Lincoln was born in a cabin, in a dreary region of the state of Kentucky. It was a one-room house, about fourteen feet square, built of logs. In this one room the family cooked, ate, and slept. Very few children have started life in so poor and barren a home as did Abraham Lincoln.
When he was seven years old, his parents moved to Indiana, into a wild and wooded region, and there built a rude place to live in. It was still a cabin, with the roughest of furniture. A log, smoothed on one side, was used as a table. The bedsteads were made of poles, fastened to the walls. The chairs were blocks of wood. All the cooking was done in the fireplace.
Here, Lincoln spent his childhood in toil and hardship. The family was poor, and every member had to do hard work on the farm. After laboring all day, the young boy would often lie down before the fireplace, and read by the light of the burning fire. Then, when too tired to read any more, he would climb a ladder, made of pegs driven into the wall, and go to sleep in the loft on a pallet of straw, covered with skins.
He had but little chance to get an education. He did not go to school more than a year, all told, and had very poor teachers. But he learned to read such books as "sop's Fables," "The Pilgrim's Progress," and the Bible.
He borrowed the "Life of Washington" from a neighbor, and sat up far into the night reading it. He kept it in a crevice in the wall, near his bed, for safety. One night it rained, and he found the book soaked through and through. The owner made him work three days to pay for it, and then let him have it. It was the first book the boy owned.
He was accustomed to hear every preacher and stump orator that came into his neighborhood. Once, he walked fourteen miles to hear a trial in Court. When one of the lawyers finished his speech, Lincoln walked across the room in his bare feet, with his trousers rolled up, and said quite audibly, "I want to shake your hand. That is the best speech I ever heard." Years after, when Lincoln was President, the lawyer, grown old and feeble, came to the White House and reminded him of the incident.
When Lincoln was about twenty-one years of age, his father and two of his neighbors moved to Illinois. Through mud and water, and over rough roads, Lincoln walked all the way, driving an ox-team. They settled about ten miles from Decatur, and started life afresh.
Lincoln aided in clearing the land, and he fenced it with rails. He helped build the cabins and plant the spring crops. Though he was of age, and could have done as he pleased, he stayed with the family until they had started in their new surroundings.
He needed some clothes, for he still wore the buckskins of the frontier. He bargained with a neighbor to make him a pair of trousers out of brown jeans, dyed with white walnut bark, agreeing to split rails in payment. He had to split fourteen hundred rails before the trousers were paid for.
Lincoln was now a grown man, six feet and four inches tall, spare of frame, but muscular, and in perfect health. He was much beloved by the community in which he lived, and was popular with his companions. He could out-run, out-jump, and out-wrestle anybody in the neighborhood. And, as a rail-splitter, nobody could approach him in the number he could split a day.
For he had precision and power with a sharp ax. Every blow fell in the right place, and with great force. To see him cut down a large tree, and split it into rails, was to witness an exhibition of rare skill.
He was also a good story-teller. All his life he had an inexhaustible supply of funny stories to fit any occasion. He gained a reputation for honesty and square dealing in all his business transactions. That is why he was called "Honest Abe."
One day, a woman came into the store where Lincoln was engaged as clerk. After she had gone, he noticed that she had given him six cents too much. That night, after his job was finished, he walked five miles to the woman's house to return her the money.
By dint of hard study and hard work, Lincoln began to be a leader in the town of New Salem, where he was employed. He studied law, was admitted to the bar, and was elected to the Legislature. He was sent to Congress, and was a candidate for the United States Senate.
As a lawyer, he was very shrewd and successful. Upon one occasion he defended the son of a poor woman, who was accused of murdering a man at night. Lincoln was satisfied in his own mind that the boy was innocent. The trial began, and the witnesses were called.
The chief witness said, "I saw him strike the man and kill him."
Lincoln inquired, "What time was it when you saw him?"
"It was about eleven o'clock," the witness replied.
"How could you see so well at night?" asked the lawyer.
The man replied, "The moon was shining, and I could easily see by its light."
Lincoln sent for an almanac, and showed the jury that there was no moon shining on that night, whereupon the witness retired in confusion, and the man was acquitted of the crime.
In after years, Lincoln was President of the United States, during the trying period of the Civil War. His was a deep responsibility, and he felt the burden of saving the Union very keenly.
He was a man of strong convictions and of great firmness. He was cast by nature in a heroic mold, yet he was always sympathetic and tender in his dealings with men. His disposition was melancholy, in spite of his humor, and he brooded deeply over the welfare of the country. His great hope was to save the Union at any cost, and it grieved him profoundly to see the Southern States secede.