Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: Too Many Pigs for the Teats

An applicant for a sutlership in the army relates this story: “In the winter of 1864, after serving three years in the Union Army, and being honorably discharged, I made application for the post sutlership at Point Lookout. My father being interested, we made application to Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War. We obtained an audience, and were ushered into the presence of the most pompous man I ever met. As I entered he waved his hand for me to stop at a given distance from him, and then put these questions, viz.:

“‘Did you serve three years in the army?’

“‘I did, sir.’

“‘Were you honorably discharged?’

“‘I was, sir.’

“‘Let me see your discharge.’

“I gave it to him. He looked it over, then said:

‘Were you ever wounded?’ I told him yes, at the battle of Williamsburg, May 5, 1861.

“He then said: ‘I think we can give this position to a soldier who has lost an arm or leg, he being more deserving; and he then said I looked hearty and healthy enough to serve three years more. He would not give me a chance to argue my case.

“The audience was at an end. He waved his hand to me. I was then dismissed from the august presence of the Honorable Secretary of War.

“My father was waiting for me in the hallway, who saw by my countenance that I was not successful. I said to my father:

“‘Let us go over to Mr. Lincoln; he may give us more satisfaction.’

“He said it would do me no good, but we went over. Mr. Lincoln’s reception room was full of ladies and gentlemen when we entered.

“My turn soon came. Lincoln turned to my father and said:

“‘Now, gentlemen, be pleased to be as quick as possible with your business, as it is growing late.’

“My father then stepped up to Lincoln and introduced me to him. Lincoln then said:

“‘Take a seat, gentlemen, and state your business as quickly as possible.’

“There was but one chair by Lincoln, so he motioned my father to sit, while I stood. My father stated the business to him as stated above. He then said:

“‘Have you seen Mr. Stanton?’

“We told him yes, that he had refused. He (Mr. Lincoln) then said:

“‘Gentlemen, this is Mr. Stanton’s business; I cannot interfere with him; he attends to all these matters and I am sorry I cannot help you.’

“He saw that we were disappointed, and did his best to revive our spirits. He succeeded well with my father, who was a Lincoln man, and who was a staunch Republican.

“Mr. Lincoln then said:

“‘Now, gentlemen, I will tell you, what it is; I have thousands of applications like this every day, but we cannot satisfy all for this reason, that these positions are like office seekers—there are too many pigs for the teats.’

“The ladies who were listening to the conversation placed their handkerchiefs to their faces and turned away. But the joke of ‘Old Abe’ put us all in a good humor. We then left the presence of the greatest and most just man who ever lived to fill the Presidential chair.’”