Previous: What makes a permanent marker permanent? - Big Questions - (Ep. 28)
Next: Misconceptions about History - mental_floss on YouTube (Ep. 23)



View count:271,227
Last sync:2024-05-10 14:30
A weekly show where knowledge junkies get their fix of trivia-tastic information. This week, John looks at 20 facts about Abraham Lincoln.

Special thanks to the Indiana State Museum and the Lincoln Collection!

Mental Floss Video on Twitter:

Select Images and Footage provided by Shutterstock:

Store: (enter promo code: "YoutubeFlossers" for 15% off!)
Hi I'm John Green, welcome to my salon-- Wait a second, this is NOT my salon, Mark, this is a huge collection of Lincoln memorabilia, we are at the Lincoln collection at the Indiana State Museum. By the way, did you know that Abraham Lincoln hated the nickname Abe?

It was his political managers who insisted that the names Abe and Honest Abe made him sound more approachable, this is useful information to know, by the way, because most documents signed Abe Lincoln are fakes, he preferred Abraham Lincoln or A. Lincoln.

For instance, that copy of the 13th amendment i-it's signed Abraham Lincoln, that's the---that's REAL!

Anyway, that's the first of many facts about Abraham Lincoln that I'm going to share with you today on April 15th, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination.


Abraham Lincoln's mom Nancy died when he was 9 years old, but soon his dad remarried a woman named Sarah who helped raise Abraham. The family lived in Indiana and Sarah encouraged Abraham to study and read books like Robinson Crusoe.

When Lincoln's future wife Mary Todd was in her twenties, she had many suitors that wanted to marry her. One of them, attorney Stephen Douglas, was actually Abraham's future opponent in two elections : the 1858 senatorial election in Illinois and the 1860 presidential election.

Abraham had some other romantic prospects to, he dated a woman named Ann Rutlage who died of typhoid fever in 1835. Then he was engaged to a woman named Mary Owens, but they broke up and then he was engaged to Mary Todd and then they broke up, but then they got re-engaged and then married.

You know, it's very similar to my romantic life, actually. I don't often say that I'm like Abraham Lincoln, but we both have been involved in a lot of breakups. None of mine fortunately involved typhoid fever, just me getting dumped.

Lincoln was elected to be a captain in the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk war, but he never actually went into any battles. He later recalled, "If some saw any live fighting Indians, it was more than I did, but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes, and although I never fainted from the loss of blood, I can truly say that I was often very hungry."

Before serving as president, Lincoln spent five terms in the Illinois legislature, where he made many political alliances. One was with Democrat John McClernand, who gave Lincoln a walking stick. This is that very walking stick, which Lincoln often carried with him. He didn't really use it for walking though, because he was quite tall and it was a little too short.

In 1858, Lincoln lost the election for US Senator from Illinois to the aforementioned Steven Douglas after they'd done a grueling series of seven debates, but Lincoln then published the debates in a book which became very popular and in writing at least, Lincoln's arguments were very compelling, which may have had something to do with the fact that he was elected president two years later. That's another thing Lincoln and I have in common, both published authors! Lots of breakups, both published books, he ran a country, I sponsor a 4th tier English soccer team, it's essentially the same list of accomplishments.

Lincoln's secretaries called him "The Tycoon". Their nickname for Mary Todd was not as nice, they called her "The Hellcat."

Lincoln's presidential predecessor, James Buchanan, didn't take the best care of the White House, so when Mary Todd moved in, she spent tens of thousands of dollars on furnishings for the house, but, y'know, because this was a time of war, that wasn't particularly popular with the public. This is one of the chairs that Mary bought to fancy up the White House, and I have to say, it is quite fancy.

For the celebratory ball after Lincoln's second inaugural address, one of Lincoln's favorite foods was served: oysters. But the staff didn't prepare enough oysters so the buffet became extremely chaotic, but the Washington Evening Star reported, "The floor of the supper room was soon sticky, pasty, and oily with wasted confections, mashed cake, and debris of foul and meat."

The Lincolns had four sons, although three of them died before reaching adulthood. Willie and Tad got into a lot of mischief at the White House, doing things like standing on tables during cabinet meetings, racing their pet goat through the halls, and throwing things at visitors from the roof.

The oldest Lincoln son Robert was the one who actually survived into adulthood. He almost died in the mid-1860s, he nearly fell onto train tracks at a railroad station while there was an oncoming train, but an actor named Edwin Booth managed to grab him by the collar. Edwin's younger brother John Wilkes assassinated Abraham Lincoln about a year later.

Robert went on to work for three presidents. He was Secretary of War for both James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur and he was also Benjamin Harrison's Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Mary Todd and Abraham didn't drink much, I knew we'd find something that we didn't have in common, plus they lived in the White House during a time that the temperance movement was becoming popular, but they generally did have at least a light liquor to serve guests. And this is the cordial set they used. I asked the people at the Indiana State museum if they ever, you know, just take this out and have a brandy party. Apparently they do not.

Lincoln loved telling jokes and anecdotes. Like, in 1856, he attended an editor's banquet for journalists where he felt very out of place. To break the tension, he told a joke in which he likened himself to an ugly horseman. In the joke, the horseman meets a woman who says, "Well, for land sake, you are the homeliest man I ever saw." And the horseman replies, "Yes, madam, but I can't help it." And the woman responds, "No. I suppose not. But you might stay at home."

This is a copy of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude unless it was a punishment for a crime. It was ratified in 1865, which means that most copies of the 13th Amendment were signed by Andrew Johnson, because Lincoln had already died. Lincoln got into some trouble for trying to pass the resolution without the states' approval, so he only signed three copies before his death, including this one.

Witnesses to Lincoln's assassination included Major Henry Rathbone and his fiance, Clara Harris, who were in the presidential box at Ford's Theatre with the Lincolns. Because he wasn't able to save Lincoln, Rathbone became very mentally ill over the course of the next few years, and about 20 years later, he murdered Clara and then attempted suicide.

After Lincoln's death, his body was put on a train from Washington DC to his final resting place, Springfield, Illinois. The trip took 13 days and over 12 million people showed up to watch the train and pay their respects. Many of the major cities, in fact, held their own funerals as the train passed.

Ten years later, a group of grave robbers tried to steal Lincoln's remains and hold them for ransom. Luckily, a secret service agent had managed to infiltrate the gang, so the robbers were captured.

And while Abraham Lincoln enjoyed a good joke and a good story, he was at times a somber man, so we're gonna finish on a somber note. Unfortunately, there are no more Lincolns in the world, at least not descended from Abraham Lincoln. His last two descendants, Peggy and Bud Beckwith, died in 1975 and 1985 respectively. But it's worth nothing that there are still lots of people with the last name "Lincoln", not just that guy from The Walking Dead but also many descendants of slaves who took the surname Lincoln in honor of Abraham.

Thanks for watching this episode of mental_floss here on YouTube, which was made with the help of all of these nice people, and thank you to the Indiana State Museum and the Lincoln Collection for sharing all of this with us, we have been nerding out all day here. So thanks again to them, thanks to you for watching, and as we say in my hometown, don't forget to be awesome.