Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: Safe as Long as They Were Good

At the celebrated Peace Conference, whereat there was much “pow-wow” and no result, President Lincoln, in response to certain remarks by the Confederate commissioners, commented with some severity upon the conduct of the Confederate leaders, saying they had plainly forfeited all right to immunity from punishment for their treason.

Being positive and unequivocal in stating his views concerning individual treason, his words were of ominous import. There was a pause, during which Commissioner Hunter regarded the speaker with a steady, searching look. At length, carefully measuring his words, Mr. Hunter said:

“Then, Mr. President, if we understand you correctly, you think that we of the Confederacy have committed treason; are traitors to your Government; have forfeited our rights, and are proper subjects for the hangman. Is not that about what your words imply?”

“Yes,” replied President Lincoln, “you have stated the proposition better than I did. That is about the size of it!”

Another pause, and a painful one succeeded, and then Hunter, with a pleasant smile remarked:

“Well, Mr. Lincoln, we have about concluded that we shall not be hanged as long as you are President—if we behave ourselves.”

And Hunter meant what he said.