Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: Lost His Certificate of Character

Mr. Lincoln prepared his first inaugural address in a room over a store in Springfield. His only reference works were Henry Clay’s great compromise speech of 1850, Andrew Jackson’s Proclamation against Nullification, Webster’s great reply to Hayne, and a copy of the Constitution.

When Mr. Lincoln started for Washington, to be inaugurated, the inaugural address was placed in a special satchel and guarded with special care. At Harrisburg the satchel was given in charge of Robert T. Lincoln, who accompanied his father. Before the train started from Harrisburg the precious satchel was missing. Robert thought he had given it to a waiter at the hotel, but a long search failed to reveal the missing satchel with its precious document. Lincoln was annoyed, angry, and finally in despair. He felt certain that the address was lost beyond recovery, and, as it only lacked ten days until the inauguration, he had no time to prepare another. He had not even preserved the notes from which the original copy had been written.

Mr. Lincoln went to Ward Lamon, his former law partner, then one of his bodyguards, and informed him of the loss in the following words:

“Lamon, I guess I have lost my certificate of moral character, written by myself. Bob has lost my gripsack containing my inaugural address.” Of course, the misfortune reminded him of a story.

“I feel,” said Mr. Lincoln, “a good deal as the old member of the Methodist Church did when he lost his wife at the camp meeting, and went up to an old elder of the church and asked him if he could tell him whereabouts in h—l his wife was. In fact, I am in a worse fix than my Methodist friend, for if it were only a wife that were missing, mine would be sure to bob up somewhere.”

The clerk at the hotel told Mr. Lincoln that he would probably find his missing satchel in the baggage-room. Arriving there, Mr. Lincoln saw a satchel which he thought was his, and it was passed out to him. His key fitted the lock, but alas! when it was opened the satchel contained only a soiled shirt, some paper collars, a pack of cards and a bottle of whisky. A few minutes later the satchel containing the inaugural address was found among the pile of baggage.

The recovery of the address also reminded Mr. Lincoln of a story, which is thus narrated by Ward Lamon in his “Recollections of Abraham Lincoln”:

The loss of the address and the search for it was the subject of a great deal of amusement. Mr. Lincoln said many funny things in connection with the incident. One of them was that he knew a fellow once who had saved up fifteen hundred dollars, and had placed it in a private banking establishment. The bank soon failed, and he afterward received ten per cent of his investment. He then took his one hundred and fifty dollars and deposited it in a savings bank, where he was sure it would be safe. In a short time this bank also failed, and he received at the final settlement ten per cent on the amount deposited. When the fifteen dollars was paid over to him, he held it in his hand and looked at it thoughtfully; then he said, “Now, darn you, I have got you reduced to a portable shape, so I’ll put you in my pocket.” Suiting the action to the word, Mr. Lincoln took his address from the bag and carefully placed it in the inside pocket of his vest, but held on to the satchel with as much interest as if it still contained his “certificate of moral character.”