Abraham Lincoln is an innate genius. But few know that his talent was attributed to his wonderful mothers.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States is famous for his achievements in leading the country through a constitutional military and moral crisis—the American Civil War, sustaining the federal government, abolishing slavery and modernizing the American economy.
Besides that, he has also deemed an outstanding president with virtues that include honesty, kindness, philanthropy, and unparalleled patience.
Despite his lowly background, he had developed into a talented leader and orator.
Being self-taught and motivated played a big role and he was also backed by his two wonderful Mamas, as he always dearly called them.
Lincoln’s first mother
Nancy Hanks Lincoln, his mother instilled in him honesty and compassion. She sowed into her son craving for knowledge. Despite not receiving a formal education, Nancy imparted to her son the importance of learning and reading, notably when their family migrated to the boundary between Kentucky state and Indiana state. However, she died prematurely due to drinking poisoned milk when Lincoln was just 9 years old.
A God-bestowed mother
Lincoln always showed great respect to his stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln. He was quoted as saying, “What I have achieved now and forever were from my angel mother” or “she was my best friend in the world and no son could love his mother as I did.”
Receiving a poor education, yet like his mother, Sarah had managed to build and nurture in Lincoln the love for books and knowledge. When following the widowed Thomas Lincoln to the remote Indiana area, she brought along some of her precious books including “Aesop Fables,” “The Pilgrim’s Progress of Bunyan,” “Robinson Crusoe,” and “Sailor Sinbad.” Those were the books, which Lincoln later learned by heart.
At that time, books were quite rare but Lincoln was ready to walk dozens of miles just to get one book. John Hanks, Abe’s close friend who was one of his relatives shared: “When we got home from work, he would go right into the kitchen cabinet, grab a piece of grain bread, then sit down, take a book, put his feet up, and read it. … Whenever Abe had an opportunity either at home or in the field, he would read.”
In spite of illiteracy, Sarah highly regarded the value of an education and helped Abe to acquire knowledge and wisdom through reading.
In such a remote and wild area of western America, in the 19th century, men largely involved in manual labor to support their families. Reading books would be deemed as frivolous and merely fit for idle people. A bookworm as Lincoln would be considered ridiculous and odd. But Sarah did not take it this way. She cherished these so-called odd traits in her stepson. As Jeff Oppenheimer put it in the book “That Nation Might Live,” “She soon realized something special about this boy and encouraged him to pursue cognitive developments.”
With her guidance and protection, Lincoln made great progress. She recalled, “He read all the books he had at hand, and soon started to write and give a presentation. He even craved for grasping the exact meaning of every single word. After listening to the sermons delivered by local missionaries, he tended to stand below a tree and gathered a group of children around him to “repeat almost all the words.”
With her consideration and sympathy, Sarah served as a source of encouragement for Lincoln to overcome all obstacles. It kept him learning, which paved the way for his later political career.
The comforting words of his “angel mother,” “People can hook you up, speak ill of you, but never let it scare you, doubt yourself,” followed Lincoln and strengthen his will until his last breath. His spirit seemingly never wavered despite numerous hardships coming about on his political path.
The final meeting between Sarah Bush Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln
On January 3, 1861, when Lincoln was preparing for a meeting, he suddenly received a letter from a relative, saying “Sarah was worried about you, indeed, she was afraid that some political rivals could kill you.” After that, he came back home.
Maybe they sensed that it would be their final encounter. Like Abraham, she was obsessed with the dark prospect. A letter from one of the relatives recorded this scene: “She hugged him and when they said goodbye, she said she would never be allowed to see him again, that she felt the enemy would kill him. He replied: No no Mama (he always called her Mama), they would not do that. Believe in God and all would be fine, we would meet again.”
Four years later (1865), her prediction came true as Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Then, Sarah Bush Lincoln died in 1869. She was buried in the black dress that Lincoln gave her on that visit. Her grave had not been attached with a gravestone until 1924, when a local club set it up for her.
Even though she did not leave a resounding legacy, Sarah played a big role in shaping Lincoln’s character and set the foundation for him to become one of the greatest presidents of the United States. Thus, she deserves to be treated with great respect.
(The cover photo: “Abraham Lincoln, painting by George Peter Alexander Healy in 1869” (Public Domain)