Abraham Lincoln: Against All Odds

Blog Post-3: June 28, 2012 by J. Herrera

Abraham Lincoln: Against All Odds



One of America’s best-known presidents of the 19th century and remembered most for his dramatic political career and demise is Abraham Lincoln.  One of the most intriguing facts about this presidential hero is his humble upbringing in the backwoods of Kentucky only to later marry a Kentucky socialite, Mary Todd. Ironically, and contrary to what is known today concerning Lincoln’s intellectual ability, is the fact that he was not considered very bright back in his youth. In fact, David Donald states, “There wasn’t much to this boy at first. He was little and all spindle. Learning was hard for him.” [1] The truth remains that today he is best known for attaining great knowledge and developed a reputation for surrounding himself with progressive thinkers of his time while in office.  Beschloss and  Sidey also note, “His law partner said of him, ‘His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.’” [2]  Obviously growing up in a farm gave young Abe ample opportunities to learn the value of skilled labor such as; farming, carpentry, hunting, fishing, and boating. These activities aided him in physical strength and no doubt endurance in hard work.  Nevertheless, even though much is written about his presidential experience while in office, most who studies Abraham Lincoln do not usually focus on who and what influenced him to become a man of such great success and accomplishment.




Perhaps life’s struggles and deep tragedies can become a source to building great character in a person and Lincoln was no exception.  Researching Lincoln’s background can most likely shed light to how and why Abraham Lincoln became such a great man in history. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks in La Rue County Kentucky.  Obviously those who impact us the most are our parents and here author, Henry Ketcham describes Abraham’s father, “Thomas Lincoln was left fatherless in early boyhood, and grew up without any schooling or any definite work. For the most part he did odd jobs as they were offered.” [1]  Perhaps the fact that his father was illiterate and worked at whatever jobs he could find, Lincoln would develop a passion for learning, which later Lincoln was known to be self-taught in law.



At the age of nine the death of Lincoln’s mother, Nancy may have contributed to his willingness to overcome life’s setbacks. Ketchem notes, “ By this time Mrs. Lincoln was down with the same scourge….At all events she soon died and the future president passed into his first sorrow.”[4] President Lincoln experienced other deaths such as his older sister Sarah and later three of his four sons. Colonel Alexander K. McClure writes, “Edward Baker, born March 10, 1846, died in infancy, William Wallace, born December 21, 1850, died in the White House in February, 1862, and Thomas (known as “Tad”), born April 4, 1853, died in 1871.” [5]   The mere fact that an individual will experience tragedy through loss can either “make or break” a person, but for some individuals adversity can be used to their advantage later in life.  This became true for Abraham Lincoln with the adversity he was confronted with politically during and after the Civil War, which later became his demise.

 1] David Herbert Donald, Lincoln. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 36.

[2] Michael Beschloss and Hugh Sidey. 16, Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865 (White House Historical Association, 2009), accessed June 27, 2012, http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/abrahamlincoln.

[3] Henry Ketcham, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Chapter III. Early Years, accessed June 27, 2012, http://www.authorama.com/life-of-abraham-lincoln-5.html.

[4] Henry Ketcham, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Chapter III. Early Years.

[5] Colonel Alexander K. McClure, Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories, accessed June 28, 2012, http://www.rickwalton.com/lincoln/linc572.htm.

  1. bktitus17 said:

    I like your background information on Lincoln. I think sometimes individuals only focus on the Civil War, and even though it is an extremely important part of American History, it still remains only five years of Lincoln’s life and the end of it nonetheless. I do wonder, however, the influence of Lincoln’s childhood and early adulthood on his presidency. To me, it would seem like that kind of tragedy and suffering would lead a person to be more sympathetic to others that are going through horrendous ordeals, such as slavery. Yet, it is common knowledge for historians that Lincoln’s primary focus for going to war was to preserve the Union, not to free the slaves. He ended up issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, but only after realizing to end the war he must end slavery, not to mention the Emancipation Proclamation only freed some of the slaves in various parts, not the entire South. Thus, my question to you is, did his childhood truly effect the person Lincoln became or did politics reign supreme during his presidency?

    • Good question and thought provoking at that. In reference as to whether Lincoln’s childhood somehow impacted him as President of the Untied States; I think that politically his main goal was to preserve the Union first and foremost, however, reading about politicians and how they operate, I can’t help but wonder… could it be that Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation was in reality a two-fold goal? I say this because of Lincoln’s childhood experience when he saw slaves for the first time:


  2. Lincoln has and always will be an interesting figure for anyone who loves history. His upbringing is fascinating as is his adult life story. I remember reading a piece a few years back about his son who died at a young age while occupying the White House. Indeed, this individual worked tirelessly to educate himself and his life as a president was probably more stressful than any of the other presidents in history. Also, I recently visited the Fords Theatre in D.C. and I must say that knowing that President Lincoln was shot in that theatre gives you a weird feeling in your gut. I really did feel as though I was a part of the event that led to his demise.

  3. Wow! I can’t even imagine what that must have been like to enter the Ford’s Theater and realize that this was the place where America’s greatest president took his last breath. I have always been inspired by Abraham Lincoln and as I mentioned in my blog, it was his lowly background and “against all odds” he was able to accomplish so much in his lifetime. I guess another reason for my attraction and admiration of this great man is that we almost share the same birthday, his on February 12 and my birthday on February 11.
    Thanks for your comment! : ) Nos vemos…

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