Today marks the 210th anniversary of the birth of Abra­ham (Don’t Call Me Abe) Lincoln.

Lincoln did not go to any university, but through his reading he gave himself an education clearly superior to that of most college students today.

Like Jefferson before him, Lincoln didn’t merely read books, he absorbed them. He made notes and underlined key points.

In “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted,” author Tevi Troy makes the point that Lincoln read widely but also had a core of books he went back to time and again throughout his life.

These core works in­clu­ded the Bible, Shake­speare, Parson Weems’ biography of Washington, and Aesop’s Fables.

The Bible gave him guid­ance, Shakespeare taught him human na­ture, Weems taught him lead­er­ship, and Aesop showed him the value of a brief, insightful anec­dotes.

I found an interesting piece on the “Journal of the Association of Abra­ham Lincoln” website that endeavored to list every book Lincoln read.

The author, Robert Bray, acknowledges that the list cannot possibly in­clude everything Lincoln read. Bray couldn’t ac­cess Lincoln’s Amazon ac­count, after all.

But based on library records and Lincoln’s own writings and speeches, as well as other people’s accounts, he compiled an impressive list.

Lincoln’s favorite book was the Bible. He read it early and often, though he was not a church-goer. The strength and wisdom he took from it cannot be overstated.

He read Shakespeare — 13 of the 37 plays, but no poems. Lincoln was not averse to verse, however, per­using the poems of Burns, Byron, Cowper, Mil­ton, Longfellow, Oliv­er Wendell Holmes, Whit­man and many others.

He read Homer (but not Virgil), Plutarch, Plato and Cervantes.

Among textbooks ma­king the list were an Eng­lish grammar, a Greek gram­mar, works on geom­etry, natural his­tor­ies, astronomy, rhetoric and elocution.

Lincoln read adventure novels such “Ivanhoe,” “Rob­inson Crusoe” and the works of James Fen­i­more Cooper, among others.

He, famously, read Har­riet Beecher Stowe’s ab­ol­itionist novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Lincoln said the es­says of Francis Bacon in­flu­enced his views of slavery. The article includes a footnote, quoting him as telling a man named James Thompson in 1864:

 “I read that book (of Bacon essays) some years ago, and at first did not know what to make of it; but afterwards I read it over more carefully, and got hold of Dr. Bacon’s distinctions, and it had much to do with shaping my own thinking on the subject of slavery. He is quite a man.”

Bacon wrote in his 1846 work:

“If those laws of the southern states, by virtue of which slavery exists there, and is what it is, are not wrong, nothing is wrong.”

Lincoln wrote “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong” in his famous 1864 letter to Albert G. Hodges, explaining his ev­olution on slavery from non-interference to eman­cipation.

The bibliography also in­cludes “The Effect of Sla­very on the American Peop­le” by Theodore Park­er. This may have con­tained the seed of what would become Lin­coln’s memorable epis­tro­phe (repeating the same words at the end of suc­ces­sive clauses) in the Get­tys­burg Address.


“Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the peop­le, by all the people.”

Lincoln made it flow much better, with the soaring:

“…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln also read po­lit­ical philosophers Edmund Burke, John Locke, John Stu­art Mill and the rev­o­lu­tionary writings of Thom­as Paine, as well as the speeches of great American orators.

Today, sadly, we have college students who have not read any of the works on the Lincoln list.

I think the same may be true even of some of our politicians.

William P. Warford’s column appears every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

The stories about our 16th president being a voracious reader were not just legend.

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