How Abraham was Educated
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
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
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 the value 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
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.
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.”
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).
II. Abraham's Education: From the John L.
Scripp's Interview of Abraham Lincoln in 1860
(in the Chicago Tribune)
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.
FACT LIST OF
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.
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
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
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
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. New Lincoln web-based information-- The upcoming
Lincoln Birthday Bicentennial & Lincoln-Douglas
Debates Sesquicentennial (October, 1858)
V. Designing technology-based lessons for all
RESOURCES ABOUT ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND HIS EDUCATION