351. _______ Johnson to William H. Herndon
[1865 — 66]
Wm H. Herndon Esq.
You ask me to put upon paper, what I saw of Mr Lincoln, while at the Decatur Republican Convention, early in the Spring of 1860. For some reason, to me now, and perhaps, then unknown, there was an intense interest felt in what was to be done by that Convention. And each County sent up large numbers of delegates even if they had only few votes to cast. There too was gathered most of the choice political spirits of Illinois of the Republican party. The meeting had been organized but a short time when a gentleman (Oglesby I think), rose to say that he "was informed that a distinguished citizen of Illinois — and one whom Illinois would ever delight to honor was present, at the meeting, and he wished to move that this body invite him to a seat on the Stand". Here as if knowing that an outburst would follow, the Speaker seemed purposely to delay mentioning any name, as if to tease expectation to the verge of desperation, At last he said he alluded to Mr Lincoln. The Storm of applause burst forth loud — long and deep As it subsided — the motion was seconded — and passed. I in the mean time, being near the door saw the then future President Sitting on his heels, just within the door of the Wigwam. Everybody in that vicinity, seemed inspired with a new born desire to get close to him — to take hold of him. I think he was seized and lifted to his
463feet, An effort was made to jam him through the crowd, towards the stage, This not succeeding as well as those immediately about him wished, he was "boosted" up until he found himself, kicking scrambling — crawling — upon the sea of heads between him and the Stand, The enthusiasm was at to high a pitch, for the ludirousness of the scene, to have been generally noticed, or laughed at if seen As he neared the Stand, Some half dozen Gentlemen, Seemed to have him their arms — bundled up promiscuously, — and thus he was placed upon the Stage. The cheering was like the roar of the sea, Hats were thrown up by the Chicago delegation, as if hats were no longer useful,
Mr Lincoln rose bowing and blushing, I then thought him one of the most diffident and worst plagued men I ever saw. He was Smiling and as the applause subsided a little, he thanked the meeting for their Manifestations of Esteem Whether it was right away or after the lapse of some hours I do not remember — that Oglesby again rose to his feet, and in another teasing speech — Said, there was an "Old Democrat had something he wished to present to this meeting" Here some hollowed "Receive it!" — "Receive it!" Myself and some other Egyptians who were innocent of "cut and dry" affairs, Cried out "What is it!" "What is it!" Suspecting the Old Democrat might wish to hoist us with some infernal machine The cry of "Receive it" prevailed. Mr John Hanks was ushered in, bearing something — which when exhibited proved to be two, Small triangular (I think) heart rails — bearing a banner with this inscription —
From A Lot made By Abraham Lincoln, And John Hanks, in the Sangamon Bottom, In the Year 183
Again the tempest of enthusiasm burst forth, wilder — Stronger and more furious than before The Chicago — and Central Illinois folks seemed perfectly beside themselves. Mr Lincoln — blushed but seemed to shake with inward laughter. The meeting became uproarious for a speech.
At last Mr Lincoln rose and said:
Gentlemen, I Suppose you want to know something about those things (pointing and laughing) Well, the truth is John Hanks and I did make rails in the Sangamon Bottom. I dont know whether we made those rails or not. — Fact is dont think they are a Credit to the Makers (laughing). But I do know this. I made rails then — and I think I could make better ones than these now! So he sat down — to the utter, dismay of everybody — but the managers of things. After it was all over with I began to think I could smell a very large mouse — and this whole thing, was a cunningly devised thing of knowing ones, to make Mr Lincoln, President and that banner was to be the "Battle flag," in the coming contest between "labor free" and "labor slave," between democracy — and aristocracy. And all this was maneuvering between the East and West for a Standard bearer, Little did I think of mighty issues that that little ploy, would bring about. Little did I dream that rail splitter, bowing and blushing with awkward grace, was to be a greater man than
464Washington, And that that name should echo in Chants of praise, along the Corridors of all coming time
Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3944 — 50; Huntington Library: LN2408, 2:84 — 87