Abraham Lincoln’s Favorite Story

I can’t resist another quick Team of Rivals post. In her book on Lincoln and his cabinet, Doris Kearns Goodwin talks of Lincoln’s love for telling stories. He always enjoyed a good laugh, and often used laughter as a stress reliever during the more tense moments of the Civil War. One of his favorite stories runs as follows:


A few years after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, war hero Ethan Allen had the occasion to visit England. While across the pond he was ridiculed quite a bit for his new country. At one point, a group of Englishmen placed a portrait of George Washington on the inside door of the public outhouse to get a rise out of Allen. He didn’t say a word, though he had clearly seen the portrait. Finally, disappointed that the portrait did not have the desired effect, one of the Englishmen asked Allen outright what he thought of it.


Allen replied that he thought it an excellent place for a portrait of Washington. The Englishman rose to the bait: why? Allen said, “Because nothing makes an Englishman sh—- so quick as the sight of General Washington.”

A statue of Ethan Allen, by Larkin Mead

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Phil A. Stein says:

    Hi Rebecca. I’ve heard that Abraham Lincoln and his wife had a bit of a strained relationship. In fact one story that has passed down through the annals of time is that one night Mr & Mrs Lincoln were having one of their customary bust ups when she insisted that he pack up and leave. As he was walking out the door she shouted “I hope you die a slow and painful death!”. He then dropped his bags, turned around and came back in and said “Make up your mind woman, do you want me to leave or not?” Can you please tell me if this story is apocryphal? I have been trying to research it and can’t find any refernce to it anywhere.

    1. Phil, I’ve looked around for this reference and have not yet been able to find anything. Certainly Mary Todd became increasingly unhinged throughout her life, but there are a number of reasons scholars think that occurred (concussions, etc.).

  2. Jennifer says:

    Love! How funny! Thanks for the laugh!

  3. Eric Bolton says:

    Well, being an Englishman myself, I found your post very interesting!  Keep up the excellent work, Rebecca and God bless.


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