Thomas Lincoln and His Son

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Thomas Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln did not have an idyllic father and son relationship.  They were vastly different men, and most historians have focused on those differences, and the estrangement that grew between them after Abraham Lincoln reached adulthood.  What has always struck me however is the impact that Thomas had on the life of his son.

  1.  Anti-Slavery-Thomas was a member of a church, Little Mount Separate Baptist Church, that separated from the regular Baptist Church over the owning of slaves.  He brought his family from Kentucky to the Free state of Indiana mainly because he realized that a poor white man could not compete against slave labor.  Abraham Lincoln was reared in a household in which slavery was viewed negatively.
  2. God-Thomas Lincoln was a complete Calvinist.  His God was completely inscrutable and controlled each man’s destiny for His own purposes.  Lincoln rebelled against this heritage, became in his young manhood something of a scoffer and a free-thinker.  As he aged however, he returned to what he had learned about God in his father’s house:  Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”  Before every meal Thomas Lincoln would say:  Fit and prepare us for humble service. We beg for Christ’s sake, Amen.  His prayer was granted for his sole surviving son.
  3. Sarah Bush Lincoln-Thomas could not have chosen a better stepmother for his son.  As opposed to his sometime tense relationship with his father, Abraham Lincoln had nothing but praise for his stepmother, a sentiment she returned.  He visited her at her home in Coles County just before he went to Washington to be sworn in as President.  He referred to her as mother in his letters to her and after his father died acquired a 40 acre tract, giving her the use of it during her lifetime.  She had a big impact on her stepson’s life, and all because of her marriage to Thomas.
  4. Education-Although he was a man of no education who could barely sign his name, Thomas encouraged his son to read and better himself, although like most fathers he was vexed when his son was found reading instead of doing the chore he had been assigned.  Sarah Bush Lincoln was literate, and she helped bring the world of literature into the life of her bright stepson.   She noted that Thomas took pride in how smart his son was and how well read. For a poor boy on the frontier, Lincoln grew up in a household more hospitable to “book-learning” than did most of his peers in similar circumstances.
  5. Story Teller-Abraham Lincoln was famed for his ability to tell a story to illustrate a point.  He took after his father in that.  His father was well known in his circle for having a keen sense of humor, demonstrated by his telling of humorous stories and jokes.  He would sometimes get irritated at his son, because Abraham liked chiming in with the punch line.
  6. Public service-Lincoln grew up in a household where his father was active in public affairs and the activities of his church.  Over the years Thomas served as a member of the militia, a local constable, a guard of prisoners, a jury member and a road commissioner.  When his son entered public life, he had a father, who, in his modest way, set an example of public service for him.
  7. Self Improvement-One of the main themes of the life of Abraham Lincoln was self-improvement.  In his own way that was also true of Thomas Lincoln.  His purchases of several farms illustrated his ongoing desire to make a better life for his family.  A self-taught carpenter, he became respected for his craftsmanship.  His son far exceeded his success in his attempts at self-betterment, but the desire to do so was an inheritance from father to son.
  8. Illinois-Illinois and Abraham Lincoln are linked forever, and it was Thomas Lincoln’s decision to move his family to Illinois that brought Lincoln to the Sucker State.

It is sometimes said that we do not truly appreciate our parents until they are gone.  Perhaps that was the case with Abraham Lincoln.  Two years after his father’s death, Lincoln named his youngest son Thomas.

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