Abraham Lincoln Log Cabin

February 20, 2012 by staff 

Abraham Lincoln Log Cabin, February 12 is the 203rd Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. In 1899, Union Army Major General Carl Schurz wrote a marvelous essay about the martyred president, whom he knew personally and admired greatly. The first German-American ever elected to the U. S. Senate, Schurz was the nation’s leading political Independent in the postbellum period and he also authored the famous credo: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Following is a considerably-edited version of Schurz’s tremendously long (near 20,000 words) portrait, our author’s article covering only the relatively little-known period of Lincoln as a very young man.

Abraham Lincoln as a young lawyer. This drawing shows him as he appeared c. 1836.

Abraham Lincoln, the statesman, born and reared in a log cabin is a familiar figure in American history; but we may search in vain among our celebrities for one whose origin and early life equaled his in wretchedness. He first saw the light in a miserable hovel in Kentucky, on a farm consisting of a few barren acres. Contrary to romanticized reports, his father was a typical “poor white,” shiftless and without ambition constantly looking for a new piece of land on which he might make a living without much work. Their household was squalid and cheerless.

Abraham Lincoln is pictured as he appeared while practicing law in Springfield, Ill., in the 1840s.

Only when the family had moved on, to the backwoods of Indiana, when the mother had died and a stepmother, a woman of thrift and energy, had taken charge of the children, did the shaggy-headed, barefooted boy, then seven years old, “began to feel like a human being.” Hard work was his early lot. When a mere boy he had to help support the family. He regarded it as an advancement when he obtained work in a crossroads store, where he amused the customers by his talk over the counter. He soon distinguished himself among the backwoods folk as one who had something to say worth listening to. His thirst for knowledge was great but his opportunities for satisfying that thirst were woefully slender.

In the log schoolhouse, which he could visit but little, he was taught only reading, writing and elementary arithmetic. Among the people of the settlement were a few books, which he borrowed eagerly, to read and reread. He thus began to gather some knowledge and soon he also felt the impulse to write, making extracts from books he read, but also composing little essays of his own. He was moved to write on cruelty to animals and, seeing men intoxicated, he wrote on temperance; he also put some political thoughts on paper.

Thus he won a neighborhood reputation as a clever young man and he made little speeches in a jocose and sometimes also a serious vein. At the social frolics of the settlement he began telling funny stories and making his mark at wrestling matches, too. But he was known never to use his extraordinary strength to the humiliation of others. He was one of the people among whom he lived; in appearance perhaps a little more uncouth than most of them – a very tall, rawboned youth, with large features, dark, shriveled skin and rebellious hair; his garment held usually by only one suspender, strung over a coarse shirt; the head covered in winter with a coonskin cap, in summer with a rough straw hat.

He worked and lived in this way until the spring of 1830, when his father moved on again, this time to Illinois. On this journey of 15 days “Abe” drove the ox wagon carrying the household goods. A new log cabin was built, and then, while fencing a field, young Lincoln split those historic rails which were destined to play so picturesque a part in his first Presidential campaign, many years later.

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