Lincoln in Indiana
Abraham Lincoln is undoubtedly America’s most beloved president. Over the decades, he has consistently appeared among the top two presidents (along with George Washington) chosen by Americans as their favorite, most successful chief executive. Similarly, historians and professional observers of the American presidency have consistently ranked Lincoln as the nation’s most influential president, citing his leadership during the Civil War and his dedication to an “undivided House,” and because he embodied core values of integrity, persistence, respect for human rights, and compassion.
While there is a consistency in claiming Lincoln as the nation’s best leader, three states also lay claim to Lincoln – Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. Kentucky calls itself “Lincoln’s Birthplace.” Indiana claims itself to be “Lincoln’s Boyhood Home.” Illinois labels itself as “The Land of Lincoln,” the state in which he embarked upon his professional and political careers. But, as many argue, it was Indiana that proved to be the formative environment for the young man who would become the 16th President of the United States. “There I grew up,” wrote Lincoln about his boyhood years in the state of Indiana.
Growing Up in Indiana
Abraham Lincoln was born 12 February 1809 in Hardin County, Kentucky, the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Lincoln’s sister Sarah has been born in 1807. The family lived at Sinking Spring farm for a couple years before moving to a new site on nearby Knob Creek. It was here where Abraham became accustomed to chores around the farm and where he began his brief education, attending a nearby subscription school at the age of six.
Around 1816, Thomas turned his eyes to the new state of Indiana where he soon relocated his family. He chose to leave Kentucky partly on account of the issue of slavery but chiefly because of problems regarding titles to land. The Lincoln family settled in December 1816 on land at Little Pigeon Creek in what is now Spencer County, Indiana. At the young age of seven, Abraham helped his father establish the family farm by building a log home, clearing land, and planting crops.
Abraham’s formal education was minimal. He attended local schools only sporadically and his teachers likely possessed meager qualifications. In fact, Lincoln noted that “if a straggler supposed to understand latin, happened to sojourn the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizard.” Thus, Lincoln was largely self-educated. Family and friends remembered him as a studious boy, one who read all that he could get his hands on and who made notes on what he read. They recalled that besides his few schoolbooks, Lincoln also read the Bible, histories, and newspapers, but he particularly enjoyed the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Parson Weem’s biography of George Washington, and the formative documents of the United States. At a later age, Lincoln even read the Revised Laws of the State of Indiana. Thus, Lincoln appeared well-grounded in the lives of the Founding Fathers and the principles that had led to the creation of the United States.
In the fall of 1818, the Lincoln family was hit by tragedy. During the late summer, the milk sickness had swept through the Ohio River Valley, including southern Indiana. The illness, caused by cows grazing on the poisonous white snakeroot plant, claimed thousands of lives, including Lincoln’s mother Nancy on 5 October. For more than a year, Thomas and his children lived alone on their farm. On December 2, 1819, Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children from Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
Lincoln likely gained some valuable insight into the character of the expanding American nation when he made a trip by flatboat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. James Gentry, owner of a store near the Lincoln farmstead, asked Abraham (then 19 years of age) to accompany his son Allen with a boatload of produce and meat for a wage of $8 per month. The two young men built their flatboat and embarked in late December 1828 on their 1,200 mile voyage. New Orleans was a vibrant town, filled with trade and commerce and diverse peoples. It was here that Abraham likely witnessed his first slave market, though we do not know how he reacted to this encounter. Clearly, this venture to the South offered yet another part of Abraham’s ongoing education.
On 12 February 1830, Abraham reached the age of 21 – the legal age for being independent. Stories claim that he was already planning to leave his family and to go out on his own, possibly to become a lawyer, but those claims can not be verified. Still, he was now of age and clearly aware of the numerous economic and professional opportunities in the expanding American West. But, correspondence from his uncle in Macon County, Illinois, led Abraham’s father to consider relocating his family. Thomas had already begun construction on a new house the previous fall, which indicated his intention to remain in Indiana. But, new opportunities further west, particularly with the availability of cheap land, appealed to Thomas. In March 1830, the Lincoln family sold their Indiana farm of nearly 14 years, packed their belongings, and left for central Illinois.
Lincoln Returns to Indiana
Abraham Lincoln returned to his Indiana home in 1844. During the presidential campaign of that year, he accepted an invitation to speak to the Whigs of Rockport in Spencer County, Indiana. On the evening of 30 October, Lincoln spoke to a large audience at the courthouse, expressing his support for protective tariffs. The Rockport Herald noted that Lincoln “handled that subject in a manner that done honor to himself and the whig cause. Other subjects were investigated in a like manner. His speech was plain, argumentative and of an hour’s duration.” His appearance for the Whigs was a clear indication that Lincoln was gaining recognition as a political leader in the West. Afterwards, he visited “the neighborhood .. in which I was raised, where my mother and only sister were buried.”
It was another 15 years until Lincoln returned to Indiana. On the evening of 19 September 1859, after campaigning in Cincinnati, Lincoln stopped in Indianapolis and delivered a campaign speech to a full house at the Masonic Hall. He opened his speech with the phrase, “Fellow Citizens of the State of Indiana,” thereby clearly and resoundingly acknowledging his own roots in the Hoosier state. Referring to himself in the third person, Lincoln continued:
He now, for the first time in his life, appeared before a large audience in Indiana. Appearing at the capital of this now great State, and traveling through a good portion of it in coming from Cincinnati, had combined to revive his recollection of the earlier years of his life. Away back in the fall of 1816, when he was in his eighth year, his father brought him over from the neighboring State of Kentucky, and settled in the State of Indiana, and he grew up to his present enormous height on our own good soil of Indiana. [Laughter.] The scenes he passed through to-day are wonderfully different from the first scenes he witnessed in the State of Indiana, where he was raised, in Spencer county, on the Ohio river. There was an unbroken wilderness there then, and an axe was put in his hand; and with the trees and logs and grubs he fought until he reached his twentieth year.
Lincoln’s next visit to Indiana was two years later when he was president-elect. In February 1861, Lincoln began his trek to his inauguration in Washington, D.C. He began by offering farewell remarks to friends and neighbors in Springfield, Illinois, then boarded a train, and left for Lafayette, Indiana. Upon arriving there, Lincoln offered these comments:
FELLOW CITIZENS:---We have seen great changes within the recollection of some of us who are the older. When I first came to the west, some 44 or 45 years ago, at sundown you had completed a journey of some 30 miles which you had commenced at sunrise, and thought you had done well. Now only six hours have elapsed since I left my home in Illinois where I was surrounded by a large concourse of my fellow citizens, almost all of whom I could recognize, and I find myself far from home surrounded by the thousands I now see before me, who are strangers to me. Still we are bound together, I trust in christianity, civilization and patriotism, and are attached to our country and our whole country. While some of us may differ in political opinions, still we are all united in one feeling for the Union. We all believe in the maintainance of the Union, of every star and every stripe of the glorious flag, and permit me to express the sentiment that upon the union of the States, there shall be between us no difference. My friends, I meet many friends at every place on my journey, and I should weary myself should I talk at length, therefore permit me to bid you an affectionate farewell.
On his way to Indianapolis, Lincoln also stopped in Thorntown and Lebanon to offer brief remarks. Lincoln arrived in Indianapolis about 5:00 p.m. on Monday February 11. Governor Oliver P. Morton welcomed him at the Lafayette and Indianapolis Railroads’ crossing at Missouri and Washington Streets. There, Lincoln made the following remarks:
Governor Morton and Fellow Citizens of the State of Indiana:
Most heartily do I thank you for this magnificent reception, and while I cannot take to myself any share of the compliment thus paid, more than that which pertains to a mere instrument, an accidental instrument, perhaps I should say, of a great cause, I yet must look upon it as a most magnificent reception, and as such, most heartily do I thank you for it.
You have been pleased to address yourselves to me chiefly in behalf of this glorious Union in which we live, in all of which you have my hearty sympathy, and, as far as may be within my power, will have, one and inseparably, my hearty consideration. While I do not expect, upon this occasion, or on any occasion, till after I get to Washington, to attempt any lengthy speech, I will only say that to the salvation of this Union there needs but one single thing---the hearts of a people like yours. [Applause.] When the people rise in masses in behalf of the Union and the liberties of their country, truly may it be said, ``The gates of hell shall not prevail against them.’’ [Renewed applause.]
In all the trying positions in which I shall be placed, and doubtless I shall be placed in many trying ones, my reliance will be placed upon you and the people of the United States---and I wish you to remember now and forever, that it is your business, and not mine; that if the union of these States, and the liberties of this people, shall be lost, it is but little to any one man of fifty-two years of age, but a great deal to the thirty millions of people who inhabit these United States, and to their posterity in all coming time. It is your business to rise up and preserve the Union and liberty, for yourselves, and not for me. I desire they shall be constitutionally preserved.
I, as already intimated, am but an accidental instrument, temporary, and to serve but for a limited time, but I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that with you, and not with politicians, not with Presidents, not with office-seekers, but with you, is the question, ``Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generation?’’ [Loud and prolonged applause.]
Following his speech, Lincoln proceeded to the Bates House, the city’s leading hotel located on the northwest corner of Washington and Illinois streets. Later that evening, Lincoln addressed a crowd from a hotel balcony, presenting his remarks to what the press estimated to be a crowd ranging from 10,000 to 45,000 people. This was considered Lincoln’s first major policy speech as president-elect.
It is not possible, in my journey to the national capital, to address assemblies like this which may do me the great honor to meet me as you have done, but very briefly. I should be entirely worn out if I were to attempt it. I appear before you now to thank you for this very magnificent welcome which you have given me, and still more for the very generous support which your State recently gave to the political cause of the whole country, and the whole world. [Applause.] Solomon has said, that there is a time to keep silence. [Renewed and deafening applause.] We know certain that they mean the same thing while using the same words now, and it perhaps would be as well if they would keep silence.
The words ``coercion’’ and ``invasion’’ are in great use about these days. Suppose we were simply to try if we can, and ascertain what, is the meaning of these words. Let us get, if we can, the exact definitions of these words---not from dictionaries, but from the men who constantly repeat them---what things they mean to express by the words. What, then, is ``coercion’’? What is ``invasion’’? Would the marching of an army into South California, for instance, without the consent of her people, and in hostility against them, be coercion or invasion? I very frankly say, I think it would be invasion, and it would be coercion too, if the people of that country were forced to submit. But if the Government, for instance, but simply insists upon holding its own forts, or retaking those forts which belong to it,---[cheers,]---or the enforcement of the laws of the United States in the collection of duties upon foreign importations,---[renewed cheers,]---or even the withdrawal of the mails from those portions of the country where the mails themselves are habitually violated; would any or all of these things be coercion? Do the lovers of the Union contend that they will resist coercion or invasion of any State, understanding that any or all of these would be coercing or invading a State? If they do, then it occurs to me that the means for the preservation of the Union they so greatly love, in their own estimation, is of a very thin and airy character. [Applause.] If sick, they would consider the little pills of the homeopathist as already too large for them to swallow. In their view, the Union, as a family relation, would not be anything like a regular marriage at all, but only as a sort of free-love arrangement,---[laughter,]---to be maintained on what that sect calls passionate attraction. [Continued laughter.] But, my friends, enough of this.
What is the particular sacredness of a State? I speak not of that position which is given to a State in and by the Constitution of the United States, for that all of us agree to---we abide by; but that position assumed, that a State can carry with it out of the Union that which it holds in sacredness by virtue of its connection with the Union. I am speaking of that assumed right of a State, as a primary principle, that the Constitution should rule all that is less than itself, and ruin all that is bigger than itself. [Laughter.] But, I ask, wherein does consist that right? If a State, in one instance, and a county in another, should be equal in extent of territory, and equal in the number of people, wherein is that State any better than the county? Can a change of name change the right? By what principle of original right is it that one-fiftieth or one-ninetieth of a great nation, by calling themselves a State, have the right to break up and ruin that nation as a matter of original principle? Now, I ask the question---I am not deciding anything---[laughter,]---and with the request that you will think somewhat upon that subject and decide for yourselves, if you choose, when you get ready,---where is the mysterious, original right, from principle, for a certain district of country with inhabitants, by merely being called a State, to play tyrant over all its own citizens, and deny the authority of everything greater than itself. [Laughter.] I say I am deciding nothing, but simply giving something for you to reflect upon; and, with having said this much, and having declared, in the start, that I will make no long speeches, I thank you again for this magnificent welcome, and bid you an affectionate farewell. [Cheers.]
Lincoln’s last remarks in Indiana were made in Lawrenceburg. His comments were brief since he was concerned about his remaining journey and arriving in Washington D.C. on time.
My fellow-countrymen. You call upon me for a speech; I have none to give to you, and have not sufficient time to devote to it if I had. I suppose you are all Union men here, (cheers and cries of ``Right’’) and I suppose that you are in favor of doing full justice to all, whether on that side of the river (pointing to the Kentucky shore), or on your own. (Loud cheering and cries of ``We are.’’) If the politicians and leaders of parties were as true as the PEOPLE, there would be little fear that the peace of the country would be disturbed. I have been selected to fill an important office for a brief period, and am now, in your eyes, invested with an influence which will soon pass away; but should my administration prove to be a very wicked one, or what is more probable, a very foolish one, if you, the PEOPLE, are but true to yourselves and to the Constitution, there is but little harm I can do, thank God!
On Monday 4 March 1861, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger B. Taney administered the presidential oath of office to Abraham Lincoln who became the 16th President of the United States.
Lincoln’s Last Visit to the Hoosier State
Slightly more than four years later, Abraham Lincoln made his last visit to Indiana. It was on Sunday 30 April 1865, two weeks following his assassination. A train carrying his coffin arrived in Indianapolis at 7 a.m. that morning. A horse-drawn hearse transported Lincoln’s coffin to the Indiana State House in a long procession led by Governor Morton and Major General Joseph Hooker. Upon arriving at the Capitol, the coffin was placed on a dais in the rotunda; the upper third of the coffin was opened to allow mourners to see Lincoln’s face. Public viewing lasted from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. that evening. While no accurate records exist for the number of people who filed by the coffin, the Indianapolis Journal estimated no less than 50,000 joined in the mourning. Later that evening, an honor guard returned the coffin to the hearse and carried Lincoln back to the waiting train. The Indianapolis Sentinel reported:
This was the most solemn and imposing of all the pageantry that has attended the remains in this city. The wailing sadness of the music, the fitful glare of the lamps, the deep silence unbroken except by the heavy tramp of the soldiers and muffled rumbling of carriage wheels, made it the most impressive scene of all, in the mournful occasion.
Historians readily claim that Lincoln’s years in Indiana were likely responsible for shaping his personal character and political philosophy. Louis Warren, author of Lincoln’s Youth: Indiana Years, noted that it was in Indiana that Lincoln “became everywhere a favorite, always simple, genial, truthful and unpretending.” Journalist Irving Leibowitz commented that it was in the Hoosier state where Lincoln learned “the value of honesty, integrity, hard work and self-discipline.” In fact, Lincoln himself testified about the impact of the years spent in Indiana. Recalling the dedication of those who struggled for American independence, Lincoln told a New Jersey audience in 1861:
You all know, for you have all been boys, how these early impressions last longer than others….I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for.
But, it was a poem that Lincoln wrote in 1844 after speaking to the Whigs in southern Indiana where he voiced his feelings about his boyhood home.
My childhood’s home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it too.
O Memory! Thou midway world
‘Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadow rise,
Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmates loved so well.
Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
The lost and absent brings.
The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
And half of all are dead.
The very spot where grew the bread
That formed my bones, I see.
How strange, old field, on thee to tread,
And feel I’m part of thee.
Clearly, the Indiana frontier shaped the Kentucky-born boy who would become the nation’s 16th president. Lincoln’s inquisitiveness led him to immerse himself in reading that would shape his outlook on his future career and influence his writing and speaking. His exposure to newspapers of the period also helped him to become informed about national events – westward movement, land sales, internal improvements, foreign affairs, sectionalism, and slavery – that would impact his future as President. It was in Indiana too that Lincoln became increasingly familiar with Washington, Jefferson, the other Founding Fathers, and the documents that shaped American liberty and government, all of which impacted Lincoln’s political career as well as his own personal life. One could argue that Lincoln lost out on the rich cultural experiences of life in America’s emerging urban centers of the day. But, it was truly on the frontier of the nation’s 19th state where Lincoln developed his values, intellect, storytelling abilities, and writing skills that would make him America’s most beloved and honored President.
Dr. David Vanderstel is a faculty at Indiana University – Purdue University at Indianapolis and a former research director at Sagamore Institute.
Bartelt, William E. There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 2008).
Basler, Roy P., Marion Dolores Pratt, and Lloyd A. Dunlap, eds., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. Springfield, IL: Abraham Lincoln Association; New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953.
Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Rietveld, Ronald D. “Abraham Lincoln’s Thomas Jefferson,” White House Studies 5:3 (Summer 2005): 327-365.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln. http://www.thelincolnlog.org/view
Warren, Louis A. Lincoln’s Youth: Indiana Years. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1959.
Wilson, Douglas L. “What Jefferson and Lincoln Read.” The Atlantic Monthly, January 1991: 51-62.
 Louis A. Warren, Lincoln’s Youth: Indiana Years, 1816-1830 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1959), pp. 9-11.
 Ronald D. Rietveld, “Abraham Lincoln’s Thomas Jefferson,” White House Studies 5:3 (Summer 2005): 328.
 Douglas L. Wilson, “What Jefferson and Lincoln Read,” The Atlantic Monthly, January 1991: 53.
 Irving Leibowitz, My Indiana (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964), p. 266; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), pp. 34-35.
 Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1955), Vol. 1: 342. Lincoln’s trip to Indiana extended from 24 October through election day on 4 November 1844. He likely presented several speeches to audiences, but the Rockport presentation appears to have been the only one noted by the press.
 The Rockport (Indiana) Herald, 1 November 1844.
 Basler, Vol. 1: 378.
 Basler, Vol. 1: 464.
 The Courier, Lafayette, Indiana, February 12, 1861, as quoted in Basler, Vol. 4.
 Leigh Darbee, “Abraham Lincoln’s Visits to Indianapolis,” in Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, p. 918.
 Basler, Vol. 4, pp. 194-195.
 Basler, Vol. 4, pp. 195-197
 Basler, Vol. 4, p. 197
 Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, p. 918
 Quoted in Leibowitz, p. 267. See also David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (1995).
 Leibowitz, p. 258.
 Rietveld, p. 331.
 Lincoln’s poem is found in Basler, Collected Works, Vol. 1: 370, 378-279, and is quoted in Warren, Lincoln’s Youth, pp. 269-270
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