Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Mark on Lincoln's Humanity
MARK ON LINCOLN'S HUMANITY
When Ida M. Tarbell's "Life of Lincoln" was running in McClure's during the late nineties, Mark said at luncheon at the Cafe Ronacher, Vienna, one afternoon: "That woman is writing a wonderfully good and accurate, intimate and comprehensive book and I do hope that, in the end, she will give the same prominence to Lincoln's correspondence on pardons as to other state papers of his. When you come to think of it, a lot of nonentities have got credit for able state papers, but it takes humanity to commute a sentence of death and Lincoln has commuted thousands. The only one he didn't and couldn't commute was one imposed by our friend. Ward Hill Lamon.
"Lamon, then Marshal of the District of Columbia, had seen Lincoln safely home and then made his usual rounds of the White House grounds. All seemed well, no cause for suspicion. Ward told me, and he was about to retire, when he thought he saw some movement amid a clump of green foliage. It looked as if a body was rising from the ground.
"'I reached the spot by three leaps, faced a dark figure and, without ado, dealt him a blow square between the eyes, knocking him down,' said the Marshal.
"Well," continued Mark, "you know Lamon as he looks now, still a commanding figure, though worried and weakened by diabetes. In the early sixties he was a giant, a John L. Sullivan as a hitter. That blow of his killed the stranger in the White House grounds and when the body was carried to the Secret Service offices and searched, they found it to be that of a Southern gentleman of distinguished family. He had two pistols and two heinous looking knives on him—undoubtedly Ward had stopped short the career of one of the forerunners of John Wilkes Booth, postponing the great tragedy several months—I have forgotten the date. Wait, it happened during the night when Lamon brought the President back from the Soldiers' Home, outside of Washington.
"Lincoln's visit to the Soldiers' Home was not on the schedule, Lamon told me, and he was surprised and angered when, calling at the White House, he heard of his riding away all by himself, for it was just such opportunities as would-be assassins were looking for.
"At the stables Lamon learned that the President came there in person, ordered 'Old Abe,' his favorite army mule, saddled and, half an hour ago, rode away as carelessly as any private citizen might do. There was a grain of comfort in the character of the mount selected, for 'Old Abe' wouldn't go faster than a dogtrot if you beat him to death. So Lamon selected the fastest horse he could borrow and in a twinkling was en route for the Soldiers' Home. As calculated, he met the President half-way down the road and Lincoln, far from suspecting that the Marshal was on his trail, invited him to come along and have some fun. Well, the President had a jolly time at the Soldiers' Home, swapping stories with veterans and boys, listening to the singing, declaiming poetry and forgetting the care of his exalted office.
"And he kept up the fun on the way home, talking to his mule and explaining to 'Old Abe' what a 'Misery' Hill was. (He always used to call Lamon by his second name.) Hill, the President told his namesake, was always looking for danger, always suspecting somebody, never content with the troubles one couldn't escape, etc., etc. But while Lamon laughed at the President's sallies and encouraged his carefree humor, he kept both eyes open and if anything or anybody had stirred in front, back or at the sides of the road, his revolver was ready for emergency."