Abraham Lincoln's Brief and Modest Autobiography:
Written in his Own handwriting in the Year 1860
Published in the Chicago Tribune, 7 Feb 1909
The search for new or unfamiliar human documents relating to Abraham Lincoln,
which has been quickened by his approaching centenary, has met with many unexpected rewards. It is not generally
known that Lincoln wrote his own autobiography, very briefly to be sure, but with a characteristic simplicity and
candor which was characteristic of the man. This sketch was written in December 1860, and fills but three closely
written pages of manuscript. The original manuscript, which has been preserved, is in the familiar handwriting
and borrows unusual interest from the corrections in the text made during its progress.
The autobiography was written at the request of Jessie W. Fell, a prominent and public spirited citizen of Illinois in those stirring days. During the celebrated discussion between Lincoln and Senator Douglas, Mr. Fell, realizing that Lincoln was of the material presidents are made, applied to him for a brief history of his early life. Lincoln was then coming rapidly into prominence before the nation and Mr. fell, appreciating the rare qualities of the man, sought in this way to familiarize the public with him that he might assist, as far as lay in his power, in bringing the nation to know Lincoln as he was.
Washington, March 20, 1865
Mrs. Amanda H. Hall
Induced by a letter of yours to your brother, and shown me by him, I serve you what follows below.
Respectfully, A. Lincoln
"Fondly do we hope as fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
"I was born February 12, 1809, in Hardin Co., Ky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families--second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks, some of whom now reside in Adams Co., and others in Mason Co., Ill. My paternal grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, emigrated from Rockingham Co., Va., to Kentucky, about 1781 or 1782, where, a year or two later, he was killed by Indians, not in battle, but by stealth, when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest. His ancestors, who were Quakers, went to Virginia from Berks Co., Pa. An effort to identify them with the New England family of the same name ended in nothing more definite than a similarity of Christian names in both families, such as Enoch, Levi, Mordecai, Solomon, Abraham, and the like.
"My father, at the death of his father, was but six years of age, and grew up literally without any education. He removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer Co., Ind., in my eighth year. We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so-called, but no qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond 'readin', writin', and cipherin', to the rule of three. If a straggler, supposed to understand Latin, happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizard. There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education. Of course, when I came of age I did not know much. Still, somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the rule of three, but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.
"I was raised to farm work, at which I continued till I was twenty-two. At twenty-one I came to Illinois, and passed the first year in Macon County. Then I got to New Salem, at that time in Sangamon, now Menard County, where I remained a year as a sort of clerk in a store. Then came the Black Hawk War, and I was elected a captain of volunteers--a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since. I went into the campaign, was elected, ran for the Legislature the same year (1832), and was beaten--the only time I have ever been beaten by the people. The next and three succeeding biennial elections I was elected to the Legislature. I was not a candidate afterward. During the legislative period I had studied law, and removed to Springfield to practice it. In 1846 I was elected to the Lower House of Congress. Was not a candidate for re-election. From 1849 to 1854, both inclusive, practiced law more assiduously than ever before. Always a Whig in politics, and generally on the Whig electoral ticket, making active canvasses. I was losing interest in politics when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused me again. What I have done since then is pretty well known.
"If any personal description of me is thought desirable, it may be said I am in height six feet four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing, on an average, one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair and gray eyes--no other marks or brands recollected.
"Yours very truly, A. LINCOLN."
Washington D.C. March 20, 1872
We the undersigned hereby certify that the foregoing statement is in the hand writing of Abraham Lincoln