There’s no danger of people forgetting Abraham Lincoln. Some 15,000 books have been written about him. And that’s not including U.S. history textbooks, which can’t ignore his leadership during the Civil War.
So you may know a lot about the 16th president. But there are many things about Lincoln that don’t make it into textbooks. To mark Lincoln’s birthday (February 12), KidsPost asked Michelle Krowl, a Civil War and Reconstruction specialist at the Library of Congress, to share 10 things you may not know about one of the nation’s most written-about presidents.
1. Lincoln spoke with a high-pitched voice.
You might think that such a tall, imposing man as Lincoln had a deep voice. But he didn’t. Krowl describes his voice as “high-pitched and reedy” in a Library of Congress blog post. People who heard Lincoln speak said his voice was at times “unpleasant.” Krowl said that “for most listeners, however, the power of Lincoln’s words soon outweighed any discordant note in his delivery.”
2. He grew a beard after an 11-year-old girl suggested it.
Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York, wrote to Lincoln in October 1860 to suggest that the presidential candidate grow whiskers because “your face is so thin.” “All the ladies like whiskers,” she argued. She said the new look would earn him votes. Lincoln started growing a beard not long after. “It isn’t known if Grace’s letter was what prompted him to do so,” Krowl said. “But Lincoln did reply to her letter, so she could have influenced his decision.” You can see copies of Grace’s letter (wapo.st/gracebedell) and Lincoln’s response (wapo.st/lincolnbeard) on the library’s website.
3. He wasn’t a terrific speller.
The champion speaker and powerful writer had a weakness in spelling. The word “inaugural” was a problem. Krowl said in her blog post that Lincoln wrote “inaugeral” in a note to his secretary, John Hay, on his handwritten copy of his second inaugural address. “It’s sort of amusing and endearing that despite being the president and giving inaugural addresses, he routinely misspelled ‘inaugural,’ ” Krowl said.
4. He once received a city as a Christmas present.
Union General William T. Sherman’s 285-mile “March to the Sea” in 1864 ended with the capture of Savannah, Georgia. “Sherman alerted President Lincoln of the capture with a telegram presenting Lincoln with Savannah as a Christmas present,” Krowl said.
5. He commuted to work in the summer.
The Lincolns left the White House during the summer and lived in a cottage at the Soldiers’ Home. “Although the Soldiers’ Home is just three miles away and very much in the city now, in Lincoln’s day, it was out in the country,” Krowl said. Lincoln commuted to and from work on horseback, sometimes riding alone. (Wife Mary Todd Lincoln wasn’t happy about that.) You can virtually commute with Lincoln at lincolncommute.org or visit President Lincoln’s Cottage and make your own journey to the White House.
6. He often stored papers in his stovepipe hat.
Images of Lincoln often show him wearing a tall black hat. The hat was more than a fashion statement. Lincoln’s law partner William H. Herndon described another function: “This hat of Lincoln’s — a silk plug — was an extraordinary receptacle. It was his desk and his memorandum-book. . . . Whenever in his reading or researches he wished to preserve an idea, he jotted it down on an envelope or stray piece of paper and placed it inside the lining. Afterwards when the memorandum was needed there was only one place to look for it.” One such hat of Lincoln’s is on display at the National Museum of American History.
7. He received a patent for an invention.
Lincoln liked to tinker, figuring out how things worked. He invented a device that would lift boats over shallow waters in rivers. In 1849, while serving in Congress, he received a patent for the device. (You can find a picture of it on the website of the National Museum of American History.) Lincoln remains the only president to have received a patent.
8. He was not the main speaker at Gettysburg.
Lincoln was invited to the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. But the star was to be Edward Everett. “Everett was one of the best known and most regarded orators of the day, and he was the star attraction at the Gettysburg cemetery dedication,” Krowl said. “Abraham Lincoln was invited . . . to make ‘a few appropriate remarks.’ ” Everett spoke for about two hours, and Lincoln about two minutes. “Now, of course, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is famous, and far fewer people remember Edward Everett and his oration,” she said.
9. As a youth, he made his own math notebook.
Growing up on farms in Kentucky and Indiana, Lincoln had little time for school. He often borrowed books and studied on his own. “In the 1820s Lincoln assembled his own notebook to work on mathematical problems, known at the time as a sum book or cypher book,” Krowl said. You can see a page of the sum book at wapo.st/mathbook.
10. He was an easygoing father.
Sons Willie and Tad Lincoln lived in the White House and were known for being rowdy. Krowl said that Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, wasn’t thrilled with their father’s reaction. “His children did much as they pleased. Many of their antics he approved, and he restrained them in nothing. . . . He was the most indulgent parent I have ever known,” Herndon wrote. Julia Taft Bayne, whose brothers played with Tad and Willie, wrote in “Tad Lincoln’s Father” that the president enjoyed the little distractions from the war. When the boys barged into his office to ask for a pardon for a doll accused of spying, Lincoln played along: “ ‘And I only wish, Hay,’ he said to his secretary, with a sort of sigh, ‘they were all that easy.’ ”
Correction: A photo caption in an earlier version of this story incorrectly said Edward Everett was a presidential candidate in 1860. He was a vice presidential candidate. The story has been updated.