Abraham Lincoln - A Gifted Man

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln
George P. Healy Portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Katherine Young/ Hulton Fine Art Collection/Getty Images

When I refer to Abe Lincoln as a gifted man, I don't mean it in the sense of an accomplished individual, but as a gifted child grown up. That sounds like an odd way to explain it, but too often people forget that gifted children grow up and those traits that made them gifted children don't disappear. And even though everyone may not agree on exactly what gifted means, there are definitely some traits that gifted people have in common.

Here are some of Lincoln's traits that indicate he was a gifted kid all grown up.

High Intelligence

High intelligence is one of the top indicators of giftedness. (Some people think it is the main indicator), and although there were no IQ tests in the mid-19th century, Lincoln's IQ has been estimated to be about 150. That puts Lincoln in the highly gifted range. But we don't need an IQ test to recognize Lincoln's high intelligence.

One sign of Lincoln's high intelligence is his desire to learn. Both of Lincoln's parents were illiterate, but his step-mother encouraged him to read. He had only 18 months of formal education, but not all at once. It was for just days and weeks at a time. That sporadic formal education didn't stop him from learning, though. He was known, for example, to walk miles in order to borrow a book. In the 1830's, Lincoln decided he wanted to be a lawyer and so he taught himself law through an independent reading of Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England.

Another sign of Lincoln's high intelligence was his "way with words." It is most likely that he was among the verbally gifted. Being verbally gifted doesn't mean just an interest and passion for words and language; it's also an ability to use language to express views and move others. Anyone who reads the Gettysburg Address, a speech Lincoln wrote himself, can't help but be impressed with Lincoln's use of the English language and his ability to move others.

One final sign, although it's not what most people would consider, is the attraction between Lincoln and Mary Todd. Their friends had a hard time understanding that attraction. After all, Lincoln was essentially a self-taught backwoodsman with illiterate parents, while Mary was a well-educated woman whose family was a eminent one in Kentucky. Gifted people tend to find each other and are attracted to each other, regardless of their backgrounds. And the description of Mary as "high spirited" should ring a bell for those of us who know some high spirited gifted kids (and adults).

Emotional Sensitivity

Another very common trait of gifted kids (and adults) is emotional sensitivity. I suspect that this was one of Lincoln's predominant traits. A great deal has been written about Lincoln and his "melancholia," which many people attribute to the loss of his mother when he was just nine years old. The death of his first love Ann Rutledge is also supposed to be a contributor to his life-long depression and melancholy.

However, the cause and effect can be reversed. An emotionally sensitive gifted child can be profoundly affected by emotional traumas. In other words, the sensitivity and tendency to depression and melancholy might be there already.

For example, some emotionally sensitive kids can experience bouts of existential depression without any trigger at all. But when they experience an emotionally intense event, they can respond to it with an intensity that most other don't experience.

Sense of Fairness and Justice

When we think about Lincoln's sense of injustice, we think about his views on slavery. But even before the issue of slavery took on a prominent role in his life, Lincoln showed signs of his sense of fairness and justice. He often argued cases in court based on these issues rather than on the law itself.

And his moniker "Honest Abe" was one that reflected the reputation he had earned as an honest man.

For example, when he was a teen in Indiana, he had borrowed a book about George Washington from a neighbor. The book was damaged before Lincoln had a chance to return it. He told the neighbor about the damage and offered to work to pay for it. He worked in the man's fields for three days.

Great Sense of Humor

To some people, it may seem inconsistent for a man prone to depression to have a great sense of humor as well. But to those who understand the gifted, it's no surprise. If you are unaware of Lincoln's humor, here are a couple of examples: He served in the 1832 Black Hawk War, but had never seen any combat. He used to quip that while he didn't have any battle experience, he had "a good many bloody struggles with mosquitoes."

An even better example is from one of his presidential debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858. Douglas has accused Lincoln of being two-faced, to which Lincoln replied: "Now my opponent says I am two-faced, but I leave it to you, if I had two faces, would I keep this one?"

Books About Lincoln

Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness

Lincoln's Moral Vision

The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln: A Book of Quotations

Abe Lincoln's Legacy of Laughter


Abraham Lincoln biography

A Lawyer at Heart

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