NEVER GAVE UP
1816: His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to
Life on the American frontier in the early 19th century was no
picnic for anyone; it required hours of back-breaking toil and
drudgery day in and day out. In the context of their time, however,
the Lincolns lived under rather unremarkable circumstances.
The statement that the Lincolns were “forced out of their home” in
1816 isn’t completely false, but it is somewhat misleading because
it implies they were suddenly and involuntarily uprooted from their
home, with no warning and no place to go. Abraham Lincoln’s father,
Thomas, had owned farmland in Hardin County, Kentucky, since the
early 1800s, and he left Kentucky and moved his family across the
Ohio River to Indiana in 1816 for two primary reasons:
was a slave state, and Thomas Lincoln disliked slavery — both
because his church opposed it, and because he did not want to
have to compete economically with slave labor.
had never been properly surveyed, and many settlers in the early
1800s found that establishing clear title to their land was
difficult. Thomas Lincoln (and other farmers in the area) were
eventually sued by non-Kentucky residents who claimed prior
title to their lands.
With plenty of land available in neighboring Indiana, a territory
where slavery had been excluded by the Northwest Ordinance and the
government guaranteed buyers clear title to their property, Thomas
Lincoln opted to move rather than to spend time and money fighting
over the title to his Kentucky farm. So, in a moderate sense the
Lincolns could be said to have been “forced out of their home,” but
it did not happen abruptly, and they opted to leave because better
opportunities awaited them.
The other part of this statement, that a seven-year-old Abraham
Lincoln “had to work to support” his family, is also misleading.
Young Abraham did not have to take an outside job lest his poor
family sink into financial ruin. Like nearly all farm children of
his era, Lincoln was expected to perform whatever chores and tasks
he was physically capable of handling around the farm. If Abraham
worked harder and longer than most other children, it was not
because the Lincolns’ circumstances were extraordinarily difficult,
but because Lincoln was exceptionally tall and strong for his age.
1818: His mother died.
This, at least, is no embellishment. Lincoln’s mother, Nancy, did
die of “milk
sickness” in 1818, when Abraham was only nine years old.
A mother’s death is a tragedy for any child, and it was a special
hardship for a struggling farm family.
1831: Failed in business.
The statement that Lincoln “failed in business” in 1831 is another
misleading claim, because it implies that he was the owner or
operator of the failed business, or at least was otherwise
responsible for its failure. None of this is true. Lincoln left his
father’s home for good in 1831 and, along with his cousin John
Hanks, took a flatboat full of provisions down the Mississippi River
from Illinois to New Orleans on behalf of a “bustling, none too
scrupulous businessman” named Denton Offutt. Offutt planned to open
a general store, and he promised to make Lincoln its manager when
Abraham returned from New Orleans. Lincoln operated the store as
Offutt’s clerk and assistant for several months (and by all accounts
did a fine job of it) until Offutt, a poor businessman, overextended
himself financially and ran it into the ground. Thus by the spring
of 1832 Lincoln had indeed “lost his job,” but not because he had
“failed in business.”
1832: Ran for state legislature – lost.
did run for the Illinois state legislature in 1832, although as
Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald noted, “the post he was
seeking was not an elevated one … [legislators] dealt mostly with
such issues as whether cattle had to be fenced in or could enjoy
free range.” Lincoln finished eighth in a field of thirteen (with
the top four vote-getters becoming legislators). However, this same
year Lincoln also achieved something of which he was very proud,
when the members of a volunteer militia company he had joined
selected him as their captain. Lincoln said many years later that
this was “a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had
since.” (He also noted later in his career that his defeat in the
1832 legislative election was the only time he “was ever beaten on a
direct vote of the people.”)
1832: Also lost his job – wanted to go to law school but couldn’t
As noted above, Lincoln actually “lost his job” in 1831, and the
notion that in 1832 Lincoln “wanted to go to law school but couldn’t
get in” (why he couldn’t get in remains unspecified) is both
inaccurate and an anachronism. Lincoln did eventually become a
lawyer, and he accomplished the feat in the manner typical of his
time and place: not by attending law school, but by reading law
books and observing court sessions. He was indeed interested in
becoming a lawyer as early as 1832, but, as Lincoln biographer
Donald wrote, “on reflection he concluded that he needed a better
education to succeed.”
1833: Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by
the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of
his life paying off this debt.
Lincoln and William F. Berry, a corporal from Lincoln’s militia
company, purchased a general store in New Salem, Illinois, in 1833.
(Lincoln had no money for his half; he didn’t technically “borrow
the money from a friend” but instead signed a note with one of the
previous owners for his share.) Lincoln and Berry were competing
against a larger, well-organized store in the same town; their
outfit did little business, and within a short time it had “winked
The debt on the store became due the following year, and since
Lincoln was unable to pay off his note, his possessions were seized
by the sheriff. Moreover, when Lincoln’s former partner died with no
assets soon afterwards, Lincoln insisted upon assuming his partner’s
half of the debt as well, even though he was not legally obligated
to do so. Exactly how long it took Lincoln to pay off this debt
(which he jokingly referred to as his “national debt”) in its
entirety is unknown. It did take him several years, but not
seventeen; nor, as this statement implies, was he completely
financially encumbered until it was paid in full. Within a few
months of the store’s failure Lincoln had obtained a position as the
New Salem postmaster, and by 1835 he was earning money both as a
surveyor and as a state legislator.
1834: Ran for state legislature again – won.
In 1834 Lincoln was again one of thirteen candidates running for a
seat in the state legislature, and this time he won, securing the
second-highest vote total among the field.
1835: Was engaged to be married, sweetheart died and his heart was
Much of Lincoln’s relationship with New Salem resident Ann Rutledge
remains a mystery, and several aspects of it — including whether or
not they were actually engaged (at the time they met, Ann was
betrothed to someone else) — are based more on speculation than
documented fact. Whatever the exact nature of their relationship,
however, her death in the summer of 1835 appears to have affected
1836: Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.
Whether Lincoln experienced a “total nervous breakdown” in the
aftermath of Ann Rutledge’s death is debatable, but the notion that
he somehow found time to stay “in bed for six months” is not. After
Ann’s funeral he spent a few weeks visiting an old friend, and
within a month of her death he had resumed his occasional surveying
duties. He surveyed the nearby town of Petersburg in February 1836,
undertook a strenuous two-month campaign for re-election during the
summer, and served in the state legislature throughout the year. All
of this would have been difficult for a man who spent “six months in
1838: Sought to become speaker of the state legislature – defeated.
By the time of the 1838-39 legislative session, Lincoln had twice
been an unsuccessful Whig candidate for the position of speaker of
the Illinois House of Representatives. This was a relatively minor
political setback, however, and no mention is made here of the fact
that by 1838 he was one of the most experienced members of the
legislature, or of any of the other notable successes he achieved
between 1834 and 1838, namely:
He was re-elected to the state legislature in 1836 and 1838,
both times receiving more votes than any other candidate.
The Illinois Supreme Court licensed him to practice law in 1837.
He became the partner of “one of the most prominent and
successful lawyers in Springfield” (where he now lived).
1840: Sought to become elector – defeated.
This statement is erroneous. Lincoln was named as a presidential
elector at the Illinois state Whig convention on 8 October 1839, and
he campaigned as a Whig elector during the 1840, 1844, 1852, and
1856 presidential elections (skipping the 1848 campaign because he
was serving in Congress).
1843: Ran for Congress – lost.
One could claim this as a Lincoln failure in that he wanted to be a
Congressman and failed to achieve that goal, but it is technically
inaccurate to claim that he “ran for Congress” in 1843 and lost: The
election was held in 1844, and Lincoln was not a candidate in that
election. Lincoln’s failure to achieve his party’s nomination at the
May 1843 Whig district convention is undoubtedly what is referred to
1846: Ran for Congress again – this time he won – went to Washington
and did a good job.
Lincoln won a seat as an Illinois representative to the U.S.
Congress in 1846.
1848: Ran for re-election to Congress – lost.
Lincoln did not “lose” the 1848 election. He did not run for
re-election because Whig policy at the time specified that party
members should step aside after serving one term to allow other
members to take their turns at holding office. Lincoln, a faithful
party member, complied.
1849: Sought the job of land officer in his home state – rejected.
The position referred to here was commissioner of the General Land
Office, a federal position, not a state one, and one that came with
a fair amount of power and patronage. Since Lincoln’s term in
Congress was about to expire, his friends urged him to apply for
this post, but Lincoln was reluctant to give up his law career. He
finally agreed to apply for the job when the choice was deadlocked
between two other Illinois candidates and it looked like the
appointment might therefore go to a compromise candidate from
outside of Illinois. Whigs from northern Illinois then decided that
too many appointments were going to party members from other parts
of the state and put up their own candidate against Lincoln. The
choice was left to the Secretary of the Interior, who selected the
1854: Ran for Senate of the United States – lost.
In Lincoln’s time, U.S. senators were not elected through direct
popular vote; they were appointed by state legislatures. In
Illinois, voters cast ballots only for state legislators, and the
General Assembly of the state legislature then selected nominees to
fill open U.S. Senate seats. So, in 1854 (and again in 1856) Lincoln
was not technically running for the Senate; he was campaigning on
behalf of Whig candidates for state legislature seats all throughout
Illinois. Nonetheless, after the 1854 state election, Lincoln made
it known that he sought the open U.S. Senate seat for Illinois. The
first ballot of a divided General Assembly was taken in February
1855, and Lincoln received the most votes but was six votes shy of
the requisite majority. When the process remained deadlocked after
another eight ballots, Lincoln withdrew from the race to lend his
support to another candidate and ensure that the Senate seat did not
go to a pro-slavery Democrat.
1856: Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s
national convention – got less than 100 votes.
This is both misleading and inaccurate. Lincoln did not “seek” the
vice-presidential nomination at the 1856 Republican national
convention in Philadelphia; his name was put into nomination by the
Illinois delegation after most national delegates were already
committed to other candidates. (Lincoln himself was back in
Illinois, not at the convention, and did not know he had been
nominated until friends brought him the news.) Nonetheless, in an
informal ballot, Lincoln received 110 votes out of 363, not at all a
bad showing for someone who was little known outside his home state.
1858: Ran for U.S. Senate again – again he lost.
Again, Lincoln was not directly campaigning for a Senate seat,
although it was a foregone conclusion that he would be the
Republicans’ choice to take Stephen Douglas’ U.S. Senate seat if his
party won control of the Illinois state legislature. Lincoln
actually bested Douglas in the sense that Republican legislative
candidates statewide received slightly over 50% of the popular vote,
but the Republicans failed to gain control of the state legislature,
and Douglas therefore retained his seat in the Senate.
1860: Elected president of the United States.
And again in 1864. A pretty good ending for someone who wasn’t quite
the perennial failure this glurge makes him out to be.
Read more at http://www.snopes.com/glurge/lincoln.asp#cpotYfuzUy5xuSDr.99