STORIES ABE TOLD

Abraham Lincoln's Stories
President Abraham Lincoln telling a story.

The Background

I enjoy reading the stories Abe Lincoln told! I grew up with them. They always amuse me or make me see or understand something differently.

That was Lincoln’s point in telling the stories in the first place.

Carl Sandburg, in his definitive work,[1] offers the viewpoint that Lincoln had to tell his stories in order to relieve the intolerable tensions within him from being president during a Civil War. Sandburg maintains that

Carl Sandburg with a Bust of Abraham Lincoln

everything the war demanded of Lincoln as president was against his moral nature as an individual. Yet Lincoln persisted, using humor to help alleviate the tensions from that inner struggle.

While there is certainly some truth to this perspective, Lincoln was a story-teller by nature [or culture, depending upon one’s philosophy]. He was a young man who learned his basic reading and formal language skills FIRST from his most readily available resource – the Bible.

A basically self-taught individual who happened to be brilliant, Lincoln understood the meanings the parables and the purpose behind their use in the Bible as a teaching technique. That’s readily apparent from his early years as a lawyer.

Some background: In early America, some lawyers and judges made their living traveling around to all the small towns in need of their services in a certain geographical area that was laid out as a legal district. They

Abraham Lincoln - Circuit Lawyer
Abraham Lincoln, the circuit lawyer, dispensing legal advice in one of the small towns in his district.

dispensed legal advice, and held trials as necessary.

They tried the cases at each stop the day [or more if necessary] of their arrival or they scheduled the trials for the next visit. When their business was complete, the judge and the lawyers were off to the next small town on the circuit.

At that time, small town juries were notorious for being simple, often uneducated people. They usually also knew all about the cases being tried, and most of the time, they had already decided the verdict. Change of venue was not an available tactic then.

So Lincoln used stories in a similar way that the Bible uses parables. They were mostly simple stories that, while humorous, carried a legal point in a common sense manner.

He won cases fairly often – sometimes even with the jury’s pre-trial opinion against his client. He wasn’t perfect, but he WAS memorable!

He did the same thing during his speeches.

Abraham Lincoln was a tall, homely man who spoke in a high [tenor?] voice. These stories with their humor, and his passion for his subjects, often helped his audience forget his looks and remember his words.

I created this page so that you too can enjoy some of those memorable stories. The links below will grow as I add more of them.

They come from his speeches. Some are from a books published in 1901 and 1912 that the authors put together from a variety of verified and unverified sources. Others are from letters and journals kept by contemporaries of Lincoln’s – undoubtedly polished by time and reverence for him.

The source from which each comes is at the bottom of the story.

Still, the sheer volume of these stories that exist, compared with any other president or famous American figure, shows the respect and admiration for the person that Abraham Lincoln was.

Food for thought.

Mac

Works Cited

[1] Sandburg, Carl. (1954). Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years. (Book Club Edition). New York: Harcourt Brace & World.

The Stories

Dr Hamburgher and the Lame Man – Politics in Lincoln’s Time

‘Getting Endwise’ – Lincoln’s Military Story

Joe Wilson and His Poultry Shed – Lincoln’s Stinky Story

‘The Power of Good It Did’ – Lincoln’s Story About Critics

Which End of the Dog? Lincoln’s Story for the Democratic Party

Crossing the Fox River – Lincoln’s Story for the Nation

Lincoln and the Money Men – A Lincoln Story

Diplomacy and the Art of the Deal – Lincoln’s Counter Story