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Born in a Kentucky log cabin to a frontier family who later moved to Indiana and Illinois, young Abraham Lincoln grew up in abject poverty. He had about eighteen months of formal education because he worked to supplement his family’s income. An avid reader, he made extraordinary efforts to gain knowledge while working at many jobs, from farm hand to store clerk. This admirable diligence eventually led to his becoming a respected lawyer and Illinois state political figure. In November 1842 Lincoln married Mary Todd, daughter of a prominent Kentucky slave-owning family.  The couple settled in Springfield, Illinois, where their four sons were born.

Kirkham's Grammar

Although Abraham Lincoln considered his formal education to be defective, from an early age, he compensated by devoting intense effort to self-education through reading. In his twenties, while serving as New Salem postmaster and a member of the Illinois state assembly, Lincoln studied the law and taught himself surveying. After mastering Kirkham's Grammar, he gave his copy to Ann Rutledge, inscribing it: Ann M. Rutledge is now learning grammer [sic]. Ann's tragic death a short time later from typhoid fever ended the couple's future plans.

Samuel Kirkham. English Grammar in Familiar Lectures (6th ed.). Cincinnati: N. & G. Guilford, 1828. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (001.00.00) Digital ID # al0001, al0001_01

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Lincoln's Childhood Sum Book

Early American sum books were in some ways the predecessor of the modern ringed notebook. They consisted of multiple pages stitched or clamped together for ease of handling. Most sum books contained copies of tables on weights and measures, percentages, fractions, and the elementary rules of mathematics. Shown here is one of ten surviving pages from Abraham Lincolns homemade student sum book. The badly faded doggerel in the lower left corner reads as follows:

Abraham Lincoln
his hand and pen
he will be good but
God knows When.

Abraham Lincoln. Student sum book, ca. 1824–1826. Holograph manuscript. Herndon-Weik Collection of Lincolniana, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (002) Digital ID # al0002

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The Lincoln Family Bible

One can only speculate as to why Mary Lincoln's name stands alone in gold lettering on the front cover of the Lincoln family Bible. Its record of the Lincolns marriage, the births of their sons Robert, Edward, William, and Thomas, and death of Edward, was begun by Abraham Lincoln. However, all entries after April 4, 1855, are in the hand of the couples oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln.

The Comprehensive Bible. Philadelphia: 1847. Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (003.00.00) Digital ID # al0003, al0003_01, al0003_02

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The Amateur Poet

Lincoln loved the rhyme and rhythm of words, and his familiarity with eighteenth-century poets like William Knox and Alexander Pope hints at an indulgence in the nostalgic and melancholy feelings their writings elicited. In this unfinished poem, Lincoln attempts to capture in verse the mixed feelings he experienced during a visit to his boyhood home while canvassing southern Indiana for the Whig candidate for president, Henry Clay, in the election of 1844. Lincoln's mother and sister both died while the family resided in Indiana, a fact that may have affected the tone of the poem. The final two cantos of the poem were either lost or unwritten.

Abraham Lincoln. “My Childhood Home I See Again . . . ,” ca. 1844. Holograph manuscript. Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (004.00.01) Digital ID # al0004p1, al0004p2

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The Ann Rutledge Story

William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, firmly believed that Ann Rutledge was Abraham Lincoln's first and only true love. This letter from Anns younger brother Robert, written in response to carefully prepared questions by Herndon, represents some of Herndons strongest supporting evidence. The story is that Lincoln, while boarding at the Rutledge home in New Salem, Illinois, fell in love with Ann. Although she was engaged at the time, her fiancé's long absence and seeming indifference had raised doubts in her mind. Over time, Ann and Abraham entered a quiet if not secret courtship and were supposedly planning to be married until Ann's untimely death.

Robert B. Rutledge to William H. Herndon, November 1, 1866. Holograph letter. Herndon-Weik Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (006.00.00) Digital ID # al0006, al0006_p1

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