“I am going to Pardon that Young Soldier”
He was so kind-hearted and lenient, and virtually set aside so many sentences of courts martial, that the commanding generals remonstrated very often, insisting that he was ruining the discipline of the army.
I never asked him to pardon a soldier or to release one from the army, for good cause, that he did not do it. On one occasion I was at the White House and in the ante-room were scores of people waiting for an opportunity to obtain admission to see the President. At the end of the room sat a gray headed old man upon the window seat, sobbing as though his heart would break. Moved by compassion I asked him what his trouble was. He said that his darling boy, 19 years of age, was sentenced to be shot, and he had been waiting two days to see the President but could not get in, and to-morrow noon the boy was to be shot. I asked him to follow me, saying that I would take him in to see the President. He told his story to Mr. Lincoln, who replied with much feeling that he could not do it, for the commanding general had just telegraphed him from Fortress Monroe, where the boy was, imploring him to cease interfering with the sentences of courts martial. But the abundant tears and imploring looks of the old man were too much for the kind-hearted President. He said, ” Let the generals telegraph, if they please, but I am going to pardon that young soldier.” He immediately sent a dispatch to suspend the execution of the sentence until further orders from him. Thereupon the old man burst out crying afresh, and in a tremulous voice said, ” Mr. President, that is not a pardon, it only asks for a suspension until further orders from you.” ” My dear man,” exclaimed Mr. Lincoln, ” if your son lives until I order him shot, he will live longer than ever Methusaleh did.” The old man departed, invoking blessings upon the head of the good President.
Quoted in John B. Alley, in Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Rice (1886 edn.), pp. 584.