'It Was Fixed In His Mind To Suit Him'
The arrival of [stepmother] Sarah Lincoln [in 1819] marked a turning point in Abraham Lincoln's life. . . . She treated her own children and the Lincoln children with absolute impartiality. She grew especially fond of Abraham. "Abe never gave me a cross word or look and never refused in fact, or even in appearance, to do anything I requested him," she remembered. "I never gave him a cross word in all my life . . . His mind and mine -- what little I had -- seemed to move together, move in the same channel."
. . . Starved for affection, Abraham returned her love. He called her "Mama," and he never spoke of her except in the most affectionate terms. After he had been elected President, he recalled the sorry condition of Thomas Lincoln's household before Sarah Bush Johnston arrived and told of the encouragement she had given him as a boy. "She had been his best friend in this world," a relative reported him as saying, "and . . . no man could love a mother more than he loved her,"* * * * *John Hanks, another cousin who lived with the Lincolns for a time, thought he was "somewhat dull . . . not a brilliant boy -- but worked his way by toil: to learn was hard for him, but he worked slowly, but surely." But Abraham's stepmother understood him better, recognized his need to fully master what he read or heard. "He must understand everything -- even to the smallest thing -- minutely and exactly," she remembered; "he would then repeat it over and over to himself again and again -- some times in one form and then in an other and when it was fixed in his mind to suit him he . . . never lost that fact or his understanding of it."
* * * * *Even more important was the ability to read. Once he got the hang of it, he could never get enough. "Abe was hungry for book[s]," Dennis Hanks recalled, "reading everything he could lay his hands on." He would carry a book with him when he went out to work, and read when he rested. John Hanks remembered that when Abraham returned to the house from work, "he would go to the cupboard, snatch a piece of corn bread, take down a book, sit down in a chair, cock his legs up as high as his head, and read."
. . . Another of Sarah Lincoln's books was Aesop's Fables, which it was said Abraham read so many times that he could write it out from memory. The morals of some of the stories became deeply ingrained in his mind, like the lesson drawn from the fable of the lion and the four bulls: "A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand."