Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Lincoln and John D. Johnston, 24 December 18481Washington, Decr 24th 1848– My dear father:
Your letter of the 7th was received night before last–2 I very cheerfully send you the twenty dollars, which sum you say is necessary to save your land from sale– It is singular that you should have forgotten a judgment against you; and it is more singular that the plaintiff should have let you forget it so long, particularly as I suppose you have always had property enough to satisfy a judgment of that amount. Before you pay it, it would be well to be sure you have not paid it or, at least that you can not prove you have paid it– Give my love to Mother, and all the connections–Affectionately your SonA. LincolnDear 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–
<Page 2>I doubt whether since I saw you, you have done a good whole days 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, and it is vastly important to you, and still more so to your ^children^ that you should break this 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 ready money; and what I propose is, that you shall go to work "tooth and nails" for some body who will give you money for it– Let father, and your boys take charge of 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 next May, get for your own labor, either in money, or in 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, the lead mines, or the gold mines in California, but I mean for you to go at it, for the best wages youAffectionately
<Page 3>can get close to home — in Coles county. Now if you will do this you will soon be 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, next year you will be just as deep in as ever– You say you would almost give your place in Heaven for $70 or $80– Then you value your place in Heaven very cheaply for I am sure you can ^with the offer I make you^ get the seventy or eighty dollars for four or five months work– You say if I furnish you the money you will deed me the land; and if you dont pay the money back, you will deliver possession— Nonsense! If you cant now live with the land, how will you then live without it? You have always been [ki]nd to me; and I do not now mean to be unkind to you– On the contrary, if you will but follow my advice you will find it worth more than eight times eighty dollars to you–
Your brotherA. Lincoln
1Abraham Lincoln penned the letters to his father and his stepbrother in their entirety. Roy P. Basler, editor of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, noted correctly that Lincoln’s letters were part of the same document. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, however, separated them, erroneously dating Lincoln’s letter to Johnston as January [2?], 1851. This error prompted Lincoln biographer Albert J. Beveridge to claim that Lincoln ignored Johnston’s plea for funds.
Roy P. Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2:17; John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, new and enlarged ed. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 2:96, 144; Albert J. Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln 1809-1858 (Boston and New York: Houghton and Mifflin, 1928), 1:479.
2John D. Johnston wrote the letter on behalf of his father and included a letter of his own on the same sheet.
Autograph Letter Signed, 3 page(s), Huntington Library (San Marino, CA).