Lincoln on Democracy

By Mario M. Cuomo; Harold Holzer et al. | Go to book overview

“NOT MUCH OF ME”
Lincoln’s “Autobiography,” Age 50
[DECEMBER 20, 1859]

Abraham Lincoln wrote this “little sketch” of his first fifty years just five
months before his nomination to the presidency. He composed it as a
research tool for a newspaper feature designed to introduce the still largely
unknown western politician to the East “There is not much of it,” Lin-
coln apologized in a cover letter, “for the reason, I suppose, that there is
not much of me.” Predictably, it was sumptuously embellished when
adapted by the Chester County (Pennsylvania
) Times en February 11,
1869, even though Lincoln wanted something “modest” that did not “go
beyond, the materials.” The article was widely reprinted in other pro-
Republican organs. But it is the original Lincoln text that remains a
principal source of our knowledge about the guardedly private public
figure his own law partner complained was “the most shut-mouthed man
I knew.” In truth, the sketch rarely travels beyond perfunctory facts
toward the realm of insight, and it ends with the vaguest of personal
descriptions of the face that would soon become the most recognizable in
America, Although he authored more than a million words altogether,
Lincoln would produce nothing further about himself except for a slightly
longer account of his early days written in 1860 as the basis of a campaign
biography. Even though democracy could claim no mote convincing vali-
dation than his own rise, Lincoln the writer hardly ever illuminated
Lincoln the man. Where Lincoln is concerned, history comes no closer to
autobiography than this
.

I was bom Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families—second fami- lies, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks, some of whom now reside in Adams, and others in Macon counties, Illinois. My paternal grandfather, Abra- ham Lincoln, emigrated from Rockingham County, Virginia, to Ken- tucky, about 1781 or 2, where, a year or two later, he was killed by indians, not in battle, but by stealth, when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest. His ancestors, who were quakers, went to Virginia

-xlix-

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