Lincoln Heritage Museum remains open for normal operating hours (Tuesday-Friday 9 am to 4 pm and Saturday 1 pm to 4 pm), despite the closure of Lincoln College in May of 2022.



Honesty – Striving for dealing with individuals and situations fairly and with truth


Examples of Lincoln’s Honesty from His Life


  • Lincoln’s integrity which allows him to make fast and easy friends in his new town of New Salem

  • His reputation as an honest lawyer (and his advice to young lawyers)
  • Ensuring that he rightfully paid off his personal debt (he called it “national debt”)
  • His integrity could be trusted enough that those whom he befriended on the circuit would be the same people who would come to his aid in his presidential campaign


Abraham Lincoln Quotes Regarding Honesty


  • “In very truth he was, the noblest work of God — an honest man.” – Abraham Lincoln in a eulogy for Benjamin Ferguson, February 8, 1842

  • “Resolve to be honest at all events.” – Abraham Lincoln in his notes for a law lecture, July 1, 1850
  • “For a man who was for a quarter century both a lawyer and a politician, he (Lincoln) was the most honest man I know. He was not only morally honest but intellectually so.” – Samuel Parks, an Illinois state legislator, fellow attorney, and friend of Abraham Lincoln’s, date unknown





Stories from Lincoln’s Life Regarding Honesty



During the year that Lincoln was in Denton Offutt’s store, that gentleman, whose business was somewhat widely and unwisely spread about the country, ceased to prosper in his finances, and finally failed. The store was shut up, the mill was closed, and Abraham Lincoln was out of business. The year had been one of great advance, in many respects. He had made new and valuable acquaintances, read many books, mastered the grammar of his own tongue, won multitudes of friends, and became ready for a step still further in advance. Those who could appreciate brains respected him, and those whose ideas of a man related to his muscles were devoted to him. It was while he was performing the work of the store that he acquired the sobriquet “Honest Abe”—a characterization that he never dishonored, and an abbreviation that he never outgrew. He was judge, arbitrator, referee, umpire, authority, in all disputes, games and matches of man-flesh, horse-flesh, a pacificator in all quarrels; everybody’s friend; the best-natured, the most sensible, the best-informed, the most modest and unassuming, the kindest, gentlest, roughest, strongest, best fellow in all New Salem and the region round about. 

From Lincoln’s Life, Stories and Speeches by Paul Selby



The following incident, illustrating several traits already developed in the early boyhood of Lincoln, is vouched for by a citizen of Evansville, Ind., who knew him in the days referred to:  In his eagerness to acquire knowledge, young Lincoln had borrowed of Mr. Crawford, a neighboring farmer, a copy of Weems’s Life of Washington—the only one known to be in existence in that region of the country. Before he had finished reading the book, it had been left, by a not unnatural oversight, in a window. Meantime, a rain storm came on and the book was so thoroughly wet as to make it nearly worthless. This mishap caused him much pain; but he went, in all honesty, to Mr. Crawford with the ruined book, explained the calamity that had happened through his neglect, and offered, not having sufficient money, to “work out” the value of the book.

“Well, Abe,” said Mr. Crawford, after due deliberation, “as it’s you, I won’t be hard on you. Just come over and pull fodder for me two days, and we will call our accounts even.”  The offer was readily accepted, and the engagement literally fulfilled. As a boy, no less than since, Abraham had an honorable conscientiousness, integrity, honesty, and an ardent love of knowledge.

From Lincoln’s Life, Stories and Speeches by Paul Selby



Lincoln could not rest for an instant under the consciousness that he had, even unwittingly, defrauded anybody. On one occasion, while clerking in Offutt’s store, at New Salem, Ill., he sold a woman a little bale of goods, amounting in value by the reckoning to two dollars and twenty cents. He received the money, and the woman went away. On adding the items of the bill again to make himself sure of correctness, he found that he had taken six and a quarter cents too much. It was night, and, closing and locking the store, he started out on foot, a distance of two or three miles, for the house of his defrauded customer, and, delivering over to her the sum whose possession had so much troubled him, went home satisfied.

On another occasion, just as he was closing the store for the night, a woman entered, and asked for a half pound of tea. The tea was weighed out and paid for, and the store was left for the night. The next morning Lincoln entered to begin the duties of the day, when he discovered a four-ounce weight on the scales. He saw at once that he had made a mistake, and, shutting the store, he took a long walk before breakfast to deliver the remainder of the tea. These are very humble incidents, but they illustrate the man’s perfect conscientiousness — his sensitive honesty— better, perhaps, than they would if they were of greater moment.

From Lincoln’s Life, Stories and Speeches by Paul Selby



Mr. Lincoln was appointed postmaster by President Jackson. The office was too insignificant to be considered politically, and it was given to the young man because everybody liked him, and because he was the only man who was willing to take it who could make out the returns. He was exceedingly pleased with the appointment, because it gave him a chance to read every newspaper that was taken in the vicinity. He had never been able to get half the newspapers he wanted before, and the office gave him the prospect of a constant feast. Not wishing to be tied to the office, as it yielded him no revenue that would reward him for the confinement, he made a post-office of his hat. Whenever he went out the letters were placed in his hat. When an anxious looker for a letter found the postmaster, he had found his office; and the public officer, taking off his hat, looked over his mail wherever the public might find him. He kept the office until it was discontinued, or removed to Petersburg.


One of the most beautiful exhibitions of Mr. Lincoln’s rigid honesty occurred in connection with the settlement of his accounts with the Post-office Department, several years afterward.


It was after he had become a lawyer, and had been a legislator. He had passed through a period of great poverty, had acquired his education in the law in the midst of many perplexities, inconveniences, and hardships, and had met with temptations such as few men could resist, to make a temporary use of any money he might have in his hands. One day, seated in the law office of his partner, the agent of the Post-office Department entered, and inquired if Abraham Lincoln was within. Mr. Lincoln responded to his name, and was informed that the agent had called to collect the balance due the Department since the discontinuance of the New Salem office. A shade of perplexity passed over Mr. Lincoln’s face, which did not escape the notice of friends present. One of them said at once:”Lincoln, if you are in want of money, let us help you.”


He made no reply, but suddenly rose, and pulled out from a pile of books a little old trunk, and, returning to the table, asked the agent how much the amount of his debt was. The sum was named, and then Mr. Lincoln opened the trunk, pulled out a little package of coin wrapped in a cotton rag, and counted out the exact sum, amounting to something more than seventeen dollars. After the agent had left the room, he remarked quietly that he had never used any man’s money but his own. Although this sum had been in his hands during all these years, he had never regarded it as available, even for any temporary use of his own.

From Lincoln’s Life, Stories and Speeches by Paul Selby



One of the most interesting cases involving mechanical problems which Lincoln ever argued was that of the Rock Island Bridge. . The case was a striking episode in the war long waged by the Mississippi against the plains beyond. For decades the river had been the willing burden-bearer of the West. Now, however, the railroad had come. The Rock Island road had even dared to bridge the stream to carry away the traffic which the river claimed.


In May, 1856, a steamboat struck one of the piers of the bridge, and was wrecked and burned. One pier of the bridge was also destroyed. The boat owners sued the railroad company. The suit was the beginning of the long and violent struggle for commercial supremacy between St. Louis and Chicago. In Chicago it was commonly believed that the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce had bribed the captain of the boat to run upon the pier; and it was said that later, when the bridge itself was burned, the steamers gathered near and whistled for joy.


The case was felt to involve the future course of Western commerce, and when it was called in September, 1857, at Chicago, people crowded there from all over the West. Norman B. Judd, afterwards so prominent in the politics of the State, was the attorney of the road, and he engaged Lincoln, among others, as counsel. Lincoln made an address to the jury which those who remember it declare to have been one of his strongest legal arguments.


Lincoln succeeded in showing that had the pilot of the boat been as familiar as he ought to have been with the river, he could easily have prevented the accident. His argument was full of nice mathematical calculations clearly put, and was marked by perfect candor. Indeed, the honesty with which he admitted the points made by the opposite counsel caused considerable alarm to some of his associates. Mrs. Norman B. Judd . says that Mr. Joseph B. Knox, who was also engaged with Mr. Lincoln in the defense, dined at her house the day that Lincoln made his speech.


“He sat down at the table in great excitement,” writes Mrs. Judd, “saying, ‘Lincoln has lost the case for us. The admissions he made in regard to the currents in the Mississippi at Rock Island and Moline will convince the court that a bridge at that point will always be a serious and constant detriment to navigation on the river.'”


“‘Wait until you hear the conclusion of his speech,’ replied Mr. Judd; ‘you will find that his admission is a strong point instead of a weak one, and on it he will found a strong argument that will satisfy you.'”   And, as it proved, Mr. Judd was right.

The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Ida M. Tarbell, Vol. I, page 275.



No man ever believed in his calling more thoroughly than Lincoln, and he had no patience with the much-mouthed charge that honesty was not compatible with its practice.   “Let no young man choosing the law for a calling yield to that popular belief,” he wrote. “If, in your judgment, you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.”


Lincoln never sought to make himself a general favorite, and yet he had not been long in New Salem before he was the most popular man in town. . . He could tell a good story, make a creditable stump speech, give an excellent account of himself in contests of strength, and hold his own against all comers in the daily debates at the village forum. Moreover, he listened attentively when other people talked, never boasted of his physical prowess, and was tolerant of all intelligent opinion. His extreme popularity with men of his own age is particularly remarkable, however, when we remember that he neither drank nor smoked; for young men are apt to regard the use of tobacco and stimulants as essential to goodfellowship and manly cameraderie, and this was especially true of the settler days.


Lincoln did not drink intoxicants because he did not like them, and he did not smoke for a similar reason.  Judge Douglas once undertook to ridicule him on this subject. “What! Are you a temperance man?” he inquired sneeringly. “No,” drawled Lincoln, with a smile, “I’m not a temperance man, but I’m temperate in this, to wit:—I don’t drink.”

Lincoln the Lawyer, Frederick Trevor Hill, page 33.