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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln was born in a one roomed log cabin, on Sinking Spring farm at Hodgenville, Kentucky, It is now a national historic site open to the public. He was the first president to be born outside of the original 13 colonies.

Symbolic log cabin in memorial building

Abraham Lincoln was born on the same day as Charles Darwin: February 12, 1809.

Lincoln was born into an illiterate and wandering frontier family. His father, Thomas was a farmer.

Throughout his life Lincoln was convinced he was illegitimate. It was only after his death that he was discovered to be legitimate after all.

Thomas Lincoln lost farms three times after boundary disputes due to defective titles and Kentucky's chaotic land laws. Discouraged by these setbacks, he decided to move his family to Spencer County in Indiana in December 1816, when Abraham was 7-years-old. There he was able to purchase land that was secured in accordance with the land ordinance of 1785.

Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died of milk sickness on October 5, 1818, age 34. after her family dairy cow ate poisonous mushrooms and she drank the milk. Her 9-year-old son Abraham assisted his father in the making of her coffin by whittling the wooden pegs that held the planks together. 11-year-old Sarah cared for Abraham until their father remarried the next year.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln depiction

On December 2, 1819, Thomas Lincoln married Sarah "Sally" Bush Johnston, a widow from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, with three children of her own. Abraham became very close to his stepmother, whom he referred to as "Mother."

Lincoln's sister Sarah died on January 20, 1828, while giving birth to a stillborn son.

As a child on the frontier young Abraham lived mostly on wild game, however he didn't like shooting animals so he tended to pick berries, wild fruits and nuts.

As a youth, Lincoln disliked the hard labor associated with frontier life, preferring to spend his time reading. He did enjoy climbing the rocky cliffs or roaming in the pine forests where he lived.

School was a treat for young Abe, when his family could spare him or his elder sister from their chores. Most of his education came from an itinerant school master in Indiana, a simple school where the pupils chanted their lessons learning to read, write and do sums.

 Lincoln wrote in one of his schoolbooks
"Abraham Lincoln
His hand and pen
He will be good  but
God knows when."

Abraham Lincoln hated being called "Abe."


Lincoln: "My Father taught me to work, but not to love it, I never did like to work And I don't deny it, I'd rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh anything but work."

At the age of 15 Lincoln worked on James Taylor's ferry crossing the Anderson river for 37 cents a day.

Two years later, Lincoln built his own boat and took a cargo of produce to New Orleans where he sold the produce and boat and returned home in style by steamboat.

In 1831 Lincoln was hired, along with his stepbrother and a cousin, by Denton Offutt, a New Salem merchant, to take goods by flatboat from New Salem, Illinois, to New Orleans via the Sangamon, Illinois, and Mississippi rivers. The pay was 50 cents a day plus a fee of $60.

Offutt was impressed with Lincoln's abilities. When they returned to Illinois, he hired Lincoln as a clerk in a general store in New Salem, which sold cotton, cigars, candles, whiskey and the like  He was paid $15 plus sleeping quarters.

Lincoln later opened a general store in New Salem with William F. Berry as his partner. The venture failed and when Berry died in 1835, Lincoln was left responsible for debts amounting to $1100. It took him several years to pay them off.

After the general store failed, Lincoln was appointed postmaster of New Salem.  As postmaster, Lincoln earned $60 a year plus a percentage of the receipts on postage.

In 1834 Lincoln entered the  Illinois legislature and began to study law.

Abraham Lincoln, the 27-year-old son of an illiterate and wandering frontier family with less than 12 months of schooling was admitted to the bar in 1836. He  practiced law in Springfield, Illinois.

As a young lawyer, every morning before walking slowly to his untidy law office, Lincoln stood in the doorway to let his wife inspect him. His shirt, which she made, was fresh, his boots polished, his suit and stovepipe hat brushed.

During his time as a Lawyer in Springfield, Lincoln was walking into town, when he was overtaken by a man driving in the same direction. Lincoln hailed him and said "Will you have the goodness to take my overcoat into town? "
"With Pleasure, but how will you get in it again?"
"Oh very easily! I intend to remain in it."

By the fall of 1844, Lincoln was tired of being a junior partner. He had worked for senior partners with political ambitions, and Lincoln wanted a younger partner to whom he could relate. In October of that year Lincoln invited his friend William Herndon to form a partnership, which lasted until his death.

As a Lawyer, Lincoln was never greedy for fees and discouraged unnecessary litigation.

Abraham Lincoln invented a device for lifting riverboats over obstacles in shallow water. He was awarded on May 22, 1849 a patent for "A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals." It never got past the patent stage, but he was the first and only president to hold a patent.

Patent Model of Abraham Lincoln's Invention, never actually built. By David and Jessie -  Wikipedia Commons

Lincoln was the only U.S. president who was also a licensed bartender. He co-owned a saloon in Springfield, Illinois.


Lincoln began his political career in 1832 with a campaign for the Illinois General Assembly. The centerpiece of his platform was the undertaking of navigational improvements on the Sangamon in the hopes of attracting steamboat traffic to the river, which would allow sparsely populated, poor areas along and near the river to grow and prosper. Lincoln finished eighth out of 13 candidates (the top four were elected),

Lincoln's second campaign in 1834 was more successful. He won election to the state legislature; though he ran as a Whig, many Democrats favored him over a more powerful Whig opponent.

Lincoln served four successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives as a Whig representative from Sangamon County.

Lincoln in his late 30s as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Photo taken by one of Lincoln's law students around 1846.

In 1846, Lincoln was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served one two-year term. He was the only Whig in the Illinois delegation.

Lincoln returned to practicing law in Springfield in 1848, In the 1850s he was a familiar sight dressed in black cloak, red sash, large black boots and a black high hat, in which he crammed his legal documents and also a writing pad, pen and pencil for noting down odd thoughts as they came to him. He called his hat his “walking office”

Drawing on remnants of the old Whig party, and on disenchanted Free Soil, Liberty, and Democratic Party members, Lincoln was instrumental in forging the shape of the new Republican Party.

Lincoln became famous in the 1850s as a speaker on the Illinois circuit and was subsequently invited to run for President.

Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at the Bloomington Convention on May 29, 1856, in Bloomington, Illinois. The speech is believed to have been an impassioned condemnation of slavery but it was so enthralling that reporters in the audience stopped taking notes and now we don't know its content.

Lincoln’s celebrated speech at New York’s Cooper Union on February 27, 1860 played a central role in bringing him to national prominence and catapulted him into contention for the presidential nomination. Lincoln won the Republican nomination in 1860 and subsequently won the presidency.

The Cooper Union (2007). By I, DavidShankbone, CC BY-SA 3.0, Commons Wikipedia


In 1835, a wave of typhoid hit the town of New Salem. One of the victims was Lincoln's first sweetheart, tall, auburn haired Ann Rutledge, who died at the age of 22 on August 25, 1835. Her death plunged Lincoln into a severe depression and for many years afterwards, he was on the edge of flipping.

Lincoln met Mary Owens from Kentucky when she was visiting her sister. He courted her for a time in the mid 1830s but they both had second thoughts about their relationship. On August 16, 1837, Lincoln wrote Mary a letter suggesting he would not blame her if she ended the relationship. She never replied and the courtship ended.

In a 1838 letter to Mrs Browning that Lincoln penned after he was rejected by Mary Owens, he wrote: "I have come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying and for reason. I can never be satisfied with anyone who would be blockhead enough to have me."

In 1839, Lincoln met the aristocratic, vain, plump and pretty Mary Todd, who was from a wealthy slave-holding family in Lexington, Kentucky. They found they had a lot in common as both loved literature, poetry and politics.

A wedding was set for January 1, 1841, but canceled when the two broke off their engagement at Lincoln's initiative. Lincoln fell into a state of depression.

Lincoln and Mary later met again at a party and married on November 4, 1842, in the Springfield mansion of Mary's married sister.

Mary Todd Lincoln, age 28

Mary was a hysterical and madly jealous wife and she refused her husband to receive female visitors alone. It has been argued that part of Mary's difficult nature could be blamed on her being infected by syphilis by Lincoln, in the early days of her marriage.

Lincoln kept several pairs of gloves for his wife in his pockets. Her need for cleanliness meant she had to change them several times daily.

The faithful Lincoln said of Mary: "My wife is as handsome as when she was a girl and I a poor nobody then fell in love with her and what is more I have not fallen out."

Mary Todd was the first presidential wife to be referred to as the First Lady. She was so disliked in her day she was nicknamed the “she-wolf”.

They had four sons, who were spoiled by their devoted parents and annoyed the whole neighborhood with their rowdy behaviour.

Eddie died a month before his fourth birthday on February 1, 1850, in Springfield, probably of tuberculosis. "Willie" Lincoln died of a fever on February 20, 1862 aged 12. The Lincolns' fourth son, Thomas "Tad" Lincoln, died of heart failure at the age of 18 on July 16, 1871.

Robert Todd Lincoln was  the only one of Lincoln's sons to reach adulthood. He was a successful politician, lawyer, and businessman. Robert Lincoln was Secretary of State 1881-85 and Minister to Great Britain 1889-92,


Self educated, much that Lincoln leaned was from his Bible, which from his childhood years onwards he read to such an extent that the spirit of the phrases and its dignity passed into all his pronouncements and utterances.

Lincoln was shaped by evangelical culture and had a true faith. He spoke and thought in biblical terms despite not regularly attending a church or belonging to a particular denomination.

Addressing rumors that he mocked Christianity, Abraham Lincoln once published a broadside on his religion: "That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular ..."

According to the biography Abraham Lincoln, the Christian by William J. Johnstone, Lincoln said:
"When I left Springfield I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I do love Jesus,"

A fervent anti slavery supporter, Lincoln was very fervent in his beliefs. "When I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally,” he said.

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 emancipated all the slaves within reach of his northern armies, thereby interpreting the American Civil War as a crusade against slavery.

Abraham Lincoln was the first President to use the phrase, "This nation under God." It inspired President Eisenhower, in 1954, to add the words "one nation under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.


Lincoln's 1861 inaugural at the Capitol. The rotunda was still under construction.
On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States, defeating a deeply divided Democratic Party. He was the first president from the Republican Party.

Lincoln's victory on an anti slavery ticket was entirely due to the strength of his support in the North and West; he won only two of 996 counties in all the Southern states.

After Lincoln's election as President on an anti slavery ticket,, seven States (South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana) formed the Confederate States of America. When the United States refused to surrender Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the Confederates attacked the fort, beginning the American Civil War.

At first things went badly as defeat followed defeat. Lincoln frantically borrowed military textbooks from the Library of Congress in a desperate attempt to master military strategy.

In the later months of 1862, Lincoln was irritated by General George B McClellan's inactivity against the southern Confederate forces. In the end he wrote McClellan a single sentence letter. "If you don't want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a while. Yours respectfully, A Lincoln "

When a deputation of Southerners remarked to Lincoln, "We trust sir that God is on our side, Lincoln replied ""Sir my concern is not whether God is on our side. My great concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

The first photographic image of the new president

With the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, Lincoln ordered the freedom of all slaves in those states still in rebellion during the American Civil War. As the Union army advanced, nearly all four million slaves were effectively freed.

During the early days of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, a nervous Lincoln paced up and down as the battle reports pour in. With the fate of the United States in the balance, Lincoln retired to his room, locked the door and got down on his knees in prayer. He told God that he had done all he could, now the result was in his hands; that if this country was to be saved, it was because he so willed it. The burden fell off his shoulders, his intense anxiety was relieved and in its place came a great trustfulness.

The Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 turned the Civil War. Possibly the biggest contributing factor to this turnaround was the enlistment of the African American slaves after the Slavery Emancipation.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was scribbled on the back of an envelope, whilst travelling from Washington to Gettysburg and was audible only to those standing next to him. It was 266 words in length and was given at the Gettysburg battlefield which was being dedicated as a national ceremony.

Lincoln is largely responsible for the institution of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. In 1863 responding to a Boston editor’s campaign for a holiday to promote piety, patriotism and economic growth, he declared the final Thursday in November of that year to be a day of Thanksgiving.

Lincoln was re-elected president in 1864 and re-inaugurated March 4 1865. Soon afterwards, it appeared likely that the Union would win the Civil War.  On April 9 1865, the leading Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, surrendered his armies. to General Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.

Lincoln was assassinated just five days after the southern confederates surrendered to the Union.


At 6ft 4in, Lincoln was the tallest US President ever, half an inch taller than Lyndon Johnson.

Lincoln was very lean and stooped, his left shoulder being higher than his right. His arms seemed too long for his body and his walk was graceless.He had sallow complexion, cauliflower ears, a mole on his right cheek and large feet.

Abraham Lincoln wore size 14 shoes, the biggest in U.S. president history.

Lincoln did not look like a leader of a nation, and he was conscious of this. During the 1860 Presidency campaign he said "Nobody ever expected me to be President. In my poor lean, lank face nobody has ever seen that any cabbages were sprouting."

When running for the Presidency, Lincoln was invited to grow a beard, to look more dignified. Lincoln objected, not liking hair under his chin, calling it "a piece of silly affection", but was persuaded in part thanks to a letter from 11-year-old Grace Bedell dated October 15, 1860. After that he had a beard but no mustache or stubble under upper lip. He was the first American president to have a beard.

During his presidency Lincoln became well-known because of his large stovepipe hat. He used his tall hat to store papers and documents when he was traveling.

His trousers were always too short for his gangling frame and he was considered to be America's worst ever dressed president.

Lincoln wore eye glasses in private but didn't like to in public.

Lincoln spoke in a mid western country accent with a high pitched voice.

As a youngster, Lincoln was a funny mimic of local characters and travelers, especially of preachers and politicians.

A great raconteur, he loved cracking bad jokes. Lincoln had an endless supply of jokes and witticisms, which he told in a knee slapping way.

Lincoln was famous for his self-deprecating sense of humor. When accused of being two-faced, Lincoln replied, “Honestly, if I were two-faced, would I be showing you this one?”


Abraham Lincoln was born in a one roomed log cabin, 16ft long & 18ft wide. In 1811 the Lincoln family moved to a log cabin farm house at Knob Creek, Kentucky then five years later to another log cabin a 18 ft by 20ft farm house in Spencer County, Indiana.

In 1830, after economic and land-title difficulties in Indiana, Abraham Lincoln and his family settled on government land along the Sangamon River on a site selected by Lincoln's father in Macon County, Illinois, near the present city of Decatur. The following winter was especially brutal, and the family nearly moved back to Indiana. When his father relocated the family to a nearby site the following year, the 22-year-old Lincoln struck out on his own, canoeing down the Sangamon to homestead on his own in Sangamon County, Illinois (now in Menard County), in the village of New Salem.

Abraham Lincoln, lived in Springfield from 1837 until 1861, when he went to the White House as President. Early on in his marriage to Mary they were living in one room at the Globe tavern.

In 1844 the couple bought a light tan frame house on the edge of Springfield, near Lincoln's law office for $1,200. Mary Todd Lincoln kept the home, often with the help of a relative or hired servant girl


The thin and gaunt president cared nothing for food and had to be prodded to eat, however he enjoyed entertaining and he and his wife Mary gave large dinner parties.

The American president loved music. His favorite song was "Dixie", which was played at his inauguration.

His favourite sport was wrestling. Many years before he became the President, Lincoln was famed for his wrestling ability. Lincoln was reputed as an elite fighter among the New Salem, Illinois, locals, eventually earning his county's wrestling championship.

After one victory, Lincoln reportedly challenged the crowd, saying, "I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.” The challenge went unanswered.

Lincoln was touted as being defeated only once in roughly 300 matches and has been inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame.

It is said that when a delegation of politicians called on Abraham Lincoln to inform him of his nomination for the Presidency, he was engaged in a game of baseball and kept the men waiting until he had had another chance to make a base hit.


When he was a lawyer, an out of town case required Lincoln to hire a horse from the local livery stables. Returning the animal he asked the livery man whether he kept the horse for funerals. "Certainly not" said the owner indignantly. "I am glad to hear it" said Lincoln, "because if you did the corpse would not get there in time for the resurrection."

Lincoln loved cats. He had four of them while in the White House including one called Tabby.
He once let one of his moggies eat from the table during a formal White House dinner.

He adopted a stray dog called Jip who he found shivering in the snow during a visit to a Civil War battle front near his home in Springfield.

Lincoln had a brown and yellow dog named Fido during his time in the White House. A drunk knifed Fido to death several months after his master was murdered.


After his first sweetheart Ann Rutledge died, Lincoln had a nervous breakdown and he was taken home to his parents to recuperate. For many years afterwards he lived on the verge of insanity. His suicidal tendencies were so great that he refused to carry a pocket knife.

The lean and lank president had Marfans Syndrome, a hereditary disease of the tissue, which caused abnormally long limbs, vision disorders and cardiac ailments.

He had a slight squint in his left eye caused by a kick from a horse.


Five days after General Lee's surrender, on April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to attend the play Our American Cousin by English playwright Tom Taylor with his wife at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.. During the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland, entered the presidential box and fired a pistol at point-blank range into the back of Lincoln's head.

Shown in the presidential booth of Ford's Theatre, from left to right, are assassin John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Clara Harris, and Henry Rathbone.

No one paid much attention until Booth jumped from the president's box, onto the stage below and shouted "sic sem per Tyrannis" (Latin, for "the South is avenged") . In jumping such a height Booth broke his leg, but he managed to escape from the rear of the theater. There was a moments hush then a scream and Mrs Lincoln pointed to the limping assailant, shouting "he has killed the president," It was the screams of Mrs Lincoln, which disclosed the fact that the President had been shot. The entire audience and the actors rushed onto the stage and towards Lincoln's box to find the President slumped dead.

After remaining in a coma for nine hours, Lincoln died at 7:22 am on April 15th.

The last words Abraham Lincoln heard were "you sockdologizing old man-trap," a punchline from the play. Our American Cousin.

At the same time as the attack on Lincoln, there was an assassination attempt on his Secretary of State William H Seward by a conspirator of Booth.

Queen Victoria after hearing of the assassination of Lincoln reacted sympathetically "These American news are most dreadful and awful!" said the Queen. "One never heard of such a thing! I only hope it will not be catching elsewhere."

Abraham Lincoln's corpse was sent on a two-week funeral tour across America, shown openly to thousands. In the course of the trip the body visibly decomposed, bloated, and darkened. In New York alone, Lincoln's "immense" hearse was escorted by 160,000 people as it was drawn through the city.

A funeral train carried the president’s body back home to Springfield, Illinois where he was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery. He was the first American president not to leave a will.

Lincoln's son, Robert, was present at Washington Rail Station, when President Garfield was shot. Twenty years later, Robert was invited to bring his family to meet President William McKinley. As they arrived, they heard the news "The President has been shot". Robert Lincoln observed  "There is a certain fatality about Presidential functions when I am Present."

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., featuring a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln by Daniel Chester French, opened in 1922..

Lincoln monument in Edinburgh’s Old Carlton Cemetery in Scotland was the first statue of an American president to be constructed outside of the United States.

The (Abraham) Lincoln family line has been extinct since December 24, 1985, when its last undisputed descendant, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died without any children.

Sources Daily Express, The Humorous Mr Lincoln by Keith Jennison

1 comment:

  1. You've done a great job collecting facts about our 16th President, a fascinating personality. I'm particularly interested in your comment above:
    "He adopted a stray dog called Jip who he found shivering in the snow during a visit to a Civil War battle front." Do you know which battlefield and when this was? What is your source? I'm writing a novelization of Lincoln's life and these details would be helpful. Thanks, DL Fowler.