Lincoln Defending Duff Armstrong

Lincoln Defending Armstrong

The Women: Hannah Armstrong (1811-1890)

Hannah Armstrong said she met Mr. Lincoln shortly after the first of one of her children was born. "Abe would Come out to our house - drink milk & mush - Corn bred - butter - bring the Children candy," she told William Herndon. Sometimes, he stayed and rocked the cradle of William "Duff" Armstrong.1 He was a regular visitor at the house - amusing babies, telling stories, attending parties.

After Mr. Lincoln completed his first surveying job in 1834, Hannah turned the two buckskins that he received as payment into pantaloons for use in his work. Hannah was the wife of Jack Armstrong (1804-1854), one of the Clary Boys who challenged Mr. Lincoln (to a wrestling match) and then looked up to Lincoln when he first came to New Salem. Jack Armstrong also served as a sergeant under Captain Lincoln in the Black Hawk War.

Mr. Lincoln successfully defended her son, Duff against charges of murder in 1858 - just a year after her husband had died. It was the same son Mr Lincoln had helped rock to sleep after he was born in 1833. Mr. Lincoln wrote "Aunt Hannah" in September 1857: "I have just heard of your deep afliction, and the arrest of your son for murder. I can hardly believe he can be capable of the crime alleged against him. It does not seem possible. I am anxious that he should be given a fair trial at any rate; and gratitude for your long-continued kindness to me in adverse circumstances prompts me to offer my humble services gratuitously in his behalf. It will afford me an opportunity to requite, in a small degree, the favors I received at your hand, and that of your lamented husband, when your roof afforded me a grateful shelter, without money and without price."2

One witness to the trial later recalled Mr. Lincoln's summation to the jury: "He told of his kind feelings toward the Mother of the Prisoner, a widow, That she had been kind to him when he was young, lone & without friends. The last 15 minutes of his Speech, was as eloquent as I Ever heard, and Such the power, & earnestness with which he Spoke, that jury & all, Sat as if Entranced, & when he was through found relief in a gush of tears. I have never Seen, Such mastery Exhibited over the feelings and Emotions of men, as on that occasion."3

Mrs. Armstrong recalled that Mr. Lincoln had said to her "Hannah Your son will be cleared before sun down." She said, "I went down at Thompsons pasture" where she heard "that my Son was cleared - and a free man. I went up to the Court house - the Jury shook hands with me - so did the Court - so did Lincoln. We were all affected and tears streamed down Lincoln's Eyes." Then Mr. Lincoln said, "Hannah - What did I tell you." He added: "I pray to God that W[illia]m may be a good boy hereafter - that this lesson may prove in the End a good lesson to him and to all." That night, Mr. Lincoln delivered the first of his lecture on "Discoveries and Inventions."4

When she asked him for a bill, Mr. Lincoln said: "Why - Hannah I shant charge you a cent - never. Any thing I can do for you I will do for you willingly & freely." He later offered to defend her in Supreme Court from men who were trying to take away her land.5

Shortly before President-elect Lincoln left for Washington, Hannah came to Springfield to say good-bye. She recalled "the boys got up a story on me that I went to get to sleep with Abe." She replied "that it was not every woman who had the good fortune & high honor of sleeping with a President. This stopt the sport - cut it short." After they talked and she was about to say goodbye, she told Mr. Lincoln that she would never see him again and that he would be killed. Smiling, Mr. Lincoln said: "Hannah - if they Kill me I shall never die [another] death."6

In 1863, three decades later after they first met, Mr. Lincoln heeded Hannah's request that Duff be discharged from the Army because of illness. Hannah appealed for his discharge from an Army hospital, which the President granted. He sent her a telegram: "I have just ordered the discharge of your boy, William - as you say now at Louisville Ky."7

New Salem James Short said, "She is a good woman - loved Abe and Abe liked her - no doubt of this."8

 

Footnotes

  1. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndonís Informants, p. 525 (William H. Herndon interview with Hannah Armstrong, ca. 1866).
  2. Tracy, p. Need info.
  3. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndonís Informants, p. 22-23 (William H. Herndon interview with William G. Greene, May 30, 1865).
  4. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndonís Informants, p. 526 (William H. Herndon interview with Hannah Armstrong, ca. 1866).
  5. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndonís Informants, p. 526 (William H. Herndon interview with Hannah Armstrong, ca. 1866).
  6. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndonís Informants, p. 527 (William H. Herndon interview with Hannah Armstrong, ca. 1866).
  7. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 462 (Letter to Hannah Armstrong, September 18, 1863).
  8. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndonís Informants, p. 243 (James Short interview with William H. Herndon, April 3, 1866).