Six Months at the White House/XLV

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

One Saturday afternoon, when the lawn in front of the White House was crowded with people listening to the weekly concert of the Marine Band, the President appeared upon the portico. Instantly there was a clapping of hands and clamor for a speech. Bowing his thanks, and excusing himself, he stepped back into the retirement of the circular parlor, remarking to me, with a disappointed air, as he reclined upon the sofa, "I wish they would let me sit out there quietly, and enjoy the music." I stated to him on this occasion, that I believed no President, since the days of Washington, ever secured the hearts of the people, and carried them with him as he had done. To this he replied that, in such a crisis as the country was then passing through, it was natural that the people should look more earnestly to their leaders than at other periods. He thought their regard for any man in his position who should sincerely have done his best to save the government from destruction, would have been equally as marked and expressive; to which I did not by any means assent.

I do not recall an instance of Mr. Lincoln's ever referring to any act of his administration with an appearance of complacency or self-satisfaction. I watched him closely during the political excitement previous to the Baltimore Convention, to see if I could discover signs of personal ambition, and I am free to say that, apart from the welfare of the country, there was no evidence to show to my mind that he ever thought of himself. And yet he was very sensitive to the opinions of his friends. A governor of a western State, true and loyal as the best, at a certain juncture conceived himself for some reason aggrieved by Executive action. Having occasion to send in the names of two officers for promotion, he said, in his note to the President, that he hoped whatever feeling he might have against him personally would not prevent his doing justice to the merits of the officers in question. Mr. Lincoln had been utterly unconscious of having given offence, either by lack of appreciation or otherwise, and he seemed greatly touched at the aspersion. He said that, if he had been asked to say which of all the loyal governors had been most active and efficient in raising and equipping troops, if he had made any distinction, where all had done so well, it would have been in favor of the governor in question. At another time, when several conflicting delegations were pressing the claims of different candidates for a position of importance, he said that he had been so troubled about the matter that he had that day refused to see one of the candidates, an old and dear personal friend, lest his judgment should be warped. "If I was less thin-skinned about such things," he added, "I should get along much better."

When he had thought profoundly, however, upon certain measures, and felt sure of his ground, criticism, either public or private, did not disturb him. Upon the appearance of what was known as the "Wade and Davis manifesto," subsequent to his renomination, an intimate friend and supporter, who was very indignant that such a document should have been put forth just previous to the presidential election, took occasion to animadvert very severely upon the course that prompted it. "It is not worth fretting about," said the President; "it reminds me of an old acquaintance, who, having a son of a scientific turn, bought him a microscope. The boy went around, experimenting with his glass upon everything that came in his way. One day, at the dinner-table, his father took up a piece of cheese. 'Don't eat that, father,' said the boy; 'it is full of wrigglers.' 'My son,' replied the old gentleman, taking, at the same time, a huge bite, 'let 'em wriggle; I can stand it if they can.'"

No President ever manifested such a willingness to receive and act upon advice and suggestions from all sources, as Mr. Lincoln. On a certain occasion a leading officer of the government, and the governor of the State he represented, had each a candidate for a high State position. The claims of both were urged with great strength. The President was "in a strait betwixt the two." A personal friend from the same State, to whom be mentioned the difficulty of deciding the question without giving offence to one or the other of the parties, suggested that he appoint neither of the candidates, but bestow the office upon a certain officer of the army from that State, who had distinguished himself, losing an arm or a leg in the service, but who had not solicited in any way the position. Mr. Lincoln instantly fell in with the idea, saying that it seemed to him "just the right thing to do;" and he immediately made out the nomination.