Six Months at the White House/XXXI

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The day after the review of Burnside's division, some photographers from Brady's Gallery came up to the White House to make some stereoscopic studies for me of the President's office. They requested a dark closet, in which to develop the pictures; and without a thought that I was infringing upon anybody's rights, I took them to an unoccupied room of which little "Tad" had taken possession a few days before, and with the aid of a couple of the servants, had fitted up as a miniature theatre, with stage, curtains, orchestra, stalls, parquette, and all. Knowing that the use required would interfere with none of his arrangements, I led the way to this apartment.

Everything went on well, and one or two pictures had been taken, when suddenly there was an uproar. The operator came back to the office, and said that "Tad" had taken great offence at the occupation of his room without his consent, and had locked the door, refusing all admission. The chemicals had been taken inside, and there was no way of getting at them, he having carried off the key. In the midst of this conversation, "Tad" burst in, in a fearful passion. He laid all the blame upon me,--said that I had no right to use his room, and that the men should not go in even to get their things. He had locked the door, and they should not go there again--"they had no business in his room!" Mr. Lincoln had been sitting for a photograph, and was still in the chair. He said, very mildly, "Tad, go and unlock the door." Tad went off muttering into his mother's room, refusing to obey. I followed him into the passage, but no coaxing would pacify him. Upon my return to the President, I found him still sitting patiently in the chair, from which he had not risen. He said: "Has not the boy opened that door?" I replied that we could do nothing with him,--he had gone off in a great pet. Mr. Lincoln's lips came together firmly, and then, suddenly rising, he strode across the passage with the air of one bent on punishment, and disappeared in the domestic apartments. Directly he returned with the key to the theatre, which he unlocked himself. "There," said he, "go ahead, it is all right now." He then went back to his office, followed by myself, and resumed his seat. "Tad," said he, half apologetically, "is a peculiar child. He was violently excited when I went to him. I said, 'Tad, do you know you are making your father a great deal of trouble?' He burst into tears, instantly giving me up the key."

This brief glimpse of the home life of the President, though trifling in itself, is the gauge of his entire domestic character. The Hon. W. D. Kelly, of Philadelphia, in an address delivered in that city soon after the assassination, said: "His intercourse with his family was beautiful as that with his friends. I think that father never loved his children more fondly than he. The President never seemed grander in my sight than when, stealing upon him in the evening, I would find him with a book open before him, as he is represented in the popular photograph, with little Tad beside him. There were of course a great many curious books sent to him, and it seemed to be one of the special delights of his life to open those books at such an hour, that his boy could stand beside him, and they could talk as he turned over the pages, the father thus giving to the son a portion of that care and attention of which he was ordinarily deprived by the duties of office pressing upon him."

No matter who was with the President, or how intently he might be absorbed, little Tad was always welcome. At the time of which I write he was eleven years old, and of course rapidly passing from childhood into youth. Suffering much from an infirmity of speech which developed in his infancy, he seemed on this account especially dear to his father. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin," and it was an impressive and affecting sight to me to see the burdened President lost for the time being in the affectionate parent, as he would take the little fellow in his arms upon the withdrawal of visitors, and caress him with all the fondness of a mother for the babe upon her bosom!

Tad, as he was universally called, almost always accompanied his father upon the various excursions down the Potomac, which he was in the habit of making. Once, on the way to Fortress Monroe, he became very troublesome. The President was much engaged in conversation with the party who accompanied him, and he at length said, "Tad, if you will be a good boy, and not disturb me any more till we get to Fortress Monroe, I will give you a dollar." The hope of reward was effectual for a while in securing silence, but, boy-like, Tad soon forgot his promise, and was as noisy as ever. Upon reaching their destination, however, he said very promptly, "Father, I want my dollar." Mr. Lincoln turned to him with the inquiry: "Tad, do you think you have earned it?" "Yes," was the sturdy reply. Mr. Lincoln looked at him half reproachfully for an instant, and then taking from his pocket-book a dollar note, he said: "Well, my son, at any rate, I will keep my part of the bargain."

While paying a visit to Commodore Porter at Fortress Monroe, on one occasion, an incident occurred, subsequently related by Lieutenant Braine, one of the officers on board the flag-ship, to the Rev. Mr. Ewer, of New York. Noticing that the banks of the river were dotted with spring blossoms, the President said, with the manner of one asking a special favor: "Commodore, Tad is very fond of flowers;--won't you let a couple of your men take a boat and go with him for an hour or two along shore, and gather a few?--It will be a great gratification to him."

There is a lesson in such simple incidents,--abounding as they did in the life of the late President,--which should not be lost upon the young men of this country. The Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,--with almost unlimited power in his hands,--the meekness and simplicity with which Mr. Lincoln bore the honors of that high position, is a spectacle for all time. How paltry do conceit and vainglory appear in the majesty of such an example.

"Nothing was more marked in Mr. Lincoln's personal demeanor," writes one who knew him well,[1] "than his utter unconsciousness of his position. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find another man who would not, upon a sudden transfer from the obscurity of private life in a country town to the dignities and duties of the Presidency, feel it incumbent upon him to assume something of the manner and tone befitting that position. Mr. Lincoln never seemed to be aware that his place or his business were essentially different from those in which he had always been engaged. He brought to every question--the loftiest and most imposing--the same patient inquiry into details, the same eager longing to know and to do exactly what was just and right, and the same working-day, plodding, laborious devotion, which characterized his management of a client's case at his law office in Springfield. He had duties to perform in both places--in the one case to his country, as to his client in the other. But all duties were alike to him. All called equally upon him for the best service of his mind and heart, and all were alike performed with a conscientious, single-hearted devotion that knew no distinction, but was absolute and perfect in every case."

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Hon. Henry J. Raymond.