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 

The full 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.


: Light illuminates half of a boy’s face and body as he reads from a book. Sitting on a stool, Lincoln extends a leg into the room’s darkness while leaning against the stone wall of the fireplace.
Artist Eastman Johnson’s depiction of young Lincoln reading by firelight. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
An elderly Thomas Lincoln sits against a cloudy grey backdrop. Dressed in a white collared shirt underneath dark vest and coat, Thomas looks towards the viewer with one arm resting on a surface above his waist and the other on his leg.
Lincoln’s father Thomas Lincoln. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
An elderly Sarah Bush Lincoln stares through haunted eyes. Her hollow cheeks are framed by a white bonnet fastened beneath her chin. The billowing sleaves of her dark gown meet the white gloves that cover her clasped hands.
Lincoln’s stepmother Sarah Bush Lincoln in 1864.
Ready to swing, an adult Lincoln rears an axe over his shoulder and concentrates on the tree trunk resting on the ground between his feet. His white shirt sleeves are rolled above his elbows and a neckerchief is tied around his neck.
Artist Louis Bonhajo’s depiction of Lincoln splitting rails.

Life in New Salem

Lincoln the Lawyer

The Debates

1860 Campaign

The Lincoln Family

Emancipation

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 www.papersofabrahamlincoln.org. 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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