Saturday, October 26, 2019

Would Abe Lincoln Text?

Recently discovered! Abe's Facebook photo circa 1861
I sent a friend of mine this funny picture a couple weeks ago.  Like me, he's a history junkie, and in particular loves American history.  I thought he'd get a laugh out of Abraham Lincoln's recently discovered Facebook picture from 1861 (undoubtedly found in the Lincoln Presidential Library's archive in Springfield, IL). He did get a good laugh, but he said something extraordinary when he responded.  He said, "I think Abe would have hated a lot of the technology we have today.  I sure can't see him sending a text or using Twitter--can you?"

What? Are you kidding?  Actually, yes I can!

Our culture often sees Abraham Lincoln as a backwoods log-spliting hillbilly, but that couldn't be further from the truth.  Abraham Lincoln embraced new technologies of his day. He had a keen intellect, and was said to possess a mechanical mind. He was fascinated by how things worked, and how to use new technologies and inventions to make life better and easier for people.  In fact, Abe is the only President in our history that held a patent.  Long before he was President, Abe patented a technology that would raise a riverboat up on floats to help it navigate over shoals in the river. Rivers were the main source of transportation and commerce at the time, and navigating them was often a huge challenge--especially where the rivers were narrow, and the water level wasn't deep enough for the large barges and riverboats to pass. 

So he was technology minded.  But would Lincoln text or Twitter? 

Sure he would.  In fact, he did--at least his generation's early version of that technology called the telegraph.  It was a new technology at the time, which used electricity to transmit messages over long distances instantly.  And keep in mind, even electricity at the time the telegraph came out was seen as some kind of science magic in itself.  It had been known about since Ben Franklin's time--it was interesting, but not seen as particularly useful.  So the idea of using electricity to transmit messages hundreds of miles in seconds was awe-inspiring to most Americans. 

Abe Lincoln's Boat Bouy Technology: Patent No. 6,469 Issued 1849
Abe was absolutely fascinated by the telegraph when he first saw one in use in 1857.  When Abe arrived at the White House, it didn't have a telegraph office.  It was something that was soon added, and Lincoln didn't use it much in the beginning, but as the Civil War began, he realized what an amazing and useful tool it was for a Commander in Chief to have.  He spent hours sitting in the tiny telegraph room with his telegraph officer sending messages, and waiting for news back from his Generals.  It was the communications marvel of the day--and Lincoln had quickly seen that.  Embracing it, as Lincoln did, gave the North a decided advantage.

But that wasn't Lincoln's only interest in technology.  Weapons technology of the day was antiquated--the rifles hadn't changed very much since the Revolutionary War.  Lincoln's interest in new and better weapons technologies was well documented.  In fact, he tested at least a few new rifles right on the front lawn of the White House, including the Spencer seven-shot rifle and carbine.  He even tested a "coffee mill gun" which was an early version of a hand-cranked machine gun.  Gatling would later perfect the concept, but too late--contrary to Hollywood portrayals where they popped up in almost every scene, the Gatling Gun saw very limited use on the battlefields of the Civil War.

It's not a stretch by any means to say that Lincoln would be pretty amazed at the level of technology we have today, but I could see him using any technology that he found useful.  I definitely think he'd text if it had been available during the Civil War.  Maybe something like this:

Abraham Lincoln: Now that the South has surrendered, just take their weapons, give them an oath and make them promise not to shoot at us anymore, and send them home.

Ulysess Grant:  LOL!  Good one Mr. President!

Lincoln: No really . . .

Grant:  You sure?

Lincoln: Do it!  Gotta go.  Mary Todd got theater tickets.  I hate theater.  I told her this is the last play I'm ever going to.

You can send your complaints about that last joke to

~Todd E. Creason

Originally published in 2013


  1. When I toured Lincon's Springfield home a few years ago, the guide pointed out a contraption in the parlor. It was a wooden box maybe 10" wide and 16" square. As I recall it was some form of projector and was a toy for his children. The guide told us it was quite a high-tech device for its day and was the equivalent then of having a PC in the home.

  2. Hilarious! But insightful great piece!