Honest—Abe Lincoln Didn’t Smoke Hemp

by Fred Gardner, July 6, 2016

HonestAbeBWAbraham Lincoln said, according to many sources, including the Cannabis Card produced by Pebbles Trippet and drawn by Fred Sternkopf,  "Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp and playing my Hohner harmonica."  But no one ever provides  a reference to when and where Honest Abe said or wrote the legendary line.

O'Shaughnessy's asked Sidney Blumenthal, who has just published volume one of a projected four-volume biography of  Lincoln, if he came across the hemp/harmonica line in his research.  "Apocryphal," Blumenthal replied. He elaborated:

Lincoln was unusually abstemious and devoid of personal vices such as drinking and smoking. Stephen A. Douglas in 1854 baited Lincoln at a meeting by offering him some whiskey, knowing Lincoln didn't touch the stuff. (Douglas died of complications wrought by alcoholism.) Lincoln's friend, Joe Gillespie, who served with him as a state representative, told William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, in the oral history Herndon conducted after Lincoln's death: “He was a remarkably temperate man; eschewing every indulgence not so much as it seemed to me, from principle as from a want of appetites. I never heard him declaim against the use of tobacco or other stimulants although he never indulged in them.” No contemporary has a different recollection. For Lincoln's views of temperance, see my book; he got himself in trouble attacking hellfire preachers.

In a follow-up email Blumenthal steered us to a letter in Lincoln's collected works, noting "Here's the closest you'll ever get to Lincoln & hemp:"

Hon: W. B. Preston Lexington, Ky.

Secretary of the Navy. Novr. 5. 1849

Dear Sir: Being here in Kentucky on private business, [2] I have learned that the name of Dr. John T. Parker [3] is before you as an applicant for the Hemp Agency of the State. I understand that his name has been presented in accordance with the wish of the hemp-growers, rather than his own. I personally know him to be a gentleman of high character, of excellent general information, and, withal, an experienced hemp grower himself. I disclaim all right of interference as to the offices out of my own state; still I suppose there is no impr[opr]iety in my stating the facts as above; and I will venture to add that I shall be much gratified, if Dr. Parker shall receive the appointment. Your Obt. Servt. A. LINCOLN

[2]   Lincoln's business was the lawsuit Todd v. Wickliffe.

[3]   An uncle of Mary Todd Lincoln.

Sorry, Pebbles. Sorry, Fred. Sorry, Mr. Hohner.

Blumenthal also sent this info:

You will find hemp in Moby Dick, and the reference is an allusion to Henry Clay. Clay's major business was hemp, used of course to make rope. (Clay inherited the hemp business from his wife's father.) Lincoln had a complicated relationship with Clay, his "beau ideal," who he did not support in 1840 and 1848 for the Whig presidential nomination, and was disillusioned when he met him personally, though his eulogy is praiseworthy but of interest for Lincoln's emphasis on Clay's antislavery sentiments.

Here's a conference held at Clay's Ashland estate at Lexington, Kentucky, just a few weeks ago: http://www.kyhempsters.com/blank

(Fred Gardner will be performing topical and off-topical  ballads at the Cannabis Country Fair at the Black Oak Ranch in  Laytonville on Friday, July 8, late afternoon. Thanks. "A boy's got to hustle," said T.C.)

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