Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln : biography

February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

The family moved north across the Ohio River to free (i.e., non-slave) territory and made a new start in what was then Perry County but is now Spencer County, Indiana. Lincoln later noted that this move was "partly on account of slavery" but mainly due to land title difficulties.Sandburg (1926), p. 20. In Indiana, when Lincoln was nine, his mother Nancy died of milk sickness in 1818. After the death of Lincoln’s mother, his older sister, Sarah, took charge of caring for him until their father remarried in 1819; Sarah later died in her 20s while giving birth to a stillborn son.Donald (1996), p. 20, 30-33.

Thomas Lincoln’s new wife was the widow Sarah Bush Johnston, the mother of three children. Lincoln became very close to his stepmother, and referred to her as "Mother".Donald (1996), pp. 26–27. As a pre-teen, he did not like the hard labor associated with frontier life. Some in his family, and in the neighborhood, for a time considered him to be lazy.White, pp. 25, 31, 47.Donald (1996), p. 33. As he grew into his teens, he willingly took responsibility for all chores expected of him as one of the boys in the household and became an adept axeman in his work building rail fences. He attained a reputation for brawn and audacity after a very competitive wrestling match to which he was challenged by the renowned leader of a group of ruffians, "the Clary’s Grove boys".Donald (1996), p. 41. Lincoln also agreed with the customary obligation of a son to give his father all earnings from work done outside the home until age 21.Donald (1996), pp. 30–33. In later years, Lincoln occasionally loaned his father money.Donald (1996), pp. 28, 152. Lincoln became increasingly distant from his father, in part because of his father’s lack of education. While young Lincoln’s formal education consisted approximately of a year’s worth of classes from several itinerant teachers, he was mostly self-educated and was an avid reader and often sought access to any new books in the village. He read and reread the King James Bible, Aesop’s Fables, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and Franklin’s Autobiography.Donald (1996), pp. 29–31, 38–43

In 1830, fearing a milk sickness outbreak along the Ohio River, the Lincoln family moved west, where they settled on public land in Macon County, Illinois, another free, non-slave state.Donald (1996), p. 36. In 1831, Thomas relocated the family to a new homestead in Coles County, Illinois. It was then that, as an ambitious 22-year-old who was now old enough to make his own decisions, Lincoln struck out on his own. Canoeing down the Sangamon River, Lincoln ended up in the village of New Salem in Sangamon County.Thomas (2008), pp. 23–53 In the spring of 1831, hired by New Salem businessman Denton Offutt and accompanied by friends, he took goods by flatboat from New Salem to New Orleans via the Sangamon, Illinois, and Mississippi rivers. After arriving in New Orleans—and witnessing slavery firsthand—he walked back home.Sandburg (1926), pp. 22–23.

Marriage and children

Lincoln’s first romantic interest was Ann Rutledge, whom he met when he first moved to New Salem; by 1835, they were in a relationship but not formally engaged. She died at the age of 22 on August 25, 1835, most likely of typhoid fever.Donald (1996), pp. 55–58. In the early 1830s, he met Mary Owens from Kentucky when she was visiting her sister. Late in 1836, Lincoln agreed to a match with Mary if she returned to New Salem. Mary did return in November 1836, and Lincoln courted her for a time; however, 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.Donald (1996), pp. 67–69; Thomas (2008), pp. 56–57, 69–70.

In 1840, Lincoln became engaged to Mary Todd, who was from a wealthy slave-holding family in Lexington, Kentucky.Lamb, p. 43. They met in Springfield, Illinois, in December 1839Sandburg (1926), pp. 46–48. and were engaged the following December.Donald (1996), p. 86. A wedding set for January 1, 1841, was canceled when the two broke off their engagement at Lincoln’s initiative.Donald (1996), p. 87. They later met again at a party and married on November 4, 1842, in the Springfield mansion of Mary’s married sister.Sandburg (1926), pp. 50–51. While preparing for the nuptials and feeling anxiety again, Lincoln, when asked where he was going, replied, "To hell, I suppose."Donald (1996), p. 93.