Primary tabs


242. David Davis (William H. Herndon Interview).

Sept 20th Contd.

The democrats name I spoke about was Joseph E. McDonald Indianapolis — Joseph E. McDonald — good man — is true — .

As to the Press I told Lincoln, telegraphed him that the suppression of the Times Chicago was an error. Lincoln was too good a lawyer to know that this proceeding was Constitutional. The Vanlandingham was an Error — the decision an outrage — and I should have so decided. Lincoln told me in Connexion with this, that he verily believed that Some of his men and officers did things to get him into trouble & difficulty — &c. Schenck's Conduct as well as others.

Lincolns Statesmanship adherence to principle: he studied where the truth of a thing lay and so acted on his conviction: bent his whole soul to that idea and End. He looked far into the future and was philosophical truly scintific in his inductions — wherein was his forte —


I informed Lincoln that the [Military?] trials as above Spoken of Could not Stand the test of Law and Constitution as I thought — and Said. Lincoln was not a well read Man — read no histories — novels. — biographies &c — Studied Euclid — the Exact Sciences — His mind struggled to arrive at moral & physical — Mathematical demonstration. He Studied the Latin Grammar on the Circuit. He had a good mechanical mind and Knowledge. He never Complained of any food — nor beds — nor lodgings — He once Said at a table — "Well — in the absence of anything to Eat I will jump into this Cabbage. He hated drunkenness: Mr. Lincoln had unsurpassed reasoning powers — his Logical faculties were great: He reasoned from his own mind — his nature — and reflection rather than by. His analogy was great — his Comparison. When he believed his Client was oppressed — such as the Wright Case he was terrific in denunciation — had no Mercy. Remember the Jessie B. Thomas Case — Speech — Terrible — This was in 1840 —

Lincoln could bear no malice — nor could Thomas. Thos wrote to L. "Lincoln said I am sorry that I made that Thomas Speech."

Lincoln loved Clay — see Hollands life: it is all false. He did not go for Clay because he Knew Clay Couldn't be Elected: he told me so: he loved & adored Clay — I Know this — all other Statements are unmittegated lie — Lincoln never visited Clay.

As a lawyer when he attacked Meanness & littleness — vice & fraud — he was most powerful — was merciless in his Catigation —

When Lincoln was Elected as Presdt he swore in his soul he would act justly: he said he intended to appoint democrats & Republicans alike — that the Republican payto Composite — made up of all parties associations &c — Justice was Lincolns leading characteristic, modified by mercy — when possible.

Lincoln was a Man of strong passion for woman — his Conscience Kept him from seduction — this saved many — many a woman.

Lincoln was peculiar man. McWilliams was a low vulgar man — yet Lincoln loved sharp — witty things — loved jokes &c and Lincoln atatched himself to this poor unfortunate Creature — This is how Lincoln happened to draw to him Some of his low vulgar & unscrupulous Men. It was wit & joke meeting & loving wit & Jokes — not the man for the men. Lincoln used these men merely to whistle off sadness — gloom & unhappiness. He loved their intellects. minds and felt sorry


for their failings — and sympathised with them — He used such men as a tool — a thing to satisfy him — to feed his desires &c. McWilliams came up to Lincoln one day, and Said — "By ging Lincoln I don't intend to belong to any party in which I do myself & friends any good and to do no harm to any one Else. Lincoln said Good McWilliams — good — good.

The meanest man in the bar would always pay great deference & respect to Lincoln —

He never took advantage of a mans low character to prejudice the Jury. Mr Lincoln though that his duty to his client Extended to what was honorable and high minded — just and noble — nothing further —

Lincoln shrank from Controversy as a general rule. — hated quarrell — hated to say hard & sharp thing of any man and never Stept beyond this Except that his duty — his honor or obligations — principles demanded it

Lincoln had no power of organization — thought he had no administrative ability till he went to Washington. A man when forced to do Can do more than he or his friends dream of. & had administrative and Executive ability — to a certain degree — more than any man dreamed of.

He was Slow to form his Opinions — he was deliberate — Cool & demanded the light of all the facts Surrounding the Case — When he formed his opinions he was firm, Especially about questions of justice — principle — &c.&c.&c —

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2660 — 63, Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2659; Huntington Library: LN2408, 2:48 — 52



1. Clement L. Vallandigham, an Ohio congressman, was tried and convicted of treason by a military court in 1863.

2. Presumably the Ohio congressman and later general Robert C. Schenck.

3. This paragraph has a large "X" drawn through it, as though stricken, but it is not clear who drew it or why.

4. According to WHH, "a suit brought by Lincoln and myself to compel a pension agent to refund a portion of a fee which he had withheld from the widow of a revolutionary soldier" (H&W [1889], 340 — 42). WHH identifies Erastus Wright by name in his letter to JWW, Nov. 12, 1885, HW. AL's client seems to have been an acquaintance from his New Salem days, Rebecca Thomas, for whom he appeared in court on November 16, 1846. See Paul H. Verduin, "A New Lincoln Discovery: Rebecca Thomas, His 'Revolutionary War Widow,'" Lincoln Herald 98:1 (Spring 1996): 3 — 11.

5. Not a law suit but a verbal assault in a political speech that reduced Thomas to tears. For other references to this incident, see the index.

6. Holland.

7. WHH probably intended to write "party."

8. Amzi McWilliams, a Bloomington attorney.