OLD ABE - THE EARLY YEARS
Abraham Lincoln was descended from English stock that had settled in Virginia just prior to the War of Independence. His Grandfather whom he was named after had been a Captain in the Virginia Militia.
In the year 1782, Lincoln's grandfather had moved the family westward to Kentucky, a couple of years later Abraham Snr. was shot by an Indian who was in turn shot by Mordechai Lincoln, one of his sons. The incident was witnessed by six-year-old Thomas Lincoln, another son and the future President's father.
Thomas worked at a variety of trades including carpentry. On the 12th June 1806, he married Nancy Hanks and their first child Sarah was born the following year.
Two years after he married Nancy, Tom moved the family to a farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky, there he built a log cabin into which the future President was born on 12th February 1809. The young baby was given to his young cousin Dennis, a nine year old, to hold who commented "He'll never come to much".
When Abe was two years old, the family moved to another farm nearby at Knob Creek. A year later Nancy had another son Thomas Jnr. who died a few days after being born.
Abe and Sarah started school at what was termed the local Blab school (so called because the children were made to repeat their lessons out loud). There Abe would learn the American equivalent of the three R's.
His father Thomas, was experiencing problems proving that the land he had paid for was his (it may be because of these difficulties that Abe Jnr. decided on a career in the law). Thomas moved his family again, this time to Little Pidgeon Creek, Indiana, near the Ohio river. There they built a cabin, and the family subsisted on what they could shoot and gather in the woods.
Abe's mother died on the 8th October 1818,and soon afterwards Abe was kicked by a horse and was unconscious for a few hours, but recovered none the worse for the experience.
A year after Nancy died, Thomas Lincoln went to Elizabethtown, Kentucky on business and returned home with a new wife (a widow with three children of her own) called Sarah Bush Johnston. The small cabin now had eight people living in it. Unlike all fairy tales, young Abe was very fond of his stepmother.
Occasionally Abe went to school in Pidgeon Creek but apparently learned far more at home from books (cousin Dennis recalled that he never saw Abe unless he was reading a book).
He grew to be exceptionally tall, 6ft 4ins (1.9 metres). In 1828 when he was nineteen, a farmer called James Gentry hired Abe to take a cargo of goods down the Mississippi to New Orleans after building a flatboat. He and Allen Gentry set off on the long trip, staying in the city for a few days before returning home by steamboat.
In 1830 (just after Abe's twenty-first birthday) the family moved again westward to Illinois (the journey according to Abe) was slow and tiresome. On arrival the family had to build a cabin and clear a few acres of Virgin Prairie for farmland. The same year, Abe made his first political speech during a campaign meeting in the town of Decatur.
When the family moved again the following spring, Abe did not go with them. He undertook a second Flatboat trip down the Mississippi with his cousin, John Hanks and his stepbrother John D Johnston. On his return to Illinois Abe took a job as a clerk in the store of Denton Offutt, the man who had hired him to go to New Orleans. Abe was also gaining a reputation as an athlete, having won a wrestling bout organised by his employer.
Abe continued to study, especially Law and was already thinking about going into Politics, deciding to run as the Whig candidate in the forthcoming State Government elections. His foray into politics was interrupted by the Black Hawk War when he was elected Captain of his Militia Company (he was said to have gained more satisfaction from that election than any of the later ones). Abe only served eighty days because the war ended with the capture of Black Hawk.
Abe was not elected to the Illinois State Government that year, and he was unemployed for a while. He then joined forces with a Merchant named William Berry and together they ran a General store. To while away the tedious hours, he kept up his studies, as well as taking on the job of Postmaster of New Salem in 1833 ,at a salary of $50.00 per year. In 1835 William Berry died leaving Abe to settle his debts (an enormous sum for the times) of $1100 which was to hang like a millstone around Abe's neck for years, before he finally paid it off.
Prior to Berry's death Abe had stood as a candidate for the Whig party and was elected to the State Legislature and set off for Vandalia (the Capital of Illinois at that time) in November 1834 and met for the first time Stephen A Douglas, one of his most powerful opponents in later life.
He returned to New Salem in February 1835 when the session ended and resumed his Law studies. In December he returned to the State Capital for the second year, at the end of which he was re-elected for a further term. He also passed his Law examinations which allowed him to obtain a license to practice law in the courts of Illinois.
In 1837 he went into partnership with a J T Stuart and in 1840 Abe became engaged to Mary Todd (who as a young girl, used to tell her friends that the man she married would become President).
It is said that Stephen A Douglas also had his eye on the young lady. Abe and Mary were married on the 4th November 1842. The Lincolns, had four sons (Robert Todd born 1843, the only one of the four to live to manhood, Edward Baker born 1845 and died 1849, William Wallace born 1850 and died 1862, Thomas (Tad) born 1853 and died 1871).
In 1841 Abe and Stuart ended their legal partnership and Abe started his own law firm with William H Herndon and the two became good friends. Their partnership lasted until 1861 and only ceased when Abe was inaugurated as President.
In 1846 Abe was elected to Congress and his term ended in 1849 - He did not seek re-election. He was offered the post of secretary of the Territory of Oregon which he turned down and he returned to his law practice, as he thought his political career was over! That is until Stephen A Douglas proposed the repeal of the Missouri Compromise which stated that any new states that were formed had to be done in pairs, one slave and one free, in order to keep balance.
With the enormous amount of new land acquired after the Mexican war it would mean that the Southerners would want with the repeal of the compromise to insist on all new States below the 36th parallel being admitted as Slave States and so upsetting the balance in Congress.
Abe was against this as were most of the North. Whig opponents of slavery were now joining the new Republican party and so did Abe in 1856. In June Abe was nominated as Republican Vice-Presidential candidate but was not elected In 1858 the Republicans nominated Abe as their choice to represent Illinois in the Senate. His opponent was Stephen A Douglas who won the election, but in 1860 Abe Lincoln was elected President (and the rest as they say, is History).
S Munro, Bty. B, 2nd US Artillery
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, April 2000