Pets for Boys
Lincoln law partner William Herndon noted that “Mr. Lincoln himself was a very sensitive man, and hence, in dealing with others, he avoided wounding their hearts or puncturing their sensibility. He was unusually considerate of the feelings of other men, regardless of their rank, condition or station.”1 Mr. Lincoln was even more considerate of children and animals. Although he apparently played a few tricks on animals as a boy, he quickly outgrew any desire to hurt or hunt wild animals for food.
Mr. Lincoln’s step mother testified that “He loved animals” and “he loved children…very well.”2 Even insects elicited his compassion. While his parents went to church, young Lincoln preached his own sermons to his step-family: “Abe preached against Curelty to animals, Contending that an ants life was to it, as sweet as ours, ” recalled his step-sister.3
Indeed, Mr. Lincoln was known to go to great lengths to rescue animals from adversity – including once backtracking to rescue a pig stuck in the mud because he couldn’t bear the thought of its suffering. Friend Joshua F. Speed recalled a trip he took with Mr. Lincoln in 1839 on the way back to Springfield: “We were riding along a country road, two and two together, some distance apart, Lincoln and Jon. J. Hardin being behind. (Hardin was afterward made Colonel and was killed at Buena Vista). We were passing through a thicket of wild plum, and crab-apple trees, where we stopped to water our horses. After waiting some time Hardin came up and we asked him where Lincoln was. ‘Oh, ’ said he, ‘when I saw him last’ (there had been a severe wind storm), ‘he had caught two little birds in his hand, which the wind had blown from their nest, and he was hunting for the nest’. Hardin left him before he found it. He finally found the nest, and placed the birds, to use his own words, ‘in the home provided for them by their mother’. When he came up with the party they laughed at him. Said he, earnestly, ‘I could not have slept tonight if I had not given those two little birds to their mother’.”4
Illinois politician William Pitt Kellogg recalled: “Next to his political sagacity, his broad humanitarianism was one of his most striking characteristics. He fairly overflowed with human kindness.”5 Historian Charles B. Strozier noted that “Lincoln’s lifelong sympathy for animals…was hardly the norm for the frontier.” 6 Historian Douglas L. Wilson noted that Mr. Lincoln “was unusually tenderhearted. We see this in several reports of his childhood that depict him as concerned about cruelty to animals. When his playmates would turn helpless terrapins on their backs and torture them, which was apparently a favorite pastime, the young future president would protest against it. He wrote an essay on the subject as a school exercise that was remembered years afterward. This instinctive sympathetic reaction seems to have been recognized by his stepbrother as a vulnerable spot in Lincoln’s makeup, for he is reported as having taunted Lincoln as he was preaching a mock sermon by bashing a terrapin against a tree.”7
The Lincoln household was a home...
“Mr. Gridley’s introduction of the somewhat backward boy – the writer – to Mr. Lincoln was characteristic; and in those days it was a noted circumstance in any boy’s life to be made a near acquaintance and be as favorably introduced to prominent lawyers, who were persons of much distinction to country boys. Our family had known Mr. Lincoln only a few years before, tolerably well, …but nothing like so intimately as we did Judge Stephen A. Douglas. Hence, to meet Mr. Lincoln in such favorable circumstances as Mr. Gridley had arranged for was a notable, almost exciting, event.”
“When the time arrived, Mr. Lincoln walked into the office – a tall, mild-manner, friendly-looking man, with the most comfortable and easy manner about him in his address and presence you could well imagine. Mr. Gridley met him, shook hands with him, cordially, and after some personal remarks, said, in his rapid, clear voice, his words rattling like hailstones on a tin roof: “Mr. Lincoln, I am very glad to have you here with us again. I have made some changes. This will be your desk, and the tables you can arrange as you like. This young man, Robert, will render you any assistance he can. He is here attending school. His people live in the country. He has been thinking about things for himself, and stirring them up very lively in some quarters, and, as I have advised him, he has been more cautious recently; but in spite of it he insists that he is an out-and-out Abolitionist, without evasion or any sort of qualification. I have told him that he was very foolish, and that, if he was a little older, it would bring him a lot of trouble. Anyway, with all my care and prudence, he is a long way ahead of public sentiment.”
Mr. Lincoln took my hand with a warmth and expression that lightened up the soul of any one whom he respected or held to be a friend, saying: ‘Yes, Mr. Gridley, I will get along first rate. This will all suit me very well;” and, turning to me: ‘The young man will do as well as the rest of us; but he must not be kept out of school an hour on my account. It seems to me, Robert, that I ought to know you; but, then, you never know about boys of your age, who change every year, and grow out of your knowledge.’ “I replied: Mr. Lincoln, I know who you are very well. My father knew you when we lived in Springfield, when he helped to finish the south front and the top work of the Capitol building.” ‘Yes, yes, I knew Mr. Browne, the Scotchman. I remember him quite well. Of course, you are an Abolitionist.’ When this was done, the friendly relation of a lifetime had begun.”31