Lincoln and the Money Men – A Lincoln Story

The following is an interesting story ABOUT Abraham Lincoln as a president.

It provides an insight into the influence and power of the wealthy on Lincoln’s political or military decisions.

David Davis Justice of Supreme Court
David Davis (1815-1886) Assoc. Justice of U.S. Supreme Court & U.S. Senator from IL

Judge David Davis, Lincoln’s former campaign manager and a Lincoln appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, related this incident to Anthony Gross that occurred in 1862.[1]

From the beginning of the Civil War, some of the people of New York City feared a possible attack and bombardment by the Confederate navy. Public meetings were held to consider the gravity of the situation.

Finally, a delegation of fifty men, all of whom were rich and, in total, were worth hundreds of millions of dollars, agreed to go to Washington and persuade the president to detail a gunboat to protect their properties.

Judge Davis agreed to present them to President Lincoln.

Mr. Lincoln listened attentively to their request, apparently much impressed, by the ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ these rich men said they represented, Davis recalled.

When they concluded, Lincoln, according to Davis, said:

‘Gentlemen, I am, by the Constitution, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Navy of the United States, and as a matter of law, I can order anything to be done that is practicable to be done. I am in the command of gunboats and the ships of war; but, as a matter of fact, I do not know where they are. I presume they are actively engaged, and it is therefore impossible for me to furnish you with a gunboat.’

Then Lincoln went on to explain:

‘The credit of the Government is at a very low ebb, greenbacks [paper money] are not worth more than forty or fifty cents on the dollar; and in this condition of things, if I were worth half as much as you gentlemen are represented to be, and as badly frightened as you seem to be, I would build a gunboat and give it to the Government.’

Davis said he never saw ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ sink to such insignificant proportions as when that delegation left Abraham Lincoln’s office.

The influence of money men indeed!

Food for thought.


[Like this one? Please click here for more Stories That Abe Told.]

Works Cited

[1] Gross, A., & Lincoln, A. (1912). Lincoln’s Own Stories: Collected and edited by A. Gross. With portrait. New York & London: Harper & Bros. pp. 198-199.

[2] (Editorial Cartoon at the top of the page): Walsh, William Shepard, ed. (1909). Abraham Lincoln and the London Punch; cartoons, comments and poems, published in the London charivari, during the American Civil War (1861-1865). New York: Moffat, Yard and Company. p. 61.

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