Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: Getting Rid of an Elephant

Charles A. Dana, who was Assistant Secretary of War under Mr. Stanton, relates the following: A certain Thompson had been giving the government considerable trouble. Dana received information that Thompson was about to escape to Liverpool.

Calling upon Stanton, Dana was referred to Mr. Lincoln.

“The President was at the White House, business hours were over, Lincoln was washing his hands. ‘Hallo, Dana,’ said he, as I opened the door, ‘what is it now?’ ‘Well, sir,’ I said, ‘here is the Provost Marshal of Portland, who reports that Jacob Thompson is to be in town to-night, and inquires what orders we have to give.’ ‘What does Stanton say?’ he asked. ‘Arrest him,’ I replied. ‘Well,’ he continued, drawling his words, ‘I rather guess not. When you have an elephant on your hands, and he wants to run away, better let him run.’”