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Poor young Abe? Perhaps not

Published Tuesday, June 06, 2006


SPRINGFIELD - Historians might have to rethink the image of Abraham Lincoln as a carefree, cash-strapped young adult who only later developed qualities of character that helped make him one of this nation's most celebrated statesman.




New artifacts and documents found recently at New Salem, an Illinois historic site near Springfield where Lincoln lived in his 20s, indicate the 16th president owned property and one or more buildings, said Tom Schwartz, Illinois' state historian.

The discovery, he said, "completely changes" the picture of Lincoln as someone who relied on New Salem townsfolk in his younger years for lodging and meals. Instead, it paints a picture of a well-focused, financially secure young Lincoln.

"It immediately roots him, makes him a gentleman of property," he said. "He's not living this Bohemian life where it's kind of carefree, no property, no worries, where he can sit under the trees and read."

New Salem, about 20 miles northwest of Springfield, features rebuilt log cabins and other structures that existed when Lincoln lived there for six years. Lincoln left New Salem to become a lawyer in Springfield in 1837.

Lincoln had his own place in New Salem but might have dined with neighbors, not out of poverty or because he was lazy, but simply because he wasn't a good cook, Schwartz said, citing the new research.

If Lincoln was more financially secure and rooted in the community at an earlier age, that could help historians understand his decisions as president, added Schwartz, who is also interim director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Lincoln watchers said the latest discoveries are part of an ever-changing historical picture of the Great Emancipator.

"Just when you think you know everything about Abraham Lincoln you're proven wrong," said David Blanchette, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Historic Preservation, which oversees New Salem.



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