Abraham Lincoln reference site established 2005

Lincoln's Autobiographical Accounts

 

Lincoln's Life, As Written By Himself

The compiler of the Dictionary of Congress states that while preparing that work for publication in 1858, he sent to Mr. Lincoln the usual request for a sketch of his life, and received the following reply:

Born February 12, 1809, in Hardin Co., Kentucky.

Education Defective. Profession a Lawyer. Have been a Captain of Volunteers in Black Hawk War. Postmaster at a very small office. Four times a member of the Illinois Legislature, and was a member of the Lower House of Congress.

Yours etc.,

A. Lincoln

source: Lincoln's Birthday, edited by Robert Haven Schauffler, New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1909 (fifth printing 1918), p. 365.
 

Abraham Lincoln splitting wood by JLG Ferris
The Railsplitter by J.L.G. Ferris
(Jean Leon Gerome Ferris)

 

Abraham Lincoln's Autobiography

The following autobiography was written by Mr. Lincoln's own hand at the request of J. W. Fell of Springfield, Ill., December 20, 1859. In the note which accompanied it the writer says: "Herewith is a little sketch, as you requested. There is not much of it, for the reason, I suppose, that there is not much of me."

I was born February 12, 1809, in Hardin Co., Ky. My parents were both born in Virginia , of undistinguished familie--second families, perhaps, I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks, some of whom now reside in Adams Co., and others in Mason Co., Ill. My paternal grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, emigrated from Rockingham Co., Va., to Kentucky, about 1781 or 1782, where, a year or two later, he was killed by Indians, not in battle, but by stealth, when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest. His ancestors, who were Quakers, went to Virginia from Berks Co., Pa. An effort to identify them with the New England family of the same name ended in nothing more definite than a similarity of Christian names in both families, such as Enoch, Levi, Mordecai, Solomon, Abraham, and the like.

My father, at the death of his father, was but six years of age, and grew up literally without any education. He removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer Co., Ind., in my eighth year. We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so-called, but no qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond 'readin', writin', and cipherin', to the rule of three. If a straggler, supposed to understand Latin, happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizard. There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education. Of course, when I came of age I did not know much. Still, somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the rule of three, but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.

I was raised to farm work, at which I continued till I was twenty-two. At twenty-one I came to Illinois, and passed the first year in Macon County. Then I got to New Salem, at that time in Sangamon, now Menard County, where I remained a year as a sort of clerk in a store. Then came the Black Hawk War, and I was elected a captain of volunteer--a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since. I went into the campaign, was elected, ran for the Legislature the same year (1832), and was beate--the only time I have ever been beaten by the people. The next and three succeeding biennial elections I was elected to the Legislature. I was not a candidate afterward. During the legislative period I had studied law, and removed to Springfield to practice it. In 1846 I was elected to the Lower House of Congress. Was not a candidate for re-election. From 1849 to 1854, both inclusive, practiced law more assiduously than ever before. Always a Whig in politics, and generally on the Whig electoral ticket, making active canvasses. I was losing interest in politics when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused me again. What I have done since then is pretty well known.

If any personal description of me is thought desirable, it may be said I am in height six feet four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing, on an average, one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair and gray eyes--no other marks or brands recollected.

Yours very truly,

A. Lincoln

source: Lincoln's Birthday, edited by Robert Haven Schauffler, New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1909 (fifth printing 1918), pp. 3-5.


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