Saturday, June 13, 2009

Are You an Episcopalian?

Reading Ronald C. White, Jr.'s outstanding new biography A. Lincoln, I came across a delightful story reflective of Lincoln's amiable nature and wry sense of humor.

After the death of Lincoln's beloved son Willie in February of 1862, and as the war wore on and he worried over his military leadership, he became increasingly close to Secretary of State William H. Seward. Lincoln spent many evenings at Seward's home on Lafayette Square, conversing with his friend and warming himself by the library fire. White writes:

To the other members of Lincoln's cabinet, and many in Washington, Lincoln and Seward were an odd couple.  As the two men lounged in Sewards' library, the secretary of state would take pleasure in his Havana cigars, while Lincoln did not smoke; Seward enjoyed vintage wines and brandy, while Lincoln did not drink; Seward was known for his colorful language, whereas Lincoln almost never swore. One day, Lincoln and Seward were on their way to review troops near Arlington. Traveling in an ambulance drawn by four mules over rutted roads, the driver, losing control of his team. began to swear. As the roads became even rougher, the swearing increased. At last Lincoln spoke up. "Driver my friend, are you an Episcopalian?"

"No, Mr. President, I ain't much of anything; but if I go to church at all, I go to the Methodist Church."

"Oh, excuse me," Lincoln replied. "I thought you must be an Episcopalian for you swear just like Secretary Seward, and he's a churchwarden."

("House-clearing in Washington" Frank Leslie's Budget of Fun; June 1, 1864)

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