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Lincoln's Personal Life
Nathaniel Wright Stephenson
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I. THE CHILD OF THE FOREST.
1. Herndon, 1-7, 11-14; 1, anon, 13; N. and H., 1, 23-27. This is the version of his origin
accepted by Lincoln. He believed that his mother was the illegitimate daughter of a
Virginia planter and traced to that doubtful source "all the qualities that distinguished him
from other members" of his immediate family. Herndon, 3. His secretaries are silent upon
the subject. Recently the story has been challenged. Mrs. Caroline Hanks Hitchcock, who
identifies the Hanks family of Kentucky with a lost branch of a New England family, has
collected evidence which tends to show that Nancy was the legitimate daughter of a
certain Joseph H. Hanks, who was father of Joseph the carpenter, and that Nancy was not
the niece but the younger sister of the "uncle" who figures in the older version, the man
with whom Thomas Lincoln worked. Nancy and Thomas appear to have been cousins
through their mothers. Mrs. Hitchcock argues the case with care and ability in a little
book entitled Nancy Hanks. However, she is not altogether sustained by W. E. Barton,
The Paternity of Abraham Lincoln.
Scandal has busied itself with the parents of Lincoln in another way. It has been widely
asserted that he was himself illegitimate. A variety of shameful paternities have been
assigned to him, some palpably absurd. The chief argument of the lovers of this scandal
was once the lack of a known record of the marriage of his parents. Around this fact grew
up the story of a marriage of concealment with Thomas Lincoln as the easy-going
accomplice. The discovery of the marriage record fixing the date and demonstrating that
Abraham must have been the second child gave this scandal its quietus. N. and H., 1, 23-
24; Hanks, 59-67; Herndon, 5-6; Lincoln and Herndon, 321. The last important book on
the subject is Barton, The Paternity of Abraham Lincoln.
2. N. and H., 1-13.
3. Lamon, 13; N. and H., 1, 25.
4. N. and H., 1, 25.
5. Gore, 221-225.
6. Herndon, 15.
7. Gore, 66, 70-74, 79, 83-84, 116, 151-154, 204, 226-230, for all this group of
The evidence with regard to all the early part of Lincoln's life is peculiar in this, that it is
reminiscence not written down until the subject had become famous. Dogmatic certainty
with regard to the details is scarcely possible. The best one can do in weighing any of the
versions of his early days is to inquire closely as to whether all its parts bang naturally
together, whether they really cohere. There is a body of anecdotes told by an old
mountaineer, Austin Gollaher, who knew Lincoln as a boy, and these have been collected