Free Classics: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Henry Ketcham

Every Friday, Marilyn Knapp Litt, who blogs at, brings us her recommendation of a free classic book to discover (or rediscover) on Kindle. Find more of Marilyn’s recommendations at her blog,, a guide to the best free and inexpensive classic literature for the Kindle. You can also get Marilyn’s blog on Kindle and I recommend that you “Like” the Classic Kindle Facebook page as well so you don’t miss anything. Here’s Marilyn’s post:

The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Henry Ketcham, written in 1901 by a rather well-known Union General.

CHAPTER I. THE WILD WEST. At the beginning of the twentieth century there is, strictly speaking, no frontier to the United States. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the larger part of the country was frontier.

You had me at, “Hello!” A great beginning always draws you into a book. This is quite nicely done and of course for us there is the added layer of meaning that we are now at the beginning of the 21st century.

I do not review a lot of biographies because many are not written in a style we appreciate. We do not want hagiographies.

Imagine this boy. Begin at the top and look down him–a long look, for he was tall and gaunt. His cap in winter was of coon-skin, with the tail of the animal hanging down behind. In summer he wore a misshapen straw hat with no hat-band. His shirt was of linsey-woolsey, above described, and was of no color whatever, unless you call it “the color of dirt.” His breeches were of deer-skin with the hair outside. In dry weather these were what you please, but when wet they hugged the skin with a clammy embrace, and the victim might sigh in vain for sanitary underwear. These breeches were held up by one suspender. The hunting shirt was likewise of deer-skin. The stockings,–there weren’t any stockings. The shoes were cow-hide, though moccasins made by his mother were substituted in dry weather. There was usually a space of several inches between the breeches and the shoes, exposing a tanned and bluish skin. For about half the year he went barefoot.

This fits with the style we want today. The author writes with authority, although in this case the authority comes from being closer to a time that has passed from our collective memory.

J. G. Holland, who doubtless knew whereof he wrote, declares that it was a great misfortune that Lincoln was introduced to the country as a rail-splitter. Americans have no prejudice against humble beginnings, they are proud of self-made men, but there is nothing in the ability to split rails which necessarily qualifies one for the demands of statesmanship. Some of his ardent friends, far more zealous than judicious, had expressed so much glory over Abe the rail-splitter, that it left the impression that he was little more than a rail-splitter who could talk volubly and tell funny stories. This naturally alienated the finest culture east of the Alleghanies. “It took years for the country to learn that Mr. Lincoln was not a boor. It took years for them to unlearn what an unwise and boyish introduction of a great man to the public had taught them. It took years for them to comprehend the fact that in Mr. Lincoln the country had the wisest, truest, gentlest, noblest, most sagacious President who had occupied the chair of state since Washington retired from it.”

Let me reach out and quote one of those Amazon reader reviews that are so helpful:

“My only regret is that I did not read this book earlier in life; in my formative years, so to speak. A history lesson I shall long savior. I often took for granted the life of our 16th President from the little learned in school or in a Hollywood synopsis. A copper penny, a five-dollar bill, was my only present recollection of this ancient being. But now, what a great man, I have found! The Life of Abraham Lincoln, by Henry Ketcham, though a book of antiquity is a work presently easily read. For any American who reads the biographies of great men in the hopes of learning some nugget to inspire, I highly recommend this E-Book.”

It is never too late to read a good book. Enjoy!

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