Abe … Re-dacted, Re-facted and Re-enacted
Most folks would agree that much of who we are as adults was shaped in us when we were children. Above all no one kneaded and molded us more than did our parents. A prime example of this was Abraham Lincoln. One would think the gentle giant had come from a loving home, but nothing could be further from the truth. In keeping with the times, here are a few facts—re-dacted, re-facted and re-enacted.
It would be wonderful to report that Abe’s father, Thomas Lincoln, was his role model. Unfortunately just the opposite was true. In all ways, Abraham Lincoln strove to be antithetical to the kind of man his father was; to be everything his father was not.
To be sure, there was a very dark, sinister side to Thomas Lincoln. Certainly circumstances had repeatedly rusted his soul as bad luck had a way of following him like a sticky shadow. For example, he sold his Kentucky farm for twenty dollars plus forty barrels of whiskey, the whiskey being worth more than the currency in a society that thrived on bartering. Following the ill-fated sale, Thomas moved the family’s household goods from the old farm to upriver Indiana. The flatboat containing everything they had in the world capsized, sending its entire contents to the river’s bottom. Most was lost, including the only truly valuable item, the whiskey.
Words like “careless, dull, mean, cold” and even “inhumane” were used to describe Thomas, especially in his ill treatment of his only son, Abe. He was known to knock Abe to the ground in front of acquaintances and complete strangers, leaving one to wonder what went on behind closed doors?
What often spurred Thomas’s anger were the endless probing questions that the young, precocious Abe asked. Thomas couldn’t answer them and he felt demeaned and disrespected when his little boy put him on the spot. Following such incidences were frequent beatings to which the youngster never outwardly responded, but instead retreated to a corner where he quietly wept alone.
Foremost in Thomas’ mind were his doubts that Abraham was really his son. After all, Nancy Hanks, Abe’s mother, was herself the illegitimate product of a wanton relationship. Also physical differences between father and son forced folks to speculate as to what was the true parentage. Thomas was five feet, nine inches tall; Abraham was six feet, four inches. Thomas at 185 pounds was considered heavy. Abe was skeletal thin.
A man named Abraham Enloe claimed to be the actual biological father. With his large ears and nose, extra long arms and exceptional height, young Abe markedly resembled him. One day as Enloe was publicly boasting that he was the real father, Thomas viciously attacked him, biting off a piece of his nose. An eruption followed whereupon Thomas spit out a mouthful of blood, including Enloe’s missing nostril!
At the tender age of six, a defining moment in Thomas’ life occurred when he followed his father and brother onto a plot of land they were clearing. A lone Indian brave stealthily moved through the woods, took one shot and killed Thomas’ father. The Indian then brazenly grabbed Thomas as his prize and ran off. Hastily raising his rifle, Thomas’ brother took careful aim and shot the Indian, thus saving the life of the presumed father of the future 16th president of the United States.
Above all, Thomas felt an “eddication” was worthless. This caused a great divide between him and Nancy, who was not only literate, but had also taught Abe to read. Both Nancy and Abe escaped from Thomas’ brutality—and their abject poverty—through reading. So impoverished were they both academically and physically, that things were often carried to absurd lengths. One story tells where Thomas would not allow Nancy to waste money on buttons, so she was reduced to using thorns to hold her clothing together. Meanwhile, Thomas spent their meager funds on a pair of silk suspenders.
Much credit must be given to Nancy Hanks, for it was she who instilled in Abe his deep love of learning. She was quoted as saying, “I would rather my son would be able to read the Bible than to own a farm, if he cannot have but one.” With every book he read, Abe felt he was spitting in the face of his father who regularly beat him for this offense, believing that Abe was using frivolous books to escape from the reality of life’s hard work.
Neighbors stated that Nancy, a superb seamstress, was intellectually “superior” to her husband in many ways. She had a mild yet strong personality, and instilled in Abe an extraordinary sweetness and forbearance for which he was known his entire life.
Nancy was taller than most women, weighing a very slender 130 lbs., with dark skin and hair. She had a prominent forehead and a sharp angular face which was marked with a fixed melancholy. Though her life was clouded with sadness, people remembered her as having an amiable disposition and a brave cheerfulness. She was, as well, known to be bold, reckless and the kind of daredevil woman who, when pushed too far, could stretch the bounds of propriety.
When Abe was nine years old, Nancy Hanks died. One view has it that she succumbed to milk sickness, an illness caused by drinking the milk and/or eating the meat of cows that had eaten white snakeroot, a plant containing the toxin temetrol. In the 19th century, thousands of people in the Midwest died of this sickness.
The second view is that Nancy died of “a galloping quick consumption.” It could also have been tuberculosis or cancer. If, indeed, it were cancer, it may have been due to Marfan Syndrome which it is speculated that both she and Abe had as he inherited the same unusual facial features, height, lanky loose-joints and pendulous limbs of his mother. Abe, by the way, was the tallest president America has ever had.
What followed this tragic loss was the worst and the best in the shaping of the man we know as Abraham Lincoln.
(To be continued.)