“What he has in the way of education, he has picked up.” Abraham Lincoln wrote this statement in a 3,000 word autobiography during his presidential campaign. At the age of ten, he attended school in Indiana, but school terms were far shorter than they are today. Abraham might attend school for one to three months in the winter and then he would be expected to help out on the family farm.
Trying to learn anything in just a few months each year was hard enough, but to make things worse country teachers were not always well educated. Lincoln remembered, “no qualification was ever required of a teacher, beyond readin, writin, and cipherin.” The educational system did not help most children become interested in learning. Abraham, however, was not like most children.
Though he did develop some talent for farm chores like chopping wood, Abraham was most interested in reading. He was not ashamed to beg others to let him take one of their books home with him. The chores he had meant that young Abe often stayed up late or got up early to read. Some of the books he read, like Robinson Crusoe and Aesop’s Fables, are still read by schoolchildren today. His stepmother, who supported his reading efforts, remembered that Abe had a scrapbook in which he would write down quotes that he liked and wanted to remember.
As he entered his teenage years, Abe also developed a talent for public speaking. When he attended church with his family, he would pay close attention to the sermon. After church, he would recite what the preacher said to a small audience of other children. Although no one could have predicted it at the time, Abraham’s habits of reading, writing and reciting would prove invaluable when he became president.