Abraham Lincoln served as the 16th president of the United States, at a critical juncture in the nation’s history. In 1863 he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring forever free the slaves in the Confederacy. He then backed that promise up with the full weight of the Union, in a test of separation and unity, advancement, and entrenchment.
But while many are familiar with his strength and beliefs as a leader, there are a number of things you may not have guessed about this champion of freedom.
- Lincoln formed the Secret Service just hours before he was assassinated
The Secret Service was not originally formed to protect presidents, which is why it is a part of the Treasury Department (not the military). In fact, Lincoln signed the bill forming it on April 14, 1865, hours before being shot and killed at Ford’s Theater.
However, even if the Secret Service had already been established, it wouldn’t have saved him, since its original mission was simply to fight what was then widespread currency counterfeiting. Only in 1901, after two other presidents in addition to Lincoln were killed, was the Secret Service formally assigned to protect presidents.
- He was a suffragette
Lincoln wanted women to have the vote in 1836 – nearly 80 years before it actually happened.
- He was a wrestler, and he was talented
Lincoln was known for his long limbs, which helped him become a skillful wrestler when he was young. Only defeated once in 300 matches, he was known for talking trash in the ring. He is enshrined in the Wrestling Hall of Fame, where he holds honor of being labeled an “Outstanding American.”
- He was the president who made Thanksgiving a national holiday
It remains unclear as to whether he was the one to stipulate that fried onions should go atop creamed green beans.
- Grave robbers once attempted to steal Lincoln’s corpse
In 1876, a gang of criminals tried to take Lincoln’s body out of his tomb in Springfield, Illinois. They were Chicago counterfeiters whose plan was to hold the body for ransom, demanding $200,000 and their other gang member’s release from prison.
However, the Secret Service that couldn’t protect the president in life had his back in death. They infiltrated the gang and were lying in wait to catch the criminals, which they did. Lincoln’s corpse was then moved to an unmarked grave, where it was sheathed in steel and buried under 10 feet of concrete.
- Lincoln is the only president to have gotten a patent
Lincoln was once aboard a steamboat that ran aground on low shoals. As someone who loved tinkering, he put his mind to the solution, eventually designing a way to keep vessels afloat even when navigating shallow waters. The device made use of metal air chambers that were to be attached to the sides of the steamboat. Lincoln still holds Patent No. 6,469, issued in 1849.
- He had a dog
The dog’s name was Fido, which may be when that name became popular. Fido was rough-coated, yellowish, and had big floppy ears.
- Lincoln’s son had his life saved by John Wilkes Booth’s brother
Just a few months before Lincoln was assassinated, his eldest son Robert was on a train platform in New Jersey. When a group of passengers accidentally pushed him off the platform and into the way of the moving train, a rescuer put his hand out, pulling Robert to safety. The Good Samaritan turned out to be famous actor Edwin Booth, brother to John Wilkes. In another strange turn of events, the day Edwin Booth was buried at his own funeral (in 1893), Ford’s Theater collapsed, causing the deaths of 22 people.
- Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bedroom
When Lincoln was in the White House, he used it as his own personal office. He regularly met with Cabinet members in the room and signed state documents, among them the Emancipation Proclamation.
- Lincoln was almost shot on a Civil War battlefield
In July of 1864, Confederate troops attacked Washington, D.C. Lincoln went to Fort Stevens to visit the front lines – a battle the Union eventually won. At one point, gunfire came perilously close to the president. As the story goes, Colonel Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (who went on to sit on the Supreme Court) yelled at Lincoln: “Get down, you fool!” It was enough to get Lincoln to duck down under a parapet.