Thursday 8 October 2015

If Lincoln Saved the Union, His Stepmother Saved Him

"...for if Lincoln saved the Union, she [his stepmother] saved him, and for that alone she's entitled to a decent respect." (Ted Widmer)

Abraham Lincoln lost his mother at the tender age of 9.  His father courted and married a widow named Sarah Bush Johnston.  It was Sarah who encouraged Abraham to read.  "He read all the books that he could get his hands on."  And he grew up to be one of the most revered presidents of the United States.

Widower Thomas Lincoln courted and married Sarah, a widow with three children.  The blended family settled in a log cabin in Indiana.  The first gift that the new Mrs. Lincoln gave her stepson was four books:  Aesop's Fables, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress and Sinbad the Sailor.  Books were scarce on the Indiana Frontier.  Young Abraham, who loved to read, instantly bonded with his new stepmother.  

Sarah recognized Abraham's intelligence and his passion for knowledge.  As a young boy, he used to listen to sermons by the local preacher, and then stand on a stump and repeat them, word for word.  Sarah recognized that the two had similar minds:  Abraham "cared little for clothes or food, but a great deal for ideas."  Although Sarah was illiterate herself, she nurtured Abraham's interest in books.  While it might have been easy for her to give her own children preference, she treated Abraham and his sibling just like her biological children.  Abraham responded in kind.

Sarah and Abraham remained close when he reached adulthood.  I imagine that Sarah also instilled a work ethic and a sense of perseverance in Abraham.  As an adult, although he lost many elections, he never gave up.  His stepmother was always there to cheer him on.  Abraham claimed:  "All that I am and hope to be I owe to my angel mother."  

In 1861, when Abraham was on the brink of his inauguration, he paid one last visit to his stepmother. "She is getting uneasy about you fearing that some of your political opponents will kill you."  The premonition proved correct:  four years later, just after the Civil War ended, Lincoln was assassinated in a Washington DC theatre. 

Sarah outlived her stepson by four years and was buried in an unmarked grave.  In 1924, funds were raised to give her a proper headstone.  As Ted Widmer explained:  "...for if Lincoln saved the Union, she [his stepmother] saved him, and for that alone she's entitled to a decent respect." (

Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother.

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