A man of many talents

Everyone knows the story of the boy who was born in a log cabin with a dirt floor in Kentucky when it was the rugged western frontier. His grandfather was a friend of Daniel Boone. At a young age, his family moved to the Indiana Territory where his mother died a short time later. In these two places he did not have much opportunity for education and all who know the story can envision him bent over a book in the dim firelight.

“Of course, when I came of age I did not know much,” Lincoln had said. “Still, somehow, I could read, write and cipher; but that was all.”

After about 14 years in Indiana, he moved to the Illinois Territory where as a young man he held several jobs, and as the saying goes, the “rest is history.” Of course, this is the story of Abraham Lincoln. Today, March 10, marks the anniversary of a lesser known fact from his life story. Lincoln continues to this day to be the only president to ever have had one, so it can’t be a beard from the locally well-known story of Grace Bedell. March 10, 1849, is the date when he filed for a patent.

Inventor is just one more description that can be added to Lincoln’s repertoire of skills or accomplishments of rail splitter, store keeper, captain in the Black Hawk War, lawyer, legislator, president, and emancipator. Lincoln applied and eventually received a patent for “buoying vessels over shoals.” In his late teens on a flatboat trip to New Orleans and other subsequent trips on rivers including the Mississippi, vessels would sometimes be delayed or stranded by getting hung up on sandbars or sedimentary deposits such as silt and small rocks.

Lincoln’s idea, which can be easily accessed including, patent number 6494 in part stated, “Be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, of Springfield, in the county of Sangamon, in the state of Illinois, have invented a new and improved manner of combining adjustable buoyant air chambers with a steamboat or other vessel for the purpose of enabling their draught of water to be readily lessened to enable them to pass over bars, or through shallow water, without discharging their cargoes; and I do hereby declare the following to be a full, clear, and description thereof, reference being had to the accompanying drawings making a part of this specification.”

Lincoln’s idea was that these air chambers would be attached to the side of the boat and used when needed by inflating and lowering them into the water, which would then lift the boat over the shoals. Lincoln’s patent was granted in May of the same year, but busy with other pursuits, the drawings and scale models were never developed to test on real boats.

Although Lincoln was not one of the Founding Fathers, he is considered by many to be one of the most outstanding presidents of our nation. Leading during a time of civil war, he resolved that such a young republic with high ideals should not disintegrate. The last few columns have examined the wisdom of such men as George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison in “A unanimous decision,” “Washington’s wisdom through the ages,” “Words of Wisdom live on,” and “Echoes of the Past.” It only makes sense to continue with some sage advice from Abraham Lincoln. During the Lincoln-Douglas senator debates in the late 1850s, Lincoln’s ideas about slavery became well known. In his acceptance speech for the Republican Party’s nomination he used part of a Bible verse when he stated that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” Lincoln also later stated that “the framers of the Constitution intended and expected” slavery to end. Of course, the words “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally,” shows both common sense and even some humor.

A man of integrity, Lincoln has been credited for saying, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” In that same vein, he also said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have,” and also “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.” A man of patriotism and a strong belief in the values of our country, he said, “Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.” Of course, from the Gettysburg Address, everyone knows, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” With a definite humorous side, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Along with all the other greats, Abraham Lincoln is just one more example to both learn from history and draw parallels to today. Make it a good week and in the words of Lincoln reminding us to keep informed, “I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser than he was yesterday.”

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