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The opinion of the Attorney-General, Judge Bates, as to the safety of Mr. Lincoln's being intrusted with the pardoning power, was founded upon an intimate knowledge of the man. A nature of such tenderness and humanity would have been [171] in danger of erring on what many would call the weak side, had it not been balanced by an unusual degree of strong practical good sense and judgment.

The Secretary of War, and generals in command, were frequently much annoyed at being overruled,--the discipline and efficiency of the service being thereby, as they considered, greatly endangered. But there was no going back of the simple signature, “A. Lincoln,” attached to proclamation or reprieve.

My friend Kellogg, representative from Essex County, New York, received a despatch one evening from the army, to the effect that a young townsman, who had been induced to enlist through his instrumentality, had, for a serious misdemeanor, been convicted by a court-martial, and was to be shot the next day. Greatly agitated, Mr. Kellogg went to the Secretary of War, and urged, in the strongest manner, a reprieve. Stanton was inexorable. “Too many cases of the kind had been let off,” he said; “and it was time an example was made.” Exhausting his eloquence in vain, Mr. Kellogg said,--“Well, Mr. Secretary, the boy is not going to be shot,--of that I give you fair warning!” Leaving the War Department, he went directly to the White House, although the hour was late. The sentinel on duty told him that special orders had been issued to admit no one whatever that night. After a long parley, by [172] pledging himself to assume the responsibility of the act, the congressman passed in. The President had retired; but, indifferent to etiquette or ceremony, Judge Kellogg pressed his way through all obstacles to his sleeping apartment. In an excited manner he stated that the despatch announcing the hour of execution had but just reached him. “This man must not be shot, Mr. President,” said he. “I can't help what he may have done. Why, he is an old neighbor of mine; I can't allow him to be shot!” Mr. Lincoln had remained in bed, quietly listening to the vehement protestations of his old friend, (they were in Congress together.) He at length said: “Well, I don't believe shooting him will do him any good. Give me that pen.” And, so saying, “red tape” was unceremoniously cut, and another poor fellow's lease of life was indefinitely extended.

One night Speaker Colfax left all other business to ask the President to respite the son of a constituent, who was sentenced to be shot, at Davenport, for desertion. He heard the story with his usual patience, though he was wearied out with incessant calls, and anxious for rest, and then replied: “Some of our generals complain that I impair discipline and subordination in the army by my pardons and respites, but it makes me rested, after a hard day's work, if I can find some good excuse for saving a man's life, and I go to bed happy as I think how joyous the signing of my name will make him and his, family and his friends.” [173]

Mr. Van Alen, of New York, in an account furnished the “Evening post,” wrote: “I well remember the case of a poor woman who sought, with the persistent affection of a mother, for the pardon of her son condemned to death. She was successful in her petition. When she had left the room, Mr. Lincoln turned to me and said: ‘Perhaps I have done wrong, but at all events I have made that poor woman happy.’ ”

The Hon. Thaddeus Stevens told me that on one occasion he called at the White House with an elderly lady, in great trouble, whose son had been in the army, but for some offence had been courtmartialled, and sentenced either to death, or imprisonment at hard labor for a long term. There were some extenuating circumstances; and after a full hearing, the President turned to the representative, and said: “Mr. Stevens, do you think this is a case which will warrant my interference?” “With my knowledge of the facts and the parties,” was the reply, “I should have no hesitation in granting a pardon.” “Then,” returned Mr. Lincoln, “I will pardon him,” and he proceeded forthwith to execute the paper. The gratitude of the mother was too deep for expression, and not a word was said between her and Mr. Stevens until they were half way down the stairs on their passage out, when she suddenly broke forth in an excited manner with the words, “I knew it was a copperhead lie!” “What do you refer to, madam?” asked Mr. Stevens. [174] “Why, they told me he was an ugly looking man,” she replied, with vehemence. “He is the handsomest man I ever saw in my life!” And surely for that mother, and for many another throughout the land, no carved statue of ancient or modern art, in all its symmetry, can have the charm which will for evermore encircle that careworn but gentle face, expressing as lineaments of ruler never expressed before, “Malice towards none -charity for all.”

Though kind-hearted almost to a fault, nevertheless Mr. Lincoln always endeavored to be just. The Hon. S. F. Miller, of New York, called upon him one day with the brother of a deserter who had been arrested. The excuse was that the soldier had been home on a sick-furlough, and that he afterwards became partially insane, and had consequently failed to return and report in proper time. He was on his way to his regiment at the front to be tried. The President at once ordered him to be stopped at Alexandria and sent before a board of surgeons for examination as to the question of insanity. “This seemed to me so proper,” said the representative, “that I expressed myself satisfied. But on going out, the brother, who was anxious for an immediate discharge, said to me, ‘The trouble with your President is, that he is so afraid of doing something wrong.’ ”

A young man, connected with a New York regiment, had become to all appearance a hardened [175] criminal. He had deserted two or three times, and, when at last detected and imprisoned, had attempted to poison his guards, one of whom subsequently died from the effects of the poison unconsciously taken. Of course, there seemed no defence possible in such a case. But the fact came out that the boy had been of unsound mind. Some friends of his mother took up the matter, and an appeal was made to the Secretary of War. He declined, positively, to listen to it,--the case was too aggravating. The prisoner (scarcely more than a boy) was confined at Elmira, New York. The day for the execution of his sentence had nearly arrived, when his mother made her way to the President. He listened to her story, examined the record, and said that his opinion accorded with that of the Secretary of War; he could do nothing for her. Heart-broken, she was compelled to relinquish her last hope. One of the friends who had become interested, upon learning the result of the application, waited upon Senator Harris. That gentleman said that his engagements utterly precluded his going to see the President upon the subject, until twelve o'clock of the second night following. This brought the time to Wednesday night, and the sentence was to be executed on Thursday. Judge Harris, true to his word, called at the White House at twelve o'clock Wednesday night. The President had retired, but the interview was granted. The point made was that the boy was insane,--thus [176] irresponsible, and his execution would be murder. Pardon was not asked, but a reprieve, until a proper medical examination could be made. This was so reasonable that Mr. Lincoln acquiesced in its justice. He immediately ordered a telegram sent to Elmira, delaying the execution of the sentence. Early the next morning he sent another, by a different line, and, before the hour of execution arrived, he had sent no less than four different reprieves, by different lines, to different individuals in Elmira, so fearful was he that the message would fail, or be too late.

This incident suggests another, similar only, however, in the fact that both boys were alleged to be irresponsible. A washerwoman in Troy had a son nearly imbecile as to intellect, yet of good physical proportions. The boy was kidnapped, or inveigled away by some scoundrels, who “enlisted” him, dividing his bounty among themselves. For some time his mother could learn nothing of him. At length she was told that he was in the army. Alone and unfriended she went to Washington to see, in her simplicity, if she could not get his discharge. The gentleman who related the circumstance to me said that she did not even know to which of the New York regiments her son belonged. She could get no chance to speak to the President. At length she watched her opportunity, and intercepted him on his way from the War Department. The result was, that taking down the lad's name [177] and place of residence, this message was written on the back of the card, and sent to the War Department:--

This poor boy is said to be idiotic. Find him, if possible, and return him to his mother.

A. Lincoln.

“Calling,” says Mr. Colfax, “upon the President one morning in the winter of 1863, I found him looking more than usually pale and careworn, and inquired the reason. He replied, with the bad news he had received at a late hour the previous night, which had not yet been communicated to the press,--he had not closed his eyes or breakfasted; and, with an expression I shall never forget, he exclaimed, ‘How willingly would I exchange places to-day with the soldier who sleeps on the ground in the Army of the Potomac.’ ”

And yet, in the face of such evidence, showing how the great sympathy and sorrow of the late President took hold upon the very roots and springs of his nature, there are not found wanting assertions that he showed a criminal indifference to the sufferings of our prisoners at Libby, Andersonville, and other places; and, in proof of this, it is stated that there is no record of his ever alluding to the subject in any of his public addresses or messages. The questions involved in the suspension of the exchange of prisoners are difficult of decision. Whoever was the cause of this, certainly has a fearful responsibility. [178] That it was the President's fault, I do not believe. When the reports, in an authentic form, first reached Washington of the sufferings of the Union prisoners, I know he was greatly excited and overcome by them. He was told that justice demanded a stern retaliation. He said to his friend Mr. Odell with the deepest emotion: “I can never, never starve men like that!” “Whatever others may say or do, I never can, and I never will, be accessory to such treatment of human beings!” And although he spoke with the deepest feeling at the Baltimore Fair of the Fort Pillow massacre, and pledged retaliation, yet that pledge was never carried into execution. It was simply impossible for Mr. Lincoln to be cruel or vindictive, no matter what the occasion. In the serene light of history, when party strife and bitterness shall have passed away, it will be seen that, if he erred at all, it was always on the side of mercy and magnanimity.

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