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ntellect – continually learning all one can about the world around us


Examples of Lincoln’s Intellect from His Life



  • The desire from an early age continuing throughout his life to read as much as possible about many different subjects from history to geometry to literature to science

  • As the only president to be awarded a patent
  • His intense desire to learn about the world is reflected in the Rock Island Bridge Case
  • He checked out books on war strategy to become a better commander-in-chief


Abraham Lincoln Quotations Regarding Intellect


  • “Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.” – Abraham Lincoln in his first political announcement, March 9, 1832

  • “A taste for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the unsolved ones.” – Abraham Lincoln in his address to the Wisconsin Agricultural Society, September 30, 1859
  • “He regrets his want of education, and does what he can to supply the want.” – Abraham Lincoln reflecting on his childhood from his 1860 autobiography
  • “From the humblest poverty, without education, or the means of attaining it; unaided by wealth or influential family connections, he (Lincoln) rose, solely, by the strength of his intellect and the force of his character, to the highest position in the world.” – Judge David Davis, friend of Abraham Lincoln
  • “The way he became educated was by never being ashamed to confess his ignorance of what in fact he did not know, by always asking questions where he could probably elicit information, and by studying all his life. I have seen him repeatedly around upon the circuit with school books.”—Leonard Swett, on the Eighth Judicial Circuit with Lincoln



Stories in Lincoln’s Life Regarding His Intellect



The books which Abraham had the early privilege of reading were the Bible, much of which he could repeat, Aesop’s Fables, all of which he could repeat, Pilgrim’s Progress, Weems’s Life of Washington, and a Life of Henry Clay, which his mother had managed to purchase for him. Subsequently he read the Life of Franklin and Ramsey’s Life of Washington. In these books, read and re-read, he found meat for his hungry mind. The Holy Bible, Aesop and John Bunyan—could three better books have been chosen for him from the richest library?

For those who have witnessed the dissipating effects of many books upon the minds of modern children, it is not hard to believe that Abraham’s poverty of books was the wealth of his life. These three books did much to perfect that which his mother’s teaching had begun, and to form a character which, for quaint simplicity, earnestness, truthfulness and purity, has never been surpassed among the historic personages of the world. The Life of Washington, while it gave him a lofty example of patriotism, incidentally conveyed to his mind a general knowledge of American history; and the Life of Henry Clay spoke to him of a living man who had risen to political and professional eminence from circumstances almost as humble as his own.

The latter book undoubtedly did much to excite his taste for politics, to kindle his ambition, and to make him a warm admirer and partisan of Henry Clay. Abraham must have been very young when he read Weems’s Life of Washington, and we catch a glimpse of his precocity in the thoughts which it excited, as revealed by himself in the speech made to the New Jersey Senate, while on his way to Washington to assume the duties of the Presidency.

Alluding to his early reading of this book, he says: “I remember all the accounts there given of the battlefields and struggles for the liberty of the country, and none fixed themselves upon my imagination so deeply as the struggle here at Trenton, New Jersey. I recollect thinking then, a boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for.” Even at this age, he was not only an interested reader of the story, but a student of motives.

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



Governor Yates, of Illinois, in a speech at Springfield, quoted one of Mr. Lincoln’s early friends—W. T. Green—as having said that the first time he ever saw Mr. Lincoln, he was in the Sangamon River with his trousers rolled up five feet, more or less, trying to pilot a flatboat over a mill-dam. The boat was so full of water that it was hard to manage. Lincoln got the prow over, and then, instead of waiting to bail the water out, bored a hole through the projecting part and let it run out; affording a forcible illustration of the ready ingenuity of the future President in the quick invention of moral expedients.

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



That he had enough mechanical genius to make him a good mechanic there is no doubt. With such rude tools as were at his command he had made cabins and flatboats; and after his mind had become absorbed in public and professional affairs, he often recurred to his mechanical dreams for amusement. One of his dreams took form, and he endeavored to make a practical matter of it. He had had experience in the early navigation of the Western rivers. One of the most serious hindrances to this navigation was low water, and the lodgment of the various craft on the shifting shoals and bars with which these rivers abound. He undertook to contrive an apparatus which, folded to the hull of the boat like a bellows, might be inflated on occasions, and, by its levity, lifted over any obstruction upon which it might rest. On this contrivance, illustrated by a model whittled out by himself, and now preserved in the Patent Office in Washington, he secured letters patent; but it is certain that the navigation of the Western rivers was not revolutionized by it.

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



That Lincoln’s attempt to make a lawyer of himself under the adverse and unpromising circumstances excited comment is not to be wondered at.

Russell Goodby, an old man who still survives, told the following: He had often employed Lincoln to do farm work for him, and was surprised to find him one day, sitting barefoot on the summit of a woodpile, and attentively reading a book.  “This being an unusual thing for farm hands at that early date to do, I asked him,” relates Goodby, “what he was reading.  “He answered, ‘I’m studying.  “‘Studying what?’ I inquired.  “‘Law, sir,’ was the emphatic response. It was really too much for me, as I looked at him sitting there proud as a peacock.”

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



Hazel Dorsey was Abe’s first teacher in Indiana. He held forth a mile and a half from the Lincoln farm. The school-house was built of round logs, and was just high enough for a man to stand erect under the loft. The floor was of split logs, or what were called puncheons. The chimney was made of poles and clay; and the windows were made by cutting out parts of two logs, placing pieces of split boards a proper distance apart, and over the aperture thus formed pasting pieces of greased paper to admit light. At school Abe evinced ability enough to gain him a prominent place in the respect of the teacher and the affections of his fellow-scholars. Elements of leadership in him seem to have manifested themselves already. Nathaniel Grigsby—whose brother, Aaron, afterwards married Abe’s sister Sarah—attended the same school. He certifies to Abe’s proficiency and worth in glowing terms.

“He was always at school early,” writes Grigsby, “and attended to his studies. He was always at the head of his class, and passed us rapidly in his studies. He lost no time at home, and when he was not at work was at his books. He kept up his studies on Sunday, and carried his books with him to work, so that he might read when he rested from labor.” Now and then, the family exchequer running low, it would be found necessary for the young rail-splitter to stop school, and either work with his father on the farm, or render like service for the neighbors. These periods of work occurred so often and continued so long, that all his school days added together would not make a year.

Herndon’s Lincoln, William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik



It will always be a matter of wonder. . . that, from such restricted and unpromising opportunities in early life, Mr. Lincoln grew into the great man he was. The foundation of his education was laid in Indiana . . . [where] he gave evidence of a nature and characteristics that distinguished him from every associate and surrounding he had. He was not peculiar or eccentric, and yet a shrewd observer would have seen that he was decidedly unique and original. Although imbued with a marked dislike for manual labor, it cannot be truthfully said of him that he was indolent. From a mental standpoint he was one of the most energetic young men of his day. He dwelt altogether in the land of thought. His deep meditation and abstraction easily induced the belief among his companions that he was lazy. A neighbor, John Romine, makes that charge.

“He worked for me,” testifies the latter, “but was always reading and thinking. I used to get mad at him for it. I say he was awful lazy. He would laugh and talk—crack his jokes and tell stories all the time; didn’t love work half as much as his pay. He said to me one day that his father taught him to work; but he never taught him to love it.”

His chief delight during the day, if unmolested, was to lie down under the shade of some inviting tree to read and study. At night, lying on his stomach in front of the open fireplace, with a piece of charcoal he would cipher on a broad wooden shovel. When the latter was covered over on both sides he would take his father’s drawing-knife or plane and shave it off clean, ready for a fresh supply of inscriptions the next day. He often moved about the cabin with a piece of chalk, writing and ciphering on boards and the flat sides of hewn logs. When every bare wooden surface had been filled with his letters and ciphers he would erase them and begin anew. Thus it was always; and the boy whom dull old Thomas Lincoln and rustic John Romine conceived to be lazy was in reality the most tireless worker in all the region around Gentryville. His stepmother told me he devoured everything in the book line within his reach. If in his reading he came across anything that pleased his fancy, he entered it down in a copy-book—a sort of repository in which he was wont to store everything worthy of preservation.

“Frequently, ” relates his stepmother, “he had no paper to write his pieces down on. Then he would put them in chalk on a board or plank, sometimes only making a few signs of what he intended to write. When he got paper he would copy them, always bringing them to me and reading them. He would ask my opinion to what he had read, and often explained things to me in his plain language.”

No one had a more retentive memory. If he read or heard a good thing it never escaped him. His powers of concentration were intense. . . . His thoughtful and investigating mind dug down after ideas, and never stopped till bottom facts were reached. With such a mental equipment the day was destined to come when the world would need the services of his intellect and heart. That he was equal to the great task when the demand came is but another striking proof of the grandeur of his character.

Hcrndon’s Lincoln, William H. Hemdon and Jesse W. Weik. Vol. I,



Lincoln’s connection with Stuart was formally dissolved in April, 1841, and one with Logan formed which continued for four years. It may almost be said that Lincoln’s practice as a lawyer dates from this time.  Being then thirty-two years of age, had not yet formed those habits of close application which are indispensable to permanent success at the bar. He was not behind the greater part of his contemporaries in this respect. Among all the lawyers of the circuit who were then, or who afterwards became, eminent practitioners, there were few indeed who in those days applied themselves with any degree of persistency to the close study of legal principles. One of these few was Stephen T. Logan. Needing someone to assist him in his practice, which was then considerable, he invited Lincoln into partnership. . The partnership continued about four years, but the benefit Lincoln derived from it lasted all his life. … He began for the first time to study his cases with energy and patience; to resist the tendency, almost universal at that day, to supply with florid rhetoric the attorney’s deficiency in law; in short, to educate, discipline, and train the enormous faculty, hitherto latent in him, for close and severe intellectual labor.

Logan, who had expected that Lincoln’s chief value to him would be as a talking advocate before juries, was surprised to find his new partner rapidly becoming a lawyer. “He would study out his case and make as much of it as anybody,” said Logan many years afterwards. “His ambition as a lawyer increased; he grew constantly. By close study of each case as it came up, he got to be quite a formidable lawyer.”

The character of the man is in these words. He had vast concerns intrusted to him in the course of his life, and disposed of them one at a time as they were presented. At the end of four years the partnership was dissolved.  The old partners continued close and intimate friends. . . They had the unusual honor, while they were still comparatively young men, of seeing their names indissolubly associated in the map of their State as a memorial to future ages of their friendship and their fame, in the county of Logan, of which the city of Lincoln is the county-seat.

They both prospered, each in his way, Logan rapidly gained a great reputation and accumulated an ample fortune. Lincoln, while he did not become rich, always earned a respectable livelihood, and never knew the care of poverty or debt from that time forward. His wife and he suited their style of living to their means, and were equally removed from luxury and privation.

Abraham Lincoln: A History, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Vol. I, page 213.