Photo by Scott Ableman

Lincoln’s Letter to his Son’s Teacher

He will have to learn, I know,
that all men are not just,
all men are not true.
But teach him also that
for every scoundrel there is a hero;
that for every selfish Politician,
there is a dedicated leader…
Teach him for every enemy there is a friend,

Steer him away from envy,
if you can,
teach him the secret of
quiet laughter.

Let him learn early that
the bullies are the easiest to lick…
Teach him, if you can,
the wonder of books…
But also give him quiet time
to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky,
bees in the sun,
and the flowers on a green hillside.

In the school teach him
it is far honourable to fail
than to cheat…
Teach him to have faith
in his own ideas,
even if everyone tells him
they are wrong…
Teach him to be gentle
with gentle people,
and tough with the tough.

Try to give my son
the strength not to follow the crowd
when everyone is getting on the band wagon…
Teach him to listen to all men…
but teach him also to filter
all he hears on a screen of truth,
and take only the good
that comes through.

Teach him if you can,
how to laugh when he is sad…
Teach him there is no shame in tears,
Teach him to scoff at cynics
and to beware of too much sweetness…
Teach him to sell his brawn
and brain to the highest bidders
but never to put a price-tag
on his heart and soul.

Teach him to close his ears
to a howling mob
and to stand and fight
if he thinks he’s right.
Treat him gently,
but do not cuddle him,
because only the test
of fire makes fine steel.

Let him have the courage
to be impatient…
let him have the patience to be brave.
Teach him always
to have sublime faith in himself,
because then he will have
sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order,
but see what you can do…
He is such a fine little fellow,
my son!

~ Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln's letter to his son's teacher - Soliloquies - Source

NOTE: In his comments below, "Mauri" cites a source that refutes Lincoln's authorship of this letter. I haven't investigated it carefully myself, but readers are warned. Though the letter contains wonderful advice, it doesn't look very likely that Lincoln wrote it.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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mauri — 14 June 2007, 11:33

FYI - not written by Lincoln

Info below from: A father’s letter to his son’s teacher–II

Friday, July 07, 2006

ENGLISH PLAIN AND SIMPLE By Jose A. Carillo A father’s letter to his son’s teacher–II

In my previous column, I presented a letter supposedly written by Abraham Lincoln to his son’s teacher. The letter, contained in a poster displayed in the library of my sixth-grader son’s school, expressed in felicitous English some values that many parents devoutly wish their children would learn in school. As I found out to my dismay, however, Lincoln had not written that letter at all. An enterprising person had falsely appropriated the great man’s name to give more weight to the inspirational thoughts of some unknown writer.

I became suspicious because the letter’s language patterns sounded too modern for comfort. Their English certainly didn’t have the 1860s feel of Lincoln’s “Get­tysburg Address,” a high school recitation piece that I had memorized long, long ago. I therefore decided to check the letter’s authenticity with people knowledgeable about the American president and his writings.

Roger Norton, a retired American history teacher who maintains a very comprehensive web site on Lincoln, gave me this assessment: “I have been asked about this letter before, particularly from folks in India where the letter seems to have the widest circulation. There is no source for it. It is bogus. I have over 280 Abraham Lincoln books, including ‘The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln,’ and this letter is in none of them. It’s a thoughtful letter but it wasn’t really Lincoln who wrote it.”

James Gindlesperger, author of two American Civil War books, Fire on the Water and Escape from Libby Prison, made this appraisal: “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it looks like this is one of those things falsely attributed to Lincoln. Most historians agree that this letter was never written by Lincoln. The style of writing is not Lincoln’s and there is no record anywhere that indicates that he could have written this. Its real author is unknown.”

Cindy VanHorn, registrar of the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana, gave a similar appraisal: “Thank you for verifying this before publishing it. Abraham Lincoln did NOT write or speak these words. These phrases are not 19th century phrasing and definitely not Lincoln’s language patterns.”

The letter being decidedly spurious, how come that it had been memorialized into an educational poster? How come that it ended up on display unchallenged in the library of my son’s school and perhaps in many other places around the world?

As far as I can gather, the letter’s first recorded appearance was in the web site of the National Council for Teachers Education in New Delhi, India. This was reported by Thomas E. Scwartz in a bylined article, “Lincoln Never Said That,” for the Winter 2001 issue of For the People, the newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association. That web site no longer carries the letter, but its appearance there must have conferred legitimacy to it in education circles, for two years later, on January 22, 2003, The Tribune of India reported that a university vice-chancellor in the Punjab region, in a circular to teachers and students, had quoted extensively from the letter to justify a controversial amendment of a language usage rule. Among the quotes he invoked in Lincoln’s name: “Teach him to have faith in his own ideas even if everyone tells him they are wrong. Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd.”

So what do we do with this untenable state of affairs?

I think we have to decisively put an end to the spurious authorship attribution. I suggest that all copies of the poster be removed from educational or public display. Its very sensible advice need not be consigned to total oblivion, however, so the publishers of the piece can perhaps reissue it simply as “An Anonymous Father’s Letter to His Son’s Teacher.” After all, its timeless words of wisdom about educating children could very well stand on their own without guile or Lincoln.

[end of article]

Thanks for updating info on your website. Mauri

Brent — 15 June 2007, 20:14

Oh, that's interesting. Thanks so much for sharing that. I'll have a look.

sailaja — 16 August 2007, 12:38

Ohhhhh.....i love this poem and even recited this in tha assembly in my high school....!!!! even if it has not been penned by Abraham Lincoln I still love it and would want to know who wrote it...after all the credit must go the the right owner!!!!

Brent — 19 August 2007, 07:31

You are so right...it's a great poem--whoever wrote it.

nesta — 22 October 2007, 08:52

i love this

OCUBE — 03 December 2007, 11:53

THIS WORK IS A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION TO MY DAILY LIFE

OKORIE O — 03 December 2007, 12:02

HE IS SUCH AN INSPIRATIONAL ICON THAT CAN'T BE FORGOTTEN

ADEFUYE AKINS. — 11 January 2008, 06:16

The authencity of the author is irrelevant but the illumination of truth beamed by this letter. All teenagers should read this.

Brent — 11 January 2008, 09:09

Yeah, the words should not be ignored...though I'd like to know where credit should be given.

mazhar saeed pakistan — 11 January 2008, 10:15

the work done by annonymous person is remarkable and will prove source of encouragement for both parents and children for generations to come.

Ace — 19 January 2008, 20:17

I recited this poem for a recitation contest when i was 13 years old.....it was my first competition ever.....and i won the first prize.....To the real author.....great words to be told to kids early in life.......!!!!Bravo.....

The Aj's — 31 March 2008, 07:56

The code of Good leadership is to over come crowd, the less you're adviced, the more good leader you make.It doesn't mater who wrote it, but what maters is that its making impacte in peoples life for both the young and the aged.

tobechi okorie — 12 April 2008, 06:42

i have never seen a man whose words hit my heart as lincoln.he's my icon.he is a natural speech maker.

kevin ochuko okoro,delta state univ nigeria. — 05 May 2008, 07:42

its an inspirational saying and advice to the 20th century youth.take it as an advice irrespective of the writer.thanks

Professor Neil Garland — 11 May 2008, 01:05

Many quotes are atributed to Lincoln on the internet were never said by him. This one is clearly not Abraham Lincoln's style.

Obi Clem — 19 May 2008, 08:01

I love the letter from Abraham Lincoln,i wil show it to my son.

Tsepo Mohapi-Lerotholi Polytechnic ,Lesotho — 22 May 2008, 00:23
 I may agree whoever wrote it had the interligence of Lincoln.its fabulous,My kids are going to learn this.

Jimmy B. Nwadike — 04 June 2008, 05:06

he is great hero,which every one will like to be like him

Wiseone — 20 June 2008, 13:21

It's irrelevant, if it inspires then it should be. I actually once read this letter about a decade ago. Coincindentally and thanks to the power of the Internet I was able to do a search and can't wait to get it out and give my friend a copy. So, the author's identity is irrelevant, the message it passes should not be loss on such trifles.

Euniangel 4 real luv 2010 — 27 June 2008, 06:10

Waoh! What a wonderful writeup from a brave man which is so marvelous and encouraging for young ones like me