Lincoln law partner William Herndon noted that "Mr. Lincoln himself was a very sensitive man, and hence, in dealing with others, he avoided wounding their hearts or puncturing their sensibility. He was unusually considerate of the feelings of other men, regardless of their rank, condition or station."1 Mr. Lincoln was even more considerate of children and animals. Although he apparently played a few tricks on animals as a boy, he quickly outgrew any desire to hurt or hunt wild animals for food.
Mr. Lincoln's step mother testified that "He loved animals" and "he loved children...very well."2 Even insects elicited his compassion. While his parents went to church, young Lincoln preached his own sermons to his step-family: "Abe preached against Curelty to animals, Contending that an ants life was to it, as sweet as ours," recalled his step-sister.3
Indeed, Mr. Lincoln was known to go to great lengths to rescue animals from adversity - including once backtracking to rescue a pig stuck in the mud because he couldn't bear the thought of its suffering. Friend Joshua F. Speed recalled a trip he took with Mr. Lincoln in 1839 on the way back to Springfield: "We were riding along a country road, two and two together, some distance apart, Lincoln and Jon. J. Hardin being behind. (Hardin was afterward made Colonel and was killed at Buena Vista). We were passing through a thicket of wild plum, and crab-apple trees, where we stopped to water our horses. After waiting some time Hardin came up and we asked him where Lincoln was. 'Oh,' said he, 'when I saw him last' (there had been a severe wind storm), 'he had caught two little birds in his hand, which the wind had blown from their nest, and he was hunting for the nest'. Hardin left him before he found it. He finally found the nest, and placed the birds, to use his own words, 'in the home provided for them by their mother'. When he came up with the party they laughed at him. Said he, earnestly, 'I could not have slept tonight if I had not given those two little birds to their mother'."4
Illinois politician William Pitt Kellogg recalled: "Next to his political sagacity, his broad humanitarianism was one of his most striking characteristics. He fairly overflowed with human kindness."5 Historian Charles B. Strozier noted that "Lincoln's lifelong sympathy for animals...was hardly the norm for the frontier."6 Historian Douglas L. Wilson noted that Mr. Lincoln "was unusually tenderhearted. We see this in several reports of his childhood that depict him as concerned about cruelty to animals. When his playmates would turn helpless terrapins on their backs and torture them, which was apparently a favorite pastime, the young future president would protest against it. He wrote an essay on the subject as a school exercise that was remembered years afterward. This instinctive sympathetic reaction seems to have been recognized by his stepbrother as a vulnerable spot in Lincoln's makeup, for he is reported as having taunted Lincoln as he was preaching a mock sermon by bashing a terrapin against a tree."7
The Lincoln household was a home for the lost and neglected Cynthia Owen Philip wrote about an incident in which a dog named Jet adopted the Lincoln family: "In mid-October 1861, during the bleak months after the Union defeat at Bull Run, President and Mrs. Lincoln were driven across the Potomac River to Alexandria, Virginia, to present flags to newly formed volunteer regiments assembled there. On their return to the capital, a sleek black hunting dog trailed their carriage all the way to the White House, trotted after the President right through the front door, and to the delight of the Lincoln children, quickly made himself at home." Unfortunately for the boys, the dog had abandoned his owner, army surgeon George Suckley. He read about the new White House resident in a newspaper and went to the White House to claim him. He and Mr. Lincoln agreed that Dr. Suckley would furnish one of Jet's pups in exchange for return of his father. But by the time the exchange was to be made in December, Jet had again disappeared so Dr. Suckley withheld the puppy.8
When the Lincolns left Springfield for Washington in February 1860, they left the family dog "Fido" with a neighboring Springfield family. Fido outlived President Lincoln but came to a similarly tragic end - being stabbed to death by a drunk. In the White House, Jip took Fido's place. Nurse Rebecca Pomroy reported that "his little dog, Jip, helped relieve Lincoln of 'some portion of the burden, for the little fellow was never absent from the Presidential lunch. He was always in Mr. Lincoln's lap to claim his portion first, and was caressed and petted by him through the whole meal.'"9
Mr. Lincoln had a particular weakness for kittens. One friend from his New Salem days recalled that he " would take one & turn it on its back & talk to it for half an hour at a time."10 Another New Salem resident recalled young Lincoln playing with the Carman family kittens, Jane and Susan: "he would Take them up in his lap & play with them and Hold their heads together & say Jane had a better countenance [sic] than Susan Had."11 In a letter to Congressman Lincoln in 1848, Mrs. Lincoln reported that their son Robert had come "across in a yard, a kitten, your hobby" while Mary, Robert and Edward were staying with Mary's step-mother in Kentucky. Mary wrote that Bobby said "he asked a man for it, he brought it triumphantly to the house, so soon as Eddy, spied it--his tenderness, broke forth, he made them bring it water, fed it with bread himself, with his own dear hands, he was a delighted little creature over it..." But Mary's stepmother intervened: "in the midst of his happiness Ma came in, she you must know dislikes the whole cat race, I thought in a very unfeeling manner, she ordered the servant near, to throw it out, which, of course, was done, Ed screaming & protesting loudly against the proceeding, she never appeared to mind his screams, which were long & loud, I assure you"12
Secretary of State William H. Seward presented the Lincoln household with two kittens early in his administration. The August 1861 gifts apparently were a source of comfort for the President. Treasury official Maunsell B. Field wrote: "Mr. Lincoln possessed extraordinary kindness of heart when his feelings could be reached. He was fond of dumb animals, especially cats. I have seen him fondle one for an hour. Helplessness and suffering touched him when they appealed directly to his senses, or when you could penetrate through his intelligence to them"13 During a conference with General Grant and Admiral David Porter, the President was interrupted by the purring of three motherless kittens. Picking them up and placing this on his lap, the President said: "Poor little creatures, don't cry; you'll be taken care of." Grant aide Horace Porter recalled that it was "curious sight at an army headquarters, upon the eve of a great military crisis" to watch the commander-in-chief "tenderly caressing three stray kittens. It well illustrated the kindness of the man's disposition, and showed the childlike simplicity which was mingled with the grandeur of his nature."14
Mrs. Lincoln did not share her husband's indulgence of pets and people. When President Lincoln fed a cat named "Tabby" seated next to him at a White House dinner, Mrs. Lincoln asked: "Don't you think it's shameful for Mr. Lincoln to feed Tabby with a gold fork?" Mr. Lincoln provided the answer: "If the gold fork was good enough for former President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby."15
Son Tad's love of animals perhaps exceeded his father's. The Lincolns adopted two goats, Nanny and Nanko, who had the run of the White House property - to the consternation of the White House staff upset about the damage they caused to furniture and flora. The goat "interests the boys and does them good; let the goat be," President Lincoln told a White House employee who objected to the goat.16 Mr. Lincoln took pride in the goats' affection for him. He told Elizabeth Keckley, a black seamstress who worked for his wife,"'Well, come here and look at my two goats. I believe they are the kindest and best goats in the world. See how they sniff the clear air, and skip and play in the sunshine. Whew? what a jump,' he exclaimed as one of the goats made a lofty spring. 'Madam Elizabeth, did you ever before see such an active goat?' Musing a moment, he continued: 'He feeds on my bounty, and jumps with joy. Do you think we could call him a bounty-jumper? But I flatter the bounty-jumper. My goat is far above him. I would rather wear his horns and hairy coat through life, than demean myself to the level of the man who plunders the national treasury in the name of patriotism. The man who enlists into the service for a consideration, and deserts the moment he receives his money but to repeat the play, is bad enough; but the men who manipulate the grand machine and who simply make the bounty-jumper their agent in an outrageous fraud are far worse. They are beneath the worms that crawl in the dark hidden places of earth.'"17
In the August 1863, President Lincoln wrote Tad to announce the disappearance of his son's "Nanny Goat." She had been last seen "chewing her little cud, on the middle of Tad's bed. But now she's gone."18 Like Tad, Nanny apparently had the run of the White House. There was suspicion that one of the White House staff had been Nanny's undoing. By the next spring the goats must have been replaced because Mr. Lincoln reported in a telegram to his wife: "Tell Tad the goats and father are very well - especially the goats."19
As President, Mr. Lincoln continued to conduct animal rescue missions. Lewis Stanton, son of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, recalled how his father and Mr. Lincoln handled one difficult situation at the Soldiers Home in northeast Washington: "Mr. Lincoln and my father arrived at the cottage. They at once noticed the peacocks who were roosting in a small cluster of cedar trees with the ropes and sticks caught in the many small branches and recognized the dangerous and uncomfortable position when on the morrow they would attempt to fly to earth. The two men immediately went to work, solemnly going to and fro unwinding the ropes and getting them in straight lines and carefully placing the small pieces of wood where without catching they would slide off when in the morning the birds flew down."20 President Lincoln took particular delight in relaxing at the Soldiers Home with his son Tad and Stanton's children.
When the White House stables caught fire in February 1863, President Lincoln had to be restrained from entering the burning edifice to rescue six trapped horses. One pony belonged to his late son Willie and another belonged to his son Tad. Two pet goats were also apparently destroyed. President Lincoln personally "burst open the stable door... and would have tried to enter the burning building had not those standing near caught and restrained him," recalled presidential guard Robert McBride. The death of Willie's pony particularly pained him.21 William P. Bogardus recalled: "-- one of the boys and I went up to see the fire. As we stood watching the burning building some one put a hand on the tight board fence that surrounded the barn and vaulted over. The fence was over six feet high. As he came up to where we were and stood by us he remarked 'Well boys this is a pretty how-dodo' and then recognized that it was Mr. Lincoln. There were twenty five of the one hundred men of the company selected to act as his mounted escort on his rides to and from the Soldiers Home, where he spent the hot months of the summer."22
In Springfield, "Old Bob" was a valued member of the family. Neighbor Fred T. Dubois recalled: "Old Bob was the family horse of the Lincolns, which used to draw the family carriage, which had two seats, an open one in front and the rest of the carriage closed. Some of the family always did the driving, as Mr. Lincoln never had a coachman. He had only one man around his house, who took care of the horse, etc. Salaries were very meager at that time, and this man of all jobs wore plain clothes all the time and, as was quite customary in those days, was treated as an equal by every one."23 At President Lincoln's funeral in Springfield in April 1865, Old Bob played an honored role. He was led by the Rev. Harry Brown, an African-American minister who had been an occasional handyman for the Lincolns.
Kids as well as kittens attracted Mr. Lincoln's kindness. Dr. Preston H. Bailhache recalled: "Mr. Lincoln was always very solicitous when his boys were sick, and a more devoted father I have never known. His sympathy was almost motherly, and his patience with the children, whether sick or well, opened my eyes to another phase in his wonderful character."24 Sister-in-law Frances Wallace remembered that Mr. Lincoln "was the most tender hearted man I ever knew. I have seen him carry Tad half way to the office, when Tad was a great big boy. And I said to him once: 'Why, Mr. Lincoln, put down that great big boy. He's big enough to walk.' And he said: 'Oh, don't you think his little feet get too tired?'"25
"Mr. Lincoln was fond of children. He took notice of boys, remembered them and spoke to them by name," recalled James S. Ewing of his Bloomington boyhood. "My father was Democrat. He nicknamed one of my brothers 'Democrat' and he went by that name for years. Mr. Lincoln was a Whig; one day he commented on the nickname 'Democrat.' He said to my other brother, the one next to me, 'I'll call you Whig.' That was Judge W. G. Ewing of Chicago He never has gotten rid of the name Mr. Lincoln bestowed upon him. He has always been called by his friends, 'Whig Ewing,' instead of William Ewing. I only mention this to show the attention Mr. Lincoln paid to boys, even to the extent of knowing their names. Although Mr. Lincoln and my father differed in politics, they were great friends."26
Boys and girls in Springfield adored Mr. Lincoln - for his sense of fun and attentiveness. Philip Wheelock Ayres' grandparents lived across the street from the Lincolns in Springfield. "My mother recalls the frequent picture of Mr. Lincoln going down the street, wearing his customary tall hat and gray shawl, leading by the hands both Willie and Tad, who were usually dancing and pulling him along. Always his thoughtful face was bent forward, as if thinking out some deep problem, yet he was responsive to he questions of the children. He often brought Tad home on his shoulders."27
State Superintendent of Instruction Norman Bateman recalled: "His surviving friends in Springfield will never forget the long-familiar spectacle of his towering form in the street with Rob or Will or Tad, or all three, perhaps, at his side- nor his exhaustless imperturbability and good-humored patience at the pranks and antics of his boys. They would sometimes be sent to hasten his steps homeward to dinner or tea. Promptly sallying forth from his office, he was sure to be stopped by some friend or neighbor at nearly every street corner, for a little chat - for somehow, the very streets seemed brighter when Abraham Lincoln appeared in them, and the moodiest face lightened up as his gaunt figure and pleasant face were seem approaching. But these detentions were not appreciated by the boys, whose keen appetites stirred them on to get Paterfamilias home as soon as possible. In the course of these efforts by the youngsters, the future President of the United States was very often placed in very amusing positions and attitudes. The spectacle of two little chaps tugging and pulling at his coat-tails, while the third pushed in front, was often beheld - while Mr. Lincoln, talking and laughing, and pretending to scold, but all the while backing under the steady pressure of the above-mentioned forces, raised his voice louder and louder as he receded, till it died away in the distance and further conversation became impossible. He then faced about, and the little fellows hurried him off in triumph towards home."28
Children also adored Mr. Lincoln for his generosity. State Auditor Jesse K. Dubois lived down the street from the Lincolns; his son was named for the family's neighbor. Another young neighbors in Springfield recalled an incident with Dubois's son on a "hot summer afternoon in '58 or '59. Link Dubois and I were standing on the sidewalk in front of my father's house trying to devise some way to obtain money with which to buy watermelons or ice cream. Link (who was always resourceful) suddenly exclaimed: 'Did Mrs. Lincoln ever pay you that money?' (Link knew that Mrs. Lincoln had promised to pay me fifty cents some time before and that I could never muster the courage to ask her for it.) I replied in the negative. Said he: 'There comes Old Abe now, you dun him; he'll pay you.' On looking up, I discovered Mr. Lincoln coming east on Market Street, going home. I remember that it required an extra prod from Link. Then I started forward and met Mr. Lincoln at eighth and capitol Avenue. I at once proceeded to lay my case before him. He immediately shoved hi hand into his trousers pocket and produced a handful of silver coin. Handing me a twenty-five cent piece saying, 'Here is a quarter for the Myers errand.' then another quarter saying, "This is for the horse you took to Dr. Wallace,' and then another quarter, saying, 'This is for the interest on your money, seventy-five cents in all.' Becoming suddenly rich again we were likewise happy."29
Mr. Lincoln had a special way with young people. Decades later, Edward Jonas recalled: "I saw Mr. Lincoln in my father's home in Quincy during the great Douglas-Lincoln Debates and during the same period, my father, who was taking part in the campaign took me with him to various points where Mr. Lincoln was present. I was only thirteen years old and it was I think at August or Newcomb, Illinois. While my father was speaking, I, with a boy's curiosity was strolling about the speakers platform on a tour of investigation when I suddenly felt a tickling behind my ear. Thinking it a bug or fly I slapped vigorously, but upon its being repeated several times, I became suspicious and turned suddenly and caught the fly. It was Mr. Lincoln with a straw in his hand. He made it all right at once by catching me up with his long arm, drawing to his side and talking to me very entertainingly until his turn came to address the assemblage."30
Robert H. Browne recalled coming to work at the Bloomington law office of Judge David Davis and Asahel Gridley, "This was of incalculable benefit to any student, affording, at the same time, the great opportunity of a near acquaintance and close friendship with Mr. Lincoln through the years of his wonderful rise and development." Browne wrote:
Mr. Gridley's introduction of the somewhat backward boy - the writer - to Mr. Lincoln was characteristic; and in those days it was a noted circumstance in any boy's life to be made a near acquaintance and be as favorably introduced to prominent lawyers, who were persons of much distinction to country boys. Our family had known Mr. Lincoln only a few years before, tolerably well,...but nothing like so intimately as we did Judge Stephen A. Douglas. Hence, to meet Mr. Lincoln in such favorable circumstances as Mr. Gridley had arranged for was a notable, almost exciting, event.
When the time arrived, Mr. Lincoln walked into the office - a tall, mild-manner, friendly-looking man, with the most comfortable and easy manner about him in his address and presence you could well imagine. Mr. Gridley met him, shook hands with him, cordially, and after some personal remarks, said, in his rapid, clear voice, his words rattling like hailstones on a tin roof: "Mr. Lincoln, I am very glad to have you here with us again. I have made some changes. This will be your desk, and the tables you can arrange as you like. This young man, Robert, will render you any assistance he can. He is here attending school. His people live in the country. He has been thinking about things for himself, and stirring them up very lively in some quarters, and, as I have advised him, he has been more cautious recently; but in spite of it he insists that he is an out-and-out Abolitionist, without evasion or any sort of qualification. I have told him that he was very foolish, and that, if he was a little older, it would bring him a lot of trouble. Anyway, with all my care and prudence, he is a long way ahead of public sentiment."
Mr. Lincoln took my hand with a warmth and expression that lightened up the soul of any one whom he respected or held to be a friend, saying: 'Yes, Mr. Gridley, I will get along first rate. This will all suit me very well;" and, turning to me: "The young man will do as well as the rest of us; but he must not be kept out of school an hour on my account. It seems to me, Robert, that I ought to know you; but, then, you never know about boys of your age, who change every year, and grow out of your knowledge." I replied: "Mr. Lincoln, I know who you are very well. My father knew you when we lived in Springfield, when he helped to finish the south front and the top work of the Capitol building." "Yes, yes, I knew Mr. Browne, the Scotchman. I remember him quite well. Of course, you are an Abolitionist." When this was done, the friendly relation of a lifetime had begun. 31
Browne observed that "The acquaintance thus begun with him was developed, strengthened, and continued. It became a perpetual pleasure. It was an open, cheerful, good-willed friendship, that was never cramped nor stained. I was intimate with him in this office intercourse something over three years, and had a continued friendly relation that was never broken or impaired up to 1860."32
Mr. Lincoln's love of children was personified in his indulgence of his two youngest sons, Willie and Tad. During the Lincoln's first year in the White House, Willie and Tad were joined in their adventures by friends Bud and Hollie Taft, the sons of a lawyer who was a federal patent examiner. The foursome brought joy to the White House, recalled the Taft's older sister Julie, who supervised them. Horatio Taft, the boys' father, wrote when Willie Lincoln died in February 1862: He was an amiable good hearted boy, was here with our boys almost every day or our boys were there. We all got much attached to him & "Tad" his Brother. He had more judgment and foresight than any boy of his age that I have ever known, poor Willie we all lament."33
Tad "invaded Cabinet councils with his boyish griefs or tales of adventure, climbed in his father's lap when the President was engaged with affairs of state, and doubtless diverted and soothed the troubled mind of the President, who loved his boy with a certain tenderness that was inexpressible," recalled journalist Noah Brooks. "It was Tad, the mercurial and irrepressible boy of the White House, on friendly terms with the great and the lowly, who gave to the executive mansion almost the only joyous note that echoed through its corridors and stately drawing rooms in those troublous times."34
Jane Grey Swisshelm, a well-known abolitionist, feminist, and Lincoln critic attended a mass Union meeting at the Capitol on March 31, 1863. She wrote a report on the President for the St. Cloud Democrat: "He is very tall and very pale. He walked quickly forward, bowed and took his seat. He was dressed in a plain suit of black which had a worn look; and I could see no sign of watch chain, white bosom or color. But all men have some vanity, and during the evening I noticed he wore on his breast, an immense jewel, the value of which I can form no estimate. This was the head of a little fellow 'Tad' Lincoln, about seven years old, who came with him and for a while sat quietly beside him in one of the great chairs, but who soon grew restless and weary under the long drawn out speeches of the men in the desk, and who would [wander] from one Member of the Cabinet to another, leaning on and whispering to him, no doubt asking when that man was going to quit and let them go home; and then would come back to father, come around, whisper in his ear, then climb on his knee and nestle his head down on his bosom. As the long bony hand spread out over the dark hair, and the thin face above rest the sharp chin upon it, it was a pleasant sight. The head of a great and powerful nation, without a badge of distinction, sitting quietly in the audience getting bored or applauding like the rest of us; soothing with loving care the little restless creature so much dearer than all the power he wields - a power greater than that exercised by any other human being on earth."35
The President's love of children was seldom suppressed - even at presidential receptions. "Come here, sister. I can't let you pass me in that way," presidential aide William O. Stoddard recalled the President telling one girl who accompanied her parents to the White House. "Sunny curls, blue eyes, cheeks delicately rosy, a child of seven or eight, warmly but plainly dressed, and now she is trembling with shyness and pleasure as he draws her to him for a kiss and to pat her golden hair. All children are favorites of his, and as she is released his arm goes out again and he has made another capture, but not without a vigorous kicking, and a short, half-frightened squall. Up, up, goes a chubby boy of four, and the squall changes to a boyish laugh, for he is a brave little fellow, and he knows a game of toss, even if it lifts him uncommonly high in the air."36
Francis P. Blair III recalled that President Lincoln visited the Blair family estate in Silver Springs when he was a child: "He drove out to the place quite frequently. We boys, for hours at a time, played 'town ball' on the vast lawn, and Mr. Lincoln would join ardently in the sport. I remember vividly how he ran with the children; how long were his strides, and how far his coat tails stuck out behind, and how we tried to hit him with the ball, as he ran the bases. He entered into the spirit of the play as completely as any of us, and we invariably hailed his coming with delight."37
Teenage soldiers found a soft spot in the President's heart. Historian Richard N. Current wrote: "One winter night an Indiana congressman, Schuyler Colfax, left his business at the Capitol and went to the White House to plead for the son of one of his constituents. The boy, convicted of desertion, had been sentenced to die before a firing squad at Davenport Barracks, Iowa, Colfax told the story to President Lincoln, who listened patiently, the replied: 'Some of my generals complain that I impair discipline by my frequent pardons and reprieves; but it rests me, after a day's hard work, that I can find some excuse for saving some poor fellow's life, and I shall go to bed happy tonight as I think how joyous the signing of this name will make himself, his family and friends.'"38
Mr. Lincoln had a special weakness for children handling adult tasks. Lincoln scholar Kenneth A. Bernard wrote: "When a little girl, in her best dress, arrived at the White House at 7 A.M. and finally saw the President sometime after ten to tell him that her father, who had lost a leg at Fredericksburg, and was now employed at a desk job in the Commissary Department, was going to lose his job because of the jealousy of certain officers, Lincoln told her it would be all right, he would attend to it - and he did."39
Union Army chaplain John Eaton wrote of a White House reception "The stream of visitors passed by. In the front line of those who surrounded the open space before the President, waiting their turn, was a little lad who evidently hesitated to approach him, but the kindly motion of Mr. Lincoln's hand brought the child at once to the good man's side. The President bent his great height, and the little boy confided to him his request. I did not hear what was said, - so confidential was the interview between the small boy and the President, - but there was no doubt he had got what he wanted, for he ran off presently with no attempt to disguise his delight."40
When a friend from Bloomington, Illinois, was killed in battle in December 1862, President Lincoln wrote a tender letter to the deceased's daughter, Fanny McCullough: "It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer, and holier sort than you have known before."41
President Lincoln was also sympathetic to the wives and children of black soldiers. Nancy Bushrod, a black contraband in Washington, was left with hungry children when her husband's military pay ceased to arrive by mail. She decided to take her case to the President himself and walked five miles to the White House. After assuring her that he would sign orders the next day for her, President Lincoln called her back as she was leaving the room: "My good woman, perhaps you'll see many a day when all the food in the house is a single loaf of bread. Even so, given every child a slice, and send your children off to school."42
President Lincoln took time to correspond with some youthful gift-givers. In March 1864, he wrote Misses Clara & Julia Brown: "The Afgan you sent is received, and gratefully accepted. I especially like my little friends; and although you have never seen me, I am glad you remember me for the country's sake, and even more, that you remember, and try to help, the poor Soldiers."43