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Abe Lincoln's Hoosier Roots

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Abraham Lincoln is closely associated with the state of Illinois. What most people don't know is that Lincoln's adolescence was not spent here but in neighboring Indiana. Now in this 200th year of Lincoln's birthday, the Hoosier state is taking a renewed claim to the 16th president's legacy.

Most of us develop our religious, social and political views during our ormative years.

For Abraham Lincoln, those years weren't spent in Illinois but in Indiana.

SHEPARD: From seven years old to 21 years old, before he goes to Illinois to become a lawyer and builds his political career, he really acquires his understanding of the American system of government and the American Bill of Rights and equality as a teenager. That all happened in Indiana.

That's Randall Shepard, chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

He spoke recently to students at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet Middle School in Indianapolis about Lincoln's life and his upbringing in Indiana.

Some of the students, like Emma Davidson, had no clue Lincoln spent 14 years of his early life in the Hoosier state.

DAVISON: I think it's important because this is where he developed and nurtured and learned stuff.

Attucks social studies teacher Norvin Conway says many of the stories and legends of Lincoln reading by candlelight as a kid happened in Spencer County, in far southern Indiana, about two hours south of Indianapolis.

CONWAY: The stories about him walking to borrow books are Indiana. A lot of those book stories are Indiana stories, they're not Illinois stories.

Conway says there were many reasons for Lincoln's move to Illinois with his family.

CONWAY: He didn't necessarily leave Indiana because he didn't like Indiana, but there are more opportunities west.

Over at the Indiana State House, Historian Dale Ogden says it's understandable why Illinois is more closely associated with Lincoln.

After all, it's in the...OK...the "Land of Lincoln," that Lincoln was elected to Congress, then the Senate and then president.

But Ogden, chief curator of cultural history at the Indiana State Museum, says it's also because Indiana just hasn't gotten the word out all that much.

OGDEN: Illinois has done just a much better job making that connection. Indiana has not.

Now, Indiana is working harder to loosen Illinois' grip on Lincoln's story. Its efforts got underway during the statewide birthday celebration at the Indiana State House.

STILWELL: Indiana made Abraham Lincoln, we'd like to say. And Abraham Lincoln made Illinois.

That's Indiana House Majority Leader Russ Stillwell in the House chambers.

The state's governor, Mitch Daniels, who never passes an opportunity to take a jab at Illinois, is also in on it.

DANIELS: Illinois has done a great job over the decades of stealing credit for Abe Lincoln. In the course of this bicentennial we hope that Indiana will sort of assume its rightful place of all three state in which he lived.

You heard right. All three states.

Lincoln was actually born in Kentucky and lived there until his family moved to Indiana several years later.

ambi sound of chorus singing and Lincoln impersonator speaking

Actor and Lincoln impersonator Dean Dorrell read the Great Emancipator's words under the rotunda of the stately Indiana Capitol during the birthday celebration.

ambi sound of Abe Lincoln again

Indiana plans to continue promoting its ties to Honest Abe through an exhibit of a $20-million collection of Lincoln books, writings and photographs at the Indiana State Museum that begins early next year.

It was a much sought after collection that even the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield wanted to get its hands on, but this is one part of the Lincoln legacy that's going to remain right here in Indiana.

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