Lincoln's Life in Letters:
Lincoln's Childhood

 View the Transcription 

"Ciphering Book" image courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. 

"Abraham Lincoln is my nam[e] 
And with my pen I wrote the same
I wrote in both hast and speed
and left it here for fools to read"
--Papers of Abraham Lincoln 

Transcriptions for Lincoln's "Ciphering Book" can be found in the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Digital Library.

Lincoln's Love of Learning

Lincoln’s quest for knowledge started early, though frontier life provided few opportunities for classroom instruction. Despite having less than a year of formal education, the future president read whatever books he could find. He explored Aesop’s Fables and famous works of literature but also used books to study grammar, math, and other core concepts. He never stopped educating himself—maintaining a lifelong love of learning and self-improvement.

His enthusiasm for education is wonderfully evident in these pages from a “ciphering book” used in his teenage years to teach himself mathematics. The methods Lincoln used are obscure to us, but it is evident how carefully he is following the instructions. However, like any student, he could sometimes lose focus, exemplified by the short joke poem and the earliest known Lincoln signature.

A black and white photo of Johnson’s painting. Johnson’s depiction captures a young Abraham Lincoln as he reads by firelight. The light coming from the fire outside of frame illuminates the left side of Lincoln face and body as he reads. Seated on a wooden stool, Lincoln extends his right leg into the darkness of the room and leans his back against the outer stone wall of the fireplace A table, just barely visible, sits in the dark background behind Lincoln. Inside the bright fireplace next to the reading boy, an iron hook and chain dangles above logs placed beside the tongs that would have positioned them.
Artist Eastman Johnson’s depiction of young Lincoln reading by firelight. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Lincoln’s father Thomas Lincoln. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Lincoln’s stepmother Sarah Bush Lincoln in 1864.
Artist Louis Bonhajo’s depiction of Lincoln splitting rails.

Life in New Salem

Lincoln the Lawyer

The Debates

1860 Campaign

The Lincoln Family


Gettysburg Address

Mary Lincoln

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. To see more documents written to and by Lincoln from all over the world, please visit 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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