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119. Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon.

Louisville 12 Jany 1866.

Dear Sir

Yours of the 9 propounding certain questions is at hand.

If Mr Lincoln ever went to Ky to see Mr Clay, I knew nothing of it — He never alluded to any such visit, in any of his conversations with me —

I do not think he had ever read much of Byron previous to my accquaintance with him — He was a great admirer of some of Byrons poetry — Childe Harolde the Bride of Abydos Mazppa & some of his fugitive pieces.

I think that when I first knew Mr L he was skeptical as to the great truths of the Christian Religion. I think that after he was elected President, he sought to become a believer — and to make the Bible a preceptor to his faith and a guide for his conduct.

The last interview but one I had with him — was about ten days previous to his last inauguration. Congress was drawing its legislation to a close — it had been an important session — much attention had to be given to the important bills he was signing — a great was was upon him — visitors were coming & going to the President with their various complaints and grievances from morning till night with almost as much regularty as the ebb & flow of the tide. He was worn down in health & spirits — On this occasion I was sent for to come & see him — instructions were given that when I came I should be admitted — When I entered his office it was quite full and many more Senators & Members waiting —


As soon as I entered the room the President remarked that he desired to see me after he was through giving audiences and that if I had nothing to do I could take the Papers and amuse myself till he was ready.

In the room when I entered I observed two ladies in humble attire — sitting across the fire place from where the President sat — modestly waiting their turn — One after another came & went, each and all of them bent on their own business — Some satisfied, and others grumbling — The hour had now come to close the door to all visitors. No one was left in the room except myself the two women & the President —

With rather a peevish & fretful air he turned to them and said "Well ladies what can I do for you?

They both commenced to speak at once From what they said he soon learned that one was the wife and the other Mother of two men imprisoned for resisting the draft in Western Pensylvania —

Stop said he — dont say any more — Give me your petition — The old lady responded — Mr Lincoln — weve got no petition — we couldnt write one, and had no money to pay for writing one — I thought it best to come & see you — Oh said he — Dont say any thing more I understand your cases — He rang his bell & ordered one of the Messengirs to tell Genl Dana to bring him the names of all the men in prison for resisting the Draft in Western Pensylvania — The Genl soon came with the list — He inquired if there was any [difference?] in the charges or degrees of guilt The General replied that he knew of none.

"Well said he these fellows have suffered long enough and I have thought so for some time and now that mind is on it, I believe I will turn out the flock" — So draw up the order General and let me sign it — It was done & the General left the room — Turning then to these women he said "now ladies you can go — "

The young woman ran forward & was about to kneel in thankfulness — Get up he said dont kneel to me — thank God & go.

The old woman came forward with tears in her eyes to say Good bye — good bye said she Mr Lincoln — I shall never see you again till we meet in Heaven —

She had the Presidents hand in hers — He instantly took her right hand in both of his and following her to the door & said I am afraid with all my troubles I shall never get there — But if I do I will find you — That you wish me to get there is the best wish you could make for me — good bye —

We were alone — I said to him — Lincoln with my knowledge of your nervous sesibility it is a wonder that such scenes as this dont kill you — I am said he very unwell — my feet & hands are always cold — I suppose I ought to be in bed —

But things of that sort dont hurt me — For to tell you the truth — that scene which you witnessed is the only thing I have done to day which has given me any pleasure — I have in that made two people happy — That old lady was no counterfeit — The Mother spoke out in all the features of her face — It is more than we can often say that in doing right we have made two people happy in one day —

"Speed die when I may I want it said of me by those who know me best to say


that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow —

Such is the recital of the interview you ask — The finishing touch to a portrait by Wilson was given just after this interview — John Williams has a copy of it —

There are some traits of character for which Lincoln was peculiar above all men I have ever known — He never forgot any thing espically any personal kindness — As an instance of this When he was in Ky in 1841 he was moody & hypochondriac — He was staying at the house of my Mother — She observed him and one morning when they were alone presented him with a Bible — Years rolled round & he was President — The old lady sent him word that she wanted his Photograph

He sent it with this sentence

"To my very good friend Mrs Lucy G Speed who gave me an Oxford Bible Twenty years ago

A. Lincoln"

It had faded from my Mothers memory — Till she was thus reminded of it — He was not a selfish man — But upon this point you understand him as well as I do —

Your friend &c
J. F. Speed

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2424 — 26; Huntington Library: LN2408, 2:188 — 93



1. Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana (1819 — 97).

2. Matthew Wilson (1814 — 92). According to the artist, AL gave him one sitting just two weeks before the assassination.

3. Speed probably refers to John Williams (1808 — 90), a Springfield merchant and political associate of AL.