Ten score and nine years ago, a child was born who would change the course of history. Born Feb. 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln grew up to become an American hero. Through his years leading the nation, he earned himself a spot on the side of South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore and a memorial in Washington, D.C. Lincoln is forever a part of United States history and his essential role in the emancipation of slaves across the states makes him a figure that all should get to know better.
You may know about his more notable achievements during the Civil War, but the man we call “Honest Abe” was a fascinating specimen with a colorful past. Beyond his assassination and the death of his son, Willie Lincoln, Abe’s life was speckled with notable moments that deserve attention and recognition.
For Abraham Lincoln's birthday, let’s celebrate by taking a trip down memory lane with some little-known facts about his life and accomplishments.
Abraham Lincoln Had a Limited Education
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Though Honest Abe presented himself as a well-educated individual, the reality was that he only received a grand total of 18 months of formal schooling. With encouragement from his father’s second wife, Sarah, Lincoln took up reading. Neighbors noted young Abraham's ambition as he walked miles just to borrow a book.
Despite his lack of early childhood education, Abraham went on to teach himself law by reading William Blackstone’s Commentaries of the Laws of England. At 28 years old, he gained admittance to the bar and moved to Springfield, IL to practice law at John T. Stuart Law Firm.
Grave Robbers Tried to Steal His Body
Even after his assassination, Lincoln was robbed of his well-deserved peace. Irish crime boss Big Jim Kennally was known for his band of counterfeiters in Chicago, but when his most talented engraver, Benjamin Boyd, was arrested and sentenced to 10 years, Kennally grew desperate.
To convince the release of Boyd, Kennally orchestrated the robbery of Abe Lincoln’s body, hiring a saloonkeeper by the name of Terence Mullen and counterfeiter Jack Hughes. The plan was to ransom Lincoln’s body off for $200,000 and a pardon for the interred man.
Mullen and Hughes hired a third party, Lewis Swegles, believing him to be a grave robber. Unexpectedly, however, Swegles was an informant for the Secret Service and foiled Kennally’s grand scheme. Fearing the protection of Lincoln’s remains, they were moved to a shallow, unmarked grave in the basement of his tomb.
In 1901, Robert Lincoln, Abraham’s only surviving child, instructed that his father’s body be placed in a steel cage and buried under wet concrete in a 10’ vault.
Lincoln, Mediums, and the Emancipation Proclamation
Ghosts in the White House are nothing new, but Abraham Lincoln’s affiliation with the afterlife was quite unique. According to rumors about the 16th President’s practices, Lincoln was known to turn to seances and mediums for advice on policies while in office.
Trance medium Nettie Colburn Maynard wrote in her 1891 memoir Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist? Or Curious Revelations from the Life of a Trance Medium that she provided the president and his wife with mediumship services. In her memoir, Nettie describes her time in the White House, specifically how a trance sitting led to the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in July 1862.
Fellow medium J. B. Conklin from New York City also received a spirit communication in automatic writing that referenced the freeing of slaves and urged the Emancipation Proclamation.
He Owned a Patent
Abraham Lincoln may have been the 16th president, but he was the first — and only — US leader to hold a patent. His passions may have eventually landed him in politics, but Lincoln had an appreciation of mechanics. Early in life, he became familiar with river navigation and, even floating down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on a flatboat.
At 40 years old, Lincoln received a patent for a device used to lift boats over shoals. Though the device never went into production, a replica was put on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The Attempts at Lincoln’s Life
John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, but the 16th president had already endured other attempts on his life. Lincoln had at least four assassination attempts against him, one taking place nine months before his murder at Booth’s hands. In 1864, while riding to the Old Soldier’s Home just outside of Washington, D.C., a gunshot rang out. Though Lincoln wasn’t hit, his stovepipe hat was found with a musketball hole in it.
Other assassins attempted to kill Lincoln through yellow fever and by blowing up the White House dining room floor while the president was eating.
Lincoln’s Unconventional Briefcase
Some people carry their vital documents in a briefcase. Abraham Lincoln put trust in his distinguished stovepipe hat. Anyone that carefully watched the president during his speeches would notice that, before many of them, he pulled something from his black hat.
The habit allegedly came from his days as a lawyer and his inability to keep papers and letters organized in his office. Documents that were too important to lose often found their way into his hat.
Lincoln Was Born Outside of the Original 13 Colonies
The original 13 colonies were comprised of the states are New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Abraham Lincoln was born in Hardin County, KY, making him the first United States’ president to be born beyond the 13 colonies. When he and his family were forced from Kentucky due to a land dispute, they moved to Perry County, IN.