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Five Interesting Facts About Abraham Lincoln That You Probably Didn't Know
He was known as the Rail Splitter and the Great Emancipator. He was a country lawyer with a gift for oration who had a lot of folksy wisdom to share. He wore a beard and a stovepipe hat and led America through some of its most horrific moments only to become a martyr.
Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, is recognized as one of America's greatest leaders. Much about him is iconic and indelibly etched in the American consciousness. Here, though, are some fun and interesting facts about Abraham Lincoln that you might not know.
1. People Wanted to Kill Him Before He Ever Got to Washington
The eve of the Civil War was one of the most tumultuous times in American history. Emotions were high, and the country was deeply divided politically and philosophically. Lincoln had won the election of 1860 as a result of an unprecedented 4-way split in the electorate.
As Lincoln was journeying by train from Illinois to Washington to take the oath of office, Detective Alan Pinkerton, General Winfield Scott, and William Seward all got word that a conspiracy had arisen to make sure Lincoln never got past Baltimore. Thousands were ready to attack him, and some were determined to set fire to his train (an event immortalized in an episode of The Time Tunnel called "The Death Trap").
To get around this problem, Pinkerton arranged to move Lincoln quietly from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, where he had a special railroad car reserved for him under an assumed name. Lincoln was to pose as an invalid, and Pinkerton agent Kate Warne was to pose as his sister. Lincoln boarded the car from the rear and he and his party moved mostly in silence, arriving in Baltimore around three in the morning. The car was pulled quietly through the most dangerous part of town by a team of horses, after which it continued on to Washington where it arrived without incident.
2. He Wasn't All That Homely
Homely, of course, was the word Lincoln used to describe himself, and it's true that he would never be mistaken for an Adonis. But to say that he was perpetually plug-ugly would be a bit of an exaggeration.
People who actually met the man -- most notably his law partner William Herndon, but there were others -- described his face as having more of a plastic quality. One minute it would look one way, and another minute it would look a completely different way. When something sparked in Lincoln's soul, Herndon said, "all those apparently ugly or homely features sprang into organs of beauty."
All About Abe
3. He Contended with Stephen Douglas for Mary, Too
Lincoln ran against Stephen Douglas twice -- once for the Illinois Senate seat in 1858 and again for the Presidency in 1860. (Lincoln won the latter contest but lost the former.) Yet politics wasn't the only arena where the two men were rivals. As young men in Springfield, Illinois, both pursued Mary Todd, a delightful, French-speaking girl from Kentucky who had moved there with her family.
Douglas was apparently the more ardent suitor of the two, but Mary seemed to like Lincoln better. Her courtship with Lincoln was a bit rocky, however. In 1840 they became engaged, only to have Lincoln break it off on New Year's Day 1841 -- perhaps because he caught Mary flirting with Douglas, though there were other complications in the relationship as well. Over the next couple of years, friends and relatives tried to get Lincoln and Mary Todd back together, which they did -- miraculously, some said. Lincoln and Mary were finally wed on November 4, 1842, after giving most of those same friends and relatives less than 24 hours' notice.
4. Without His Stovepipe Hat, He Could Be Almost Unrecognizable
Lincoln's stovepipe hat, of course, is as much of a trademark as his beard (which he only started sporting in 1860 in respsonse to a suggestion from an eight-year-old girl named Grace Bedell). Already tall at 6'4" (the tallest of all American presidents) Lincoln with a stovepipe hat must have looked huge -- and must have been an inviting target.
To get him safely to Washington in February 1861, someone suggested that he try wearing a fedora instead, an idea that Lincoln picked up on. He had never worn a fedora before and was quite amazed at its transforming qualities. He put on an overcoat and walked bareheaded out the back door, then put on the soft hat and was able to move about unnoticed, for in his words he was not the same man.
5. He Was Carrying Confederate Money The Night He Was Shot
Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on the evening of April 14, 1865 -- Good Friday -- just five days after the Civil War ended. He and Mary were attending a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., with some friends, Major Henry R. Rathbone and his fiancee, Clara Harris (who happened to be Rathbone's stepsister). Booth shot Lincoln once in the head at point-blank range and attacked Rathbone with a knife before leaping onto the stage from the box where the Lincolns had been sitting and making his escape. After being attended in the theater by four doctors, Lincoln was taken across Tenth Street to a house owned by a tailor named Petersen, where he died the following day.
Among the items in his pockets were two pairs of spectacles, a pencil, a pocket knife, nine letters, and five dollars in currency.
Why Lincoln had Confederate money on his person has been a matter of speculation. It should be noted, though, that he had visited Richmond a few days earlier, after the Union forces had captured the city, and had sat in Jefferson Davis's chair at the Confederate White House -- not an unusual move for the victor in a long and bitter war. Under those conditions, it's entirely conceivable that someone might have given him the note during the visit or that he had picked one up himself as a souvenir.