Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln
Pratt, Harry E.
Page  [unnumbered]Page  vii

Foreword

Linkin? oh yes, I knowed him. Knowed his folks too. They were torn-down poor. He wasn't much up to the War; that was what made him. Tell ye what, they wouldn't let on so much 'bout him now, 'f he hadn't been killed. That helped him, powerful. People kind o' sympathized with him, ye know. It made him pop'lar. He saved suthin' while he was President, but I don't reckon he left much propity. Oh yes, I knowed Linkin.


WM. O. STODDARD, "Lincoln's Vigil."

NEARLY twenty years ago the Abraham Lincoln Association began a systematic investigation of all sources which seemed to promise new light on the life of Lincoln. In the course of that investigation items contradicting the general impression of Lincoln's thriftlessness began to turn up—a mortgage in his favor here, a suit for fees there, a bank account showing substantial balances. Impressed by the implica|tions of these discoveries, Mr. Logan Hay, the Association's President, suggested that the subject of Lincoln's finances be thoroughly examined. This book is the result of that suggestion and the research which fol|lowed it. The reader who seeks in these pages the answer to every possi|ble question will be disappointed, but at least it can be said that much of the material presented here has not been available before. The author hopes that the study will contribute to a better understanding of a phase of Lincoln's life which until now has been lost in legend, and that that better understanding will further illuminate a character which is not yet fully revealed.

Lincoln did not begin life in abject poverty, and his childhood was spent in a home whose head was in better-than-average financial circum|stances. The years of his boyhood were lean ones, and his start in life was marked by financial failures which burdened him with a debt of approx|imately $1,100. Soon, however, he began to earn money—by surveying, by odd jobs, and by service in the Illinois legislature—and the evidence Page  viii indicates that the debt was retired long before his election to Congress, which is generally supposed to have marked his escape from the finan|cial morass.

As a young lawyer, Lincoln's fees were small, but even so, they prob|ably added up to an annual income of from $1,500 to $2,000 during the first dozen years of his practice. By 1849 he had saved enough money so that he was able to lend it at interest by way of investment. During the fifties his practice became large and relatively lucrative, and his income increased—to $3,000 a year on the average, and at least once to $5,000. By the time of his election to the Presidency, he had more than $9,000 invested in interest bearing notes and mortgages, while his real estate, principally his home, was worth $5,000 at a conservative valuation. Instead of borrowing money for his inaugural journey, as many fondly believe, he simply withdrew $400 from his bank account, leaving a balance of $600.

As President, Lincoln's estate grew from $15,000 in 1861 to $90,000 at the time of his death, mainly from savings from his annual salary of $25,000. Through the expert handling of the administrator, David Davis, $21,000 was added to this amount before 1867, when it was dis|tributed to the three heirs, Mrs. Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln, and Thomas Lincoln. A net estate of $111,000 is not a small one even by present standards; in 1867, as real wealth, it was several times larger. Certainly it disproves the general belief that Lincoln was indifferent to money and lax in his care of it. On the contrary, as the following pages show in detail, he perceived that one could accumulate property with|out making it a fetish, and carefully and wisely sought to provide secur|ity for himself and his family.