Posted by: Democratic Thinker | September 5, 2009

Weekly Story: Root Hog, or Die

Weekly Story

Abraham Lincoln reflects on the survival of Southerners after the Civil War—not too different from how Lincoln’s family and neighbors survived on the frontier. Excerpt from The Life and Public Services of Abraham Lincoln, Charles Maltby (1881).


Lincoln, On Self Reliance.

MR. Carpenter, in his reminiscences, gives a version of a characteristic story told by the President on this occasion. They were discussing the slavery question, when Mr. Hunter remarked that the slaves, always accustomed to work upon compulsion, under an overseer, would, if suddenly freed, precipitate not only themselves, but the entire society of the South in irremediable ruin. No work would be done, but the blacks and whites would starve together.

The President waited for Mr. Seward to answer the argument; but as that gentleman hesitated, he said: “Mr. Hunter, you ought to know a great deal better about this matter than I, for you have always lived under the slave system. I can only say in reply to your statement of the case, that it reminds me of a man out in Illinois by the name of Case, who undertook, a few years ago, to raise a very large herd of hogs. It was a great trouble to feed them, and how to get around this was a puzzle to him. At length he hit upon the plan of planting an immense field of potatoes, and when they were sufficiently grown, he turned the whole herd into the field and let them have full swing, thus saving not only the labor of feeding the herd, but also of digging the potatoes. Charmed with his sagacity, he stood one day leaning against the fence, counting his hogs, when a neighbor came along. ‘ Well, well,’ said he; ‘ Mr. Case, this is all very fine. Your hogs are doing very well just now, but you know out here in Illinois the frost comes early, and the ground freezes a foot deep, then what are they going to do?’ This was a view of the matter which Mr. Case had not taken into account. Butchering time for hogs was away in December or January. He scratched his head and at length stammered, ‘Well, it may come pretty hard on their snouts, but I don’t see but it must be root hog, or die.'”

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