Authoring, Researching, Reporting and
Learning On-Line by Howard Taylor
How Abraham was Educated
A Workshop at Lakeland College, Feb. 29, 2008
Abraham Lincoln: To
the People of Sangamo County
[What the Future President Thought of
Education and Learning]
March 9, 1832
“Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate
any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view
it as the most important subject which we as a people can be
engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate
education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and
other countries, by which he may duly appreciate
of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even
on this account alone, to say nothing
of the advantages
and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the scriptures
and other works, both of a religious
and moral nature,
for themselves. For my part, I desire to see the time when education, and
by its means, morality, sobriety,
enterprise and industry,
shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to
have it in my power to
contribute something to
the advancement of any measure
which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy
From Lincoln Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858,
The Library of America edited by Roy P. Basler,
Penguin Putnam Inc. 1984
understand the education of Abraham Lincoln, one should know of the
Lincoln family historical timeline:
- Early America territories, the
Articles of Confederation, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787,
description of education in America
- Daniel Boone beckons Virginians
to go west to Kentucky.
- Abraham Lincoln (16th
President's grandfather) takes up the call to move and packs up
to move to Kentucky via the Cumberland Trail by covered wagon
and horses. Abraham's son, Thomas at age five moves with
- Abraham is killed by a "stealth
Indian" in front of Thomas. The Indian is shot by
Mordecai, Thomas' brother.
- Thomas Lincoln
continued to live in Kentucky. He saw it develop from a frontier
wilderness into a rapidly growing state. But like his ancestors
he preferred the rugged life on the frontier. In a brief
autobiography written for a political campaign, Lincoln said
that his father “even in childhood was a wandering labor boy,
and grew up literally without education. He never did more in
the way of writing than to bunglingly sign his own name.”
- Thomas became
a skilled carpenter, and never lacked the basic necessities of
life. At one time he owned title to two farms. He always
possessed one or more horses. He paid his taxes, and, like his
neighbors, he accepted jury duty and militia duty when called.
- Thomas would marry Nancy Hanks
on June 12, 1806. She has been described as very
intelligent, sensitive, medium height with dark hair and gray
eyes. Her Virginia family ancestry is somewhat mysterious.
She was literate, but with no books in the cabins until little
Abraham was 9 or 10 years of age, she taught him Bible verses
and lyrics from old hymns. He was greatly influenced from
- Thomas owned several farms in
Kentucky and Indiana. The fact that he is described as an
illiterate wondering boy, seems to conflict with his ability to
purchase farmland. Maybe his problem could be that he was
a "family-only sustenance farmer," and the high amount of
acreage he would purchase could not be developed for farming.
Farms of the sizes he would own, in Kentucky usually required
use of a crew of slaves to make them work. Thomas never
really succeeded beyond basic survival. Even in Illinois
at his fourth farm near Lerna, Illinois, he had to borrow $20
from his son in Springfield.
- Thomas' daughter Sarah was born
in 1807. Abraham was born in 1809, and Thomas was born
later and died in infancy.
- Thomas, Nancy, Sarah and Abraham
moved to Indiana in 1816.
- As in Kentucky, life in the
Indiana wilderness was very hard. For the first year a
lean-to of three sides and an open side was used for housing.
Later a cabin with a door and window (neither covered) and dirt
floor was built and moved into.
- Nancy Hanks Lincoln, his first
wife died of the milk sick in October of 1818.
- The next year,
Thomas Lincoln journeyed to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and married
Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children. Abe Lincoln
was very much attached to his kind stepmother, and he later
referred to her as “my angel mother.”
- Sarah and children would bring a
wagon load of furniture, clothing, supplies and some books.
Her first task was to clean up the Lincoln children who had been
by themselves in the wilderness for quite some time waiting for
their father to return.
- The Lincoln children and Sarah's
children got along well and along with cousin Dennis Hanks, the
Thomas Lincoln extended family grew to 13 individuals.
Other family members moved to Indiana and used the three-sided
lean-to for some time until another cabin could be built.
- In 1830, a new threat of "Milk
Sick" arose so Thomas and his extended family packed up again
and made the move to Macon County Illinois.
- At Macon County a farm was built
after enduring the worst winter for years. Thomas Lincoln
and family would move to Coles County, Illinois and twenty-one
year old Abraham would take a flat boat to New Salem.
- Thomas and Sarah would own four
farms near present-day Goosenest Farm (near Lerna).
John L. Scripp's Interview of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (in the
. . . While here
(Indiana farm), Abraham went to A B C schools by littles, kept
successively by Andrew Crawford,--Sweeney, and Azel W. Dorsey. He
does not remember any other. The family of Mr. Dorsey now resides in
Schuyler County, Illinois. Abraham now thinks that the aggregate of
all his schooling did not amount to one year. He was never in a
college or academy as a student, and never inside of a college or
academy building till since he had a law license. What he has in the
way of education he has picked up. After he was twenty-three and had
separated from his father, he studied English grammar--imperfectly,
of course, but so as to speak and write as well as he now does. He
studied and nearly mastered the six books of Euclid since he was a
member of Congress. He regrets his want of education, and does what
he can to supply the want.
- When his father could spare him from chores, Lincoln attended an ABC school. Such schools were held in log cabins, and often the teachers were barely more educated than their pupils.
- According to Lincoln, “no qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond readin', writin', and cipherin', to the Rule of Three.” Including a few weeks at a similar school in Kentucky,
- Lincoln had less than one full year of formal education in his entire life-- all in short winter-time periods to not interfere with farm work during the important seasons.
- Abe's stepmother encouraged his quest for knowledge.
- At an early age he could read, write, and do simple arithmetic.
- Books were scarce on the Indiana frontier, but besides the family Bible, which Lincoln knew well, he was able to read the classical authors Aesop, John Bunyan, and Daniel Defoe, as well as William Grimshaw's History of the United States (1820) and Mason Locke Weems's Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington (about 1800). This biography of George Washington made a lasting impression on Lincoln, and he made the ideals of Washington and the founding fathers of the United States his own.
- By the time Lincoln was 19 years old, he had reached his full height of 1.93 m (6 ft 4 in). He was lean and muscular, with long arms and big hands that gave him an awkward appearance. Although he had remarkable strength, he never liked farm work. He preferred instead the easy congeniality that he found at the general store in nearby Gentryville. A neighbor recalled “Abe was awful lazy, he would laugh and talk and crack jokes and tell stories all the time.”
- Abe's childhood schools were in small log cabins with holes for windows. There were few, if any books. The Bible was used as the reading source in the later schools.
- Teachers were called "wizzards" if they could read, write, cipher to the rule of three, and knew Latin. One of his teachers spent their school time learning manners of the time. He only lasted a year.
- Sarah Bush Lincoln, Abraham's step mother was illiterate like Thomas, but encouraged Abraham's unusual ways in desiring to learn and read.
III. Abraham Lincoln the adult and lastly, President
- After turning 21 years of age, Abraham was free of his father's control. He was an emancipated adult. After helping his father and step-mother for a year at Macon County, Illinois, he would move to New Salem-- his first real town residence.
- There he would read more, learn the job of surveying, involving much geometry, and also would read law books to then get qualified as a lawyer through what was then the Illinois bar exam. His exam mostly included his reputation and references as being of high level in honesty and morals.
- Abraham Lincoln constantly read from newspapers (at New Salem and later Springfield), Shakespeare, the books of Euclid, and many we don't even know of.
- When becoming President, Abraham Lincoln would check out a pile of books from the Library of Congress and would learn the art of warfare and commanding of troops in battles.
- Lincoln's writing was described as long sweeping style. As President, he learned to compose messages in short form for the new T-mails or telegraphing. He would use this throughout the last years of the Civil War.
IV. A bit of
technology: How I make my pages, having a personal website.
V. New Lincoln
web-based information-- The upcoming Lincoln Birthday Bicentennial &
Lincoln-Douglas Debates Sesquicentennial (October, 1858)
technology-based lessons for all grade levels.
Presentation: Education of America from the colonial days
through the present, by following the education of Abraham Lincoln.
Plan for day