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Abraham Lincoln Joke Book—Printed Before Election of 1864
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A collection of humorous anecdotes and stories mixed with Lincoln’s biography.

[ABRAHAM LINCOLN]. Old Abe’s Jokes: Fresh from Abraham’s Bosom. Containing All His Issues, Excepting the “Greenbacks,” To Call in Some of Which, This Volume is Issued. Book. New York: T. R. Dawley, Publishers, 1864. 140 pp., 5 x 7½ in.

Inventory #23925       Price: $450

Notice:—Many of these Jokes, Jests and Squibs, contained in this work, never before appeared in print, being fresh from the National Joker’s lips, and are entered according to Act of Congress; hence, parties publishing them without crediting to this work, will be liable to prosecution.” (20)

There are a few ‘Lincolnisms,’ however, that we may fairly quote, and which will show the style of his conversation. Some of the party began smoking, and our host remarked, laughingly, ‘The President has got no vices: he neither smokes nor drinks.’ ‘That is a doubtful compliment,’ answered the President ‘I recollect once being outside a stage in Illinois, and a man sitting by offered me a cigar. I told him I had no vices. He said nothing, smoked for some time, and then grunted out, ‘its my experience that folks who have no vices have plaguy few virtues.’” (31)

Old Abe as a Mathematician.

            “Mr. Lincoln has a very effective way sometimes of dealing with men who trouble him with questions. Somebody asked him how many men the rebels had in the field. He replied very seriously, ‘Twelve hundred thousand, according to the best authority.’ The interrogator blanched in the face, and ejaculated ‘My God!’ ‘Yes, sir, twelve hundred thousand—no doubt of it. You see, all of our Generals, when they get whipped, say the enemy outnumbers them three or five to one, and I must believe them. We have four hundred thousand men in the field, and three times four make twelve. Don’t you see it?’ The inquisitive man looked for his hat soon after ‘seeing it.’” (42)

One of Abe’s Last.—‘I can’t say for certain who will be the people’s choice for President, but to the best of my belief it will be the successful candidate.’” (45)

Old Abe on the ‘Compromise.’

            “When the conversation turned upon the discussions as to the Missouri Compromise, it elicited the following quaint remark from the President: ‘It used to amuse me some (sic) to find that the slave holders wanted more territory; because they had not room enough for their slaves, and yet they complained of not having the slave trade, because they wanted more slaves for their room.’” (63)

Abe’s Long Legs.

            “When the President landed at Aquia Creek, going to see Burnside, there were boards in the way on the wharf, which the men hastened to remove, but the President remarked, in his usual style, ‘Never mind, boys; my legs are pretty long, have brought me thus far through life and I think they will take me over this difficulty.’” (87)

Lincoln’s Ideas about Slavery.

            “The story will be remembered, perhaps, of Mr. Lincoln’s reply to a Springfield (Ill.) clergyman, who asked him what was to be his policy on the slavery question…. ‘I will answer it by telling you a story.… a young Methodist was worrying about Fox river, and expressing fears that he should be prevented from fulfilling some of his appointments by a freshet in the river. Father B. checked him in the gravest manner. Said he: ‘Young man, I have always made it a rule in my life not to cross Fox river till I get to it!’ ‘And,’ said the President, ‘I am not going to worry myself about the slavery question till I get to it.’ A few days afterwards, a Methodist minister called … and, said simply: ‘Mr. President, I have come to tell you that I think we have got to Fox river!’ Mr. Lincoln thanked the clergyman and laughed heartily.” (90-91)

Old Abe’s Liquor for his Generals.

            “A ‘committee’ just previous to the fall of Vicksburg, solicitous for the morale of our armies, took it upon themselves to visit the President and urge the removal of Gen. Grant. ‘What for?’ said Mr. Lincoln. ‘Why,’ replied the busybodies, ‘he drinks too much whisky.’ ‘Ah!’ rejoined Mr. Lincoln, ‘can you inform me, gentlemen, where General Grant procures his whisky?’ The ‘committee’ confessed they could not. ‘Because,’ added Old Abe, with a merry twinkle in his eyes, ‘If I can find out, I’ll send every General in the field a barrel of it!’ The delegation retired in reasonably good order.” (96-97)

Old Abe’s Generosity.

            “While President Lincoln was confined to his house with the varioloid, some friends called to sympathise with him especially on the character of his disease. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘it is a bad disease, but it has its advantages. For the first time since I have been in office, I have something now to give to every person that calls.’” (100)

Historical Background
Humor was an integral part of Abraham Lincoln’s personality. It helped him create and strengthen relationships, deflect criticism, and cope with stress. Although he sometimes told jokes, he more often told anecdotes or stories that had a humorous twist but often also a serious moral. They often pointed out human weaknesses and foibles, and laughing at these stories and making others laugh gave Lincoln enjoyment.

Humor even intervened in the most serious of decisions. Before he read his draft of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet, Lincoln read them a chapter from contemporary humorist Artemus Ward. When he finished, Lincoln laughed heartily, but not a member of the Cabinet joined him. So, he read another chapter, much to the annoyance of several of his Cabinet; “if I did not laugh I should die,” he told them, “and you need this medicine as much as I do.”

Thomas R. Dawley, a New York printer, published this compilation of stories by and about Lincoln in 1864, before the presidential election in November. Lincoln would undoubtedly have appreciated the stories he did not originate that it contained, and many soldiers undoubtedly enjoyed reading it or hearing it read around campfires in the Union armies.

Thomas R. Dawley(1832-1904) was born in Connecticut and became a printer and publisher in New York City. In addition to Old Abe’s Jokes, Dawley published Incidents of American Camp Life, Being Events Which Have Actually Taken Place During the Present Rebellion in at least two editions, as part of his “Dawley’s Camp and Fireside Library” series, which contained at least eight titles that sold for 15 cents each. Immediately after the war, he became a pioneer of the dime novel genre with several series of novels on the Civil War, the frontier, and a Biographical Library with individual biographies of Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and McClellan.

Condition: Lacks front cover. Pen mark and some loss on title page. Loss to spine and nearly half of back cover.

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