Three states (and one nation) can argue a claim for Lincoln.Kentucky, the birthplace of Lincoln; Indiana, the boyhood home of Lincoln; and Illinois, the Land of Lincoln.The Republican Party frequently refers to itself as the party of Lincoln, although the GOP of 1860 would be unrecognizable today. The Lincoln Motor Company, an aircraft carrier, a submarine. Oh, and a vampire hunter.
In this mess of namesakes, what’s Indiana’s part?
In 1816, Indiana became a state and the Lincoln family moved from Knob Creek, Kentucky, to what would be Spencer County, Indiana. Lincoln father laid claim to 80 acres and, with his son’s help, cleared the land of trees and used the wood for a log cabin. The land was reasonably fertile and a nearby water source made it hospitable.
Two years after arriving, Lincoln mother, Nancy, died of milk sickness.Ten years later, his sister Sarah would die in child birth. Although death on the frontier was commonplace, the loss of two close family members in Indiana likely contributed to the persistent melancholia that clouded Lincoln’s moods.
Every school child in the US is familiar with the image of a young Lincoln crouched by a fire place, reading dim pages. That formative habit started in Indiana. His education was sporadic at best, common in frontier times, but using the few lessons gleaned from school and relatives, Lincoln soon dived into books, devouring them. Calling him a voracious reader would be an understatement, with him often forgoing work and food in favor of reading. His stepmother, Sally, encouraged his reading and gave him access to her small collection of books.
From a young age, Lincoln’s parents always attended churches that opposed slavery, including his church in Indiana. Although his personal religious views are still debated among scholars, there is no doubt his churches’ teachings against slavery had a lasting effect. At age nineteen, a flatboat trip from Indiana to New Orleans exposed him to the full horrors of slavery in South, and quite possibly a slave auction.
It was in Indiana that his ambitions sharpened, and he practiced and improved his skills as a public speaker, delighting family and friends with jokes and stories.
At twenty-one, Lincoln traveled with his family to Illinois, leaving behind his Indiana home and establishing himself in what would be his permanent home state. Illinois’ claim is significant. It was there he practiced law, entered politics and, ultimately, won the White House.
But Indiana’s claim is not insignificant. That which molded Lincoln—his love of learning, his sense of civic duty, his hatred of slavery—happened in Indiana. Kentucky has his birth, Illinois has his body, but from 1816 to 1830 Indiana shaped the man.