“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
family historical timeline:
Early America territories, the Articles of
Confederation, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, description of education in
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 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 in infancy.
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
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
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
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 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,
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
Abe's stepmother encouraged his quest for knowledge.
At an early age he could read, write, and do simple
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
III. Abraham Lincoln the adult and, 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
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.
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.