Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln

When you hear the name ‘Abraham Lincoln’ what first pops into your head? Is it the beard and stove pipe hat? Is it the Gettysburg Address? Maybe you think of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. My guess is that many people won’t picture him smiling, laughing and cracking up. Although he was an astute politician, Lincoln also loved telling jokes and humorous stories. If I could sit down to dinner with one historical figure it would be Lincoln; not to hear the horrible stories of his presidency and the War, but because I would love to sit and be entertained by him in his own special way.

I would like to share some sayings, jokes, and anecdotes as said by Lincoln. These have been gathered in numerous places, but I’m referencing two books: “The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln” by James C. Humes and “The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln” edited by Anthony Gross.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton filled the military prisons in Washington with those who were helping the Confederates. When a relative of a prisoner complained to Lincoln of the injustice, Lincoln told his story: A governor of a certain state was visiting the state prison and stopped to talk with a number of prisoners. They told him their story, and in every instance it was one of a wrong suffered by an innocent person… but he came to one inmate who said, “Governor – I did it – I was guilty – and I have to pay the price.” “I must pardon you,” said the governor. “I can’t have you in here corrupting all these good men.” <Humes, p142>

A ranking official of the Post Office died and the next day a job applicant waylaid President Lincoln in the White House. “Mr. President, did you know that the Chief Postal Inspector just died. Can I take his place?” “Well,” drawled Lincoln, “it’s all right with me if it’s all right with the undertaker.”  <Humes, p186>


Some gentlemen, fresh from a Western tour, calling at the White House to see President Lincoln, referred to a body of water in Nebraska bearing an Indian name which they could not recall, but which signified Weeping Water. Instantly Mr. Lincoln replied, “As Laughing Water, according to Mr. Longfellow, is Minnehaha, this must be Minneboohoo.” <Gross, p.106-107>


A gentleman asked Lincoln to give him a pass through the Federal lines in order to visit Richmond. “I should be very happy to oblige you,” said the President, “if my passes were respected; but the fact is, within the past two years I have given passes to Richmond to two hundred and fifty thousand men, and not one has got there yet.” <Gross, p215>


Wade once came to the President to demand the dismissal of Grant. In reply to one of his remarks Lincoln said, “Senator, that reminds me of a story.” “Yes, yes,” Wade replied, “it is with you, sir, all story, story! You are the father of every military blunder that has been made during the war. You are on your road to hell, sir, with this government, by your obstinacy; and you are not a mile off this minute.” Lincoln answered, “Senator, that is just about the distance from here to the Capitol, is it not?” Wade, as Lincoln put it, “grabbed up his hat and cane and went away.” <Gross,p223>

These were just a couple of stories from the two books that I referenced above. If you get a chance to read more of the stories that Lincoln loved so much then I would definitely recommend that you read them. Or when you’re bored, search for Abraham Lincoln Anecdotes in your favorite search engine and see what pops up.

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