Share This Episode
Our American Stories Lee Habeeb Logo

The Fire of Genius: How Lincoln Overcame Poverty and Gained an Education

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
January 16, 2023 3:01 am

The Fire of Genius: How Lincoln Overcame Poverty and Gained an Education

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 790 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

January 16, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, when Lincoln was asked on a questionaire to describe his education he only wrote one word: defective. That didn't stop him from becoming one of the premiere thinkers of his time however. David Kent, author of Lincoln Lincoln: The Fire of Genius, tells the story of how Lincoln overcame poverty and rural isolation to reach those heights. 

Support the show (

See for privacy information.


Our heroes need heroes right now. I'm talking about our wounded military members who have served this country and Gold Star spouses this holiday season. And there is an organization that's helping them each and every day. I want you to go to and commit to become a hero to a hero. So if you can step up and help our heroes, you'll become a hero to them. Go to Commit to being that hero they need and donate right now. slash Ben. Hair care claims to unsplit our split ends and undo damage. That's big talk for soap and water. But what if there were actually a way to do the impossible? We are virtue and when we discovered a human protein called alpha keratin 60 KU, everything changed. Finally, we can transform hair from the inside out, not just for certain hair types, but for all of us. With virtue, discover your best hair humanly possible.

Visit virtue today that's v i r t u e l a b AT&T believes that if you want a smartphone, you should get the best deal on that smartphone no matter what kind of smartphone person you are. People who reply to texts immediately, emoji over texters, emoji haters, custom emoji makers, app personalizers and alphabetizers, even those who blast music off their phone at the gym. At AT&T, we give new and existing customers our best deals on every smartphone save up to $1,000 on our most popular smartphones with eligible trade in offers vary by device terms and restrictions apply.

See at& or visit an AT&T store for details. And we return to our American stories. In February 12 1809, two men were born who would end up being considered among the top thinkers of their time. Both men valued science and technology were controversial among many of their contemporaries. And both fundamentally changed the course of history. But that's where the comparison stopped. One of these men was English scientist Charles Darwin. The other was President of the United States. Here to tell the story is David J. Kent, author of Lincoln, the fire of genius, but first, a reading of Lincoln's own words.

Let's get into the story. All creation is a mine in every man, a minor, the whole earth in all within it, upon it, and around it, including himself in his physical, moral and intellectual nature, and his susceptibilities are the infinitely various leads from which man from the first was to dig out his destiny. In the beginning, the mine was unopened in the miners stood naked and knowledge less upon it. Fishes, birds, beasts and creeping things are not miners, but feeders and lodgers merely beavers build houses, but they build them in no wise differently or better now than they did 5000 years ago.

Ants and honeybees provide food for winter. Man is not the only animal who labors, but he is the only one who improves his workmanship. This improvement he affects by discoveries and inventions. His first important discovery was the fact that he was naked and his first invention was the fig leaf apron. Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln and Darwin were born the same day, literally the same day, but under very different circumstances.

Darwin was born into a wealthy family of privilege and he married into a wealthy family of privilege. Lincoln was born on a small subsistence farm in northern Kentucky on the frontier. It was just his father, his mother, him, an older sister.

There was a younger brother, Thomas, who only lived for a couple of months. I'm very limited as far as how many acres that they could clear for planting crops because there just wasn't the people to do it. There weren't a lot of schools, there weren't a lot of even other people, there wasn't even a town there. So they left that when Lincoln was seven and moved across the border into Indiana. And Indiana is important for a couple of reasons. One because in Kentucky there was slavery and Indiana literally when they moved there was just becoming a state within a few weeks and it was a free state.

So that was part of the reason. The more important reason was because Thomas Lincoln, his father, had lost his farm and he went through two or three farms in Kentucky because other people would come and say you don't own that land or the person that you bought the land from didn't own it. There was a lot of land title problems in Kentucky. There wasn't in Indiana.

It had been planned out much better. He ended up on a farm then stayed there for the next 14 years. It was much more stable and there were other people. There was a small village where they could get help, they could plant crops, but it was still very small and Lincoln was still primarily the main laborer with his father even at seven years old. He says at seven, and he was very tall and strong for his age, he says that he was handed an axe and very rarely put down that most useful instrument for the next 15 years.

And where they moved to was an unbroken forest, a dense forest with many many many many different kinds of trees, a lot of undergrowth. So he learned about tree ecology, he learned about agronomy, he learned about weather, he learned about hydrology. He was picking up little sciences along the way, but when he actually became a congressman, his one term in congress, he had to fill out like a questionnaire for the congressional record, you know, about you. When he gets to the question about what your education is, he just writes one word, defective. He says when he's running for president, he writes an autobiography and he says that the totality of his formal education was less than a year and that's over the first 21 years of his life.

He's doing a total of less than a year, you know, a week here, one class here, maybe a couple of months. He could only go to school in the frontier during the winter because from the time you start plowing the fields until the time after you finish harvesting and sell off any excess and store whatever you've grown, you don't have time to go to school. You're basically working for survival.

You know, if your crops are wiped out, you may starve. There was very little to inspire learning. Most of the other people his age, his peers, weren't inspired to do more. They would go along and follow their father's footsteps and run the farms.

They aspired to anything it would be to get their own acreage and plant their own farms and raise their own families and continue the traditions. And the standards for teachers were very different than they were in the East. If somebody said that they could read and write and cipher to the rule of three, then they were a teacher.

And if they claimed that they could speak some Latin, they are considered a wizard. But he literally, like my father would have said, you know, walk five miles to school uphill in both directions and in the snow. Lincoln, not so much the uphill of both directions, but he did that to get the little schooling that he got. And in this little bit of schooling here and there, he says he learned reading, writing, and ciphering to the rule of three, which is a very simple math ratio. And that's basically what he says he learned. So that was the formal part, but he really learned most of what he learned on his own. So early on, he's reading what everybody read on the frontier and pretty much everywhere else. He read the Bible.

For many people, that was the only book they had access to. He read things like Pilgrim's Progress and Aesop's Fables, so very typical things that people would read. And then he would borrow whatever books he could find. Anybody who had, you know, a library, which meant like three books, he would borrow and he would read whatever he could do. And if he had it for a while, he would read it over and over and study it and memorize a lot of things, including poems. And he has very good memory throughout his entire life. His best friend, Joshua Speed, says, well, you can read this, these things and, you know, pick them up right away.

And Lincoln said, no, Speed, you're wrong. My mind is like a piece of steel. It takes a very long time to etch anything into it.

But once you get it there, it's very hard to remove it. So he would study these things and run it over in his head over and over. And once he did, it was very hard to get it out of there. He had an extremely good memory where he could remember people he met and their families and the circumstances 20, 30 years later. He actually learned quite a bit more than people give him credit for. He downplayed his learning.

He wanted to be like the real splitter candidate. But on his own, he studied several different grammar books, different arithmetics, trigonometry, mathematics. When he becomes a surveyor, he has to learn the math behind surveying. So he teaches himself Euclid geometry, which is about logic as much as it is about math. And he teaches himself the law just by reading law books without working with anybody. He just teaches himself all of this. So he is learning constantly and he did that throughout his entire life. And you've been listening to author David J. Kent tell the story of the young Abraham Lincoln who was born, go figure, on the same day that Darwin was born. And what a story he tells about why the family moved from Kentucky, which was originally home, to Indiana. Property rights matter and there was not stable title in Kentucky and in Indiana there was.

And what a world of difference stable and secure title would mean to this family. When we come back, more of the remarkable story of the young Lincoln and how he came to be here on Our American Stories. The NFL playoff action continues. We're one step closer to Super Bowl 57. And for the NFL divisional round, check out DraftKings Sportsbook, an official sports betting partner of the NFL. New customers can bet just $5 and get $200 in free bets instantly. Download the DraftKings Sportsbook app and use code TIMER. New customers can bet $5 on the NFL divisional round, and get $200 in free bets instantly.

That's promo code TIMER. Only at DraftKings Sportsbook. Do you have more than $50,000 or more saved for retirement that you can't afford to lose? We've sent billions to Ukraine, burying us in national debt while doing nothing to stop inflation and help our own country. Can your retirement survive crippling inflation and growing debt at the same time? If you have $50,000 or more saved for retirement, heed the warnings.

Do something to protect yourself now. That's why right now, thousands of Americans are using an IRS loophole to protect their retirement savings with gold and silver. So call 855-512-GOLD to get your free gold IRA kit and see how you could protect your retirement savings while getting up to $10,000 in free silver for doing it.

We could be looking at a future worse than 2008. So don't wait. Call GoldCo today. Call 855-512-GOLD. That's 855-512-GOLD.

855-512-GOLD. And now for our bonus round. It's the most stressful season of all.

Name a day for 300 points. What is winter? Oh, come on. Correct answer. What is tax season? Sorry, Dave.

Whoa, who are you? I'm April from TaxAct, where we help you file for less and get more. More for less? Yep. So you can turn tax season into maximum refund season.

Well, there it is, folks. Tax season's the winner after all. Switch to TaxAct today and start for free.

See for details. And we return to Our American Stories and our story of Abraham Lincoln with David J. Kent, author of Lincoln, The Fire of Genius. When we last left off, David was telling us about Lincoln's early life and how despite being born into conditions, quote, unfit for learning, those conditions being a subsistence farm in Kentucky, he was able to become a learned man by borrowing books, attending one year of formal education and getting hands-on life experience. Let's continue with the story.

Here again is David J. Kent. As he grew up, he got a chance to get out on his own, which you couldn't do until you were 21. Up until that time, you were effectively indentured to your family, your parents.

And even though his father would hire him out, all of the money that he earned doing that would go right back to his father. So around the age of 22, he said, I'm off on my own. Like I'm finished with this. I'm going to, I don't like being on the farm. I don't like working this hard.

I want to be thinking more and doing things that involve my intelligence, not my, my brawn. And he started on his own in New Salem, Illinois, but he didn't have outside of farming very many options. So he became a storekeeper because that was one of the first options that popped up. He ended up running a store with another guy until it went bankrupt, winked out in his mind.

So he looked and said, what else is available? Well, I can get this Postmaster job because Postmaster is not that important, especially out here. Plus, hey, Postmaster, all these people get newspapers and I can read a newspaper before I deliver it to the person. All of those things, especially Postmaster kind of dovetailed with another career he had started being in politics.

And it's very much a part-time thing back then, only a few months a year that you were actually in session. While he was in the state legislature, he started meeting the other legislators and many of them were lawyers. They were telling him, well, you know, you really need to study the law. You're here in the legislature writing laws. You probably should study the law so that you know what you're writing.

And he thought that was a good idea. So he started learning, teaching himself the law. The first thing you've got to keep in mind is that the Eastern and Western law could be very different in those times. William Seward, for example, who had been governor of New York and was senator, he had grown up in a wealthy family, gone to formal schools, went to college, went to law school, and he passed the bar exam. And that was fairly typical in the East. In the West, many people did what Lincoln did, which is you read the law.

It's exactly the way it sounds. You get law books and you read them and you learn the law that way by looking at these past cases, what precedents there were. Out in the West, there wasn't a lot of precedent for a lot of the issues.

Plus, a lot of the issues were very small, divorces and debt collection, things like that. So it was more about, can you convince a jury as opposed to, do you get the law exactly right? And Lincoln was very good convincing juries.

He rode the circuit, so he would ride out throughout most of the central part of Illinois, go from county courthouse to courthouse, and just pick up whatever cases were there. And usually they would just sit there for six months until the lawyers get there, and then they would do the cases, and they would go and they would go through like 20 cases in a day. And Lincoln would say, okay, what's your issue? And they would explain it. And then he said, okay, let's go talk to the jury.

And then it would be done in half an hour. And Lincoln's law career kind of progressed in tandem with the way science and technology progressed, especially as it moved more westward. He very much was aware of the growth of technology. He didn't see it early on because he's out there again in the frontier. He was born in 1809. Up until 1804, the country stopped at the Mississippi River. It wasn't until 1848, after the Mexican War, that we got all of the rest of that territory out to the west coast. So Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, this was still the frontier, and it was slowly moving its way west.

With that came the technology. So there were steamboats earlier in the Hudson River. Beginnings of railroads were in the east. I mean, everything started in the east and worked its way west.

So at first, Lincoln never saw any of this. It was when he was still living in Indiana, when he was 19 years old, he and a couple others took a flatboat down to New Orleans. So they go down the Ohio River, meet the Mississippi River, and then all the way to New Orleans. New Orleans was this big eye-opener for him. It's a huge city compared to anything he's seen before.

It's multicultural, multinational, multilingual. There are peoples of all shades and all languages and huge commerce. He would have seen all these steamships servicing the port. He also saw slave markets, which he hadn't really experienced. There was a road that went past their farm in Kentucky that was the main road for people in like Virginia sending enslaved people further south into the deep south, where the cotton states. So he had some experience with slavery, but not really that much.

And then suddenly it was like you're buying and selling people. He realized there's a lot more to the world. There were some other things. On the second flatboat trip I'll mention, he is going starting in Illinois on the Sangamon River, which is a very small, windy river. And the flatboat gets stuck on the mill dam out in New Salem, and he has to get over that dam. But later on in Congress, the one term in Congress, and he's coming back and he's going through the Great Lakes.

He goes up to Buffalo and goes to Niagara Falls and sees Niagara Falls, which he writes this great piece about. But then he works his way by steamship back to Chicago. And before he gets to Chicago, he sees another steamship that is stuck on the shallows.

And the captain has sent the crew overboard. They're sticking boards and empty barrels and whatever they can to help make this thing float a little bit. He remembers his own getting stuck on the mill dam, and he realizes that there's a need for a way to help boats get over these shoals.

And he sits down in between the two sessions of Congress and devises up this patent. The patent is for a device for getting boats over shoals. And it effectively uses what we in science call the Archimedes Principle. You know, the idea behind buoyancy and displacement, and that if you can get something that's lighter than water under the hull, you can raise the hull enough to get it over any obstruction.

And he did that by having these inflatable bladders that could be lowered and inflated either by hand pumping or by steam to raise the boat up just enough to get it over the shoal. So when he went back to Congress for the second session, he brought this to a patent lawyer in Washington, D.C., and he got it submitted. And he still, to this day, is the only president with a patent. He made zero attempt to commercialize this.

Nobody else tried to commercialize it. But the system itself is actually the system that's used today by the Navy to help get ships and submarines, you know, lifted off the ocean floor when they're sinking. And you've been listening to author David J. Kent. His book, Lincoln, The Fire of Genius, well, it's about one simple thing. Lincoln was a lifelong learner, and he drove himself to learn almost everything he learned, including science and technology.

When we come back, more of this remarkable life story, the story of our 16th president here on Our American Stories. The NFL playoff action continues. We're one step closer to Super Bowl 57. And for the NFL divisional round, check out DraftKings Sportsbook, an official sports betting partner of the NFL. New customers can bet just $5 and get $200 in free bets instantly. Download the DraftKings Sportsbook app and use code TIMER. New customers can bet $5 on the NFL divisional round and get $200 in free bets instantly. That's promo code TIMER only at DraftKings Sportsbook.

21 and over in most eligible states, but age varies by jurisdiction. Eligibility restrictions apply. See sportsbook for details and state specific responsible gambling resources. Gambling problem, call 1-800-GAMBLER.

In New York, call 877-8HOPE-NY or text HOPE-NY-467369. Void in Ohio and Ontario. Bonus issued as free bets. One boost per eligible gain. Opt-in required. 10 plus leg required for 100% boost. Deposit, parlay, and wagering restrictions apply.

Eligibility in terms at slash football terms. Legendary billionaire investor Carl Icahn is sounding the alarm. He's warning we cannot cure red hot inflation, and the worst is yet to come.

We printed up too much money and the party's over. So the question is, what are you doing to protect yourself? Learn all of your options in a free wealth protection kit. This is your chance to take control of your financial future once and for all.

There's no cost or commitment. We'll send your free wealth protection kit to your doorstep or inbox free of charge. All you have to do is call 855-933-5252 now. You'll learn how you could protect your hard-earned savings and investments from the ongoing economic and political chaos we're seeing today. Don't wait until the economy completely unravels anymore.

Take control of your retirement savings while you still have time. Request your free wealth protection kit today. Call 855-933-5252 now. 855-933-5252.

Once again, that's 855-933-5252. And we're back. Well, tax season's here, folks, and you know... Hi there. Whoa, where'd you come from? April here to tell you about the tax filing software from TaxAct.

Seriously, were you, like, hiding behind my desk? Seriously, TaxAct makes it easy to get your maximum refund. Well, you heard it here first, folks. Switch to TaxAct today and you can start for free.

Or as we say in radio land... Subtle. TaxAct. File for less and get more.

See for details. And we return to Our American Stories and the final portion of our story on Abraham Lincoln with David J. Kent, author of Lincoln, The Fire of Genius. When we last left off, David was telling us about how, despite not having much in the way of a resume, Lincoln was able to become the owner of a shop, a postmaster, a part-time politician, and eventually a lawyer.

And not by going to law school, mind you, but by reading the law. Let's pick up where we last left off with Lincoln riding the legal circuit. As he was riding a circuit, he saw that farming was going from a simple wooden plow behind a horse to cast iron plows to eventually steel plows. But then you started seeing more technology, things called reapers, these mechanical devices, machinery, which were used to collect wheat and corn and those were being patented. And there were often cases where somebody would patent a reaper and somebody else would copy it and hope that the original guy would notice. But they usually did and they would sue each other. So there were plenty of cases like that that Lincoln started seeing.

There's a famous one that Lincoln was in called the Manny McCormick Reaper Trial, where Lincoln actually, in the end, it's a longer story than we have time for, but in the end, Lincoln basically got cut out of it and didn't get to argue the case. But he had researched the differences between these two different reapers that had been developed by two different men and just determined the differences between them. And his arguments eventually were the arguments that were used when it finally got settled. There were more and more and more of these types of things happening and that made more and more cases for Lincoln. And he quickly got a reputation as being very good at being able to handle these because he loved technology, loved to like pick things apart and take it apart and see how it worked. One of the other big areas that he did was railroad type cases. The railroads were working their way west and getting bigger and bigger and more and more intrusive. And he ended up put on retainer for the Illinois Central Railroad for several years, fought many cases for them, but also worked for other railroads in Illinois. And there were quite a few different private companies that were railroads, not like Amtrak today. There were 50 different companies with short rail lines, but he also worked for railroad workers. He set significant precedents both for labor rights and for corporation rights.

So not only was he really big watching and paying attention to all of these new developments in technology, it became a major part of his income from his legal career. There's a particular case called the Effie-Afton. Effie-Afton is the name of a steamship in the Mississippi River. And up to this point, the steamships were the prime mechanism for commerce. At one point, this Effie-Afton left St. Louis going north and it gets to an area called Rock Island just across from what's Davenport, Iowa today. And it promptly runs into a railroad bridge that had only been in service for about two weeks. This is the very first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River.

The Effie-Afton runs into it, catches fire, it burns down to the hull and sinks, damages the bridge so it can't be used for a while. And then the steamship company sued the railroad companies and the bridge company because they put an obstruction across the water. And Lakin digs deep into this case, he goes up there, he learns the engineering, he calculates the speed of the river and the speed of the steamship.

By this time, he had become a steamship pilot himself on the Sangamon River. And he convinces most of the jury that it was most likely not the bridge was an obstruction, but it was either negligence or intentional to try to block bridges from being built across the Mississippi River. Lakin more or less wins this case and it sets a precedent that allows the railroads to build many other bridges across the Mississippi River. Totally changes how we do commerce in this country. Instead of going north and south on the Mississippi on the steamships, it's now directly east-west all the way out to the west coast from railroads.

Railroads to even today are the prime mechanism for moving long distance produce and different products around the country. He clearly understood more than most people know. His colleagues, they understood that Lincoln was different. He had a scientific mind.

He understood technology better than anybody. That mentality becomes very important in the Civil War. You know, the north and the south just hated each other and they were fighting a war. But Lincoln being kind of the guy in the middle was saying, I have a more important role.

I need to resolve this so that the union stays together. That was his thinking and he was analyzing everything to determine the best steps that he could take in order to make that happen. Even things like the Emancipation Proclamation, he couldn't just say, okay, I'm going to get rid of slavery everywhere. He had to be very careful about how he did it so that he didn't lose the border states, those four slave states that stayed with the union.

If he said, well, I'm going to ban slavery in your states, they would have very quickly gone, joined the Confederacy and that would have been the end of the United States. So he was very much that logical, thoughtful thinker that could work through a lot of different issues. On a more specific level, he very much encouraged technology development. There were plenty of old school military people who said, just give me a bunch of muskets. They're easy to use. We can mass produce them quickly. We don't have to worry about different ammunition and different supply chains for different types of weapons.

Just give me those and we'll send these people out there and hope they survive the battle. Lincoln was like, yeah, but there's got to be a better way. So he had plenty of people coming to the White House showing them their new guns, everything from multiple shot repeating rifles to different types of cannons and rockets and machine guns and all sorts of things. There's a Spencer repeating rifle where there's a famous story where he goes and Spencer comes in and pitches his rifle. And this rifle, instead of having to load it from the barrel, you actually have a seven cartridge or seven shell cartridge that you can jam into the butt of the stock. This is a modern way of thinking as far as guns work.

So Lincoln like is intrigued by this idea. And he takes one of these and goes out with Spencer into the what's now the ellipse out behind the White House. And he takes seven shots into a piece of wood.

Shows that he's actually a pretty decent shot. And then he goes to fight rhetorically, fight with the ordinance officer. The head of ordinance is an old school guy who does not like the idea of these multi shot weapons because, you know, you've got a bunch of green troops that don't have much training. Now you're going to send them out there where they can shoot seven shots very fast. They're going to just shoot them very fast and then throw the gun down and run. Plus these things are much more complicated and it's muddy out there and raining all the time.

And, you know, they're going to get, they're not going to work. So Lincoln had to argue with ordinance officers to push things like the Spencer seven shot repeating rifle. He did go to bat for this particular one and he ordered that it be put in the service. One other thing that he pushed that became critical is ironclads.

All the ships up until that point were wooden sailing ships. He did the same thing with telegraph. It was the first war that the president of the United States could send messages almost instantaneously, not like texting today, but, you know, almost instantaneously out to the front. He could tell the generals, you know, give them advice on what to do and get advice and find out what the status is and then use telegraph to get to other generals in other parts of the battle, which was all over the eastern United States and even in the west. I do want to mention Lincoln did a lot to institutionalize science and technology.

That remains true today. He began the National Academy of Sciences. He tells Congress, agriculture is so important and we have some dusty desk, literally a one dusky desk in the back corner of some other department. We should have its own department for the Department of Agriculture. And Congress created it at his request so that we could improve the yields, improve the efficiency of agriculture. And then he and Congress, and he's working with Congress on all of these because they have to pass the laws. Now they passed the Homestead Act, which provided for westward expansion, passed the Morrill Land Grant Act to create what were called land grant colleges that were required to teach science and engineering. So he did all of that while in the middle of trying to keep the country from falling apart. And a special thanks to David J. Kent, author of Lincoln, The Fire of Genius.

The story of Lincoln, the lifelong learner here on Our American Stories. Do you have more than $50,000 saved for retirement you can't afford to lose? Nothing is being done to stop inflation or more rate hikes. And if you have $50,000 or more saved for retirement, now's the time to protect your savings while you still can. Call 855-512-GOLD to get your free wealth protection kit and see how you could protect your savings before it's too late. Call 855-512-GOLD.

That's 855-512-GOLD. When you arrive in the all new Toyota Crown, every entrance becomes a grand one. With an available Hybrid Max powertrain that says, you always arrive fashionably on time. Style that says, emphasis on the fashionably. And presence that says, you speak softly and everyone listens. Introducing the Toyota Crown, the car that says so much.

Toyota, let's go places. When focus takes hold and distractions fade away, meet Remarkable. The paper tablet specially designed for tasks that demand focus. Take notes, draft and organize. Remarkable is a digital notebook with the feel of paper and zero interruptions. All of your notes and documents perfectly organized and in one place. It's everything you love about paper but for the digital age. Visit today. Remarkable. The paper tablet.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-16 09:55:42 / 2023-01-16 10:09:07 / 13

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime