• Weird History

Small But Poignant Facts We Just Learned About Abraham Lincoln

List RulesVote up the facts and stories that humanize the legendary American president.

Abraham Lincoln is often remembered in mythic, rather than human, terms. As poignant Abraham Lincoln facts show, however, the larger-than-life 16th president lived, laughed, and loved just like everyone else.

Born on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln spent his childhood on the frontiers of Kentucky and Indiana before settling in Illinois in 1830 and building a law career. He met Mary Todd, a socialite from Kentucky, and married her in 1842. Over the course of their marriage, they had four sons.

After a series of political stumbles, Lincoln was elected to office in Illinois and the United States Congress. But his biggest political victory came in 1860 when he was elected president of the United States. The Civil War dominated Lincoln's presidency. Though his Union Army defeated the Confederacy in 1865, Lincoln didn't live long enough to rebuild the nation he had spent years defending: John Wilkes Booth assassinated him just days after much of the Confederate Army had surrendered.

Abraham Lincoln's role as the nation's leader through some of its darkest hours has secured his status as arguably the most revered president in American history. But heartbreaking facts about Abraham Lincoln reveal the flawed, complicated, and compelling human being behind the mythology.

  • Photo: Mathew B. Brady / Library of Congress / No Known Restrictions

    He Often Dreamed Of His Deceased Son Willie

    One of the defining tragedies of Lincoln's life was the untimely passing of his 11-year-old son Willie. In February 1862, Willie came down with typhoid - he likely got it from the White House's drinking water, which tapped into the tainted Potomac River

    Willie didn't survive. His passing sent both of his parents into deep mourning, and neither of them fully recovered. 

    Willie lived on in his father's thoughts, however. Lincoln even admitted that he sometimes had dreams of his son after his passing:

    D[o] you ever dream of a lost friend & feel that you were having a direct communication with that friend & yet a consciousness that it was not a reality? So do I dream of my boy Willie.

  • Photo: Jean Leon Gerome Ferris / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    His Stepmother Called Him 'The Best Boy I Ever Saw'

    After the premature passing of Abraham Lincoln's birth mother, his father Thomas Lincoln remarried. In 1819, the widow Sarah Bush Johnston became Abraham's stepmother.

    The stepmother and stepson enjoyed an affectionate bond. Abraham even referred to her as his "mama." The feeling was mutual. Sarah Lincoln called him "the best boy I ever saw" and celebrated how well they got along:

    Abe never gave me a cross word or look and never refused in fact, or even in appearance, to do anything I requested him. I never gave him a cross word in all my life... His mind and mine - what little I had [-] seemed to move together - move in the same channel.

  • Photo: Nicholas H. Shepherd / Library of Congress / No Known Restrictions

    He Grew His Famous Beard Because An 11-Year-Old Girl Suggested It

    Though Abraham Lincoln's beard is nearly as synonymous with the tall, lanky president as his stovepipe hat, he actually spent the vast majority of his life clean-shaven. But that changed after the 51-year-old president-to-be received a letter from 11-year-old Grace Bedell in October 1860.

    In her letter, Bedell explained how Lincoln could soften his angular facial features ahead of the presidential election:

    I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.

    Lincoln replied to Bedell's letter and stopped shaving his facial hair. The rest is history.

  • Photo: L. Prang & Co. / Library of Congress / No Known Restrictions

    He Walked Several Miles As A Child Just To Find New Books

    Abraham Lincoln didn't get an extensive formal education. Books were thus Lincoln's way to connect to the rest of the world, improve his intellect, and be entertained. His favorites included Aesop's Fables, histories, and biographies.

    But for a boy on the frontier, books weren't easily accessible. Lincoln once walked 16 miles to borrow a book - a biography of George Washington - from a neighbor.