Lincoln: Latest in the Self-Made Men

Most of Lincoln's life is well known and he's widely regarded as being one of the best presidents and American citizens to ever live. While someone like Rutherford B. Hayes might have one or two biographies written about him that are from the 1920's, Lincoln has an entire section at most book stores.

Lincoln's early life is relatively well chronicled. He was born in poverty (the log cabin myth actually isn't a myth at all) and his father moved his family west to Illinois from Kentucky. There they tried for the most part unsuccessfully to scratch out a living with agriculture.

Lincoln hated farm life and knew he was destined for something greater. He taught himself to read and write and studied the law at night by candle after his days of working the fields. He left home as soon as he could with no intention of coming back. He became the 'rail splitter' working on the rapidly expanding rail roads exploding from the East coast.

He eventually found work in law and politics and the rest is history from there. But many people don't know that Lincoln's story of early hardship and success through hard work is hardly unique.

Washington was an amazing man but was hardly self made as he came from an aristocratic family. The same can be said for Jefferson, Madison and Monroe and all the Virginia presidents like Tyler. Other Presidents, like Polk, Taylor or Harrison came from well known or wealthy families.

Most of the other presidents up to the Civil War though came from little to nothing to take the highest position in this new land of opportunity. Jackson, Van Buren, Fillmore, Buchanan and Johnson who followed Lincoln were all men of modest family roots.

Jackson was raised by his mother who died when he was still young, led a troubled life but turned himself around and made a life for himself out west in Tennessee.

Van Buren counted Dutch as his first language and came from the small town of Kinderhook where his family made a modest living through farming.

Fillmore's father unsuccessfully tried to start a farm over and over again, never prospering. He escaped a life of poverty through education and rising up in the New York political machine.

Buchanan's family were poor settlers in a Pennsylvania trading post and he also escaped through the law as Lincoln did, starting his own successful practice and charging the high rates that would allow him to leave the practice to enter politics.

Johnson was an awful president, but a great business man. He was an apprentice who ran away from his Tailor he was studying under and started his own garment business far away in a new settlement in Tennessee. He grew the business to the point he was able to expand to buying and selling real estate and he succeeded in politics through his force of will and overcame his utter lack of education or even literacy.

That seems to be the quality that runs through almost all presidents from Jackson up to the Civil War. It must have seemed then like America truly was the land of opportunity with the path laid out before those who were simply able to work hard enough to earn what they wanted.

No comments:

Post a Comment