Six Months at the White House/XLII

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

One bright morning in May, the Sunday-school children of the city of Washington, marching in procession on anniversary day, passed in review through the portico on the north side of the White House. The President stood at the open window above the door, responding with a smile and a bow to the lusty cheers of the little folks as they passed. Hon. Mr. Odell, of Brooklyn, with one or two other gentlemen, stood by his side as I joined the group. It was a beautiful sight; the rosy-cheeked boys and girls, in their "Sunday's best," with banners and flowers, all intent upon seeing the President, and, as they caught sight of his tall figure, cheering as if their very lives depended upon it. After enjoying the scene for some time, making pleasant remarks about a face that now and then struck him, Mr. Lincoln said: "Mrs. Ann S. Stephens told me a story last night about Daniel Webster, when a lad, which was new to me, and it has been running in my head all the morning. When quite young, at school, Daniel was one day guilty of a gross violation of the rules. He was detected in the act, and called up by the teacher for punishment. This was to be the old-fashioned 'feruling' of the hand. His hands happened to be very dirty. Knowing this, on his way to the teacher's desk, he spit upon the palm of his right hand, wiping it off upon the side of his pantaloons. 'Give me your hand, sir,' said the teacher, very sternly. Out went the right hand, partly cleansed. The teacher looked at it a moment, and said, 'Daniel, if you will find another hand in this school-room as filthy as that, I will let you off this time!' Instantly from behind his back came the left hand. 'Here it is, sir,' was the ready reply. 'That will do,' said the teacher, 'for this time; you can take your seat, sir.'"

Mr. Lincoln's heart was always open to children. I shall never forget his coming into the "studio" one day, and finding my own little boy of two summers playing on the floor. A member of the Cabinet was with him, but laying aside all restraint, he took the little fellow at once in his arms, and they were soon on the best of terms.

Old Daniel--alluded to on a previous page--gave me a touching illustration of this element in his character. A poor woman from Philadelphia had been waiting with a baby in her arms for several days to see the President. It appeared by her story, that her husband had furnished a substitute for the army, but sometime afterward, in a state of intoxication, was induced to enlist. Upon reaching the post assigned his regiment, he deserted, thinking the government was not entitled to his services. Returning home, he was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to be shot. The sentence was to be executed on a Saturday. On Monday his wife left her home with her baby, to endeavor to see the President. Said Daniel, "She had been waiting here three days, and there was no chance for her to get in. Late in the afternoon of the third day, the President was going through the passage to his private room to get a cup of tea. On the way he heard the baby cry. He instantly went back to his office and rang the bell. 'Daniel,' said he, 'is there a woman with a baby in the anteroom?' I said there was, and if he would allow me to say it, it was a case he ought to see; for it was a matter of life and death. Said he, 'Send her to me at once.' She went in, told her story, and the President pardoned her husband. As the woman came out from his presence, her eyes were lifted and her lips moving in prayer, the tears streaming down her cheeks." Said Daniel, "I went up to her, and pulling her shawl, said, Madam, it was the baby that did it.'"

When Mr. Lincoln visited New York in 1860, he felt a great interest in many of the institutions for reforming criminals and saving the young from a life of crime. Among others, he visited, unattended, the Five Points' House of Industry, and the Superintendent of the Sabbath-school there gave the following account of the event:--

"One Sunday morning, I saw a tall, remarkable-looking man enter the room and take a seat among us. He listened with fixed attention to our exercises, and his countenance expressed such genuine interest that I approached him and suggested that be might be willing to say something to the children. He accepted the invitation with evident pleasure; and, coming forward, began a simple address, which at once fascinated every little hearer and hushed the room into silence. His language was strikingly beautiful, and his tones musical with intense feeling. The little faces would droop into sad conviction as be uttered sentences of warning, and would brighten into sunshine as he spoke cheerful words of promise. Once or twice he attempted to close his remarks, but the imperative shout of 'Go on! Oh, do go on!' would compel him to resume. As I looked upon the gaunt and sinewy frame of the stranger, and marked his powerful head and determined features, now touched into softness by the impressions of the moment, I felt an irrepressible curiosity to learn something more about him, and while he was quietly leaving the room I begged to know his name. He courteously replied, 'It is Abraham Lincoln, from Illinois.'"

Mr. Nelson Sizer, one of the gallery ushers of Henry Ward Beecher's church in Brooklyn, told me that about the time of the Cooper Institute speech, Mr. Lincoln was twice present at the morning services of that church. On the first occasion, he was accompanied by his friend, George B. Lincoln, Esq., and occupied a prominent seat in the centre of the house. On a subsequent Sunday morning, not long afterwards, the church was packed, as usual, and the services had proceeded to the announcement of the text, when the gallery door at the right of the organ-loft opened, and the tall figure of Mr. Lincoln entered, alone. Again in the city over Sunday, be started out by himself to find the church, which he reached considerably behind time. Every seat was occupied; but the gentlemanly usher at once surrendered his own, and, stepping back, became much interested in watching the effect of the sermon upon the western orator. As Mr. Beecher developed his line of argument, Mr. Lincoln's body swayed forward, his lips parted, and he seemed at length entirely unconscious of his surroundings,--frequently giving vent to his satisfaction, at a well-put point or illustration, with a kind of involuntary Indian exclamation,--"ugh!"--not audible beyond his immediate presence, but very expressive! Mr. Lincoln henceforward had a profound admiration for the talents of the famous pastor of Plymouth Church. He once remarked to the Rev. Henry M. Field, of New York, in my presence, that "he thought there was not upon record, in ancient or modern biography, so productive a mind, as had been exhibited in the career of Henry Ward Beecher!"