Iron Soldier, by John Greenleaf Whittier
OR, WHAT AMINADAB IVISON DREAMED
Tales and Sketches
AMINADAB IVISON started up in his bed. The great clock at the head of
the staircase, an old and respected heirloom of the family, struck one.
"Ah," said he, heaving up a great sigh from the depths of his inner man,
"I've had a tried time of it."
"And so have I," said the wife. "Thee's been kicking and threshing
about all night. I do wonder what ails thee."
And well she might; for her husband, a well-to-do, portly, middle-aged
gentleman, being blessed with an easy conscience, a genial temper, and a
comfortable digestion, was able to bear a great deal of sleep, and
seldom varied a note in the gamut of his snore from one year's end to
"A very remarkable exercise," soliloquized Aminadab; "very."
"Dear me! what was it?" inquired his wife.
"It must have been a dream," said Aminadab.
"Oh, is that all?" returned the good woman. "I'm glad it's nothing
worse. But what has thee been dreaming about?"
"It's the strangest thing, Hannah, that thee ever heard of," said
Aminadab, settling himself slowly back into his bed. Thee recollects
Jones sent me yesterday a sample of castings from the foundry. Well, I
thought I opened the box and found in it a little iron man, in
regimentals; with his sword by his side and a cocked hat on, looking
very much like the picture in the transparency over neighbor O'Neal's
oyster-cellar across the way. I thought it rather out of place for
Jones to furnish me with such a sample, as I should not feel easy to
show it to my customers, on account of its warlike appearance. However,
as the work was well done, I took the little image and set him up on the
table, against the wall; and, sitting down opposite, I began to think
over my business concerns, calculating how much they would increase in
profit in case a tariff man should be chosen our ruler for the next four
years. Thee knows I am not in favor of choosing men of blood and strife
to bear rule in the land: but it nevertheless seems proper to consider
all the circumstances in this case, and, as one or the other of the
candidates of the two great parties must be chosen, to take the least of
two evils. All at once I heard a smart, quick tapping on the table;
and, looking up, there stood the little iron man close at my elbow,
winking and chuckling. 'That's right, Aminadab!' said he, clapping his
little metal hands together till he rang over like a bell, 'take the
least of two evils.' His voice had a sharp, clear, jingling sound, like
that of silver dollars falling into a till. It startled me so that I
woke up, but finding it only a dream presently fell asleep again. Then
I thought I was down in the Exchange, talking with neighbor Simkins
about the election and the tariff. 'I want a change in the
administration, but I can't vote for a military chieftain,' said
neighbor Simkins, 'as I look upon it unbecoming a Christian people to
elect men of blood for their rulers.' 'I don't know,' said I, 'what
objection thee can have to a fighting man; for thee 's no Friend, and
has n't any conscientious scruples against military matters. For my own
part, I do not take much interest in politics, and never attended a
caucus in my life, believing it best to keep very much in the quiet, and
avoid, as far as possible, all letting and hindering things; but there
may be cases where a military man may be voted for as a choice of evils,
and as a means of promoting the prosperity of the country in business
matters.' 'What!' said neighbor Simkins, 'are you going to vote for a
man whose whole life has been spent in killing people?' This vexed me a
little, and I told him there was such a thing as carrying a good
principle too far, and that he night live to be sorry that he had thrown
away his vote, instead of using it discreetly. 'Why, there's the iron
business,' said I; but just then I heard a clatter beside me, and,
looking round, there was the little iron soldier clapping his hands in
great glee. 'That's it, Aminadab!' said he; 'business first, conscience
afterwards! Keep up the price of iron with peace if you can, but keep
it up at any rate.' This waked me again in a good deal of trouble; but,
remembering that it is said that 'dreams come of the multitude of
business,' I once more composed myself to sleep."
"Well, what happened next?" asked his wife.
"Why, I thought I was in the meeting-house, sitting on the facing-seat
as usual. I tried hard to settle my mind down into a quiet and humble
state; but somehow the cares of the world got uppermost, and, before I
was well aware of it, I was far gone in a calculation of the chances of
the election, and the probable rise in the price of iron in the event of
the choice of a President favorable to a high tariff. Rap, tap, went
something on the floor. I opened my eyes, and there was the little
image, red-hot, as if just out of the furnace, dancing, and chuckling,
and clapping his hands. 'That's right, Aminadab!' said he; 'go on as
you have begun; take care of yourself in this world, and I'll promise
you you'll be taken care of in the next. Peace and poverty, or war and
money. It's a choice of evils at best; and here's Scripture to decide
the matter: "Be not righteous overmuch."' Then the wicked-looking
little image twisted his hot lips, and leered at me with his blazing
eyes, and chuckled and laughed with a noise exactly as if a bag of
dollars had been poured out upon the meeting-house floor. This waked me
just now in such a fright. I wish thee would tell me, Hannah, what thee
can make of these three dreams?"
"It don't need a Daniel to interpret them," answered Hannah. "Thee 's
been thinking of voting for a wicked old soldier, because thee cares
more for thy iron business than for thy testimony against wars and
fightings. I don't a bit wonder at thy seeing the iron soldier thee
tells of; and if thee votes to-morrow for a man of blood, it wouldn't be
strange if he should haunt thee all thy life."
Aminadab Ivison was silent, for his conscience spoke in the words of his
wife. He slept no more that night, and rose up in the morning a wiser
and better man.
When he went forth to his place of business he saw the crowds hurrying
to and fro; there were banners flying across the streets, huge placards
were on the walls, and he heard all about him the bustle of the great
"Friend Ivison," said a red-faced lawyer, almost breathless with his
hurry, "more money is needed in the second ward; our committees are
doing a great work there. What shall I put you down for? Fifty
dollars? If we carry the election, your property will rise twenty per
cent. Let me see; you are in the iron business, I think?"
Aminadab thought of the little iron soldier of his dream, and excused
himself. Presently a bank director came tearing into his office.
"Have you voted yet, Mr. Ivison? It 's time to get your vote in. I
wonder you should be in your office now. No business has so much at
stake in this election as yours."
"I don't think I should feel entirely easy to vote for the candidate,"
"Mr. Ivison," said the bank director, "I always took you to be a shrewd,
sensible man, taking men and things as they are. The candidate may not
be all you could wish for; but when the question is between him and a
worse man, the best you can do is to choose the least of the two evils."
"Just so the little iron man said," thought Aminadab. "'Get thee behind
me, Satan!' No, neighbor Discount," said he, "I've made up my mind. I
see no warrant for choosing evil at all. I can't vote for that man."
"Very well," said the director, starting to leave the room; "you can do
as you please; but if we are defeated through the ill-timed scruples of
yourself and others, and your business pinches in consequence, you need
n't expect us to help men who won't help themselves. Good day, sir."
Aminadab sighed heavily, and his heart sank within him; but he thought
of his dream, and remained steadfast. Presently he heard heavy steps
and the tapping of a cane on the stairs; and as the door opened he saw
the drab surtout of the worthy and much-esteemed friend who sat beside
him at the head of the meeting.
"How's thee do, Aminadab?" said he. "Thee's voted, I suppose?"
"No, Jacob," said he; "I don't like the candidate. I can't see my way
clear to vote for a warrior."
"Well, but thee does n't vote for him because he is a warrior,
Aminadab," argued the other; "thee votes for him as a tariff man and an
encourager of home industry. I don't like his wars and fightings better
than thee does; but I'm told he's an honest man, and that he disapproves
of war in the abstract, although he has been brought up to the business.
If thee feels tender about the matter, I don't like to urge thee; but it
really seems to me thee had better vote. Times have been rather hard,
thou knows; and if by voting at this election we can make business
matters easier, I don't see how we can justify ourselves in staying at
home. Thou knows we have a command to be diligent in business as well
as fervent in spirit, and that the Apostle accounted him who provided
not for his own household worse than an infidel. I think it important
to maintain on all proper occasions our Gospel testimony against wars
and fightings; but there is such a thing as going to extremes, thou
knows, and becoming over-scrupulous, as I think thou art in this case.
It is said, thou knows, in Ecclesiastes, 'Be not righteous overmuch: why
shouldst thou destroy thyself?'"
"Ah," said Aminadab to himself, "that's what the little iron soldier
said in meeting." So he was strengthened in his resolution, and the
persuasions of his friend were lost upon him.
At night Aminadab sat by his parlor fire, comfortable alike in his inner
and his outer man. "Well, Hannah," said he, "I've taken thy advice. I
did n't vote for the great fighter to-day."
"I'm glad of it," said the good woman, "and I dare say thee feels the
better for it."
Aminadab Ivison slept soundly that night, and saw no more of the little