Mr. Lincoln saw that he had wounded his friend, and he instantly replied: "You did not understand me, Ashmun. I did not mean what you inferred. I take it all back." Subsequently he said: "I apologize to you, Ashmun."
He then engaged to see Mr. Ashmun early the next morning, and taking a card, he wrote:
"Allow Mr. Ashmun and friend to come in at 9 A.M. to-morrow. A. Lincoln."
These were his last written words. Turning to Mr. Colfax he said: "You will accompany Mrs. Lincoln and me to the theatre, I hope?" Mr. Colfax pleaded other engagements,--expecting to start on his Pacific trip the next morning. The party passed out on the portico together, the President saying at the very last, "Colfax, don't forget to tell the people of the mining regions what I told you this morning about the development when peace comes;" then shaking hands with both gentlemen, he followed Mrs. Lincoln into the carriage, leaning forward, at the last moment, to say as they were driven off, "I will telegraph you, Colfax, at San Francisco,"--passing thus forth for the last time from under that roof into the creeping shadows which were to settle before another dawn into a funeral pall upon the orphaned heart of the nation.