Late-1850, Abraham Lincoln's step-brother, John D. Johnston, wrote to him and asked, yet again, for a loan with which to settle some debts.
Said Johnston: I am dund & doged to Death so I am all most tired of Living, & I would all most swop my place in Heaven for that much money [...] I would rother live on bread and wotter than to have men allways duning me [...] If you can send me 80 Dollars I am willing to pay you any Intrust you will ask.
On previous occasions Lincoln simply would have agreed to such a request. This time, however, sensing an opportunity to impart some wisdom, he responded with the following letter of advice and a proposal. (Source: Lincoln and His World: Volume 3; Image: Abraham Lincoln, via.)
January 2, 1851 Dear Johnston: Your request for eighty dollars I do not think it best to comply with now. At the various times when I have helped you a little you have said to me, "We can get along very well now"; but in a very short time I find you in the same difficulty again. Now, this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. What that defect is, I think I know. You are not lazy, and still you are an idler. I doubt whether, since I saw you, you have done a good whole day's work in any one day. You do not very much dislike to work, and still you do not work much merely because it does not seem to you that you could get much for it. This habit of uselessly wasting time is the whole difficulty; it is vastly important to you, and still more so to your children, that you should break the habit. It is more important to them, because they have longer to live, and can keep out of an idle habit before they are in it, easier than they can get out after they are in. You are now in need of some money; and what I propose is, that you shall go to work, "tooth and nail," for somebody who will give you money for it. Let father and your boys take charge of your things at home, prepare for a crop, and make the crop, and you go to work for the best money wages, or in discharge of any debt you owe, that you can get; and, to secure you a fair reward for your labor, I now promise you, that for every dollar you will, between this and the first of May, get for your own labor, either in money or as your own indebtedness, I will then give you one other dollar. By this, if you hire yourself at ten dollars a month, from me you will get ten more, making twenty dollars a month for your work. In this I do not mean you shall go off to St. Louis, or the lead mines, or the gold mines in California, but I mean for you to go at it for the best wages you can get close to home in Coles County. Now, if you will do this, you will be soon out of debt, and, what is better, you will have a habit that will keep you from getting in debt again. But, if I should now clear you out of debt, next year you would be just as deep in as ever. You say you would almost give your place in heaven for seventy or eighty dollars. Then you value your place in heaven very cheap, for I am sure you can, with the offer I make, get the seventy or eighty dollars for four or five months' work. You say if I will furnish you the money you will deed me the land, and, if you don't pay the money back, you will deliver possession. Nonsense! If you can't now live with the land, how will you then live without it? You have always been kind to me, and I do not mean to be unkind to you. On the contrary, if you will but follow my advice, you will find it worth more than eighty times eighty dollars to you. Affectionately your brother, A. Lincoln
I can tell you from my own experience, Lincoln's advice is even relevant today. For years....up until my early 50s, I was pretty much like Johnston. The only difference is, I was working full time every day. For many years I was living above my means, trying to keep up with the Jones's. And I was always in debt and always borrowing money. My friends would always tell me what I should do and how to handle my finances, but I wouldn't listen. Finally, after I realized I had blown my 401K, had no money in the bank and was in debt up to my you know what, a light bulb went off in my head....."maybe what everyone is telling me is the correct thing to do"....lol. Well......after putting myself on a tight budget, today I can say that I'm almost debt free. Those that I owed in the past have all been paid off except for the day to day things like Cable, cell phone, internet, food, etc. Car paid for so no monthly payment there. I wish I had listened to my friends years ago and saved at that time....lol. But sometimes you have to learn the hard way.......lol.
I learned that once I put my mind to a task I worked at it until completed...
I've known quite a few John Johnston's in my day. Many did work; had full time jobs. Their problem was spending, budgeting, planning. I've learned they are not easy to help. They resent advice; maybe they feel like you are treating them like children. They just don't get it. It's heartbreaking when it is someone close to you; you want to help but they are their own worst enemy. Wonder what happened to Mr. Johnston after this letter? I think it was written well, but I suspect he didn't care for the lecture to get off his butt. Where did you find this? It's a cool part of history.
mercerquietman there is a wealth of history on this site...have fun....Julia
Letters of Note
A good early example of a matching grant! Lincoln's ability to be concise and clear in his letters and speeches was honed over many years practice. It certainly was his prime weapon in politics...his words cut neatly like a sword!
Very interesting letter. I should send it to my ex husband, but I'm sure he's beyond help. He has no idea what an honest day's work is. He's living in a trailer in east Tennessee. I have nothing against trailers, but the way he always talked about people who lived in one, makes it amusing. He's always on Facebook talking about "his house". I saw photos of it and knew immediately it was a trailer. Pitch on the roof is very low. Oh what you can glean from a photo after 26 years in real estate! :)
Helen, are you sure you and I weren't married to the same man? Mine is living in a trailer in Georgia. He had a house in Florida (well...a double-wide trailer) his new wife bought him, but he couldn't make a living in Florida, so they gave that up and moved to Georgia. He lives hand to mouth doing flea-marketing. He is always crying about how tough things are. One of the reasons he left me was because he went behind my back to ask my son for $10,000 to save our house. My son wrote a letter not unlike this one.....telling him he'd buy our house and rent it back to us for half the amount of the mortgage payment. He said he didn't want his mother out on the street, but he knew if he gave Gus the money, we'd still lose the house, and he'd still be broke. And, Dave would never get his money back. My ex threw a hissy fit. He was enraged that my son "cares more about you than me"! Well......DUH!! I am his mother. My ex was on top several times in his life; each time he screwed up and lost it.
Wonderful letter. Some people don't realize what it is to save for their old age I knew someone who kept saying "what if I don't get to my old age? Then I've lost all the fun" And now he's in skid row begging . Loved Lincoln's letter to his step-brother. to the point.
You can say that again. He apparently knew what it means to live within your means. Very few in Washington grasp that concept.
Bonnie and Clyde
From 1932 until its bloody conclusion in May of 1934, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and an ever-changing gang of accomplices became a nationwide talking point as a result of a murderous crime spree which spanned the Central United States. Naturally, such a high-profile criminal gang depended on high-powered transport to evade the authorities and judging by the number he stole over the years, Barrow seemingly had a soft spot for Ford'sV8-powered Model B. In fact, both Bonnie and Clyde died in the car they had grown to depend on, showered with bullets as they attempted to drive away from police in '34. A month before that happened, Henry Ford received the following admiring letter, purportedly from Barrow himself.
The letter is currently on display at the Ford Museum; its authenticity has been debated for many years.
(Source: Tyler Davies; Image: Bonnie & Clyde, via.)
Mr. Henry Ford
Dear Sir: -
While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusivly when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen't been strickly legal it don't hurt enything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 -
Clyde Champion Barrow
© 2023 Created by Aggie. Powered by