Born in a log cabin in Hardin, Kentucky, on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was to become the most beloved president in American history. But though he was highly ambitious, he never thought much of his chances of succeeding. “My parents were both born in Virginia of undistinguished families,” he wrote later in his life. “My mother died in my tenth year,” he confided, explaining that his father moved to a wild region of Indiana, where Abe attended “so-called schools” and barely learned to read, write and “cipher.” The family next left Indiana for Illinois, Lincoln becoming estranged from his father, about whom he spoke little in mature years, Abe settling in New Salem near Springfield.
Lincoln fought as a captain in the Blackhawk War, became a lawyer, and served eight years in the Illinois legislature. His debates on slavery against the famous Stephen A. Douglas for U.S. Senator earned him a national reputation that won him the 1860 Republican nomination for president and then the presidency.
It is surprising that only some 25 place names in the United States honor our 16th president, little more than half those commemorating Jefferson and less than one-third of those named for Andrew Jackson. But this can be explained by early bitterness toward Lincoln in the South. For none of his countrymen, not even Washington, has become a folk hero and giant in American tradition equal to Lincoln, and he is certainly more loved and respected the world over than any other American. His story, from his birth in a log cabin to the Emancipation Proclamation, the immortal Gettysburg Address, and the assassination by John Wilkes Booth in 1865 (on Good Friday) is so widely known in its smallest details that it is, rather than history or myth, a living part of the American legend from generation to generation, making Lincoln a father image to us all. Lincolnite designated a supporter of President Lincoln during the Civil War. Lincolniana is any material, such as writing, anecdotes, or objects, pertaining to Honest Abe, the Rail Splitter, or The Great Emancipator, while Lincolnian pertains to his character or political principles. Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, is a legal holiday in many states. Southerners used Lincolndom as a humorous designation for the North during the Civil War, the term first recorded in 1861 and referring, of course, to President Abraham Lincoln. On the other side of the lines, the South was called Davisdom, (and more rarely Jeffdom), after Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, these words being coined a few months before Lincolndom.
Honest Abe, the most common nickname for Abraham Lincoln, was inspired by the “every schoolboy knows” stories of his honesty as a child and young man. The Rail Splitter is another well-known Lincoln nickname, from his splitting fence rails as a young man in Illinois. Least known is his derogatory nickname Spot Lincoln, because as a congressman he had questioned President Polk’s story that Mexico started the Mexican War on U.S. soil, Lincoln demanding that the spot where this had happened be identified. In the South Lincoln was often called Old Abe and his enemies also called him the Ape. His White House staff affectionately called him the Tycoon, the first use in America of this Japanese term for a military leader. Lincoln, of course, is also known as the Liberator, the Emancipator and the Great Emancipator, for his freeing of 4 million slaves. His wife Mary was known as the She Wolf and, rarely, Mrs. President; many of her contemporaries thinking her bad-tempered and meddling.