Six Months at the White House/LXXIII

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Six Months at the White House by Francis Bicknell Carpenter
LXXIII.
LXXIII.

"President Lincoln," says the Hon. W. D Kelly,[1] "was a large and many-sided man, and yet so simple that no one, not even a child, could approach him without feeling that he had found in him a sympathizing friend. I remember that I apprised him of the fact that a lad, the son of one of my townsmen, had served a year on board the gunboat Ottawa, and had been in two important engagements; in the first as a powder-monkey, when he had conducted himself with such coolness that he had been chosen as captain's messenger in the second; and I suggested to the President that it was in his power to send to the Naval School, annually, three boys who had served at least a year in the navy.

"He at once wrote on the back of a letter from the commander of the Ottawa, which I had handed him, to the Secretary of the Navy: 'If the appointments for this year have not been made, let this boy be appointed.' The appointment had not been made, and I brought it home with me. It directed the lad to report for examination at the school in July. Just as he was ready to start, his father, looking over the law, discovered that he could not report until he was fourteen years of age, which he would not be until September following. The poor child sat down and wept. He feared that he was not to go to the Naval School. He was, however, soon consoled by being told that 'the President could make it right.' It was my fortune to meet him the next morning at the door of the Executive Chamber with his father.

"Taking by the hand the little fellow,--short for his age, dressed in the sailor's blue pants and shirt,--I advanced with him to the President, who sat in his usual seat, and said: 'Mr. President, my young friend, Willie Bladen, finds a difficulty about his appointment. You have directed him to appear at the school in July; but he is not yet fourteen years of age.' But before I got half of this out, Mr. Lincoln, laying down his spectacles, rose and said: 'Bless me! is that the boy who did so gallantly in those two great battles? Why, I feel that I should bow to him, and not he to me.'

"The little fellow had made his graceful bow. The President took the papers at once, and as soon as he learned that a postponement till September would suffice, made the order that the lad should report in that month. Then putting his hand on Willie's head, he said: 'Now, my boy, go home and have good fun during the two months, for they are about the last holiday you will get.' The little fellow bowed himself out, feeling that the President of the United States, though a very great man, was one that he would nevertheless like to have a game of romps with."

There was not unfrequently a curious mingling of humor and pathos exhibited in Mr. Lincoln's exercise of the pardoning power. Lieutenant-Governor Ford, of Ohio, had an appointment with him one evening at six o'clock. As he entered the vestibule of the White House his attention was attracted by a poorly clad young woman who was violently sobbing. He asked her the cause of her distress. She said that she had been ordered away by the servants, after vainly waiting many hours to see the President about her only brother, who had been condemned to death. Her story was this: She and her brother were foreigners, and orphans. They had been in this country several years. Her brother enlisted in the army, but, through bad influences, was induced to desert. He was captured, tried, and sentenced to be shot--the old story. The poor girl had obtained the signatures of some persons who had formerly known him to a petition for a pardon, and, alone, had come to Washington to lay the case before the President. Thronged as the waiting-rooms always were, she had passed the long hours of two days trying in vain to get an audience, and had at length been ordered away.

Mr. Ford's sympathies were at once enlisted. He said that he had come to see the President, but did not know as he should succeed. He told her, however, to follow him up-stairs, and he would see what could be done. Just before reaching the door, Mr. Lincoln came out, and meeting his friend, said good-humoredly, "are you not ahead of time?" Mr. Ford showed his watch, with the pointers upon the hour of six. "Well," replied Mr. Lincoln, "I have been so busy to-day that I have not had time to get a lunch. Go in and sit down; I will be back directly."

Mr. Ford made the young woman accompany him into the office, and when they were seated, said to her: "Now, my good girl, I want you to muster all the courage you have in the world. When the President comes back he will sit down in that arm-chair. I shall get up to speak to him, and as I do so you must force yourself between us, and insist upon his examination of your papers, telling him it is a case of life and death, and admits of no delay." These instructions were carried out to the letter. Mr. Lincoln was at first somewhat surprised at the apparent forwardness of the young woman, but observing her distressed appearance, he ceased conversation with his friend, and commenced an examination of the document she had placed in his hands. Glancing from it to the face of the petitioner, whose tears had broken forth afresh, he studied its expression for a moment, and then his eye fell upon her scanty but neat dress. Instantly his face lighted up. "My poor girl," said he, "you have come here with no governor, or senator, or member of congress, to plead your cause. You seem honest and truthful; and"--with much emphasis--"you don't wear 'hoops; and I will be whipped but I will pardon your brother!"

Among the applicants received on another occasion by the President, was a woman who had also met with considerable difficulty and delay in getting admission to him. She said that her husband had been arrested some months before and sent to the "Old Capitol" prison; that he had not been "tried," and could not learn as he was likely to be; and she appealed to the President as a husband and father to interfere and order an immediate trial. Mr. Lincoln said he was sorry this could not be done,--adding that such cases were much like the different sacks of grain at a country grist-mill, all "waiting their turn to be ground," and that it would be unfair for the "miller" to show any "partiality." The woman left, but the next day appeared again before him. Recognizing her, Mr. Lincoln asked if anything "new" had happened. "No," replied the woman; "but I have been thinking, sir, about what you said concerning the 'grists,' and I am afraid mine will get 'mouldy' and 'spoil' before its turn comes around; so I have come to ask, Mr. President, that it may be taken to some other 'mill' to be ground."

Mr. Lincoln was so much amused at the wit and shrewdness of the request, that he instantly gave the woman an unconditional discharge for her husband.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Address in Philadelphia upon the death of Mr. Lincoln.