A weary President Lincoln was in his railcar, legs crossed, reading “Aesop’s Fables” by lamplight before bedtime.
A gray cat was in his lap. They were somewhere over the Indiana-Illinois border, careening through the night toward D.C.
The cat was named Equality. It wasn’t a very common name, he knew that. But it worked. Lincoln always was a big fan of equality.
The cat was an adopted rescue. Abraham found her on the campaign trail, several years ago. It had not been a fun campaign. In fact, it was hell.
He had just made a fiery speech at the Planter’s Hotel, in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he denounced slavery and preached his typical equality message. And the crowds ripped him a new one.
“All men are created equal,” he always shouted from the lectern. And he always meant it. But claiming all men were created equal in the mid-1800s was not a way to win friends and influence people.
Even so, it was his message. It was his belief. It was his praxis. And it made him unpopular.
There was that one time at Petersburg, Virginia, where he was heckled for half an hour before he ever got a chance to open his mouth and campaign. People honked horns at him, cat-called him, blew tin trumpets, and flung manure at his face.
There was another time in Illinois, where he waited for the heckling to stop for almost an hour, but it never did. Whereupon his audience drilled him with rotted chicken parts and overripened tomatoes.
Who brought vegetables and chicken carcasses to a campaign rally?
And so it was, one night while boarding the train after a speech gone terribly wrong, he saw the little gray feline, wandering near his train, hungry.
Lincoln was a 50-year-old man at the time, hoping to win the presidency. He had been wrestling with chronic depression for his entire life. He just wanted to make a difference. But it wasn’t working out. He was beaten down. What he craved tonight was friendship. Real friendship.
When all of a sudden, along comes this little cat.
He stooped low and called the cat to himself. His campaign manager was telling him it was time to leave. They had a long trip ahead of them.
But Abe was transfixed on a stray.
“Here, kitty, kitty,” he said.
The cat eventually came to him. He lifted her into his arms.
“I’ll call her Equality,” he said.
That night, Equality slept beside him. The next morning, Equality ate eggs and bacon alongside him at the table.
Over the years, they became close friends. Equality was with him when he won the presidency. She was with him when America erupted in a self-destructive bloodbath.
She was his partner. His constituent. His muse. His reminder.
She could often be seen in his office, reclining on his desk among important documents, smearing the ink.
One time, Equality and her buddies jumped on the table during an important White House dinner, attended by national dignitaries. Abe fed the cats from his own fork.
He told his audience that if the golden fork had been “good enough for former President James Buchanan,” then it was good enough for his cat.
Sometimes, members of his cabinet were annoyed when he would lift Equality and speak to the animal for long periods during important meetings. They thought their commander-in-chief was a nutcase.
But the President would only gaze into his cat’s eyes and remark that his cats were “smarter than my whole cabinet.”
Admiral David Porter once wrote that he was struck by the sight of the American president “tenderly caressing three stray kittens,” when visiting Petersburg troops during wartime.
“It well illustrated the kindness of the man’s disposition,” said the admiral, “and showed the childlike simplicity which was mingled with the grandeur of his nature.”
The admiral later recalled that Lincoln stroked the stray cats and quietly told them, “Kitties, thank God you are cats, and can’t understand this terrible strife that is going on.”
Equality was present throughout every major success during his turbulent White House years. She was present for every bone crushing defeat. Every sadness. Every death. Every triumph.
She was even present when he penned the words:
“…And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free…”
They say the President worked a long time penning the Emancipation Proclamation. They say he worked for weeks getting the language just right. He worked until he was haggard and baggy-eyed. Until his wrist joints hurt.
And when he was finished changing the world with the stroke of his deft pen, his cabinet members found him at his desk, with Equality in his lap.
“We hold these truths to be self evident,” he was whispering to the purring creature, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Equality. What a concept.