Happy Birthday, Abe Lincoln

Today signifies two hundred and two years of Lincoln. In 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, in present-day Larue County.

Lincoln grew up among a poor family, spending his formative years in Kentucky and Indiana. He only attended school for one year, but was often encouraged by his stepmother to read. He often borrowed books from neighbors and acquaintances.

Lincoln was the tallest president at 6′ 4. As a young man, he impressed others with his sheer physical strength–he was a legendary wrestler in Illinois–and entertained friends and strangers alike with his dry, folksy wit, which was still in evidence years later. Exasperated by one Civil War military defeat after another, Lincoln wrote to a lethargic general if you are not using the army I should like to borrow it for awhile. An animal lover, Lincoln once declared, “I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.” Fittingly, a variety of pets took up residence at the Lincoln White House, including a pet turkey named Jack and a goat called Nanko. Lincoln’s son Tad frequently hitched Nanko to a small wagon and drove around the White House grounds.

Lincoln’s sense of humor may have helped him to hide recurring bouts of depression. He admitted to friends and colleagues that he suffered from intense melancholia and hypochondria most of his adult life. Perhaps in order to cope with it, Lincoln engaged in self-effacing humor, even chiding himself about his famously homely looks. When an opponent in an 1858 Senate race debate called him two-faced, he replied, If I had another face do you think I would wear this one?

In 1959, a redesigned Lincoln penny, with an image of the Lincoln Memorial replacing two ears of wheat on the reverse side, went into circulation. In 2009, four new reverse designs, celebrating the 200th anniversary, replaced the Lincoln Memorial, followed in 2010 by a Union shield design, to be used for the foreseeable future.

ajh

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