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Laugh with Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln was one funny President!

Did you know America had a President who was famous for playing pranks, making jokes, and telling riddles?

Abraham Lincoln--the sixteenth President--had no need for comedy writers. He used his natural quick wit to make people laugh, and he used humor to make them stop and think.

The Young Prankster

Even as a boy, Abe must have thought about pranks and jokes. When he was about sixteen, he wrote in a school copybook:
 Abraham Lincoln
 his hand and pen
 he will be good but
 god knows When

When Abe was a few years older, he played a practical joke at home. By that time Abe was almost six feet four inches tall, and his stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, teased him gently about his height. She is said to have told him he'd better keep his head clean or she'd have to scrub her whitewashed ceiling.

Stories say that one day when his stepmother was away, Abe spotted two barefoot boys playing near a mud puddle and remembered what she had said. He decided to play a joke.

Abe asked the children to walk through the puddle, squishing the mud between their toes. Then Abe told them his plan and gathered the two on his doorstep. One by one, he picked up the boys and carried them into the house. Abe turned them upside down, telling each child to press his muddy feet onto the whitewashed ceiling. They "walked" across the ceiling, leaving a trail of gooey brown footprints.

According to all accounts, when his stepmother returned, she laughed. Because Abe didn't intend his prank to be destructive, he covered the ceiling with new whitewash that same day.

Abe's Quick Wit

All his life, Abe Lincoln also cracked jokes about himself--especially about his awkward, gangly looks. Once when he was asked why he walked so crookedly, he reportedly replied, "Oh, my nose, you see, is crooked, and I have to follow it!"

Lincoln may have made fun of himself, but he didn't like using his quick wit to hurt someone else's feelings. Once, after an author read aloud to Lincoln from his new book, the author asked how he liked it. Abe Lincoln didn't like the book, but didn't want to say so. He is said to have told the author, "For people who like that sort of thing, that is about the sort of a thing they would like."

Another time, while visiting someone's house, President Lincoln took off his high stovepipe hat in the reception room and left it on a chair. Later, when he returned to claim his hat, he discovered that a lady had sat on it. When she stood up to bow to Lincoln, she realized she had ruined the President's hat. Lincoln could have been angry, but he bowed to her, picked up his squashed hat, and is supposed to have said, "Madam, I could have told you that my hat wouldn't fit you before you tried it on!"

Lincoln often had quick responses to everyday situations, but it seems so did his son Tad. One story tells of the time they were eating together, and Lincoln corrected Tad's table manners by saying, "Don't eat your fish with your knife, my boy. It's not polite."

Tad is supposed to have replied, "But, Father, is it polite to stare at folks when they're eating?"

A Love of Riddles

Because he enjoyed playing with words and meanings, Lincoln loved to tell riddles, showing how a situation might not be as simple as it appears.

During political arguments, Lincoln sometimes asked one of his favorite riddles: "How many legs will a sheep have if you call the tail a leg?"

Everyone guessed that the answer was five.

Lincoln always replied that the answer was four, not five, because calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg. This answer must have made people smile, then think about what Lincoln was telling them--you can't solve a problem by simply changing a word or name.

Lincoln's Healing Humor

As President, Lincoln had to deal with two of the worst problems the United States ever faced--the Civil War and slavery. But even as he struggled through years of tough decisions, the gaunt, sleepless Lincoln never lost his quick wit.

At a White House occasion, Governor Saunders of Nebraska is said to have told President Lincoln about a little settlement in his state near a stream called Weeping Water. Lincoln is reported to have said he thought that if the Indian name for Laughing Water was Minne-haha, then the name for Weeping Water should be Minne-boohoo.

Americans remember Abraham Lincoln for his wise, solemn leadership during the Civil War and for signing the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves.

Now, over one hundred years later, we also remember him for his humor. Lincoln's jokes and stories have been passed down through the years and retold in many different ways.
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Author:Jacob, Gale Sypher
Publication:Highlights for Children
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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