How Abraham was Educated Abraham Lincoln: "To the
People of Sangamo County"
[What the Future President Thought of Education and
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 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
measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy
From Lincoln Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858, P. 9
The Library of America edited by Roy P. Basler,
Penguin Putnam Inc. 1984
I. To 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
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
Abraham is killed by a "stealth Indian" in front of
Thomas. The Indian is shot by Mordecai, Thomas'
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 her.
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
Thomas, Nancy, Sarah and Abraham moved to Indiana in
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
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
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 LINCOLN'S EDUCATION
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
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
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