As the election of 1860 nears, eleven-year-old Grace and her family are working hard to help Abraham Lincoln win. After seeing his image on a poster, Grace decides to write to him and suggest that growing a beard might win him more votes. Much to her surprise, Lincoln answers her letter, and she becomes a neighborhood celebrity.
When the president-elect’s victory train passes through on its way to Washington, DC, Mr. Lincoln singles Grace out as the girl who gave him good advice. Based on true events, this story will charm young readers of historical fiction.
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Grace's Letter to Lincoln
By Peter Roop, Connie Roop, Stacey Schuett
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Peter and Connie Roop
All rights reserved.
"I wish I owned a slave!" Grace slammed down the hot, heavy iron.
"Grace Bedell. What a wicked thought! You should be ashamed!" Mama exclaimed.
"But, Mama. All I do is iron, iron, iron." A wisp of smoke rose from Grace's iron. She yanked it up. It was too late. She had scorched a brown triangle into the white sheet.
"My favorite sheet," moaned Alice.
"Grace Greenwood Bedell," Mama scolded. "I've got a good mind to ..."
Helen raced to Grace's rescue. "I've finished the washing," Helen said. "I'll iron for you, Grace."
Grace caught Mama's eye.
"No, thank you," Grace said. "I'll iron." Reluctantly she placed her cooled iron on the stove and gingerly picked a hot one. Steam rose as she stroked the sheet. I still wish someone else had to iron. I hate it! Grace thought.
The backdoor burst open. Grace shivered in the blast of chilly fall air that followed Frederick inside.
"Papa's coming," he said breathlessly.
Mama tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
"Children, stay in the kitchen while I find out what Papa wants."
"But, Mama," Grace said.
Mama's eyes cut off her protest.
Grace could hear her parents talking. Papa sounded like a waterfall rumbling in Chautauqua Creek Gorge. Grace put her ear against the door.
"Amanda," Papa grumbled.
"First you want a slave. Now you are a spy." Alice grabbed Grace.
"Don't you want to know what has upset Papa?" Grace whispered.
"He will tell us when he is ready," Alice snapped back.
Papa's rumble grew louder.
"It is not right," Papa said. "Jefferson works for me just like any other man. They cannot take him back to Tennessee to be a slave again."
"Any runaway slave must be returned to his master. It is the law."
"Well, Amanda, this is one law I am willing to break. I'm going to see Thomas Macomber."
Papa left. Upstairs, baby Una began howling. Mama hurried up to comfort her.
Grace scampered back to her ironing. She picked up the iron just as Mama returned. The strand of hair was flying loose again.
"There, there, Una," Mama cooed. "Everything is all right."
Una stopped whimpering and burped.
Grace said, "She's as happy as a clam at high water."
Mama said, "Frederick, I need firewood. Girls, when you've finished the washing and ironing, we'll begin making supper."
Grace shuffled her feet.
"What has Papa so upset?" she asked.
"He will tell you at supper," Mama said. "Now back to work."
Without another word, they returned to their tasks. The clock ticked, the hot irons sizzled, Una giggled, and outside an axe cracked.
Grace looked out the window as she ironed. Three houses away she could see the Macombers. Papa and Mr. Macomber stood by the Macombers' log pile, talking.
Papa and Mr. Macomber shook hands. Papa walked up Washington Street, back to his stove factory.
"We will never finish if you don't work faster," Alice said. "You ironed that sheet so long that it is flatter than a board."
Grace glanced at Mama. Mama was feeding Una. Grace stuck out her tongue at her bossy big sister.
Dusk had settled over Westfield before Papa came home. A flock of geese migrating south formed an arrow overhead.
Papa asked the entire family to join him in the parlor. Grace fidgeted as she waited for Papa to tell them about Jefferson.
"Sheriff Holt ordered Jefferson's arrest. He will be sent back to his master."
"So that is why Jefferson left the factory in such a hurry. He didn't even collect his pay packet," Stephen said. "Where is he?" Papa folded his hands together. "I will not tell," Papa said.
"But, Papa!" Stephen burst out. "You know harboring an escaped slave is against the law. It is wrong."
"Yes, I know," Papa said. "But I know my conscience, too. What I am doing is right." Papa twisted the tips of his mustache. When he did that, no one dared argue with him.
The Bedells sat in silence until Mama said, "Helen and Alice, please finish the dishes. Grace, put Una to bed. I must talk with Papa alone."
"Can I go see Jennie after Una is asleep? I'll be as fast as greased lightning."
"Just for a minute," Mama told her. "Just for a minute."
Grace tickled Una and tucked in her in bed. Soon Una's eyes closed.
"Why does Papa like Lincoln the best?" Frederick asked.
Grace corrected him, "Not Lincoln, Frederick. Mr. Lincoln."
"But why?" Frederick yawned.
"Papa thinks he is the best candidate running for president." Before Frederick could ask "Why?" again, Grace said, "Because Mr. Lincoln does not want slavery to spread to any other states."
"Papa says owning a slave is wrong."
"Papa is right, Frederick. Now go to sleep."
"But you wanted a slave, Grace," Frederick reminded her.
Grace felt as hollow as the soul of an echo. She blew out the oil lamp, hurried down the stairs, put on her coat, and ran to Jennie's house. One light was burning in the kitchen.
Grace knocked. No one answered. She knocked again. She waited. Finally the door opened a crack.
"Oh, Miss Grace. It's you."
Jefferson let her in.CHAPTER 2
Grace slipped into the Macombers' house. Jefferson closed the door and latched it. Grace followed him down the dark hallway and into the kitchen. A single lamp glowed on the table.
"Jefferson, what are you doing here?" Grace asked. "Where are Jennie and Mr. and Mrs. Macomber?"
"They've gone to tell the conductor I am ready."
"What conductor? The train does not arrive until ten o'clock."
Jefferson laughed. "Not that conductor, Miss Grace. The conductor on the underground railroad."
Grace nodded her head. Papa had told her about the underground railroad. It wasn't a real railroad with tracks and trains. It was the route escaped slaves used to reach freedom in the north. Conductors helped the slaves until they could go on to another station. Each station brought them closer to freedom.
Grace hesitated and asked, "Are you going to Canada?"
"Yes. Tomorrow, if they can arrange it."
"Is my father helping?"
"Yes. But don't ask me how."
Grace licked her lips. She wanted to ask Jefferson what it was like to be a slave, but that would be rude. Instead she asked, "Will you get another job making stoves like you did for Papa?"
"I hope I can. Your papa paid me well. Earning your own keep is heaven compared to being a slave."
Grace's curiosity won. She asked, "Did you have a family when you were a slave?"
Jefferson took a deep breath. "Everybody has a family, Grace. But I never knew my mama and papa. Master Thompson sold them down the river when I was a baby. My grandma raised me."
"Down what river?"
"Down the Mississippi."
"They escaped and got caught. The master didn't want to risk them escaping again so he sold them to separate masters somewhere down the river in Louisiana."
"But that's horrible!" Grace exclaimed.
"I know. Lord, how I know," Jefferson said, shaking his head.
Grace and Jefferson froze. The front door latch lifted. Footsteps echoed down the hall.
Grace gripped Jefferson's hand.
"Jefferson? It's us, the Macombers."
Mr. and Mrs. Macomber entered the kitchen. Jennie followed.
"Grace, what are you doing here?" Mrs. Macomber asked.
"I came to see Jennie. Jefferson let me in. I'll go now."
Grace turned to Jefferson. "Good luck," she said.
Jefferson smiled. "Luck has been with me in Westfield. I'll make it to Canada or die trying. They won't take me back alive to Tennessee!"
Jennie walked Grace to the door.
Grace looked at her friend. "You're so fortunate," she said.
"Why?" Jennie asked.
"Because you get to help Jefferson. I wish I could do something to help him."
"You can help by keeping his whereabouts a secret. Only my parents and your parents know."
"But after tomorrow he will be safe, won't he?"
"If we can get him to the next conductor tonight."
Grace was about to ask what Jennie meant by "if we can get him to the next conductor" when she heard the distant whistle of the evening train approaching Westfield.
"It is almost ten. I have to go."
Papa was gone when Grace returned home. She didn't even ask Mama where he was.
At breakfast, Grace asked, "Mama, if you could vote, would you vote for Abraham Lincoln or Stephen Douglas?" Mama smiled at her. "Mr. Lincoln, of course."
"Because Papa supports Mr. Lincoln."
"Why does Papa want Lincoln?"
Frederick corrected her. "Mr. Lincoln."
Grace made a face at him.
Mama ladled oatmeal into Frederick's bowl.
"Is it really any of your business who Papa votes for?" Alice asked.
"She is just curious, as always," Helen said. "She means no harm."
"Papa believes Mr. Lincoln is the best candidate because he does not want any more states to have slavery."
"But that's just what Senator Douglas wants, too," Alice interrupted.
"I agree with Papa," Mama continued. "Mr. Douglas is a good man, but he believes each new state should decide if it wants slavery or not."
"Which means there will be more slaves," Grace said. "That's wrong!"
"Just yesterday you wanted a slave, Grace," Alice said.
An image of Jefferson's face loomed up. Grace ignored Alice. She hugged Mama and Helen, patted Una on the head, and grabbed her schoolbag.
"Wait for me," called Frederick.
"Not today," Grace yelled. "I must meet Jennie." She was out of sight before the screen door slammed shut.
Grace met Jennie at the gate to the school yard. A group of boys played chase. Another group rolled marbles in the dirt. The younger girls jumped rope.
Grace and Jennie went to the back of the one-room schoolhouse.
"Did your passenger catch his train?" Grace asked after looking around to make certain she was not overheard.
"Yes, thanks to your papa," Jennie said.
"What did he do?" Grace asked.
"My parents were being watched by Sheriff Holt. After you left, they hitched up their buggy and took me for a ride."
"That late at night?" asked Grace.
"The sheriff thought it was late, too, when he stopped us. I wore some of Papa's old clothes stuffed with rags. I guess the sheriff thought I was Jefferson. He was surprised when he recognized me!"
"Did my father help Jefferson escape?"
Jennie looked around this time and nodded. "While the sheriff was chasing us, your father took Jefferson to the next station. By now the passenger is well on his way to Buffalo and then across to Canada."
Ding-a-ling! Ding-a-ling! Miss Lang rang the brass school bell.
Grace and Jennie ran to line up.CHAPTER 3
Alice met Grace at the door after school. She clutched Papa's best cape.
"Mama wants you to practice piano, peel ten potatoes for dinner, and slice apples for two pies."
"Can't you peel the potatoes?" Grace begged.
Alice shook her head. "I have to finish Papa's cape for the march."
"What march?" Grace asked.
Helen said, "The Wide-Awakes are marching tonight for Mr. Lincoln. Papa will join them."
Alice snorted. "Papa is too old to march with those wild young men."
Grace stood up for Papa. "He is not too old. And those young men are not wild. They are patriots just like Stephen."
"They are an army with no general," Alice snorted. "Shouting, waving torches, scaring women and children." The cape swished through the air behind Alice as she left.
"Where's Mama?" Grace asked Helen.
"At the Macombers. Mrs. Macomber and Mama are making banners for the march."
"I'll go over and help them," Grace said, heading for the door.
"Oh, no, you don't," Alice told her. "You peel apples."
"But, Alice," Grace protested. Alice's stony look stopped her.
Grace picked up the apple peeler. She snatched an apple off the counter. She attacked the apple. Jennie helped Jefferson escape from the sheriff. Jennie gets to make banners for the parade. She'll probably even get to march in the parade. All I am doing is peeling apples for a stupid pie. I wish there was something I could do! Grace thought.
Papa blew in like a whirlwind. Stephen, his wife, Lucy, and their baby, Samantha, followed. Papa gobbled his food. He whisked on his cape. He pecked Mama on the cheek and disappeared into the dusk, with Stephen trailing behind. A pleasant calm settled when the door shut.
Mama sighed. "Your father is like a little boy at Christmas now that he has joined the Wide-Awakes."
"He is as proud as a tame turkey," Grace said.
Lucy spoke up. "Stephen thinks Mr. Bedell will join the army if there is a war."
The room grew still. Everyone looked at Mama.
She smiled. "Number one, there will be no war, even if Mr. Lincoln is elected. Number two, Papa is too old to be a soldier. Let's finish cleaning up so we can watch the march."
They hurried through their chores and put chairs by the front windows. Grace heard the Wide-Awakes long before they appeared. A band played "Ole Dan Tucker," Mr. Lincoln's favorite song.
"Here they come!" Frederick shouted. "I can see the torches."
Grace crowded against Mama, trying to get a better view. She saw the flickering flames from a hundred torches. The glass rattled as the Wide-Awakes shouted, "ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX ... TIGER!" Banners and posters of Abe Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin fluttered.
Grace looked for Papa. He was marching with Mr. Macomber. A boy marched beside them. The boy looked familiar. A slight boy with old clothes that were too large for him. Grace squinted. She rubbed her eyes. The boy was Jennie!
Grace burst into tears. She ran from the room, raced upstairs, and flung herself onto her bed. The bed rattled as she sobbed harder.
Mama's hand stroked her hair. Her touch felt as light as a butterfly's wing.
"Grace, what's wrong?" she asked.
Grace sobbed harder.
Mama rubbed Grace's shoulders. Grace gave one last shuddering sob and rolled over. She flung her arms around Mama.
"Why does everyone else get to help and I don't?"
"What do you mean, Grace?" Mama asked.
"Didn't you see Jennie marching with her father? She got to help you make banners today. She got to help Jefferson escape. She got to—"
"Grace, you know how Papa feels," Mama interrupted Grace.
"A woman's place is in the home," Grace repeated, having heard Papa say it hundreds of times. Grace looked into Mama's dark brown eyes. She had a sudden thought. "Does Papa know you worked on the banners?"
Mama shook her head. "I agree with Papa most of the time, but not all the time. My place is here in our home, but I must also reach beyond our doors."
"Like making banners?" Grace asked.
Mama sighed. "More than that, dear. I want to be able to vote just like the men. If women could vote, maybe we could keep the country together. The problems America faces today with war coming and slavery spreading, these problems are not just problems for men to solve. They are problems every American needs to help solve, men and women alike."
"Children, too?" Grace questioned.
Mama stroked Grace's hair. "Children, too."
"How can I help?" Grace asked.
Mama hesitated and then said firmly, "You can help us make more banners."
"And keep it secret from Papa?"
Mama nodded her head as she handed Grace a linen handkerchief. Grace wiped away her tears and blew her nose.
"Now let's go down and warm up the wonderful pies you and Helen made. Papa and Stephen will be hungry when they return."CHAPTER 4
Grace met Papa at the door. He smelled of crisp fall air mingled with torch smoke. His pink cheeks glowed and his eyes danced.
He waited until everyone was seated around the large dining room table before cutting into the steaming pies. Grace's mouth watered as the plates were passed around. Secretly she dipped a finger into the filling and licked it. Mama saw her and winked. She could keep a secret, too.
Everyone waited until Papa had eaten the first bite and bent down for another forkful. Grace perched on the edge of her chair.
"What time are we going to the fair tomorrow, Papa?" Stephen asked.
"The gates open at noon. If we leave at eleven, we'll make it. Amanda, could you girls fix us a picnic lunch, please?"
"Then we best be off," Stephen said. "It is past ten already."
Grace fidgeted while Stephen and Lucy wrapped Samantha and put on their coats. She felt like a firecracker ready to pop. As soon as the door closed she hugged Papa and looked into his face.
"May I go to the fair, too?" the question popped out.
"No," Papa said. "You are too young."
He put a finger to Grace's lips as she got ready to speak.
"I will bring you a surprise from the fair, Grace."
Before Grace could protest, Mama said, "Off to bed, Frederick and Grace. It is already past your bedtime."
Grace tossed and turned in bed. It is just not fair. It is just not fair, she repeated to herself until she finally fell asleep.
Excerpted from Grace's Letter to Lincoln by Peter Roop, Connie Roop, Stacey Schuett. Copyright © 1998 Peter and Connie Roop. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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