Honest Abe

Dec 19, 2008, 1:39 PM |

  The event related in this article from the 1898 edition of the American Chess Magazine would have taken place around 1851, the year of the first international chess tournament in London and a decade before Lincoln would be inaugurated  president of the United States.

         Honest Abe              Judge Samuel Treat 

 Abraham Lincoln with Robert Todd

Lincoln as a Chess-Player.
Mr. Lincoln was very partial to and quite skillful in the game of chess, and a few years before he was made President, Judge Samuel H. Treat, a grave and learned gentleman, then Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, was his frequent antagonist, and probably a little his superior as a player, writes G. M. McConnel in the Chicago Times-Herald. In the hot months of summer, Springfield was a sleepy place, and one sweltering summer noontide these two friends were having an engrossing game in the still, deserted Supreme Court room, with the board on their knees between them. In the critical stage of the closely contested game, while Treat was deeply pondering a move, Lincoln's son "Tod," [sic] then probably 8 or so years old, came suddenly into the room and, laying his hand on his father's shoulder, said, insistently :

"Pa ! Ma says for you to come down home right away. She wants you."

"All right, Tod," said his father, abstractedly, "you run home and tell her I'll be there in a minute."

The boy had probably some experience of what "in a minute" meant when chess was in question, and he muttered something with an ominous shake of the head, but walked quietly to the door and waited there several minutes. Treat did not stir, but studied the board with the closest attention, and Lincoln sat motionless. Presently the boy came back, gave his father a little shake, and repeated :

"I say, ma wants you to come down home right away ! She wants you now !"

" Sh-sh ! Tod ! Yes—yes—in a minute—in a minute," said his father, with a deprecatory wave of his hand, but without taking his eyes from the board.

The boy stood for a minute or two in petulant impatience, and then, suddenly lifting his foot, with a vigorous kick he sent the board and the chessmen flying about the room. Treat sprang to his feet, his usually quiet visage flaming with wrath, but clinched his teeth and said nothing. Mr. Lincoln dropped back in his chair with a curious laugh of amused dismay, looked up with unruffled good humor and said :

" Well, Judge, I guess that's Tod's game ! You set 'em up again and we'll have it out some other day. Come along, Tod. Let's go see what ma wants," and without other words he took the boy by the hand and strode calmly away toward home.

The incident did not promise much in respect of disciplinary force in the matter of " bringing up" a boy "in the way he should go," but it did throw a strong light on that wonderful quality of serene and endless patience that carried him undismayed through the most appalling perplexities and responsibilities that have confronted any statesman of modern times.