Chapter Three: In Indiana
In 1819, Abraham’s father, Thomas Lincoln, returned to Kentucky and proposed marriage to a widow, Mrs. Sally Bush Johnston. They were married the next morning. The new wife brought with her lots of articles of household furniture and three children of various ages. Parents, children, and goods were loaded into a wagon drawn by a four-horse team and were driven over indescribable roads, through woods and fields, to their Indiana home.
Sally’s furniture made an improvement in the Lincoln home. What was most important, she brought the sweet spirit of motherhood, giving to all the children a generous portion of mother’s love. She did not humor them to the point of idleness, but wisely ruled with strictness. The influence upon the growing lad of two such women as Nancy Hanks and Sally Bush was worth more than that of the best college in all the land.
Young Abe grew very fast. While still in his teens, he reached his full height – six feet and four inches. His strength was astonishing. Many stories–some perhaps exaggerated–were told of his strength, such as: He once lifted up a hencoop weighing 600 pounds and carried it off; he could lift a full barrel of cider to his mouth and drink from it; he could sink an ax deeper into a log than any man in the country. It’s not known if such a contest existed but the stories about Lincoln’s strength did.
During his youth, he spent much of his time reading, talking, and, after a fashion, making speeches. He also wrote. His political writings won great admiration from his neighbors. This shows that from boyhood he knew the force of this formidable weapon, which later he used with so much skill.
Men gathered at the country store as they might today at a cafe’ or bar. Young Lincoln was the life of the gatherings, being an expert in the telling of a humorous story and having always a plentiful supply. Rumor was that some men would leave their work to listen to him.
When sixteen years old, Lincoln had his first lesson in speechmaking or oratory. He attended court and heard a case in which one of the wealthy Breckenridges of Kentucky was attorney for the defense. The power of the lawyer’s speech was a revelation. It opened Lincoln’s eyes to the strength of good writing and strong speaking skills.
At the end, the awkward, ill-dressed, bashful but enthusiastic young Lincoln pressed forward to offer his congratulations and thanks to the eloquent lawyer, who brushed by the young man without accepting the outstretched hand. In later years, the men met again, this time in Washington City, in the White House, when Lincoln was president. The president reminded Breckenridge of the incident, which the lawyer had no desire to recall.
In 1830, the epidemic “milk-sick” reappeared in Indiana. Thomas Lincoln had a desire to get out of there. Illinois was at that time settling up rapidly. There were glowing accounts of its desirability. Thomas Lincoln’s decision to move to the new land made good sense.
The family settled in Macon County. Abe worked faithfully with his father until the family was settled, then started out in life for himself. He had now reached the age of twenty-one. As he had passed through the periods of childhood and youth and was on the threshold of manhood, it is right and fitting to offer at this point the words of Sally Bush, his stepmother:
“Abe was a good boy, and I can say what scarcely one woman – a mother – can say in a thousand: Abe never gave me a cross word or look, and never refused, in fact or appearance, to do anything I requested him. I never gave him a cross word in all my life. … He was a dutiful son to me always. I think he loved me truly. I had a son John who was raised with Abe. Both were good boys; but I must say, both being now dead, that Abe was the best boy I ever saw, or expect to see.”
Lincoln came into manhood with good values. He had formed no habits that would cause years of struggle to overcome. He had committed no deed that would bring the blush of shame to his cheek. He was as free from bad habits as from crime. He didn’t swear, he had never tasted liquor, he was no brawler, and he never gambled. He was honest and truthful. He had a genius for making friends. He was the center of every social circle and he was a good talker. He was well prepared for the great responsibilities awaiting him.
Based on the book by Henry Ketcham
Edited by Deborah Carroll
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