An Early Peek into the Character of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln wall portrait, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum

The story is told that young Captain Abraham Lincoln (of the First Regiment of the Brigade of Mounted Volunteers) saved the life of an elderly Native American who found himself in the unit’s camp. This was during the Black Hawk War. Captain Lincoln’s men had seen no action. They were “ready for blood”- and the opportunity presented itself to kill an “Indian.”  The Company partially consisted of Clary’s Grove boys. They were known for their roughness. They respected Lincoln-and elected him as their militia Captain. Apparently, the old Native American fellow had a military pass. That didn’t seem to matter to the troopers. They were ready to strike out. Lincoln however, would have none of it. He rushed to the side of the would-be “war casaulty” and defended him. Basically, he informed his fellow soldiers that if anyone were to lay a hand on the man-they would have to go through him first. Lincoln was accused of being a coward. They said too that he was taking advantage of the situation because he was Captain. Lincoln flatly told them that if any man wanted to test him to see if he was a coward to go ahead. The situation cooled down. The old man was allowed to go his way.

Think about the actions of Lincoln in this story. Why did he risk his authority and leadership for the sake of an “Indian?” Lincoln was white and his fellow soldiers were white. Racial hatred against Native Americans by white society was predominant. And there was a war on-the Black Hawk War. Seemingly there was justification to kill the man. They would have felt justified in doing so. But Lincoln would have none of it. He defended the stranger with nothing to gain-except a clear conscience. Abraham Lincoln believed that “all men were created equal.” He stood by his conviction that day. If he had not-perhaps his story may have been quite different than the one known to history. Perhaps there would not have been a Lincoln that helped end slavery. Perhaps Lincoln wouldn’t be remembered at all. Sometimes standing for what is right makes all the difference in the world. Lincoln had no idea what lay ahead of him in his life up to that point. His choice that day was pivotal. It was an early peek into the character of Abraham Lincoln. The world would see more of it just a few years later.

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