Learning Lincoln On-line


Lincoln and the Founding Fathers-- Studying the Founding Fathers Documents and President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address



"Signing of the Declaration of Independence" Painting by John Trumbull

Before we consider what President Lincoln thought about the first man that was President, George Washington, we will consider "all" the original Founding Fathers of our country.

Read the story, and answer these Challenge Questions to learn how Abraham Lincoln was connected to the Founding Fathers.   Use Wikipedia and read about the "key Founding Fathers," including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. 

Many consider all the signers of the Declaration of Independence as Founding Fathers.  http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration provides a list of all the signers. Only a few signed both the Declaration and the Constitution.

Directions for this Activity:

1.  Read the biographical stories of about the "key Founding Fathers," including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. 

2.  Use the National Archives Website to View these actual documents: Charters of Freedom   

3.  Also read a copy of the Gettysburg Address

Answer the questions.

1.  Name the main original Founding Fathers of the United States.

2.  Why are these men called our "Founding Fathers?"  What did they do of great importance in founding our country?  

3.  What great American documents were written by the Founding Fathers? 

4.   His childhood and learning  &   Leadership centering on  "rights of the individual" 

5.  (Click Here scroll to the bottom of the site for reference links) and read the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address.

 Another good source of Declaration of Independence information is at http://barefootsworld.org




From the George W. Bush Institute, Winter, 2016, Issue 01

What Lincoln Learned from the Founders – And What Leaders Today Can Learn from Them--   A Historian's View by Richard Brookhiser

Abraham Lincoln (b. 1809) grew up as the last of the Founding Fathers aged and died: Thomas Jefferson still had one month left in the White House when Lincoln was born, and the ex-president died when the future one was 17. All his life Lincoln was mindful of the founders’ example. What particular lessons did he take from them—lessons we might still take today?

Slavery in America; the Spreading of Slavery into Territories and New States

        Lincoln drew on different founders at different times in his life. The great issue of Lincoln’s maturity was the status of slavery in America—was it an evil that ought to end, or a matter of indifference, even a good thing, that might last forever? Lincoln argued that the founders believed slavery was unjust—and to prove it he cited the Declaration of Independence, and its author Thomas Jefferson.

        The Declaration was the nation’s founding document, unanimously endorsed by the Continental Congress. Every state had approved it, including its statement of the self-evident truth of human equality. Lincoln invoked Jefferson and the Declaration repeatedly. “The principles of Jefferson,” he wrote for a commemoration of Jefferson’s birthday in 1859, “are the definitions and axioms of free society. Jefferson had “introduce[d] into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times,” which would be “a rebuke and a stumbling block to…tyranny and oppression.” This was a lesson in the importance and enduring relevance of principle.

        Jefferson had “introduce[d] into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times,” which would be “a rebuke and a stumbling block to…tyranny and oppression.” This was a lesson in the importance and enduring relevance of principle.

        At the same time, Lincoln knew that the founders were realists. They accepted slavery’s existence—many of them, including Jefferson, owned slaves. But Lincoln argued that they also took concrete steps to contain slavery—forbidding it in the Northwest Territory, ending the slave trade in 1808—in the hope that it would wither away. As Lincoln put it in his 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, they “stop[ped] its spread in one direction and cut off its source in another.” If the end were guaranteed, Lincoln was willing to wait for it. This was a lesson in patient determination. 

George Washington and the struggle at Trenton-- Abraham Lincoln in 1861, Facing War

        But the first, and perhaps most important founder in Lincoln’s life was George Washington, whom Lincoln met in what we would now call a young adult classic, The Life of General George Washington by Parson Weems. Weems published his biography in 1800, the year after Washington died, and Lincoln discovered it “in the earliest days of my being able to read.”

        We remember Weems now for his tales of Washington as a good boy: when young George accidentally chops a prize cherry tree in his father’s orchard, he confesses the deed and is praised for his honesty. But what impressed Lincoln was Weems’s account of Washington as a great man—specifically, his heroism at the Battle of Trenton, at the end of 1776. Washington and his men had been on the run, chased out of New York City and across New Jersey, for four months. But at Trenton he turned on his pursuers, won a surprise attack at dawn and saved the patriot cause.

        Lincoln recalled the battle on his way from Illinois to his first inauguration in 1861. The country was already falling apart—six states had seceded shortly after Lincoln won the presidential election in November, and five more would follow. In a speech in Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, Lincoln spoke about the effect that Parson Weems’s book had made on him. Nothing had “fixed [itself] upon my imagination so deeply as the struggle here at Trenton.”

        What had moved Lincoln so? “I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for…something even more than national independence…something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come.” Jefferson had stated a principle in the Declaration, Washington had fought for it.

“I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for…something even more than national independence…something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come.” Jefferson had stated a principle in the Declaration, Washington had fought for it.

        Now Lincoln, the president-elect, would be called on to fight for it again. What he read as a boy inspired him as a man.  Principle and patience are important, and a leader has to show both humor and seriousness. But there are times when you must fight. Lincoln learned his lesson well.




The Declaration of Independence


The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

hen in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Signed by

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton




Abraham Lincoln said, "Study the Constitution. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislatures, and enforced in courts of justice."  January 27, 1838

An Address before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois





Answer these Challenge Questions about these documents.  One was written and signed by the Founding Fathers in 1776.   The other was given as a speech and written by President Lincoln.


a.  Lincoln's Gettysburg Address has ten sentences.  For the "Founding Father's" section of our activity, re-read first of all, the first sentence.  How old was our country when Lincoln gave this speech?  He mentions our fathers.  Who were these men?  What big idea did these men have that related to the great Civil War ongoing during the time of the Gettysburg Military Cemetery dedication?  What was the war doing to the nation? 

The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln

National Archives:  Founding Fathers Online

President Lincoln Revokes Civil Liberties

16th President Topics Index

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