“I know, I know, Mr. Secretary. You keep reminding me, but my upbringing was different than yours,” the tall man with deeply sunken eyes related, his voice slow and patient. “You grew up in Ohio in a fine house next to other fine houses. Now, myself, well, I grew up on a farm, and not much of one at that, Mr. Secretary.”
His Secretary of War stewed at what he thought was just more claptrap from this man from Illinois. But he knew that the man sitting across from him was not swayed by ire or threats. So, he proceeded carefully and with as much decorum as he could muster, he continued, “Mr. President, I implore you to reconsider my recommendations. I am quite sure that after careful thought, you’ll realize they can shorten this terrible war and bring an honorable peace to this divided nation. After all, those are our ultimate goals, are they not. Sir?”
The President stood, puffed on his pipe for a moment, then turned to Secretary Stanton, and began speaking, “You know, Edwin, mice like dark, damp areas. So in the barn, you need to keep the aisles, stalls, and storage areas well-drained and well-lit.” Letting those words sink in, he continued to puff on his pipe and eyed his Secretary of War.
Stanton was close to the end of his tether. He’d heard this President go on and on about the wisdom of the farm and the old ways. ‘Why couldn’t the fool just deal with the problems at hand straight-on?’ he fumed to himself. But from experience, he knew this man from Illinois wasn’t finished spinning the wool from his agrarian past into policy just yet. So he just nodded and waited.
“And don’t stack fence rails near the barn, either. You may recall that I used to split fence rails as a young man, Edwin. And I learned as a young ‘un not to stack them too close to the barn. Provides too much shelter to rodents,” the President continued, slowly puffing on his pipe and looking out the window.
Stanton waited for the inevitable conclusion of this homespun missive; his hands clasped in his lap. President Lincoln turned and added, “And you have to keep the lids on those garbage cans at all times, Edwin, and empty them frequently.” With that, he sat down and asked, “So, have I made myself clear, Mr. Secretary? Do you understand my position on your recommendations?’
Stanton breathed in deeply, nodded once and replied, “Of course, Sir. We’ll continue the Anaconda Policy without let-up. Our blockades at sea, our attacks from the rivers, and our forays in the border states shall continue unabated. There will be no reconciliation with Southern Politicians and no quarter given anywhere, Sir. Have I understood your comments correctly, Mr. President?”
“You have, Edwin, you have. You would have made a fine farmer, Mr. Secretary. And keeping the mice out of the barn is a mark of a fine farmer.”