Lincoln’s Watch: A Symbol of Social Status


Born in a log cabin on the Kentucky frontier, Abraham Lincoln rose from his humble beginnings to become president of the United States.  Before becoming the politician we now remember, a young Lincoln worked various jobs as a farmhand, ferryboat operator, store clerk, and surveyor.  Lincoln first entered politics at the age of twenty-five, serving as a state legislator in Illinois.  After studying law, Lincoln earned his license and began his law career—a profession he planned to resume following his presidency. 


Lincoln’s career path ultimately earned him a place in middle-class society.  He purchased a home in Springfield, Illinois, where he, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and their four sons lived.  Lincoln’s professional success afforded his family more material comforts.  In the 1850s Lincoln spent $1,300 to expand his house.  Afterwards, a New York reporter described the home as “a handsome but not pretentious double, two story frame house, having a wide hall running through the center, with parlors on both sides but not ostentatiously furnished.”


While not a rich man compared to many of his fellow politicians, Lincoln maintained a comfortable lifestyle.  His purchase of personal items, such as this pocket watch, illustrate the status to which he had risen in society.  As Lincoln had worked his way up from his frontier roots, he believed that others should have the same opportunity.  Lincoln also believed that a man should be entitled to reap the fruits of his labor—an argument he later used to condemn the institution of slavery.    


Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch with chain and fob

Kentucky Historical Society Collections