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The 812 List, | Dec 18, 2014

Lincoln is ours

8 reasons we can claim Abe

Here Abe grew to 6 feet 4 inches. /Photo courtesy of National Archives.

April 15 marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death, and while Illinois has long held claim to the famed president, Southern Indiana deserves its due. Kendell Thompson, superintendent of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, and William Bartelt, author of There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth, give us eight reasons Illinois ought to share Abe. “When Lincoln left Indiana, he arrived in Illinois fully formed,” Thompson says. “His character, his affections and his moral compass were developed from his experience in Southern Indiana.”


1: Here Abe grew up.

The Lincoln family crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky in the winter of 1816 as Indiana gained statehood. Abe grew up with the state, spending 14 formative years of his life from age 7 to 21 in Spencer County.


2: Here Abe learned to love education.

In log-cabin schoolhouses Abe learned to love reading, writing and arithmetic. “It was here he realized he had a gift with words,” Bartelt says. Eventually this gift would lead to one of the best-known speeches in American history, his Gettysburg Address.


3: Here Abe read the great American documents for the first time.

Abe read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in The Revised Laws of Indiana (1824), Bartelt says. The copy that sparked his appreciation for government is kept at the Lilly Library in Bloomington.


4: Here Abe won his first court case.

As a teenager, Abe worked on the Ohio River and often ferried passengers to passing steamboats. The Dill brothers, who owned a ferry company that took passengers across the Ohio, sued Abe. He defended himself in a Rockport court and won on the premise he was only taking passengers halfway across the river.


5: Here Abe aspired to become an inventor.

Abe remains the only U.S. president to hold a patent. On May 22, 1849, Abe received Patent No. 6469 for “Buoying Vessels Over Shoals.” His inspiration came from working on the Ohio River as a teenager and watching boats struggle to navigate shallows.


6: Here Abe took a trip that changed his views on slavery.

In 1828, Abe left for New Orleans on a flatboat with Allen Gentry, son of a local general store owner. On their way to take produce to market they witnessed a slave auction that influenced Abe’s anti-slavery views.


7: Here Abe felt the fragility of life.

Abe’s mother and sister, Nancy Hanks Lincoln and Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, both died in Spencer County. When Abe was president, he used this familiarity with grief to write a moving letter to young Fanny McCullough: “The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.”


8: Here Abe would remember.

In his 1860 autobiography, Abe wrote of Southern Indiana: “It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals, still in the woods. There I grew up.” More telling, though, was one of his poems published anonymously in Whig on May 5, 1847: “My childhood’s home I see again, / And sadden with the view; / And still, as memory crowds my brain, / There’s pleasure in it too.”


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