Six Months at the White House/XIII
Wednesday morning was devoted to the continued examination of the court-martial cases, to the great vexation of a score of political applicants, whom I could hear impatiently pacing the floor of the hall and waiting-room. At one o'clock, however, the doors were thrown open, and the throng admitted and dismissed, as rapidly as possible. I was much amused and interested, later in the day, in a variety of characters who presented themselves. First was an elderly lady, plainly but comfortably dressed, whose son was a prisoner in Baltimore. Her story, spun out to some length, was briefly this: Her son had been serving in the Rebel army. He heard that his sister was lying dead at home, and his mother at the supposed point of death. He determined to see them, and succeeded in getting through our lines undiscovered. He found his mother better. Before he got ready to return, he became very ill himself. She said she hid him in the house until he recovered, and on his way back to his regiment he was captured. He was now anxious to take the oath and his mother assured the President that he should henceforth "have nothing to do with the Rebels." Mr. Lincoln sat quietly through the story, his face in half shadow. As she finished he said, with some impatience,--"Now this is a pretty story to come to me with, isn't it? Your son came home from fighting against his country; he was sick; you secreted him, nursed him up, and when cured, started him off again to help destroy some more of our boys. Taken prisoner, trying to get through our lines, you now want me to let him off upon his oath." "Yes," said the woman, not in the least disconcerted, "and I give you my word, Mr. President, he shall never have anything more to do with the Rebels--never--I was always opposed to his joining them." "Your word," rejoined Mr. Lincoln dryly, "what do I know about your word?" He finally took the application, and writing something upon the back of it, returned it to her with the words, "Now, I want you to understand that I have done this just to get rid of you!" "Oh," said she, "Mr. President, I have always heard that you were such a kind-hearted man, and now I know it is true." And so, with much apparent satisfaction, she withdrew.
The party that followed consisted of a lady and two gentlemen. She had come to ask that her husband, who was also a prisoner of war, might be permitted to take the oath and be released from confinement. To secure a degree of interest on the part of the President, one of the gentlemen claimed to be an acquaintance of Mrs. Lincoln; this, however, received but little attention, and the President proceeded to ask what position the lady's husband held in the Rebel service. "Oh," said she, "he was a captain." "A captain!" rejoined Mr. Lincoln, "indeed!--rather too big a fish to set free simply upon his taking the oath. If he was an officer, it is proof positive that he has been a zealous rebel; I cannot release him." Here the lady's friend reiterated the assertion of his acquaintance with Mrs. Lincoln. Instantly the President's hand was upon the bell-rope. The usher in attendance answered the summons. "Cornelius, take this man's name to Mrs. Lincoln, and ask her what she knows of him." The boy presently returned, with the reply that "the Madam" (as she was called by the servants) knew nothing of him whatever. The man said it was very strange. "Well, it is just as I suspected," said the President. The party made one more attempt to enlist his sympathy, but without effect. "It is of no use," was the reply; "I cannot release him;" and the trio withdrew, the lady in high displeasure.
Next came a Methodist minister by the name of "G.," claiming to be the son of the inventor of iron-clad gunboats. He had understood that the President appointed the hospital chaplains, and he greatly desired such a place. Mr. Lincoln replied rather curtly, that he could do nothing for him. "But I was told, sir, that these appointments were made by the President," said the gentleman, very respectfully. "I will just tell you how that is," was the answer; "when there are vacancies I appoint, not without." The clergyman here alluded to his having left with the private secretary a war-sermon which he had lately preached. Stepping out, he returned with the pamphlet, saying, as he handed it to the President, "I suppose, sir, you have little time to read anything of this kind; but I shall be very glad to leave it with you." Upon this he bowed himself out, and the sermon was carelessly tossed aside, never to be thought of again by Mr. Lincoln.
Subsequently the sermon fell into my hands. The only thing I remember about it was the practical application of a professional incident. The clergyman one day fell in with two soldiers fighting. One had the other down, and was severely handling him. Rebuking the men, the one underneath responded very heartily, "Plase your riverince, I am willing to give up this minute, solely out of respect for your riverince." And so the preacher thought the South should be made to say "in regard to the Constitution."