Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln

Title

Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln

Subject

Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865
Illinois--Springfield
Baptists
Clergy
Memory
Neighbors
Temperance
Practice of law
Douglas, Stephen A. (Stephen Arnold), 1813-1861
Faith
Presidents--Assassination

Description

Reminiscences written to be given as a lecture on Abraham Lincoln, by Miner, a Baptist minister who, with his family lived near the Lincolns in Springfield from 1855 to 1861 and had a personal and social relationship with them.

Creator

Miner, Noyes W.

Publisher

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Date

1881-10-15

Rights

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum holds all rights and permissions.

Format

pdf

Language

en

Identifier

514001

Transcription

(1)

Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln

Personal reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln is the subject to which we write your attention in the following address. He was a near neighbor of mine for many years, and a warm personal friend. What we have to say to you about that great and good man will not be taken at second hand. There will be no quotations from books, papers, or documents, no attempt at oratory, eloquence


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or rhetoric, but we shall confine ourselves to a naration of facts that have come within our knowledge. For the information I shall impart to you in my present discourse, I am indebted to President Lincoln and his wife.


First acquaintance

On the 19th day of January 1855 I passed over the Chicago Alton and St. Louis Rail Road to Springfield Illinois. It was my first journey west. At that time the houses and villages on the line of the Road were “few and far between,” and the sight of the wide rolling


(3) prairies, bounded on all sides only by the horizon, had the appearance of the vast ocean, and filled my mind with the emotions of sublimity. Having been brought up amoung the rocks and hills of New England, the sight of so much land lying in common in its virgin state made a deep impression on me. It was, I remember a dark dreary day, the clouds were thick and seemed to hang low, and the chilly murky atmosphere, & the increasing evidence of the wind, all indicated the coming on of a great storm. It burst upon the country, as midnight, with a fury, which never befor nor since, has been experienced by the people

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of Illinois. The mercury sunk rapidly from above freezing point to 22° below zero. Snowfall to the depth of nearly three feet, and was so badly drifted by the wind which blew a perfect gale, that not a train cars was able to pass from Chicago to St. Louis for more than five weeks. The Legislature, which was in session at the time, having gone on an excursion, was overtaken by the storm, and blocaded by the snow, on the distant prairie, far from any human dwelling, where for days they remained without fuel and on short rations, till they nearly perished with hunger and cold. The people in Springfield were much alarmed for their safety, and gathered


(5) at the State House to talk over the situation, and to devise some method of getting them back to the Capitol. It was at this meeting I first saw Abraham Lincoln. Like Saul, the first King of Israel, he stood head and shoulders above the people. A friend pointed him out to me, with the remark, “that tall homely looking man you see talking with the crowd of listeners about him, is Abraham Lincoln, who a few days ago, came within one vote of being elected United States Senator. The Hon. Lyman Trumbul was the successful candidate.


(6) Had Mr. Lincoln, at that time, been elected Senator, he in all probability, would never have had the famous Debate with Judge Douglas, and never have been President of the United States. I was much struck with the honest face and noble bearing of the man, but the thought never entered my mind that the man who so much interested me at first sight, was to be come in the course of a few years the most remarkabl and renowned man of the age, that he would be elevated to the Presidency, and by the Providence of God proclaim liberty to four millions of


(7) bondmen. In April of that year, we removed to Springfield and rented a house on the same street and opposite corner to the residence of Mr. Lincoln. Being a near neighbor, I soon became acquainted with him. I saw him almost daily. I became a frequent visitor at his house, and he at mine. Sympathising with him in his political and religious views, and admiring his honesty and moral integrity, I was drawn towards him, and took special pains to cultivate his acquaintance, and as the years rolled on a friendship sprang up between us, close


(8) and intimate, which continued till the close of his eventful life. I have in my home many proofs of his love and friendship which have an intrinsic value, and which no weath could buy. Mr. Lincoln as a neighbor. We found Mr. Lincoln a delightful neighbor. Always kind, obliging, affable, full of sympathy and benevolence. There wer times when my house was full to overflowing, with persons coming to the Capitol to attend religious meeting, he would either come himself, or send a servant over with the request that he would let a part of our company


(9) come and put up with him. He also [illegible] [illegible] furnished me with the free use of his horse and carriage, which for years aided us in our church work. He was a great lover of children too. Many a time we have seem troops of children living on the same street, run out to meet him, when he was coming to his meals, and would gambol by his side, and as many as could get hold of him, would swing from his hands. He had a kind word + a smile for all. When death came into the families of his neighbors, he


(10) would attend the funerals, and was prompt to express his sympathy with them in their sorrows. He was on good termes with all, and those who knew him best loved him most 4 He was a commoner.

Mr Lincoln as a temperance man.  Mr Lincoln was a temperance man, out and out.  He neither used liquor himself or would furnish it for others.  Gen. Mason Bragman, a life long friend, who for years practiced with Mr Lincoln at the bar, told me he never knew him to taste it, tho it was the custom for nearly everybody to drink. This was owing to the instruction of his mother. We have attended many entertainments at his home, where the most distinguised politicians of 

(11) the state were present, and on such occasions the tables would be loaded with the choicest viands, but nothing that would intoxicate was ever provided. After he was nominated for the presidency he was informed, by telegraph, that a committee from the Chicago Convention, with the Hon. George Ashmun as chairman, would visit him, and notify him officially of his nomination. The state officers of Illinois waited on Mr. Lincoln and urged him to wave his objection, for once, to liquor, + have it on the table when the committee should dine with him. They insisted that it was the


(12) usual custom on such occasions to have wines and other liquors, that it might make him unpopular with the members of the committee if he did not furnish it [illegible]. And finally they told him, if he would only consent, they would bring, it and take it away after the entertainment and he might have nothing to do about it. Mr. Lincoln listened attentively to what they had to say, and then returned this answer, you are old and valued friends, and neighbors + you have worked hard for my nomination. I am grateful to you, and would do anything which I conceive to be


(13) right to serve you. You have attended many public entertainments at my home, and I have never in a single instance furnished liquor, and I cannot on this occasion, even if I were to lose the election by refusing to do so. Mr Lincoln was a temperance man, and an antislavery man, simply because he believed it would be wrong for him to be otherwise.

Mr Lincoln as a lawyer.

Mr Lincoln was a lawyer by profession. He was honest and strait forward in his practice, not exorbitant in his charges


(14) but always graduating his fees according to the value of the service rendered. There was no intrigue, or clap trap about him. He was an honor to his great profession, and his whole course demonstrated the fact that a lawyer could be a good man, and he acquired for him self the appropriate title of “honest old Abe.” He told me that he never undertook a case in court unless he thought there was merit in it. I remember, during my residence in Spring, that a woman was arrested and put on trial for the murder of her husband, who was found dead in his door yard. She


(15) sent for Mr. Lincoln to come and see her. She declared that she was innocent and requested him to undertake her case. He did so. But as the trial progressed, the evidence for the prosecution seem so strong that it caused him great anxiety, and he said to me that he feared he was on the wrong side. But before the trial was ended, the evidence was clearly in favor of the woman’s innocence, and she was acquitted. He frequently advised persons not to go to law- to settle their difficulties among themselves-and if they could not to leave the matter to arbitration.


(16) A gentleman living near Springfield, a wealthy farmer, said to me one day, Mr. Miner, “Do you know what made me, a life long Democrat, vote for Mr. Lincoln to be President? I said no. Well I will tell you “Some years ago, I got into a difficulty with my neighbor. Our farms joined each other. We could not settle our differences, and we determined to go to law. I came into Springfield to engage Mr. Lincoln as my lawyer, to manage my case. He told me to tell him just the whole truth in the matter. After hearing me through he said, well you seem to


(17) have a pretty fare case, but before I engage to undertake for you I must first see your neighbor-have him come in with you to-morrow. They meet, said the man, the next day. When Mr Lincoln heard the statement of both, and there he told us we must not go to law-if we did we should lose all our property, and entail a guard between the families, which might end in a murder some day. We talked the matter over without agreement till noon, when Mr. Lincoln said he must go to dinner, but would meet us again, and added


(18) as he went out, I will lock the door that you may not be disturbed. Left to ourselves, being confined in the room nearly all the afternoon, we had time for reflection, and went over the whole ground of difficulty, and we came to the conclusion it would be best for us, and our families, to follow the advice of Mr. Lincoln, keep out of law, settle our differences and become friends. I came to the conclusion that there was one honest lawyer, at least, and that he would make a good President and that, said he, is why I voted for honest ‘old Abe”


(19) Lincoln and Douglas.

Passing over the great debate of Lincoln and Douglas, in which as a citizen of Illinois I was deeply interested, and the remarkable campaign of 1860 which resulted in the election of Mr. Lincoln, the secession of the southern states and the war for the Union, all of which have passed into history, we will next speak of Mr. Douglass’ relations to Mr. Lincoln during the short time he was permitted to live after the commencement of the war. The information in regard to this remarkable alliance was furnished me by Mr. Lincoln himself, and which so


(20) far as I know has never been published. It is a fact well known, that Mr. Lincoln entered Washington, by the advice of army officers, who accompanied him, in the disguise of a highland Scotchman. This was done for prudential reasons, as it was feared that he might be assassinated. He arrived at an early hour, just at the break of day. The first man to meet me whom I knew, said Mr Lincoln, was Judge Douglass. We had intimation of the early arrival and came to meet, and welcome, his old friend. For though


(21) differing politically, they had always been personal friends. He greeted the President warmly, saying “good morning Mr President, you are my President, and I have come to offer you my services. I am better acquainted in Washington, and with the people who sympathise with secession than you are, and whatever ability, and influence I have are at your disposal. How generous, how patriotic, how manly and noble, in one who had been opposed to Mr Lincoln in politics and by whom he had he had been defeated! Whatever mistakes Judge


(22) Douglas may have made in early life, his last days, like those of Lord Byron which he spent in in aiding the Greeks to obtain their liberty, more than makes amends for all. Mr. Lincoln was deeply moved in this conversation with me in reference to Douglas. He invited him to a seat in his carriage, and he accompanied the President to Willards Hotel; and from that day he was a frequent visitor, and an intimate advisorof the President. On the day of Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration, Judge Douglas called early in the morning, and requested


(23) permission to ride with him in his carriage, remarking if any danger or harm should come to the President he wished to share it with him; and if he were to be shot, he said he wanted the bullet of the assassin to first pass through his own body! I had this from Mr Lincoln lips. It is a most remarkable instance of disinterested friendship and love for one's country. His request was complied with. He rode to the


(24) Inauguration with his friend, stood by his side, and held his hat while Lincoln read his Inaugural address which thrilled the loyal heart of the world. When Fort Sumter was fired on, Lincoln immediately wrote his proclamation calling out 75,000 volunteers. By the time it was completed Douglas came in. Lincoln read it to him. Douglas said "Well Mr President that will do to begin with. There are more than we


(25) arm and equip at the present time, but he added, it will take more than a million of man to put down the rebellion. Douglas asked, when the proclamation would be published? The President replied this afternoon. Douglas said, "The first troops that will start for the Capitol will come from Massachusetts. They will reach Baltimore tomorrow noon. There they will be opposed, and trouble will ensue, and for sometime to come we shall not be able to get troops to Washington through] that city; and there he added


(26) as they were seated opposite each other as a table, if you will hand me that sheet of paper I will sketch a map showing the rout by which we must order troops to the Capitol. I mention this said Mr Lincoln to show the wonderful sagacity of the man, and then he added with deep emotion, O, if Douglas could have lived he would have been of great service to me and the country. A few days after this Douglas called again on the President and said, some of the people in Southern Illinois and Indiana are behaving very badly, and I fear an effort will be made to carry


(27) those states out of the Union and as I have been a life long Democrat, and have some influence with the people don't you think it would be well, for me to go there and make a few speeches in favor of the Union? The President replied that he thought it a wise and important measure, and said to him he would be much obliged to him if he would do so, very well replied Douglas, I will take the first train for the West. Good bye Mr President. And here Mr Lincoln was for a moment completely overcome with emotion. I never before saw him so deeply


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moved. But after a little he commanded his feelings, and said "that was the last time I ever saw poor Douglas." Mr Douglas came west and spoke to large crowds of people in southern Illinois and Indiana, and imparted much strength to Union cause and then came to Springfield. The Legislation was in cession. A public meeting was advertised to be held in the evening at the State Hous, and that Judge Douglas would speak. Illinoiens loved him. He was the idol of the Democratic Party. Large numbers crowded the capitol.


(29) We went early and got a seat near by him. We have heard Webster and Choat and Wendall Philips and other great orators, but the speech of Mr Douglas on this occasion excelled in its eloquence and effect on the people anything we have ever heard. His allusion to the old flag as it waived from the dome of the capitol on that dark and stormy night. His noble utterances in favor of the union of the states brought the large crowd to their feet, and swing my [ineligible] hats around their heads, cheer after cheer went up for the union. Such was the effect moved by his eloquence.The Union people rejoiced, but the Rebels were angry and threats of assignation were made. The tide was turned in favor on the union and hundreds of Illinois' beat men belonging to the Democratic party were among the bravest and best soldiers to be formed in the federal army. Mr Douglas went from Springfield


(30) to Chicago and made one speach more for the Union, and died a few days after. I am glad of the opportunity of relating these interesting facts as communicated to me by President Lincoln concerning one of Americans great statesmen. Lincoln and Douglas both belonged to Illinois, and within her borders repose their honored dust. The people who honored them living, have shown their love for them though dead, by building stately monuments to mark the places where sleep their mortal remains.

Lincoln's Religious Character

A few years ago, a Life of President


(31) Lincoln was written and published by William H. Herndon Esq of Springfield Illinois. This book was unreliable in many things, and calculated to mislead people who were unacquainted with the President. Mr Herndon I knew intimately; his wife and children were members of my church, and I was a frequent visitor to his family. Though his family were religious, Mr. Herndon was himself an open infidel, and one object of his book was to show that infidelity could could produce a great and good character like Lincoln. Now what we have to


(32) say further in our lecture will bear upon this priority and we will not give our own opinion that may not satisfy you but will let the martyred President speak for himself. And we think his own testimony will settle this matter beyond dispute. At the time Mr Lincoln was elected President I did not think he was what is termed an experimental Christian. I used to see him sometimes at the funerals of his old neighbors, and sometimes at church on the Sabbath, but he was not constant in his attendance at public worship. But during my long and intimate acquaintance


(33) with him, and the many conversations I had with him from time to time, on numerous subjects, I never heard a word fall from his lips that gave me the remotest idea, that his mind was ever tinctured with infidel sentiments: but on, the contrary, the more intimate I became acquainted with him, the more deeply was I impressed with the conviction that he believed not only in the overwhelming Providence of God, but in the divinity of the Sacred Scriptures, and had profound reverence for everything true, and noble, and good. After the election of Mr Lincoln


(34) to the Presidency, he seemed to have fully comprehended the vast responsibility of his high office, and the dangers and difficulties he would have to encounter in the discharge of his duties. This led him to serious reflection: and feeling that he was inadequate to meet and discharge those duties in his own strength and wisdom, he asked Christians to pray for him that he might be guided by wisdom from on high. In the early part of the winter of 1861, in view of the threatening atitude of the Southern States in passing the ordinance of secession a National Fast


(35) was appointed by President Buchanan. The day, I remember, was generally observed in Springfield. The meeting was held in the First Presbyterian Church and was largely attended by the most respectable and best people in the city. The various churches were represented. Many earnest prayers were offered up for our beloved country for the man whom providence had raised up to guide the Ship of State over a rough and stormy sea. Mr Lincoln was present and was not indifferent to the spiritual influence of that meeting. He listened attentively


(36) to those fervent prayers with thrilling & tearful interest. At the close of the meeting we passed down the isle in which he was standing, & taking me by the hand he said with the tears standing in his eyes "Mr Miner, this has been a good meeting. I hardly know how it could have been made better. I feel very grateful for the prayers offered for our distracted country and on my behalf, and hope they may be answered." On the morning of the 11th of February Mr Lincoln with his family left Springfield for Washington. The


(37) State Legislature and a large crowd of old friends and neighbors had assembled at the depot on the occasion of his departure to bid him God speed, and to say goodbye. Just before the cars started he stood on the platform, uncovered his head and delivered that short farewell speech which thrilled the hearts of those who heared it, and the heart of the nation who read it. On that occasion I heard him say "A duty devolves upon me, which is, perhaps greater that that which has devolved on any other man since the days of Washington. He never could have suceeded


(38) but for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which at all times he relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without that same divine aid which sustained him; and in the same Almighty Being. I place my reliance for support and I hope, you my friends, will pray that I may have that divine assistance, without which I cannot suceed, but with which success is certain." We did not see Mr Lincoln again til in April 1862. Death had entered the White House-Willie Lincoln a promising son of Mr Lincoln, had died. The grief of the


(39) parents at the loss of their son was deep and intense. Being an old friend and neighbor, we went to see them, that if possible, we might impart some spiritual consolation to them in their great sorrow. It was during this visit of nearly a week that I learned more of the religious views and feelings of the Presedent than we ever knew before. Mr Lincoln expressed great pleasure on seeing me and in the course of our conversation he remarked-I am glad you have come; it is a relief to see an old friend from Springfield, and I can talk with you as I cannot with


(40) any one else. As it was my first visit to the Capitol he proposed to go driving with me some afternoon, when he had a little leisure, to visit the Smithsonian Institute, the Navy Yard and other places of interest in Washington. An afternoon of a Thursday was set down for the drive. Being alone we conversed freely on the stirring events of the times. The battle of Pittsburg Landing had just been fought, and many of Mr Lincolns friends were among the dead and wounded. The awful destruction of life, the loss of dear friends, weighed heavily


(41) upon his mind and he was sad and dejected & Mr L told me that the night after that battle he walked the floor til morning. And then too, the elections, in some of the states, had been averse to the administration, and the President was quite discouraged at the state of things. I said to him, Well Mr Lincoln, you have this encouragement. Christian people all over the country are praying for you, as they never prayed for mortal man before. I believe that, he said, and this is an encouraging thought to me. If I were not sustained by the prayers of God's people, I could not endure this constant presure


(42) I should give up hoping for success. In the course of our conversation at this time I asked, do you think judging from your standpoint, that we shall be able to put down this rebellion? He answered, "You know, I am not of a very hopeful temperament. I can take hold of a thing and hold on a good while. But relying on God for help and believing that our cause is right I think we shall conquer in the end. But the struggle will be protracted and severe involving a fearful loss of property and life: what strange scenes, he continued


(43) to remark, are these through which we are passing. I am sometimes astonished at the part I am acting in this terrible drama. I can hardly believe I am the same man I was a few months ago when I was living in my humble way with you in Springfield. I often ask myself the question, When shall I awake and find it all a dream. This getting the nomination for President, and being elected, is very gratifying to a man's ambition, but to be the president and to meet the responsibilities and discharge the duties of the office in times like these is anything but pleasant.


(44) I would gladly if could, take my neck from under the yoke and go home with you to Springfield, and live as I was accustomed to in peace with my friends, than to endure his harassing kind of life. But he added with great solemnity. It has pleased almighty God to place me in my present position and looking up to him for wisdom and divine guidance I must work my destiny as best I can." Our conversation on this occasion (of which I took notes soon after) was free and without even a thought of its publication. But all that was said


(45) during that memorable afternoon I spent alone with that great and good man, is engraven too deeply on my memory ever to be effaced. I felt certain of this fact if Mr Lincoln was not a Christian he was acting like one. He was doing his duty manfully, and looking up to God for help in time of need, and like the Father of his Country, he believed in the efficacy of prayer and it was his custom to read the Bible and pray himself. And now I would relate an incident which occurred on the 4th of March, 1861 which was told to me by Mrs Lincoln herself.


(46) Mr Lincoln wrote the conclosure of his inaugural address the morning it was delivered. The family being present he read it to them. He then said he wished to be left alone for a little while. The family retired to an adjoining room, but not so far distant but the voice of prayer could be heard. There closeted with God alone, and like Daniel the prophet, surrounded by enemies and those who wished to take his life, he commended his family his country and himself to God's providential care and with a mind calmed by communion


(47) with his Heavenly Father, and with a courage equal to the danger, he came forth from that retirement ready for duty. Like the immortal Washington, whose character had been an inspiration to him, in a time of impending danger, he sought and obtained help from Heaven! Before bringing my lecture to a close, let me say a word or two about his going to theater the night he was assassinated. It has been a matter of universal regret, among good men, that he came to his tragic end in such a place. But if the circumstances


(48) of his going there were fully known, it might relieve their minds somewhat. It has been said Mrs Lincoln urged her husband to go to the theatre against his will. This is not so. On the contrary she tried to persuade him not to go. But he insisted. I have this statement from Mrs Lincoln herself. "He said, "I must have a little rest. A large procession of excited and overjoyed people will visit me tonight. My arms are now lame by shaking hands with the multitude, and the people will pull me to pieces." He went to the theatre, not that he had any particular interest in the play, but because he was care worn and weary and needed


(49) quiet and repose. Mrs Lincoln informed me that he seemed to take no notice of what was going on in the theatre from the time he entered till the discharge of the fatal pistol. He was overjoyed at the thought that the war was over, and that there would be no further distruction of life. She said the last day he lived was the happiest of his life. The very last moments of his conscious life were spent in conversation with his wife about his future plans, and what he wanted to do when his term of office had expired. He said he wanted to visit the Holy Land and see the places hallowed


(50) by the foot steps of the Saviour. He was saying there was no city on earth he desired to see so much as Jerusalem, and with that word half spoken on his tongue, the bullet from the pistol of the assassin entered his brain, and the soul of the great and good President was carried by the angels to the New Jerusalem above. N. W. Miner Trenton New Jersey Oct. 15, 1881

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Miner, Noyes W., “Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln,” Chronicling Illinois, accessed October 15, 2019, http://alplm-cdi.com/chroniclingillinois/items/show/15089.