Civil War Legacies

Abraham Lincoln in Children's Literature

Since the 1860s, authors of children’s literature have depicted Abraham Lincoln as a hero and role model. Whereas literature of the mid-nineteenth century focused on encouraging young people to imitate Lincoln’s youthful virtues, present day literature dwells more on his public successes and encourages children to stand up and enact change as an adult.

During the years of Lincoln’s presidency, and just after his death, authors exemplified him as a self-made man who was to be emulated. As illustrated by the pictures of his boyhood, Lincoln was praised for his humble beginnings and his hard work. The literature of the mid-1800s urged young readers to act like Abraham Lincoln in character and virtue.

Pioneer Boy

William M. Thayer, for example, emphasized Lincoln’s dedication to learning. His biography of Lincoln has numerous examples of Lincoln at study in a log cabin. Thayer concluded the book with this reminder: “The young reader, then, cannot fail to observe the connection between his [Lincoln’s] early and later life … His success is not mere luck, it is the achievement of certain qualities of mind and heart. And in this regard, his life is a bright example for the youth of our beloved land to imitate” [The Pioneer Boy, and How He Became President. Boston: Walker, Wise and Co., 1863:310].

In more recent and contemporary children’s literature, the focus has shifted to Lincoln and his Legacy. For example, in Meet Abraham Lincoln, Barbara Cory ends her book with an illustration of the Lincoln Memorial and states that, “Today Americans still honor and love Abraham Lincoln for what he did 100 years ago” [Cory, Barbara. Meet Abraham Lincoln. New York: Random House, Inc., 1965:86].

Lincoln a photobiography

Similarly, Russell Freedman concludes his Newbery award-winning photobiography of Lincoln by quoting from a newspaper clipping found in Lincoln’s pocket the morning he died. It contained a statement by the British member of parliament and reformer John Bright: “All those who believe that Slavery weakens America’s power and tarnishes your good name throughout the world, and who regard the restoration of your Union as a thing to be desired … are heartily longing for the reelection of Mr. Lincoln … they think they have observed in his career a grand simplicity of purpose and a patriotism which knows no change and does not falter” [Freedman, Russell. Lincoln: A Photobiography. New York: Clarion Books, 1987:130].

Search for other early works on Lincoln in the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature Digital Collection

Text by Emily O'Keefe