John Hay

“What a Man it is!”

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April 30, 1864.

A little after midnight as I was writing those last lines, the President came into the office laughing, with a volume of Hood’s Works in his hand, to show Nicolay and me the little caricature, ‘An Unfortunate Beeing; seemingly utterly unconscious that he, with his short shirt hanging about his long legs, and setting out behind like the tail feathers of an enormous ostrich, was infinitely funnier than anything in the book he was laughing at. What a man it is! Occupied all day with matters of vast moment, deeply anxious about the fate of the greatest army of the world, with his own plans and future hanging on the events of the passing hour, he yet has such a wealth of simple bonhommie and good fellowship that he gets out of bed and perambulates the house in his shirt to find us, that we may share with him the fun of poor Hood’s queer little conceits.

Quoted in John Hay, Inside Lincoln’s White House, p. 194.

“Particularly Fond of a Play of Shakspere Well Acted”

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Mr. Lincoln’s life was almost devoid of recreation. He sometimes went to the theater, and was particularly fond of a play of Shakspere well acted. He was so delighted with Hackett in Falstaff that he wrote him a letter of warm congratulation which pleased the veteran actor so much that he gave it to the “New York Herald,” which printed it with abusive comments. Hackett was greatly mortified and made suitable apologies; upon which the President wrote to him again in the kindliest manner, saying:

Give yourself no uneasiness on the subject. . . . I certainly did not expect to see my note in print; yet I have not been much shocked by the comments upon it. They are a fair specimen of what has occurred to me through life. 1 have endured a great deal of ridicule, without much malice; and have received a great deal of kindness, not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it.

This incident had the usual sequel: the veteran comedian asked for an office, which the President was not able to give him, and the pleasant acquaintance ceased. A hundred times this experience was repeated: a man whose disposition and talk were agreeable would be introduced to the President; he took pleasure in his conversation for two or three interviews, and then this congenial person would ask some favor impossible to grant, and go away in bitterness of spirit. It is a cross that every President must bear.

Quoted in “Life in the White House in the time of Lincoln” by John Hay

“I Believe the Hand of God Placed him Where he is.”

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To J.G. Nicolay

Executive Mansion, Washington,

August 7, 1863.

The draft fell pretty heavily in our end of town. William Johnson (cullud) was taken while polishing the Executive boots and rasping the Imperial Abolition whisker. Henry Stoddard is a conscript bold. You remember that good-natured shiny-faced darkey who used to be my special favorite a year ago at Willard’s. He is gone, en haut de la spout. And the gorgeous headwaiter, G. Washington. A clerk in the War Department named Ramsey committed suicide on hearing he was drafted. Our friend Henry A. Blood was snatched from his jealous desk. And Bob Lamon is on the [torn off]. Bob [Lincoln] and his mother have gone through to the white mountains. (I don’t take any special stock in the matter & write the locality in small letters.) Bob was so shattered by the wedding of the idol of all of us, the bright particular Teutonne, that he rushed madly off to sympathize with nature in her sternest aspects. They will be gone some time. The newspapers say the Tycoon will join them after a while. If so, he does not know it. He may possibly go for a few days to Cape May where Hill Lamon is now staying, though that is not certain.

This town is as dismal now as a defaced tombstone. Everybody has gone. I am getting apathetic & write blackguardly articles for the Chronicle from which West extracts the dirt & fun & publishes the dreary remains. The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene & busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet, till now. The most important things he decides & there is no cavil. I am growing more and more firmly convinced that the good of the country absolutely demands that he should be kept where he is till this thing is over. There is no man in the country, so wise, so gentle, and so firm. I believe the hand of God placed him where he is.

They are working against him like beavers though; Hale & that crowd, but don’t seem to make anything by it. I believe the people know what they want and unless politics have gained in power & lost in principle they will have it……

“The Greatest Character Since Christ”

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I believe that Lincoln is well understood by the people; but there is a patent-leather, kid-glove set who know no more of him than an owl does of a comet blazing into his blinking eyes. Their estimates of him are in many causes disgraceful exhibitions of ignorance and prejudice. Their effeminate natures shrink instinctively from the contact of a great reality like Lincoln’s character. I consider Lincoln’s republicanism incarnate-with all its faults and all its virtues. As, in spite of some rudeness, republicanism is the sole hope of a sick world, so Lincoln, with all his foibles, is the greatest character since Christ.

By John Hay, the Assisant Private Secretary to Abraham Lincoln.

Quoted in Letter of John Hay to William H. Herndon, September 5, 1866.  (Herndon’s Lincoln: A True Story of a Great Life Written by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, ed.   Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 332.)