Weird History
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All Of The Odd Contents Of Abraham Lincoln's Pockets The Night He Perished

Updated August 20, 2020 30.0k views13 items

The 16th President of the United States - Abraham Lincoln - is in the history books for many reasons. Needless to say, one of the signature periods of his life and career revolves around his push to emancipate the nation's enslaved people in the mid-19th century. For many, that made him a beloved leader, but that wasn't the case with everyone. His efforts to abolish slavery were met with heavy opposition and ultimately launched the Civil War. By 1865, the Union had gained a significant upper hand. Lincoln had been reelected and was a beacon of hope for many Americans.

Because of the war efforts and a difficult reelection, Lincoln often found himself drained mentally, physically, and emotionally. To boost his spirits, he would enjoy the theater. On April 14, 1865, he and his wife took the short ride to Ford's Theater to catch a showing of Our American Cousin. Word had gotten out that the president would be making an appearance, and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth took it as an opportunity to take out the man campaigning against his beliefs. With a single shot to the head, Booth did irreparable damage to Lincoln's brain, which led to his passing the next morning

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln lives in infamy. At the time, security detail was hardly a thing for presidents. In fact, the life of the man leading the country was far more ordinary than would be expected today. Even the contents of his pockets that night were quite simple, but those items help humanize a man who lives on as a symbol of the American spirit.

Check out the oddly ordinary, yet somehow striking items found in Lincoln's pockets below.

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  • An Ivory Pocketknife

    A pocketknife may also seem slightly odd, but according to a member of the Library of Congress’ Rare Book and Special Collections division, it likely had a very practical purpose. Mark Dimunation speculates the multi-tool knife was used to tighten the often loose legs of his glasses.

    • A Brown Leather Wallet

      A wallet is an item most would expect to find in someone's pockets at any given time, but there is something conspicuous about the leather wallet found with Lincoln: It was mostly empty. Instead of holding an ID and all the currency one would need at the time, Lincoln's wallet contained the newspaper clippings he chose to carry, as well as a Confederate $5 bill - which was quickly rendered unusable, with the Confederacy having fallen.

      • A Total Of Eight Newspaper Clippings About Himself And His Policies

        The leather wallet Lincoln had in his pocket was said to only contain a Confederate bill and eight news clippings. The clippings are said to have been mostly positive about Lincoln's second election and his Union efforts. 

        There has been much speculation about why Lincoln chose to carry news clippings directly commenting on his presidency. Shannon Corbeil from We Are The Mighty joked that "[It's] almost like the 19th century version of checking out what Twitter had to say about the administration."

        Most believe that, given the difficult times the nation was facing during his tenure as president, Lincoln used the clippings as positive affirmation or a confidence boost throughout the day. Because feedback wasn't nearly as accessible as it is today, that required choosing select articles and carrying them with him.

        It may seem strange that a man with such a solid reputation for hope and equality in America now was so self-conscious about his image, but there were many who disagreed with Lincoln's views and efforts. To keep his spirits up while on his path to making a better country, Lincoln was just like any person stuck in adversity, and he needed that support.

        • A Crisp Confederate Five-Dollar Bill

          As perplexing as the Confederate cash may seem initially, most believe Lincoln received the bill on his last trip to Virginia. With the Civil War coming to a close, Richmond had recently fallen, prompting the president to travel to the area. Clark Evans, the Head of Reference Services in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, speculates the president received the bill as a souvenir for the accomplishment. It's also been joked that the cash was emergency fare.