John is really good at all the historical facts and numbers. He labored over his Lincoln posts to make sure his data was correct and everything flowed well. I hate numbers. I can’t remember numbers, dates, statistics and other number type things. That puts me more in the “color commentary” position for the blog with thoughts and impressions.
So here’s what I took away from the Land of Lincoln:
Abe as a child:
Abraham Lincoln grew up on a farm on the frontier. His mother died when he was young and his father decided to move his household. So, when Abe was 8, his dad handed him an axe and said something along the lines of – Abe, start chopping. We’re going to build a cabin and clear a farm. I’m sure that was a LOT of hard work for an 8 year old (note that kids were not pets back then as they are now, they had to work right alongside their parents). After much chopping and clearing, they built that farm and lived there for a number of years. However, wood was needed to heat the cabin, cook the food and repair the fences so the chopping and rail splitting was ongoing.
Jump ahead to when Abe was in his teens, his dad decided to move again. So, what do you think happened? Yep – Abe, start chopping, we’re going to build a cabin and clear a farm. You can just imagine the eye roll of the teenager when his dad told him of the plan.
All that uprooting and rebuilding gave Abe quite the lesson in farming and the hardships of the frontier. So, when he was old enough to strike out on his own did he go into farming? Heck NO! Somehow he got a job taking a flatboat down the rivers to New Orleans. I think he was in his upper teens. That must have been an awesome and scary adventure. Sure it’s easy enough to float from one river, into the next, into the next until you hit the big city but being able to handle all the difficulties along the way AND find your way back is impressive. Historians speculate that Abe may have seen the slave markets in New Orleans and maybe even saw families torn apart and sold separately. Again, that is all speculation but if it happened, it would have had an impact on a quiet young man.
Abe as a young adult:
Abe made his way back up to New Salem and the man that hired him to go down river must have been impressed with Abe because he now hired him to run his new store in New Salem. I have to wonder if he had Abe do the chopping to build it. Abe never owned his own land or home in New Salem. He rented a room at the tavern or paid room and board at someone’s house. He had no kitchen or way to manage his own meals so he had to be connected with someone to get fed. This required money and/or chores to earn his way. I suspect there was a whole lot more chopping going on.
Now, here, in New Salem, is where we see Abe trying to find his niche. It’s the same today. “What do I want to do with my life?” It took him quite a few tries as you see in John’s posts before he decided to pursue the law. He handled a few simple wills, contracts and other lawyerly things in New Salem and eventually headed to Springfield to make his way.
One of the films we saw showed him arriving in Springfield and asking a store keeper where he could hire a room. The man told him he needed help and if Abe worked for him, he could room above the shop. Abe drops his saddlebags on the bed, smiles, and announces “I’m moved in!” Thus he continues his climb from nothing to… so much more.
Abe in love:
Remember how young and inexperienced Abe was when he hit New Salem? This is where he met a girl and fell in love for the first time. The girl he loved sickened and died and he was thought to be almost suicidal for a while but he eventually rallied, stayed in New Salem and fell in love again. Keep in mind this is a really tiny town so there weren’t that many women his age around so it’s impressive he found a second one. He even asked her to marry him then got cold feet and was “relieved” when she said no.
Once Abe was in Springfield, he worked his way up as a partner with several different lawyers. He attended different social affairs and there he met Mary Todd. Her cousin noticed that he sat and gazed at her without being able to speak. The cousin warned Mary about taking up with him. Mary did not listen and after Abe persistently courted her, they were married.
Abe as husband and father:
From all accounts Mary was a good wife and supportive of Abe. One quote had her saying she wanted to marry someone with ambition. My take on that is, she did NOT want one of the wealthy guys that simply like to party. While she was a part of the upper society, she wanted to do more than just eat, drink and make merry. She sure got her wish but it was a rough road for her.
Abe was known as devoted husband, good father, honest lawyer, excellent orator and so on. He played with his kids, talked with his wife, and built a good life for them there in Springfield.
Mary Todd Lincoln:
This woman had a tough time. They lost three of their four children, one by one, years apart so once the grieving eased for one, they lost another.
Mary had a good life in Springfield. She had friends in the neighborhood, a nice house that they expanded as their family and wealth grew, and they maintained a fitting social life.
Things changed when she went to Washington D. C. She was tormented by the “mean girls” there. The Lincoln museum has quotes of the different society dames just tearing her down. She was short, she was plump, she was from the backwoods and was NOT high society. Besides, her husband got the job THEIR husbands wanted. The power should have stayed with the Washington politicians and here they get “Rail Splitter” “Honest Abe” and his “dumpy” wife that they considered so far beneath them. She was very lonely at the white house and suffered the grief of losing her third child while she was there.
All of these things had to be a serious strain on Mary. The final straw seems to be when she was seated beside Lincoln in the theater when he was assassinated. It had to be horrific. At some point, Mary’s last surviving child had her committed to an institution for a while.
In the End
The family was mostly reunited in death when the Lincoln tomb was built. Only one child is not with them. It is the only son that outlived them both. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery at the request of his wife.
Abraham Lincoln is an icon. A symbol of freedom, of war, and of unity. But before that, he was a child, a gangly teenager, a shy suitor, and a man… a normal human being that was asked to serve his country. And the world changed for him and because of him.