Sure, we know Abraham Lincoln was a U.S. president (the 16th, to be precise). Maybe we remember something about the Emancipation Proclamation or the Gettysburg Address. But did you know that he was born to illiterate parents? Or that he discovered his knack for easy conversation while working in a general store? Come along as we take a look back at some remarkable moments in the life of Abraham Lincoln on his February 12 birthday.
Abraham Lincoln's Birthday timeline
Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. His father was a hard-working pioneer. After his mother died, Lincoln's father remarried, taking a widow with three children of her own as his new bride. Although traumatized by his mother's death, Lincoln formed a strong bond with his stepmother, Sarah, who encouraged him to learn to read. This would have a profound impact on his future. (His parents were essentially illiterate.)
After a series of family moves to both Indiana and Illinois, Lincoln left home at age 22. Working as a manual laborer, he eventually made his way to New Salem, Illinois, where he found work in a shop, gradually rising to become the general store owner. It was during this period that he discovered his gift for honest storytelling that proved to be popular with his customers, and later, his constituents.
Lincoln participated in several election debates on the subject of slavery, speaking out passionately in favor of abolition. Although he lost the election to Stephen Douglas, the exposure launched Lincoln into the national political spotlight. This served him well just two years later, when he was elected president.
Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation, which began to change the goal of the Civil War from saving the Union to abolishing slavery. The Proclamation specifically states that all individuals being held as slaves in rebel states "henceforward shall be free." On November 19 he gave the 272-word Gettysburg Address, arguably his most famous speech, to a rapt audience of 15,000 gathered at the National Cemetery of Gettysburg — the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington. Lincoln remained unconscious for nine hours and died the following morning. His body lay in state at the Capitol before being transported by a funeral train back to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois.
How to Celebrate Abraham Lincoln's Birthday
Wear a hat
Lincoln's look had several iconic features, ranging from his lofty 6'4" height, to his beard, and of course, his stovepipe hat. We're not suggesting you adopt a stovepipe style (even if you could find one), but it's easy to get in the spirit of celebration with any old-fashioned hat.
Build something with Lincoln Logs
Fun fact: Lincoln Logs, although undoubtedly inspired by the story of the president growing up in a one-room log cabin, were actually invented by John Lloyd Wright, son of legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. They're still being manufactured today; if you have a set, dust them off and build your own masterpiece to celebrate the humble beginning of Lincoln's American dream.
Consider a beard
Did you know Lincoln was the first president to wear a beard while in office? If you're so inclined, plan ahead so your new beard can make a respectable showing by the time Lincoln's birthday comes around — or just skip shaving on the day. (Ladies, since it's unlikely you will be able to join in this particular form of celebration, perhaps you could encourage your male friends.)
5 Things You Don't Know About Lincoln
His mother died young
Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died at the age of 34 from tremetol (milk sickness) when he was only nine.
His parents were uneducated
Lincoln's parents were nearly illiterate, including his stepmother — who encouraged young Abraham to learn to read — which he largely accomplished on his own.
Lincoln was largely self-educated
Any formal education Lincoln received during his childhood likely added up to 18 months at most; he later taught himself the law and passed the Illinois state bar exam.
Lincoln's family members were "squatters" at one time
A land dispute in 1817 forced the Lincoln family from their Kentucky home; they found themselves "squatting" on a small piece of land in Indiana, which Lincoln's father eventually purchased.
He had a rocky relationship with Mary Todd
They got engaged in 1840, broke up a year later, reunited at a social function, and eventually married in 1842.
Abraham Lincoln's Birthday dates