Which End of the Dog? Lincoln’s Story for the Democratic Party

The Republican Party’s effectiveness with American voters reminds me of one of Abraham Lincoln’s courtroom stories.

Judge H. W. Beckwith, of Danville, IL, in his “Personal Recollections of Lincoln,” tells a story which is a good example of Lincoln’s way of condensing complicated law and the facts of an issue in a simple story.[1]

A reconstruction of an old Illinois Circuit Courtroom. Image courtesy of the Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.

A man verbally attacked and then bodily attacked another man. The latter, in defending himself, thrashed his attacker.

The aggressor, to get even, had the defendant charged with assault and battery. When the case came before the Circuit Court, Abraham Lincoln defended the winner of the fight.

When it was his turn to present, Lincoln told the jury a story.

He said his client was in the same fix of a man who, in going along the highway with a pitchfork on his shoulder, was attacked by a fierce dog that ran out at him from a farmer’s dooryard.


In fending off the brute with the pitchfork, the prongs penetrated the dog and killed him.[1]

Lincoln then related the imaginary conversation between the two men:

“‘What made you kill my dog?’ asked the farmer.


‘What made him try to bite me?’


‘But why did you not go at him with the other end of the pitchfork?’


‘Why did he not come after me with his other end?’[1]

At this point, Lincoln whirled an imaginary dog around in his long arms.

Lincoln was using the defensive plea of ‘son assault demesne’—his own first assault— [or loosely that ‘the other fellow brought on the fight‘]. It’s a plea to prove an assault and battery, by which the defendant asserts that the plaintiff committed an assault upon him, and the defendant merely defended himself.

With this story, quickly told in a way that even the dullest mind would grasp, Lincoln made a complicated legal point.

The Democratic Party needs to appeal to the American voters in a similar way about complicated issues too – and quickly, because the Republican Party has a head start.

And time is running out.

Food for thought.


[Want to read another Lincoln story? Click here for more Stories Abe Told]

Works Cited

“End for End,” McClure, Alexander K. (1901). Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes that made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller With Introduction and Anecdotes. Chicago, IL & Philadelphia, PA: The John C. Winston Company.

Please follow and like us:

Please Leave a Reply