Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 in Kentucky to parents who were very poor at the time. They lived in the middle of the woods in a very small log cabin his father built. The woods were full of wild animals and no one else lived nearby. Every night Abe and his family slept on a hard dirt floor. When Abe was old enough to work he and his father, Thomas, ate a small breakfast, picked up their axes, and ventured off into the thick woods to chop down trees to make the land flat for farming. It was very hard work and they worked all day long. Abe became very strong chopping wood. He also began to grow very tall for his age. He grew so much that his pants became too small and because his parents were poor they couldn’t afford to buy him new ones. Some people thought he looked funny because he was so tall and skinny, but they liked Abe because he was kind and funny.
In Abe’s town there wasn’t a school, so most days he just worked. For a short time a teacher lived a few miles away so Abraham did learn a little, but just enough to read and write. Once Abe learned to read it became his favorite thing to do. He only had a couple books, but he spent any free time he had reading. When he learned something new he repeated the words over and over until he knew them by memory. He also wrote new words down. This helped him remember the words so he could use them later.
After Abe and his father cleared the land of trees, they began farming. Most days he’d take a book out to the field and read in between planting. His mother, Nancy, read to him and his sister. She knew learning was very important and taught Abe this from a young age. Abe loved his mother very much.
When Abe was only nine his mother became sick and died. He and his family were very sad. Not long after this, his father left him and his sister for nine months while he went to find a new wife. Can you imagine being left alone for that long? Somehow Abraham survived, finding help from caring neighbors. Eventually, his father returned with their new mother. When Abe saw on the road he ran and hugged her, even though he didn’t know her. He was just happy to have a mother again.
Sarah turned out to be a very good mother to Abe. She found him new books and was kind to him. Abe’s father Thomas was hard on him. He was also known to be a very good storyteller. This was a talent Abe picked up and was known for later in his life.
Once Abraham was old enough to be on his own, he left home and started working for himself. He knew that by working hard, he could improve his life. He had a job moving goods down the river, then later worked in a store. Once while working in the store, someone paid the wrong amount of money. That night Abe walked very far to return the money. This is where he got his nickname “Honest Abe.” Honesty means telling the truth.
One day in town Abe went to the courthouse and saw a lawyer arguing a case. A lawyer is someone who understands the law and often helps defends others when they need something. When Abe heard the lawyer speaking, he decided being a lawyer was what he wanted to do. Without going to a big school, Abraham read and studied and repeated words on his own until he knew everything he needed to to become a lawyer. This took lots of time and practice but soon he became very smart and understood the law. He passed all the tests he needed and before long became a lawyer. He traveled from town to town on his horse helping others.
While working as a lawyer, Abe became interested in politics. Politics involves law and government and voting in new leaders. Abe wanted to become a leader so he could shape and change the country for the better. His first job in the state government was the House of Representatives. Later, he was part of the U.S. House of Representatives. There he helped pass laws to build railroads and support banks so the state could grow and improve.
At the same time slavery was a tragic problem in United States. Slavery is when someone is forced to work without any pay. Many Americans had slaves that they treated very poorly and made them work very hard. Abe knew slavery was horrible and was against slavery it spreading to the new states in America. He argued this against another leader named Stephen A. Douglas. These arguments became very intense at times, because Americans were very upset about slavery, either being for it or against it.
At this time Abe ran for President of the United States. Many Americans in the South were against Abe being president, because they wanted to keep slavery. Also, many Americans thought Abe could never win because he was just a farm boy from the woods who didn’t have very much money or schooling. But Abe cared about helping the country and to everyone’s surprise he won and became the President of the United States! The people who loved Abe were very excited that such a caring man had become their new president.
But Southerners who wanted to keep slavery were angry and wanted to break off from America. They said they would form a new country where they could keep their slaves. This was called The Civil War, because it was a war between two parts of our country, the North and the South. Soon very dangerous fighting began and many soldiers on both sides died. It was a very sad time for the United States.
Abraham Lincoln wanted more than anything to keep the country together. He believed America was stronger and better as one country. But he was also very sad to see soldiers dying on both sides. Some wanted to quit the fight, but Abe was determined to not give up. He gave the Gettysburg Address and his bold words inspired Americans to follow him. He also worked to create new laws to stop slavery even when it was unpopular to do so.
Finally, the war came to an end when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the North. It was a time of much celebration for the North. Many lives had been lost, but in the end the country stayed together and the slaves became free. Some leaders may have been harsh to the losing side of the war, but Abraham Lincoln was determined to show kindness and mercy to the South and do all he could to rebuild the broken country.
Not long after the war ended, while Abe was watching a play in Ford’s Theater he was shot by the assassin John Wilkes Booth. The Americans who loved Abe were very sad at this news. They had lost the president who cared for them and saved the country. But having done all he could, Abraham Lincoln has gone down in history as one of the greatest presidents of all time.
Like Abe, no matter where you were born or to whom, you can decide to improve yourself and be a good person. Abe had very little, but he read everything he could and studied and worked until he could make a living for himself. He also decided to help his country by running for different offices in the government. These aren’t easy jobs, but when good people lead they can make a great difference. Like Abe, you can be aware of what is going on in your own communities and in your country. And when you’re old enough you can vote for good leaders and even become one yourself. Just remember, no matter your circumstances, if you make the decision to improve yourself and do good things, you can do it!