We’re a few days away from Lincoln’s official birthday. Other than in a few locations, his birthday passes unnoticed by most of us. Lincoln lived a long time ago in another age, but the things he did with his life still matter today. Lincoln’s childhood was spent in my home state of Indiana. His family owned next to nothing when they came here. They were starting all over, having lost their land in a title dispute in Kentucky. They spent their first winter in a lean-to in the woods. Lincoln didn’t have more than a few months in which he was able to attend school. When his mother and several other relatives died, he was only nine years-old. He and his sister were left alone in a crude cabin in the woods while his father returned to Kentucky for several months to find a new wife.
Lincoln found his father to be a hard man who didn’t value learning and never liked him. Fortunately for him, he adored his new stepmother. Lincoln was forced to work hard from an early age and helped his father to build the cabin and fences that were part of their new existence. He was tall and athletic like his mother. He wrestled and read books for fun. He’d walk miles to borrow a book. His stepmother brought several books with her, and he devoured all of those. When his family left Indiana, Lincoln announced that he was going to strike out on his own. His father’s life did not appeal to him. The boy wanted to make something of himself.
He worked at a number of failed businesses and found himself deeply in debt. The folks in the town of New Salem loved him and endeavored to help him. They voted him their postmaster so he would have work. He was encouraged to take up surveying but then lost his equipment in a bankruptcy sale. Lincoln was embarrassed by his failures and determined not to let them define him. He vowed to not only pay off is own debt but that of his partner, who had left town. Friends purchased his equipment at the sale and gave it back to him.
He joined the short-lived Black Hawk War. He saw just enough of war to know that he never wanted to be involved in one again. He also made friends with a young politician and lawyer, John Todd Stuart, who encouraged Lincoln to study the law and become a minor politician. Lincoln had already shown great interest in the law. He had spent much of his leisure time in courtrooms watching trials and had even been allowed to assist in a few cases. Stuart lent him the law books and vouched for him when the time came to join the bar. Stuart became Lincoln’s first law partner.
Lincoln had only hung out his shingle a few months before my novel begins. He was just making his presence known in Springfield. He and Speed had begun a debating club in the back of Speed’s store. Lincoln was part of the group called the long nine in the Illinois state house. His reputation was beginning to grow. These few years of 1836 and 1837 were also a time when mob violence was spreading across the country. The debate over slavery was ramping up and dividing families even then. Illinois was a mix of southern and northern politics.