Abraham Lincoln, an American politician and lawyer was the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy. This book gives a brief account of his life, early career ro presidency and assassination.
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Early life and Career
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a one-room log cabin at Sinking Spring farm, south of Hodgenville, in Hardin County, Kentucky. After a land title dispute forced the family to leave, they relocated to Knob Creek farm, eight miles to the north. By 1814 Thomas Lincoln, Abraham's father, had lost most of his land in Kentucky in legal disputes over land titles. In 1816 Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, their nine-year-old daughter, Sarah, and seven-year-old Abraham moved to Indiana, where they settled in Hurricane Township, Perry County, Indiana. (Their land became part of Spencer County, Indiana, when it was formed in 1818.)
Abraham spent his formative years, from the age of 7 to 21, on the family farm in Southern Indiana. As was common on the frontier, Lincoln received a meager formal education, the aggregate of which may have been less than twelve months. However, Lincoln continued to learn on his own from life experiences and through reading and reciting what he had read or heard from others. In 1818, two years after their arrival in Indiana, nine-year-old Lincoln lost his birth mother, Nancy, who died after a brief illness. Thomas returned to Kentucky the following year and married Sarah Bush Johnson. Abraham's new step-mother and her three children joined the Lincoln family in Indiana in 1819. A second tragedy befell the family in 1828, when Abraham's sister, Sarah, died in childbirth.
Lincoln's first known ancestor in America was Samuel Lincoln, who migrated from England to Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1638. Samuel's son, Mordecai, remained in Massachusetts, but Samuel's grandson, who was also named Mordecai, began the family's western migration. John Lincoln, Samuel's great-grandson, continued the westward journey. Born in New Jersey, John moved to Pennsylvania, then brought his family to Virginia. John's son, Captain Abraham Lincoln, who earned that rank for his service in the Virginia militia, was the future president's paternal grandfather and namesake. Born in Pennsylvania, he moved with his father and other family members to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley around 1766. The family settled near Linville Creek, in Augusta County, now Rockingham County, Virginia. Captain Lincoln bought the Virginia property from his father in 1773.
Thomas Lincoln, the future president's father, was Captain Lincoln's son. Thomas was born in Virginia and moved west to Jefferson County, Kentucky, with his father, mother, and siblings in the 1780s, when he was about five years old. In 1786, at the age of forty-two, Captain Abraham was killed in an Indian ambush while working his field in Kentucky. Eight-year-old Thomas witnessed his father's murder and may have ended up a victim if his brother, Mordecai, had not shot the attacker. After Captain Lincoln's death, Thomas's mother moved to Washington County, Kentucky, while Thomas worked at odd jobs in several Kentucky locations. Thomas also spent a year working in Tennessee, before settling with members of his family in Hardin County, Kentucky, in the early 1800s.
The identity of Lincoln's maternal grandfather is unclear. In a conversation with William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner and one of his biographers, the president implied that his grandfather was "a Virginia planter or large farmer", but did not identify him. Lincoln felt that it was from this aristocratic grandfather that he had inherited "his power of analysis, his logic, his mental activity, his ambition, and all the qualities that distinguished him from the other members and descendants of the Hanks family." Lincoln's maternal grandmother, Lucy Shipley Hanks, migrated to Kentucky, with her daughter, Nancy. The debate continues over whether Lincoln's mother, Nancy, was born out of wedlock. Lucy and Nancy resided with Lucy's older sister, Rachael Shipley Berry, and her husband, Richard Berry Sr., in Washington County, Kentucky. Nancy is believed to have remained with the Berry family after her mother's marriage to Henry Sparrow, which took place several years after the women arrived in Kentucky. The Berry home was about a mile and a half from the home of Thomas Lincoln's mother; the families were neighbors for seventeen years. It was during this time when Thomas met Nancy. Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks were married on June 12, 1806, at the Beech Fork settlement in Washington County, Kentucky. The Lincolns moved to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, following their marriage.
Lincoln was described as "ungainly" and "gawky" as a youth. Tall for his age, Lincoln was strong and athletic as a teenager. He was a good wrestler, participated in jumping, throwing, and local footraces, and "was almost always victorious." His stepmother remarked that he cared little for clothing. Lincoln dressed as an ordinary boy from a poor, backwoods family, with a gap between his shoes, socks, and pants that often exposed six or more inches of his shin. His lack of interest in his personal attire continued as an adult. When Lincoln lived in New Salem, Illinois, he frequently appeared with a single suspender, and no vest or coat.
In 1831, the year after he left Indiana, Lincoln was described as six feet three or four inches tall, weighing 210 pounds, and had a ruddy complexion. Later descriptions included Lincoln's dark hair and dark complexion, which were also evident in photographs taken during his tenure as president of the United States. William H. Herndon described Lincoln as having "very dark skin"; his cheeks as "leathery and saffron-colored"; a "sallow" complexion; and "his hair was dark, almost black". Lincoln described himself around 1838–39 as "black" and his complexion in 1859 as "dark" Lincoln's detractors also remarked on his appearance. For example, during the American Civil War the Charleston, South Carolina Mercury described him as having "the dirtiest complexion" and asked "Faugh! After him what white man would be President?"
Early years (1809–1831)
During his later years, Lincoln was reluctant to discuss his origins. He viewed himself as a self-made man, and may have also found it difficult to confront the untimely deaths of his mother and his sister. However, around the time of his nomination as a candidate for president of the United States, Lincoln provided two brief biographical sketches in response to two inquiries that provide a glimpse of youth in Kentucky and Indiana. One request for a campaign biography came from his friend and fellow Illinois Republican, Jesse W. Fell, in 1859; the other request came from John Locke Scripps, a journalist for the Chicago Press and Tribune. In Lincoln's response Scripps, he summed up his early life in a quote from Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, as "the short and simple annals of the poor." Additional details of Lincoln's early life appeared after his death in 1865, when William Herndon began collecting letters and interviews from Lincoln's friends, family, and acquaintances. Herndon published his collected materials in Herndon's Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life (1889). Although Herndon's work is often challenged, historian David Herbert Donald argues that they "have largely shaped current beliefs" about Lincoln's early life in Kentucky, Indiana, and his early days in Illinois.
Early life in Kentucky (1809–1816)
Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln became the parents of three children during their years in Kentucky. Sarah was born on February 10, 1807; Abraham, on February 12, 1809; and another son, Thomas, who died in infancy.
In 1808, Thomas, Nancy, and their daughter, Sarah, moved from Elizabethtown to the Sinking Spring farm, on Nolen Creek, the near Hodgen's Mill, in Hardin County, Kentucky. (The farm is part of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in present-day LaRue County, Kentucky.) Abraham was born at the farm in 1809. Due to a land title dispute, the family lived at the farm only two more years before they were forced to move. Thomas continued legal action in court, but lost the case in 1815. Kentucky's survey methods, which used a system of metes and bounds to identify and describe land descriptions, proved to be unreliable when the natural features of the land changed. This issue, compounded by confusion over previous land grants and purchase agreements, caused continual legal disputes over land ownership in Kentucky. In 1811, the family relocated to Knob Creek farm, now a part of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, eight miles to the north. Situated in a valley of the Rolling Fork River, it had some of the best farmland in the area. Lincoln's earliest recollections of his boyhood are from this farm. In 1815 a claimant in another land dispute sought to eject the Lincoln family from the Knob Creek farm.
Years later, after Lincoln became a national political figure, reporters and storytellers often exaggerated his family's poverty and the obscurity of his birth. Lincoln's family circumstances were not unusual for pioneer families at that time. Thomas Lincoln was a farmer, carpenter, and landowner in the Kentucky backcountry. He had purchased the Sinking Spring Farm, which comprised 348.5 acres, in December 1808 for $200, but lost his cash investment and the improvements he had made on the farm in a legal dispute over the land title. Thomas acquired title to the Knob Creek farm on 230 acres of land, but the family was forced to leave it after others claimed a prior title to the land. Of the 816.5 acres that Thomas held in Kentucky, he lost all but 200 acres in land title disputes. By 1816 Thomas was frustrated over the lack of security provided by Kentucky courts. He sold the remaining land he held in Kentucky in 1814, and began planning a move to Indiana, where the land survey process was more reliable and the ability for an individual to retain land titles was more secure.
In 1860 Lincoln stated that the family's move to Indiana in 1816 was "partly on account of slavery; but chiefly on account of the difficulty in land titles in Kentucky." Historians support Lincoln's assertion that the two major reasons for the family's migration to Indiana were most likely due to the problem with securing land titles in Kentucky and the issue of slavery. In the Indiana Territory, once a part of the Old Northwest Territory, the federal government owned the territorial land, which had been surveyed into sections to make it easier to describe in land claims. As a result, the survey method used in Indiana caused fewer ownership problems and helped Indiana attract new settlers. In addition, when Indiana became a state in 1816, the state constitution prohibited slavery as well as involuntary servitude. Although slaves with earlier indentures still resided within the state, illegal slavery ended within the first decade of statehood.
Indiana years (1816–1830)
Lincoln spent fourteen of his formative years, or roughly one-quarter of his life, from the age of seven to twenty-one in Indiana. In 1816, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, their nine-year-old daughter, Sarah, and seven-year-old Abraham moved to Indiana. They settled on land in an "unbroken forest" in Hurricane Township, Perry County, Indiana. The Lincoln property lay on land ceded to the United States government as part of treaties with the Piankeshaw and Delaware people in 1804. In 1818 the Indiana General Assembly created Spencer County, Indiana, from portions of Warrick and Perry counties, which included the Lincoln farm.
The move to Indiana had been planned for at least several months. Thomas visited Indiana Territory in 1816 to select a site and mark his claim, then returned to Kentucky and brought his family to Indiana sometime between November 11 and December 20, 1816, about the same time that Indiana became a state. However, Thomas Lincoln did not begin the formal process to purchase 160 acres of land until October 15, 1817, when he filed a claim at the land office in Vincennes, Indiana, for property identified as "the southwest quarter of Section 32, Township 4 South, Range 5 West".
More recent scholarship on Thomas Lincoln has revised previous characterizations of him as a "shiftless drifter". Documentary evidence suggests he was a typical pioneer farmer of his time. The move to Indiana established his family in a state that prohibited slavery, and they lived in an area that yielded timber to construct a cabin, adequate soil to grow crops that fed the family, and water access to markets along the Ohio River. Thomas owned horses and livestock, paid taxes, acquired farmland, served the county when was necessary, and maintained his standing in the local Baptist church. Despite some financial challenges, which involved relinquishing some acreage to pay for debts or to purchase other land, he obtained clear title to 80 acres of land in Spencer County, on June 5, 1827. By 1830, before the family moved to Illinois, Thomas had acquired twenty acres of land adjacent to his property.
Abraham, who became skilled with an axe, helped his father clear their Indiana land. Recalling his boyhood in Indiana, Lincoln remarked that from the time of his arrival in 1816, he "was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument." Once the land had been cleared, the family raised hogs and corn on their farm, which was typical for Indiana settlers at that time. Thomas Lincoln also continued to work as a cabinetmaker and carpenter. Within a year of the family's arrival in Indiana, Thomas had claimed title to 160 acres of Indiana land and paid $80, a quarter of its total purchase price of $320. The Lincolns and others, many of whom came from Kentucky, settled in what became known the Little Pigeon Creek Community, about one hundred miles from the Lincoln farm at Knob Creek in Kentucky. By the time Abraham had reached age thirteen, nine families with forty-nine children under the age of seventeen were living within a mile of the Lincoln homestead.
Tragedy struck the family on October 5, 1818, when Nancy Lincoln died of milk sickness, an illness caused by drinking contaminated milk from cows who fed on Ageratina altissima (white snakeroot). Abraham was nine years old; his sister, Sarah, was eleven. After Nancy's death the household consisted of Thomas, aged forty; Sarah, Abraham, and Dennis Friend Hanks, an orphaned nineteen-year-old cousin of Nancy Lincoln. In 1819 Thomas left Sarah, Abraham, and Dennis Hanks at the farm in Indiana and returned to Kentucky. On December 2, 1819, Lincoln's father married Sarah "Sally" Bush Johnston, a widow with three children from Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Ten-year-old Abe quickly bonded with his new stepmother, who raised her two young stepchildren as her own. Describing her in 1860, Lincoln remarked that she was "a good and kind mother" to him.
Sally encouraged Lincoln's eagerness to learn and desire to read, and shared her own collection of books with him. Years later she compared Lincoln to her own son, John D. Johnston: "Both were good boys, but I must say — both now being dead that Abe was the best boy I ever saw or ever expect to see." In an interview with William Herndon following Lincoln's death in 1865, Sally Lincoln described her stepson as dutiful and kind, especially to animals and children, and cooperative and uncomplaining. She also remembered him as a "moderate" eater, who was not picky about what he ate, and enjoyed good health. In pioneer-era Indiana, where hunting and fishing were typical pursuits, Thomas and Abraham did not appear to have enjoyed them. Abraham later admitted that he had shot and killed only a single wild turkey. Apparently, he opposed killing animals, even for food, but occasionally participated in bear hunts, when the bears threatened settlers' farms and communities.
In 1828 another tragedy struck the Lincoln family. Lincoln's older sister, Sarah, who had married Aaron Grigsby on August 2, 1826, died in childbirth on January 20, 1828, when she was twenty-one years old. Little is known about Nancy Hanks Lincoln or Abraham's sister. Neighbors who were interviewed by William Herndon agreed that they were intelligent, but gave contradictory descriptions of their physical appearances. Lincoln spoke very little about either woman. Herndon had to rely on testimony from a cousin, Dennis Hanks, to get an adequate description of Sarah. Those who knew Lincoln as a teenager later recalled him being deeply distraught by his sister's death, and an active participant in a feud with the Grigsby family that erupted afterwards.
First trip to New Orleans (1828)
Possibly looking for a diversion from the sorrow of his sister's death, nineteen-year-old Abraham made a flatboat trip to New Orleans in the spring of 1828. Lincoln and Allen Gentry, the son of James Gentry, owner of a local store near the Lincoln family's homestead, began their trip along the Ohio River at Gentry's Landing, near Rockport, Indiana. En route to Louisiana, Lincoln and Gentry were attacked by several African American men who attempted to take their cargo, but the two successfully defended their boat and repelled their attackers. Upon their arrival in New Orleans, they sold their cargo, which was owned by Gentry's father, then explored the city. With its considerable slave presence and active slave market, it is probable that Lincoln witnessed a slave auction, and it may have left an indelible impression on him. (Congress outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808, but the slave trade continued to flourish within the United States.) How much of New Orleans Lincoln saw or experienced is open to speculation. Whether he actually witnessed a slave auction at that time, or on a later trip to New Orleans, his first visit to the Deep South exposed him to new experiences, including the cultural diversity of New Orleans and a return trip to Indiana aboard a steamboat.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Abraham Lincoln"
Copyright © 2017 Zofia Stone.
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Table of Contents
Introduction, Early life and Career , Black Hawk War, Abraham Lincoln and slavery , Presidency, Assassination of Abraham Lincoln , References, About the Author