23 Aug 2014
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Abraham Lincoln, The Poet

When presidents are ranked by historians, Abraham Lincoln consistently appears near the top as one of America's greatest. While being a great executive, Lincoln also had a love for verse.

Abraham Lincoln, The Poet


Abraham Lincoln, the man who delivered the Gettysburg Address. Abraham Lincoln, the man who helped end slavery with his Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham Lincoln, the man who led the Union during the Civil War, ultimately saving America.

Abraham Lincoln, the poet?

According to the Library of Congress, Lincoln regularly read poetry throughout his life. As a teenager, the boy who would become the 16thPresident of the United States took to writing it as well, carefully crafting verses as he dragged his quill across paper or scribbled a few lines here and there in the margins of his textbooks.

There was a poem that stuck out above all others for Lincoln. It was William Knox's  Mortality. Lincoln memorized the poem, often reciting it, but did not know who wrote it until his later life. He  remarked of it: "I would give all I am worth, and go in debt, to be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is."

Lincoln was the author of “a number of crude an satirical verses” in his teens and early 20s, and his “Chronicles of Reuben” proved that under the right circumstances, he “could wield his pen as a blunt instrument of attack,” according to the library.

According to William H. Herndon's " Herndon's Life of Lincoln" — (Herndon was Lincoln's law partner; following his assassination in 1865, Herndon traveled throughout the country, collecting firsthand accounts of the man through those that knew him and wrote a biography on his old pal, determining to present him as a man, rather than a saint) — Reuben and Charles Grigsby, who lived near the young Lincoln, were set to be married on the same day. In 1828, two years after Lincoln's sister Sarah married another Grigsby brother, Aaron, she died during childbirth. Lincoln blamed the Grigsby family for her death. So when the other two Grigsby brothers were to be married, Lincoln was left off the list of those invited.

How did Lincoln respond?

"Lincoln had shrewdly pursuaded someone who was on the inside at the infare to slip upstairs while the feasting was at its height and change the beds, which Mamma Grigsby had carefully arranged in advance," Herndon writes of the beds the Grigsby brothers were to consummate their respective marriages on, as the brothers were each led into bedrooms containing the wrong wife. "The transposition of beds produced a comedy of errors which gave Lincoln as much satisfaction and joy as the Grigsby household embarrassment and chagrin."

Lincoln documented this incident in the chronicles. Though no exact copy of that manuscript exists, ones that were passed down through word of mouth  can be found.

Not much still exists of Lincoln's creative writing,  but according to James Matheny, who was interviewed by Herndon, a certain stanza of Lincoln's could not be forgotten:

Whatever Spiteful fools may Say —
Each jealous, ranting yelper —
No woman ever played the whore
Unless She had a man to help her.

And in 2004 The Suicide's Soliloquy, likely written by Lincoln, surfaced.  Read it here. More of Lincoln's poetry  can be found here.

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