Lincoln came into his own in the river village of New Salem, Illinois. After arriving in 1831, he worked several jobs, including store clerk, surveyor, and postmaster. His first major step toward leadership, however, came when he volunteered to fight in the 1832 Black Hawk War—an effort to forcibly remove indigenous people trying to reclaim their land—and his company elected him captain. Lincoln later recalled that election “gave me more pleasure than any I have had since.” In this document, Lincoln discharges a fellow militiaman, fulfilling one of his last duties as captain.

During his Black Hawk War service, Lincoln was also running for the Illinois House of Representatives. He would lose that election but ran again in 1834, won, and eventually served four terms. Lincoln’s quiet ambition and the connections he would make in the legislature provided the foundation for his rise to national leadership.

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Lincoln's Life in Letters New Salem Photos

Photos for Lincoln's Life in Letters New Salem panel

The documents highlighted in this exhibit are all drawn from our own collection. The originals are in our vault and the images were created by our Papers of Abraham Lincoln project. Please visit their website,, to see more documents written to and by Lincoln from all over the world. If you have a Lincoln document, or know someone who does, please reach out to us. We are always looking for new discoveries.


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