Six Months at the White House/XV
Wednesday night, February 10th, was an exciting one at the White House, the stables belonging to the mansion being burned to the ground. The loss most severely felt was of the two ponies, one of which had belonged to Willie Lincoln, the President's second son, who died in 1862; and the other to Tad, the youngest, and pet of his father, who in his infancy nicknamed him Tad-pole, subsequently abbreviated to Taddie, and then Tad. His real name is Thomas, named for the father of Mr. Lincoln. Upon "Tad's" learning of the loss, he threw himself at full length upon the floor, and could not be comforted. The only allusion I ever heard the President make to Willie was on this occasion, in connection with the loss of his pony. John Hay, the assistant private secretary, told me that he was rarely known to speak of his lost son.
The morning following the fire, Robert Lincoln came into his father's office, and said he had a point of law which he wished to submit. It appeared that one of the coachmen had two or three hundred dollars in greenbacks in his room over the stables, which were consumed. Robert said that he and John Hay had been having an argument as to the liability of the government for its notes, where it could be shown that they had been burned, or otherwise destroyed. The President turned the matter over in his mind for a moment, and said, "The payment of a note presupposes its presentation to the maker of it. It is the sign or symbol of value received; it is not value itself, that is clear. At the same time the production of the note seems a necessary warrant for the demand; and while the moral obligation is as strong without this, governments and banking institutions do not recognize any principle beyond the strictly legal. It is an established rule that the citizen cannot sue the government; therefore, I don't see but that it is a dead loss for Jehu."
About this time a couple of Kentucky gentlemen called. As they rose to take leave, one of them, who may have noticed little Tad,--as he usually spent much time in his father's office,--said to the President: "General Crittenden told me an interesting incident about his son, eight or nine years old, a few days since. A day or two after the battle of Chickamauga, the little fellow came into camp. The General rode during the battle a horse which went by the name of John Jay, a great favorite with his son. Manifesting his delight upon again seeing his father, by covering him with caresses, the child at length said, 'Papa, where is John Jay?' 'Oh,' said his father, 'your horse behaved very badly during the fight; he insisted, very cowardly, upon taking me to the rear.' The little fellow's eyes sparkled. 'Papa,' said he, 'I know John Jay would never have done that of his own will. It must have been your work.' "
Montgomery Blair told me that when the convention which nominated Mr. Lincoln met at Chicago, there was a hideous painting in the hall which was brought forward subsequently as a likeness of the nominee. Most of the delegates having never seen the original, the effect upon them was indescribable. I replied to Mr. Blair that my friend Brady, the photographer, insisted that his photograph of Mr. Lincoln, taken the morning of the day he made his Cooper Institute speech in New York,--much the best portrait, by the way, in circulation of him during the campaign,--was the means of his election. That it helped largely to this end, I do not doubt. The effect of such influences, though silent, is powerful. Fremont once said to me, that the villanous wood-cut published by the New York "Tribune," the next day after his nomination, lost him twenty-five votes in one township, to his certain knowledge.
On one of the last days of February, I called, with my friend W----, of New York, upon Mr. Lovejoy, who was supposed to be convalescent. He thought himself nearly well again, and was in fine spirits. Indications of an organized movement to bring forward Fremont, as an opposition candidate to Mr. Lincoln, had recently appeared. Mr. Lovejoy was very severe upon it; he said, "Any attempt to divide the party at such a time was criminal in the last degree." I remember observing that many of the extreme anti-slavery men appeared to distrust the President. This drew out his indignant condemnation. "I tell you," said he, "Mr. Lincoln is at heart as strong an anti-slavery man as any of them, but he is compelled to feel his way. He has a responsibility in this matter which many men do not seem to be able to comprehend. I say to you frankly, that I believe his course to be right. His mind acts slowly, but when he moves, it is forward. You will never find him receding from a position once taken. It is of no use talking; or getting up conventions against him. He is going to be the candidate of the Baltimore Convention, and is sure to be reelected. 'It was foreordained from the foundation of the world.' I have no sympathy or patience with those who are trying to manufacture issues against him; but they will not succeed; he is too strong with the masses. For my part, "he concluded, "I am not only willing to take Mr. Lincoln for another term, but the same cabinet, right straight through."