Elizabeth Keckley Quote

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Elizabeth Keckley quote:

“The life of the nation was at stake; and when the land was full of sorrow, there could not be much gayety at the capital. The days passed quietly with me. I soon learned that some people had an intense desire to penetrate the inner circle of the White House. No President and his family, heretofore occupying this mansion, ever excited so much curiosity as the present incumbents. Mr. Lincoln had grown up in the wilds of the West, and evil report had said much of him and his wife. The polite world was shocked, and the tendency to exaggerate intensified curiosity. As soon as it was known that I was the modiste of Mrs. Lincoln, parties crowded around and affected friendship for me, hoping to induce me to betray the secrets of the domestic circle. One day a woman, I will not call her a lady, drove up to my rooms, gave me an order to make a dress, and insisted on partly paying me in advance. She called on me every day, and was exceedingly kind. When she came to take her dress away, she cautiously remarked:

        ‘Mrs. Keckley, you know Mrs. Lincoln?’

        ‘Yes.’

        ‘You are her modiste; are you not?’

        ‘Yes.’

        ‘You know her very well; do you not?’

        ‘I am with her every day or two.’

        ‘Don’t you think you would have some influence with her?’

        ‘I cannot say. Mrs. Lincoln, I presume, would listen to anything I should suggest, but whether she would be influenced by a suggestion of mine is another question.’

        ‘I am sure that you could influence her, Mrs. Keckley. Now listen; I have a proposition to make. I have a great desire to become an inmate of the White House. I have heard so much of Mr. Lincoln’s goodness that I should like to be near him; and if I can enter the White House no other way, I am willing to go as a menial. My dear Mrs. Keckley, will you not recommend me to Mrs. Lincoln as a friend of yours out of employment, and ask her to take me as a chambermaid? If you will do this you shall be well rewarded. It may be worth several thousand dollars to you in time.’

        I looked at the woman in amazement. A bribe, and to betray the confidence of my employer! Turning to her with a glance of scorn, I said:

        ‘Madam, you are mistaken in regard to my character. Sooner than betray the trust of a friend, I would throw myself into the Potomac river. I am not so base as that. Pardon me, but there is the door, and I trust that you will never enter my room again.’”

Elizabeth Keckley, circa 1861
Elizabeth Keckley, circa 1861

“Elizabeth Keckley Quote” sources: “Behind the Scenes.” or “Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House.” by Elizabeth Keckley. Published by G.W. Carleton & Co, 1868 / Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University / The Whitehouse Historical Association / Wikimedia Commons

Note: click here to read our snapshot biography of Elizabeth Keckley.