17 Amazing Facts About Abraham Lincoln You Never Knew

Abraham Lincoln (February 12th, 1809 – April 15th, 1865) was the United States’ 16th President. He was elected to two terms, serving from March 4th, 1861, until John Wilkes Booth assassinated him on April 15th, 1865.  

Abraham Lincoln is known primarily for two important things:

  • Signing the Emancipation Proclamation, which was an executive order signed on January 1st, 1863, that freed slaves in the United States.
  • Leading America through the American Civil War.

Though both are great feats, Abraham lived a fascinating life. Read on for some amazing facts about Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s greatest presidents.  

1. He Wasn’t a Native of Illinois

Though Lincoln is most associated with Illinois, he was born in Kentucky. In March 1830, a 21-year-old Lincoln moved to Illinois with his father to establish a farm. One year later, he set out on this own.  

2. Lincoln was mostly self-taught

We all know Lincoln as a lawyer, but did you know that he never had a formal education? He was mostly self-taught with the help of a few itinerant teachers, though that was likely only the equivalent of one year of schooling.

3. Mary Ann Todd’s Family

Mary Ann Todd, his wife, had a prestigious background. She was part of one of the most wealthy families in Lexington, Kentucky. Her family disliked Lincoln because of his poor background. Ironically, they were also large slave owners, and several of Todd’s half brothers fought and died for the Confederacy.  

Mary Todd Lincoln

4. Two-faced Abe

Lincoln had a great sense of humor. During the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Stephen Douglas called Lincoln two-faced. Lincoln’s Retort? “Honestly, if I were two-faced, would I be showing you this one?”  

5. He loved cats

Shortly after Abraham Lincoln was elected, Secretary of State William Seward gifted him two cats, Tabby and Dixie. Lincoln would play with them for hours on end and even fed them at the table during a formal White House dinner. After someone asked if he had a hobby, Mary Todd Lincoln reportedly replied with only “cats.”

6. The Secret Service

Lincoln signed a piece of legislation that created the Secret Service the day he was shot on April 14th, 1865. Initially, their job was to combat money counterfeiters, but his death largely shaped their modern role of protecting the President.    

7. Suffering Through Melancholy

Lincoln suffered through what was known as “melancholy” at the time. We would likely consider what he was going through as clinical depression. It was so bad that Lincoln was put on a sort of suicide watch by his friends and family at one point. 

 Lincoln wrote to his law partner: “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.” 

Astonishingly, he was able to accomplish so much with such a debilitating condition.  

8. American Elephants

Shortly after Lincoln’s inauguration, the King of Siam (modern Thailand) sent him a strange offer. He offered several pairs of elephants that could be set loose on American soil to breed. Lincoln turned down the offer. Imagine living in the United States with elephants!

9. There’s A Lost Speech

In 1856, Lincoln gave such a captivating speech, that the reporters in attendance set down their pencils and didn’t take notes. Because of that, there are no records left, and we only know its content based on accounts pieced together by those in attendance. People call this Lincoln’s “Lost Speech.”

10. How He Got His Signature Beard

Lincoln is well known for having his beard, but did you know that he can thank a little girl for it? An 11-year-old girl from Westfield, New York named Grace Bedell wrote LIncoln a letter telling him that growing his “whiskers” would help him on the campaign trail because of his thin face. Lincoln eventually met her when he made a stop in Westfield and thanked her for the advice.  

12. Lincoln Made Thanksgiving a Holiday

Thanksgiving wasn’t always a significant holiday in the US. It was celebrated intermittently from 1789, but became an official holiday in 1863 when Lincoln proclaimed a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

12. He Wasn’t The Keynote Speaker at Gettysburg

The Gettysburg Address was meant to be the opening remarks to the casual dedication of a cemetery in Pennsylvania. Edward Everett was the headline speaker at the event. This 273-word speech would go down as one of the most famous speeches in modern history.

13. Lincoln’s Unlucky Son

Robert Lincoln, Lincoln’s son, was close to three Presidential assassinations. Besides his own father’s assassination, in 1881, Robert Lincoln witnessed James Garfield’s assassination and was present at William McKinley’s assassination in 1901. Robert declined all future presidential invitations, noting that there was “a certain fatality about presidential functions when I’m present.”

Robert Todd Lincoln

14. John Wilkes Booth’s Brother

Another fantastic coincidence in Robert Lincoln’s life is that he was saved by Edwin Booth, the brother of the man who would eventually assassinate his father. About a year before Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Edwin Booth prevented Robert from being crushed by a train in Jersey City, New Jersey.  

15. The Duel

You would be surprised to hear that Lincoln almost fought in a duel. In 1842, Democratic politician James Shields challenged him over an article Lincoln had published in an Illinois newspaper. Accepting the challenge, Lincoln chose cavalry broadswords knowing Shields was known as an excellent marksman. Before the duel began, Lincoln demonstrated his reach by slicing a branch off a tree resulting in Shields backing down.  

15. Riverboat Patent 

In 1849, Lincoln patented a wooden flotation system to break riverboats free from sand bars. Though it was never manufactured, Lincoln was the only US President to register a patent.  

16. Bartender

For a short period, Lincoln partnered with his friend Wiliam Berry to open a store/bar called “Berry and Lincoln.” The venture was short-lived as William Berry was an alcoholic with a bad habit of drinking on the job. Lincoln sold his share and started law school.    

17. The First American “Air Force”

In 1861, Lincoln started an early version of the air force called the Union Army of Balloon Crops. It utilized hot-air balloons to perform reconnaissance on Confederate troops. It’s ineffectiveness led to it being disbanded halfway through the Civil War.  

Alan Behrens
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