Return to The horse that freed the slaves (idea)

          "In his tenth year he was kicked by a horse,
          and apparantly (sic) killed for a time."

This quoted phrase comes from a short campaign biography Abraham Lincoln was asked to write in June of 1860. His flawed spelling is heartening and his awkward use of the third person reveals a man looking at himself from the outside.

History doesn't remember the horse's name but the reference to gender is definite. She was an unshod mare, hitched to a circular mill, grinding corn or sugar cane. The ten year old boy grew impatient with her plodding pace and commented to a friend that, "his dog could eat the meal as fast as the mill could grind it."

He shouted, "Git up, you old hussy; git up, you old hussy," whacking her with a stick, "git up..."

The boy was halted in mid-sentence by the hoof to his head. He remained unconscious for many hours and those attending him feared that he suffered a mortal wound. When he regained consciousness the next day, his first words were the conclusion of his truncated command.

"... you old hussy."

The nearest doctor was many miles away so the boy received no medical attention for his injury and he apparently recovered without serious after-effects. X-ray photography had not yet been invented so they could not have known that he sustained a severe skull fracture just above his left eye.

Doctors were able to study the injury nearly a century later through examination of a life mask made of the boy grown to manhood. The depth of the skull fracture indicated that his left frontal lobe was certainly damaged, which in a right-handed right-eyed person could have modifying effects on his personality. The scientific report concluded that:

        "A person with this type of cerebral lesion, in order to keep
        mentally alert, would have to be involved, or keep himself
        involved, in emotionally stimulating situations...such as a
        passion for legal justice for all people. Lincoln did just this,
        as a humorist seeking happiness and as a humanist seeking
        justice, in an endless fight to overcome the tendency to lapse
        into a rut of sad, gloomy, suicidal preoccupations." †

Perhaps the most significant of his symptoms was the tendency to lapse into a lower state of consciousness or mental detachment. His friends and associates described his facial expression during these episodes as "withdrawn" or "sad and abstract." These trances were fleeting but frequent and his law partner reported that he would sometimes emerge from them in a burst of laughter, for no apparent reason.

A cause and effect relationship between a kick to the head and Mr. Lincoln's humanity would be difficult to establish beyond conjecture but I like to believe that one exists. The evident punishment for his childhood cruelty to a beast of burden was a life defined by solemn introspection. It is historical fact that this introspection led to the emancipation of the sad millions who had been rendered human beasts of burden.

When Mary Lincoln, the daughter of Kentucky slave-owners, questioned the President about the abolition of slavery, his response was enigmatic.

"I am under orders," he told his wife, "I cannot do otherwise."



† A.M.A. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, April 1952, Volume 67, Number 4, Pages 419-433. Copyright 1952
Additional sources: "Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years" and "Abraham Lincoln: The War Years" by Carl Sandburg and "Life of Lincoln" by William Herndon and Jesse Weik


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