Abraham Lincoln – Middle Years

Abraham Lincoln

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Young Abraham Lincoln


Illinois Years

In 1830, Abe’s father moved the family to Illinois following fears of another milk sickness outbreak.  After enduring several plagues and one of the worst winters on record, Abe decided to leave his father’s homestead and set off on his own at the age of 22.  Abe’s experience, intelligence, and ingenuity would serve him well. His first job required him to steer a flatboat from Illinois to New Orleans, Louisiana.  After leading the construction of the flatboat with two other boys, Abe gained notoriety from the residents of New Salem, when he figured out how to float the stuck flatboat over Rutledge’s Dam, by drilling a hole in the bottom of the boat. After successfully unloading the goods in New Orleans, Abe took a steamer to St. Louis and walked home the remainder of the way. The owner of the flatboat was so impressed with Abe, he hired him to work as a clerk in his store in New Salem. 

In New Salem, Abe made many friends, mastered grammar,  and gained a reputation as a master story-teller.  In August of 1832, he decided to become a candidate for one of four representatives of Sangamon County in the Illinois Legislature, despite being a resident in the county for only nine months.  His campaign platform centered on improvements to the navigation of the Sangamon River he would initiate.  During this time, however, Lincoln was made captain of a company of men from New Salem to volunteer their service in the Black Hawk War. The company would become the Fourth Illinois Mounted Volunteers. Lincoln himself served for about three months in the frontier of Illinois, but was never engaged in any real combat. When he returned to New Salem, it was election time. By this time, however, there were thirteen candidates, and he finished eighth on the ballot (though over 90% of the residents of New Salem voted for him).  Discouraged, Abe decided to enter a partnership to purchase the store he clerked at on credit.  Thinking that New Salem was an up and coming town, Lincoln believed the purchase would earn him great profits. Unfortunately, his partner abandoned him, subsequent attempts to sell the store were unsuccessful, and Lincoln was saddled with a debt that would take him seventeen years to pay off. 

Abe Enters Politics

On May 7, 1833, Abe was appointed postmaster of New Salem.  As the population of New Salem declined over the next few years, it became too small for a post office and Abe was out of job.  That same year, Lincoln was hired to survey new lands acquired by Sangamon County, despite the fact he had no training as a surveyor.  According to legend, it took Abe only six weeks to learn the trade and from that point on was considered an excellent surveyor.  In 1834, Abe would campaign again for representative in the Illinois state legislature.  Now that he was well-known in a larger portion of Sangamon County, Abe traveled from village to village giving speeches, attending shooting matches, horse races and other community events.  Again, there were thirteen candidates, but this time Abe won.

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