Abraham Lincoln: A Child's Biography

This biography of Abraham Lincoln for young children was excerpted from Mary Stoyell Stimpson's book, A Child's Book of American Biography (1915). Add over one hundred years to Ms. Stimpson's time reference when you read it with your own children. He Knew Lincoln is another story you may enjoy reading aloud, by Ida Tarbell. Older children may enjoy the chapter book, The Story of Abraham Lincoln by James Baldwin.


The more you find out about Abraham Lincoln, the more you will love him.

Abraham was born in Kentucky and lived in that State with his parents and his one sister until he was eight years old.

The Lincolns were very, very poor. They lived in a small log cabin on the banks of a winding creek. They need not have been quite so poor, but the truth of the matter is that Mr. Thomas Lincoln, Abraham's father, was lazy. To be sure he fastened a few logs together for shelter, cut a little wood, and dug up some ground for a garden. But after the corn and potatoes were planted, they never received any care, and there is no doubt the family would have gone hungry many a day if Abraham had not hurried home with fish which he caught in a near-by stream, or if Mrs. Lincoln had not taken her rifle into the woods and shot a deer or a bear. The meat from these would last for weeks, and the skins of animals Mrs. Lincoln always saved to make into clothes for the children.

Thomas Lincoln could not read or spell, and as near as I can find out, was not a bit ashamed of it, either. But his wife, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, was a fair scholar and taught Abraham and his sister, Sarah, to read and spell.

There was no floor to the Lincoln's log cabin and no furnishings but a few three-legged stools and a bed made of wooden slats fastened together with pegs. Abraham and Sarah slept on piles of leaves or brush.

Slates and pencils were scarce, and Abraham used to lie before the fire when he was seven or eight years old, with a flat slab of wood and a stick which he burned at one end till it was charred; then he formed letters with it on the wood. In that way he taught himself to write. His mother had three books, a Bible, a catechism, and a spelling-book. He had never had any boy playmate and was greatly excited when an aunt and uncle of his mother's, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow, with a nephew, named Dennis Hanks, arrived at the creek and lived in a half-faced camp near by. Dennis and Abraham became fast friends.

A fever swept the country, and Abraham's mother died. Three years later his father married a new wife. The second Mrs. Lincoln had been married before and had three children, a boy and two girls. So there were five children to play together. Mr. Lincoln had built a better cabin, and she brought such furniture as the Lincoln children had never seen. Their eyes opened wide at the sight of real chairs and tables. She made Abraham and Sarah pretty new clothes. They had neat, comfortable beds, and the two sets of children were very happy. Mrs. Lincoln loved Abraham and saw that there was the making of a smart man in him. She helped him study, and when there was school for a short time in a distant log hut, she sent Abraham every day. When the school ended, there were four years when there was no school anywhere near their settlement, so she read with Abraham and kept him at his lessons in reading and arithmetic all that time.

Hunters and traders rode that way sometimes, and if a traveler had a book about him, Abraham was sure to get a look at it.

A new settler had a Life of Washington. Abraham looked at the book hungrily for weeks and finally worked up courage to ask the loan of it. He promised to take good care of it. He was then earning money to give his parents by chopping down trees in the forests, and he had no time to read but in the evenings. One night the rain soaked through the cracks of the cabin, and the precious book that he had promised to take good care of was stained on every page. What was he to do? He had no money to pay for the book, but he hurried to the settler's cabin and told him what had happened. He offered to work in the cornfield for three days to pay Mr. Crawford for the loss of the book. It was heavy work, but he did it and, in the end, owned the stained Life of Washington, himself.

Abraham had a fine memory. He could repeat almost the whole of a sermon, a speech, or a story that he had happened to hear. He had a funny way of telling stories, too, so when the farmers or woodchoppers were taking their noon rest, they always asked him to amuse them.

When Abraham was sixteen years old, he was six feet tall and so strong that all the neighbors hired him whenever he was not working for his father. He joked and laughed at his work, and every one liked him. He did any kind of work to earn an honest penny. Once he had a fine time working for a man that ran a ferry-boat, because this man owned a history of the United States and took a newspaper, and Abraham had more to read than ever before in his life. But he had to take the time he should have slept to read, because when the boat wasn't running there was farm work, housework (for he helped this man's wife, even to tending the baby), and rail splitting. Then he kept store for a man. It was here that he won a nickname that he kept all his life—"Honest Abe." A woman's bill came to two dollars and six cents. Later in the day Abraham found he had charged her six cents too much. After he closed the store that night, he walked three miles to pay her back those six cents. Another time when he weighed tea for a woman, there was a weight on the scales so that she did not get as much tea as she paid for. That meant another long tramp. But he was liked for his honesty and good nature.

When there was trouble with the Indians, Abraham proved that he could fight and also manage troops, so he was a captain for three months.

Abraham was so well informed that the people sent him to legislature. They made him postmaster. They hired him to lay out roads and towns. It became the fashion, if there was need of some honest, skilful work, for people to say: "Why not get Abraham Lincoln to do it? Then you'll know it's done right."

He studied law, went to legislature again, and became a circuit judge. This meant that he had to ride all round the country to attend different courts. He would start off on horseback to be away three months, with saddle-bags holding clean linen, an old green umbrella, and a few books to read as he rode along. When he came to woodchoppers, as he rode through forests, he liked to dismount, ask for an axe, and chop a log so quickly that the men would stare.

Abraham Lincoln settled, with his wife and children, in Springfield, Illinois. He was a lawyer but would not take a case if he thought his client was guilty. He was still "Honest Abe." He loved children and usually when he went to his office in the morning, the baby was perched on his shoulder, while the others held on to his coat tails and followed behind. All the children in Springfield felt he was their friend. No wonder, for he was never too busy to help them. One morning as he was hurrying to his law office, he saw a little girl, very much dressed up, crying as if her heart would break. Her sobs almost shook her off the doorstep where she sat. Mr. Lincoln unlatched the gate and went up the walk, singing out: "Well, well, now what does all this mean?"

"Oh, Mr. Lincoln, I was going to Chicago to visit my aunt. I have my ticket in my purse and," here the sobs came faster than ever, "the expressman can't get here in time for my trunk."

"How big is your trunk?"

"This size," stretching her hands apart.

"Pooh, I'll carry that trunk to the station for you, myself. Where is it?"

The little girl pointed to the hall, and in a minute Mr. Lincoln, with his tall silk hat on his head, his long coat tails flying out behind, the trunk on his shoulder, was striding to the railroad station, as the now happy little girl skipped beside him. He was not going to have the child disappointed.

Mr. Lincoln had a big heart. It never bothered him to stop long enough to do a kindness. One bitterly cold day he saw an old man chopping wood. He was feeble and was shaking with the cold. Mr. Lincoln watched him for a few minutes and then asked him how much he was to be paid for the whole lot. "One dollar," he answered, "and I need it to buy shoes." "I should think you did," said the lawyer, noticing that the poor old man's toes showed through the holes of those he was wearing. Then he gently took the axe from the man's hands and said: "You go in by the fire and keep warm, and I'll do the wood." Mr. Lincoln made the chips fly. He chopped so fast that the passers-by never stopped talking about it.

Abraham Lincoln was known to be honest, unselfish, and clear-headed. He had grown very wise by much reading and study. Finally the people of the United States paid him the greatest honor that can come to an American. They made him President. Yes, this man who had taught himself to write in the Kentucky log cabin was President of the United States!

As President, Mr. Lincoln lived in style at the White House. But he was just the same quiet, modest man that he had always been. He was busier, that was all.

When President Lincoln spoke to the people, or sent letters (messages, they are called) to Congress, every one said: "What a brain that man has!" But he used very short, simple words. Once he gave a reason for this. He said it used to make him angry, when he was a child, to hear the neighbors talk to his father in a way that he could not understand. He would lie awake, sometimes, half the night, trying to think what they meant. When he thought he had at last got the idea, he would put it into the simplest words he knew, so that any boy would know what was meant. This got to be a habit, and even in his great talk at Gettysburg the beautiful words are short and plain.

One day when Lincoln was running the ferry-boat for the man I have spoken of before, he saw at one of the river landings some negro slaves getting a terrible beating by their master. He was only a boy, but he never forgot the sight, and one of the things he brought about when he became President of the United States was the freedom of the black people.

There are a great many lives and stories about Lincoln which you will read and enjoy, and it is certain that the more you know of this great man, Dear "Honest Abe," the better you will love him.

Abraham Lincoln's biography is featured in our collection, American Biographies for Kids. Visit American History to find out about other important people and how their writings helped shape the country.

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