Happy Birthday, Abraham Lincoln!

Written by Ellen Jackson, author of Abe Lincoln Loved Animals.

On February 12, 2009, the nation will celebrate Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday.

We all know that Abe Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents, a man who was born in a log cabin and led our nation in its darkest hour. But, here’s something you may not know. Abraham Lincoln loved animals–all kinds of animals–and he rescued quite a few during his lifetime.

When he was a child, Abe talked to his classmates and told them that cruelty to animals was wrong. Once as a young man, he waded across a treacherous stream to rescue a dog. The ice on the water cut his legs and the footing was unsure. But even though everyone tried to stop him, Abe knew he had to rescue the scared animal.

This behavior may not seem unusual to you, but kindness to animals wasn’t considered important in the nineteenth century. The people Abraham Lincoln grew up with were hardy frontiersmen and no-nonsense farmers. Animals were raised for food. They were trained to hunt or work in the fields. If they were old, useless, or sick, they were discarded.

But Abe Lincoln was different. He was a humanitarian--a man who loved children and animals and whose heart ached for anyone who was suffering.

Abraham Lincoln never cared for fancy clothes. But when he was elected to the Illinois General Assembly, he bought his first good suit. The suit cost him sixty dollars–an amount which would probably be several hundred dollars in today’s currency.

One day, when Abe was out riding in the country, wearing his good suit, he saw a young pig stuck in a mudhole. Abraham knew he would ruin his suit if he got down in the mud and pulled the pig out. He tried not to look at the animal as he rode by. But the poor creature’s eyes seemed to say, “There, now! My last hope is gone.”

Abraham couldn’t stand that look in the pig’s eyes. He went back, got down into the mud in his good clothes, and worked until he’d freed the pig.

When Abraham Lincoln got married and had a family, the house was often filled with animals: cats, dogs, and even pet rats. A big, floppy-eared mutt named Fido came to live with the Lincolns. And Abe was always bringing stray kittens home to his children. His wife once said that cats and kittens were his “hobby.”

Abraham Lincoln’s concern for animals didn’t end when he became President. On one occasion, the President and his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, rescued some peacocks. Ropes had been tied to the birds’ feet to keep them from flying off, and these had become entangled in the trees where the peacocks were roosting. Lincoln and Stanton unwound all the ropes so the peacocks could fly down in the morning.

There were many animals in Lincoln’s White House. At various times the family had a dog name Jip, at least one cat, a pair of goats, a horse, two ponies, a turkey named Jack, and some rabbits. In spite of the dreadful problems the country faced, Abraham Lincoln had room in his heart for all the living creatures that shared the White House with him.

On Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, remember our remarkable 16th President and his respect and love for animals.

If you’d like to know more about Abe Lincoln’s many relationships with animals, read Abe Lincoln Loved Animals by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger and published by Albert Whitman.