Main article: Abraham Lincoln's early life and career
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, two uneducated farmers. Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin on the 348 acre (1.4 km²) Sinking Spring Farm, in Nolin Creek, three miles (5 km) south of Hodgenville, in southeast Hardin County, Kentucky (now part of LaRue County), an area which, at that time, was considered the "frontier." The name Abraham was chosen to commemorate his grandfather, who was killed in an American Indian raid in 1786. His elder sister, Sarah Lincoln, was born in 1807; a younger brother, Thomas Jr, died in infancy. It is sometimes debated whether Abraham Lincoln had Marfan syndrome, an autosomal dominant disorder of the connective tissue characterized by long limbs and great physical stature.
Symbolic log cabin at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic SiteFor some time, Thomas Lincoln was a respected and relatively affluent citizen of the Kentucky back country. He had purchased Sinking Spring Farm in December 1808 for $200 cash and assumption of a debt. The family belonged to a Baptist church that had seceded from a larger church over the issue of slavery. While exposed to his parents' anti-slavery sentiment from a very young age, Lincoln never joined their church, or any other, and as a youth he ridiculed religion.
In 1816, when Lincoln was just seven years old, the family was forced to make a new start in Perry County (now in Spencer County), Indiana. He later noted that this move was "partly on account of slavery," and partly because of difficulties with land deeds in Kentucky: Unlike land in the Northwest Territory, Kentucky never had a proper U.S. survey, and farmers often had difficulties proving title to their property. In 1818, Lincoln's mother, then thirty-four years old, died of milk sickness: Lincoln was only nine at the time. Soon afterwards, his father remarried to Sarah Bush Johnston. Sarah Lincoln raised young Lincoln like one of her own children. Years later she compared Lincoln to her own son, saying "Both were good boys, but I must say both now being dead that Abe was the best boy I ever saw or ever expect to see." Lincoln was affectionate toward his step-mother, whom he would call "Mother" for the rest of his life, but he was distant from his father.
In 1830, after more economic and land-title difficulties in Indiana, the family settled on public land in Macon County, Illinois, 10 miles (16 km) west of Decatur. Some scholars believe that it was his father's repeated land-title difficulties and ensuing financial hardships that led young Lincoln to study law. The following winter was desolate and especially brutal, and the family nearly moved back to Indiana. The following year, when his father relocated the family to a new homestead in Coles County, Illinois, twenty-two-year-old Lincoln struck out on his own, canoing down the Sangamon River to the village of New Salem in Sangamon County. Later that year, hired by New Salem businessman Denton Offutt and accompanied by friends, he took goods from New Salem to New Orleans via flatboat on the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi rivers. While in New Orleans, he may have witnessed a slave auction, though as a frequent visitor to Kentucky, he would have had several earlier opportunities to witness similar sales.
Lincoln's formal education consisted of about 18 months of schooling. Largely self-educated, he read every book he could get his hands on, once walking 20 miles (32 km) just to borrow one. While his favorite book was The Life of George Washington, Lincoln mastered the Bible, Shakespeare, and English and American history, and developed a plain writing style that puzzled audiences more used to grandiloquent rhetoric. He was also a talented local wrestler and skilled with an ax; some rails he had allegedly split in his youth were exhibited at the 1860 Republican National...