Recent research into the early life of Abraham Lincoln tends to show that much of the legend of the Great Emancipator's extreme poverty and illiteracy in childhood is a myth, started at the time Lincoln was running for president, M. L. Houser, an authority on Lincolniana, said.
Speaking at the Kiwanis club luncheon at the Jefferson Hotel, Mr. Houser said it has been relatively well established now that Lincoln's father, Thomas Lincoln, owned 500 acres of good Kentucky farmland before the family moved to Illinois.
As a small boy in Indiana, Mr. Houser said, Lincoln's family lived in a cultural community with many of their neighbors being college graduates who gave their time and effort to the early education of young Abraham.
SAYS HE WAS WELL EDUCATED
"When Lincoln came to Illinois as a youth of 21," Mr. Houser said, "it is virtually certain that he had better than the average academic education."
Mr. Houser said the new slant on Lincoln's early background in no manner detracts from the fact that the future president was a bright industrious lad who never overlooked an opportunity to soak up the knowledge placed at his disposal.
Many of the early Indiana neighbors of the Lincoln family were college graduates who had migrated from the East. In addition, there were several nearby institutions of higher learning in Louisville and Parkstown, Kentucky.
RECORDS BACK STORY
"Old tax records have been found in Kentucky," he said, "showing that Lincoln's father, Thomas, was the sixteenth highest taxpayer on a list of 98 in his community."
In his early days as an Illinois lawyer, Mr. Houser said, there is no record of Lincoln ever mentioning his humble background.
In 1854, he said, Lincoln made a presidential campaign speech in Chicago and the Chicago Journal, which was supporting him, ran an accompanying "background' story playing up their favorite candidate as a product of abject poverty who had educated himself by reading heavy tomes (a large, heavy, scholarly book) by the flickering light of log fire.
"The story apparently made a big hit with' the rough and ready pioneers of the middle west," said Mr. Houser, "and as such, it made thousands of votes for Mr. Lincoln."
From that point on, said Mr. Houser, Lincoln played heavily on the topic of his humble and disadvantageous childhood.
With all of Lincoln's greatness, Mr. Houser said, he was a masterful politician who always kept his fingers on the public pulse.
Mr. Houser, holder of an honorary doctor's degree from a Tennessee college for his Lincoln research work, resides on the outskirts of Peoria and has devoted most of the last 15 years to getting the facts on the background of the Civil War president.
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.
Peoria [A Newspaper], Illinois, 1974.