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512. Henry C. Whitney to William H. Herndon.

June 23d 1887

Friend Herndon:

I much regret that while you was here for so long last winter I did not see more of you: but a great city is the most unsocial place in the world. As I have heretofore informed you I have written a considerable about Lincoln to take the form either of a Lecture or of a series of Essays: and on some matters about which I am not certain I [want?] your kind assistance to help me out. You may take as little trouble as you can but I will esteem anything that emenates from you as a favor. The fact is that some of Lincoln's pranks were so bizarre that they would not be beleived and a lecture or essayist should be very sure of his facts. I will state my points methodically.

Lincoln used to tell me of driving up his cow: he once said, "I went out to the commons (or outskirts) to drive up my cow: she was a new cow and I didn't know her thoroughly but I did know her calf. I could not pick out my cow from other cows who resembled each other but I knew my calf & so I waited a little while & my calf went to a cow & sucked her & in that way I knew it was my cow." — Up to how late a day did he habitually drive up his cow? Did he milk her? did he clean out his own stable? & how late did he do this. I thought this "cow" story, flimsy reasoning for Lincoln but I have known him to go off "half cocked" at other times. For instance in case of "Dean v. Kelley" an important land case in Champaign I once met him at Champaign en route to Chicago (because his hat was chalked that way & not the other) and I said to him "our case is ruined: Kelley has taken the deposition of old Henry Dickenson who swore" — so & so. Lincoln said promptly: "we'll beat that easy enough for Henry Dickenson has served a term in the Penitentiary". Now, Dickenson was one of our highest citizens: never heard of the Penitientiary. Again when Tom Johnston stole the watch in our town & it was a clear case & I got it rolled for Lincoln: we were speaking of the case & Lincoln said: "it all amounts to this: the watch was where he could have stolen it; and it was found where he might have left it." But that was a very superficial view to take of it: because he surely stole it & admitted it.

I can't recollect exactly how Lincoln used to travel when I first knew him in


1854. & from that time to 1858. when he changed some: His hat was brown & faded & had no nap — nap worn off. — a faded green umbrella with "A. Lincoln" in large white letters on the inside: knob gone: a literal carpet bag. I think he wore a short cloak: his trousers were always too short. I forget what sort of a coat — or shirt he wore: or collar or neckercheif: you can supply this. I think he wore boots. But I recollect distinctly at some times when we slept together on the circuit he slept in a short home made yellow flannel undershirt & had nothing else on. I don't know certain if that was a constant habit or not. Help me out on these.

Jim Matheney informed me in March that Lincoln was not melalcholy: that he was light-hearted & jovial always: I know better — both from you & Stuart & from my own observation: but I am surprised exceedingly that a man of the opportunity to observe that Matheney had should say this I will give you my version of Lincolns melancholy, not to tell out but it is my belief. This is private. 1st Nancy Hanks Lincoln — was in a constant trepidation and frequent affrights from reasons we have talked together about while she was pregnant & these affrights & trepidations made a maternal ante natal impression on our hero: that was the most of it. This melancholy was stamped on him while in the period of gestation: it was part of his nature and could no more be shaken off than he could part with his brains. Stuart told me his liver did not secrete bile — that he had no natural evacuation of bowels &c. That was also a cause but I beleive the former to be the principal one.

My opinion is (somewhat unlike yours) that Lincoln would have greatly enjoyed married life if he had go either Ann Rutledge or Miss Edwards. I think he would have been very fond of a wife had he had one to suit. But I also doubt if he would have been as great a man as he was. I have heard him say over & over again about sexual contact: "It is the harp of a thousand strings." Oliver Davis thought his mind run on sexual [matters?]

Jim Matheny thinks that Lincoln's mind ran to filthy stories — that a story had no fun in it unless it was dirty and I must admit it looks very plausible. I can't think he gloated over filth however. I think he was some like Linder in this that he had great ideality and also a view of grossness which displaced the ideality.

I am very anxious to get hold of your lectures in some way. Were they not published anywhere? in a newspaper or a book? Who has any which I could borrow? You seem to have sent them to me and I seem to have sent them to Senator Fowler of Tennessee. I find a synopsis of one in Carpenters "6 months in the White House." Later. I read the synopsis of your lecture in Carpenters Book last evening and I consider it as a marvelous analysis of his character and probably in the main correct. I think you should have required fame and money by virtue of your intimacy


with Lincoln. You knew much more about him than any one else originally & then your great research made you a complete master of the subject. What do you say to a lecture tour yet? Have you any idea where the most fruitful field is to dissemanate ideas about Lincoln. I have recently imbibed a strong desire to get up an excellent lecture on Lincoln: but after reading your exhausting analysis, I am rather in dispair: yet a miscellaneous audience might be attracted by a generality: my memory is good and I recollect a great many incidents while we were on the circuit together which I found greatly in demand in the 2 or 3 times I either lectures or entertained a crowd in an informal way. Of course I have not 1/100 the advantage you would have as a lecturer & that is what discourages me. I found that a man having the capital you have could make an overwhelming success: but whether one with a little rush light like myself could do anything satisfactory — Quaere? However I already have letters on that subject from Davis & some Senators: and I presume I could obtain some endorsements from Swett and yourself: If I get up a manuscript lecture I shall want to trespass on your kindness sufficiently to read it — make some corrections if desired and give me a letter — somewhat of endorsement. If I do anything in that line I shall do as you did in "Lamon's" book. I shall not say anything discreditable of either Bob or the Madam. Contrawise, I should praise Bob if I had to say anything for his Fathers sake: and I should really like to see Bob president for his Fathers sake. I must this A.M. to Hesler the photographer to get a picture of Uncle Abe He has one taken in Washington which makes him look very respectable — unlike any Lincoln: thus he has one taken by him in 1857, somewhat faded but like our Uncle Abe: then he has the one which he took in Springfield in 1860, and which was furnished to the Century Co. which he is going to print for me. By the bye: Who is going to print your book? and when do you expect to get it out. Do you know anything of Lamons vol. 2? There was a report in the papers that he was going to have it published. I hope you will take time to read this long letter & note down answers to the various topics suggested as you go along. I feel that it is trespassing on your patience. Your Friend

H C Whitney

appropos of the suggestion in Lamons life and also in Dubois' letter i.e. that Lincoln neglected his friends — let me give you this incident from real life which lies peculiarly in my own knowledge and from which you may draw inferences.

In the summer of 1861. — There came to Washington from Illinois the following persons — all desiring to be appointed Paymasters as U.S.A. Victor B. Bell — formerly member of Legislature from Wabash Co. Whig. Ninian W. Edwards — with his wife & [others?] they lived at White House [Dr Wariner?] an utterly worthless nobody from Bloomington


Robert L. Wilson — one of the long nine
and two or three utter nonentities from interior counties in Illinois.
Geo Phelps — an utter nobody from Fulton Co.

I was in Washington in the Indian service for a few days before August and I merely said to Lincoln one day — "Everything is drifting into the war & I guess you will have to put me in the army." He said "I'm making Generals now & in a few days I will be making Quartermasters & I'll then fix you." — That was all that was ever said between Lincoln & me or anyone else on that subject. Wilson went to Lincoln and frankly said "Lincoln I have come on to secure the office of Paymaster in the Army: you know its in the line of business as Clerk and my son is excellent at accounts & I wish to make him my clerk." — Lincoln made no reply but cast his eyes down to the floor as if in the greatest mental distress & was silent for about 2 minutes. Wilson told me he was almost on the point of leaving the room & going home: but Lincoln turned the conversation on other matters & made no reply at all.

Edwards was assured tacitly at least that he should have the office. Now — on August 6th 1861. I got a N. Y. Herald & in it read the appointments of myself and all the above except Bell & my own appointment To Victor Bell he simply gave a letter to Yates asking him to Commission Bell as Captain of a volunteer regiment: and you doubtless know that Lincoln went to the Adj. Regts. office and struck off Edwards name after he had made it. The reason he gave Edwards was that he had already appointed Dr Wallace & fault would be found with him if should appoint — brothers in law. But before Edwards found it out he had given a paymaster bond with Dickey & Mc Clernand on it.

Think of this. Two of the appointees were utterly worthless & I could just as well have been given & satisfied with a lesser place. & What meant his performance with Wilson.

Again. Ben. James (then of Chicago & formerly of Tremont) & W. O. Stoddard of Champaign — both wrote Lincoln stating they wanted to be Private Secretary. They both told me that Lincoln entertained with favor the idea of appointing one but not wishing to offend the other, he concluded to keep Nicolay: This may or may not be so: but how do you account for his failure to insist on your filling that closely confidential relation instead of the nobody he did take?

And how do you Explain his earnest desire to take into his Cabinet Judd a comparative stranger to him instead of his earnest friend Davis.

On the subject of Davis: let me give you two points.

1st. on March 5th 1861. I saw Lincoln & requested him to appoint Jim Somess (of Champaign) to a small clerkship. Lincoln was very impatient & said abruptly


— "There's Davis, with that way of making a man do a thing whether he wants to or not, has forced me to appoint Archy Williams Judge in Kansas right off and Jno. Jones to a place in the State department: and I have got a bushel of dispatches from Kansas wanting to know if I'm going to fill up all the offices from Illinois." (2.) In June 1862, I informed Lincoln that Davis said that when he Lincoln returned to Ill I think I will not tell that. Suppose you prepare a lecture on Lincoln in your best vein & commence in Sept. a regular lecture tour: have 1st class advertisements &c. Don't do it unless you do it in first class style. Your management here last winter was not what I mean.

Your Friend
H C Whitney



1. WHH served briefly as curator of the Lincoln Memorial Collection in Chicago.

2. Law case litigated in 1857.

3. Presumably the destination was indicated on a marker stuck in the hatband.

4. Thomas L. D. Johnston, the son of AL's stepbrother.

5. The passage between rules has been canceled with cross-hatched lines; the last sentence also has a line drawn through it.

6. Carpenter.

7. Lamon.

8. Alexander Hesler (1823 — 95).

9. Ward H. Lamon had projected a second volume of his biography of AL.

10. See §513.

11. Dr. R. O. Warinner was an early member of the Republican party in Bloomington.

12. Governor Richard Yates of Illinois.

13. Dr. William S. Wallace, husband of MTL's older sister Frances.

14. T. Lyle Dickey and John McClernand.