Most children have big plans, and Jack Lincoln, grandson of the 16th president, had at least one such plan.
The second of three children and the only son of Robert and Mary Lincoln, he saw more from an early age than most children ever get to see. Born in Chicago in 1873, he moved at age 7 to Washington, D.C., when his father became Secretary of War under President James A. Garfield. In 1885 the Lincolns returned to Chicago, but 4 years later they moved to London, where his father served as U.S. Minister for President Benjamin Harrison.
Yet sadness followed this family. Jack’s grandmother Mary Lincoln died in Springfield while he lived in Washington; so did his mother’s mother, Ann Eliza Harlan, two years later. Of course he never knew his grandfather the president, but because he was named for him — Abraham Lincoln II, always called ‘Jack’ — he had the right to sign his name exactly as his forebear did: A. Lincoln.
And so he did, to the amusement and confusion of his friends, in a hand very close to that of the president. The evidence we have of this are 14 books in the Presidential Library collection that belonged to the boy. Most of these are signed in a way that could fool the historically unsure, since all were published after 1865.
Oliver Optic’s books, including Outward Bound (1866); Shamrock and Thistle (1867); Red Cross (1867); Dikes and Ditches (1868); Through by Daylight (1869); Going South (1879); Up the River (1881) seem to have been his main target. He bought them new or used. Optic was the nom de plume of William T. Adams of Boston, a highly productive and successful author in the early days of children’s series-lit. These edu-tales took youngsters to foreign settings (Ireland and Scotland for Shamrock, e.g., Holland and Belgium for Dikes) or coastal yachting (Going South) or driving a train (Through by Daylight). This last book even mentions baseball, one of the earliest such books.
Another pair bear a similar flavor: Capt. Mayne Reid, The Plant Hunters and Stories About Animals, both of which Jack signed in 1884. Reid was a British military man who wrote tales about Africa and other exotic places.
Jack’s friend Dick Hatton gave him a Christmas present in 1883 in a like vein: Horatio Alger’s The Young Circus Rider (1883). Jack, or rather his parents, saved his Model First Reader (J. R. Webb, 1873), in which he pencilled his Chicago and Washington addresses in an unsteady young hand.
More interestingly, Jack took over two books not quite his. William M. Thayer wrote the first children’s book about President Lincoln, The Pioneer Boy (1863), whence comes much of our log-cabin-to-White House national mythos. This was translated into Greek in 1865 and mailed to President Lincoln by the translator, arriving just after his death. Jack later claimed it from his own father’s library. So, too, the Hawaiian translation (1869).
And those big plans? Jack numbered most of these books, with a shelf-mark used by large collectors who need to know exactly where in their library to find each item. The Optic books at the ALPLM are numbered a2, a11, and a13-17; the Thayer books are e13 and e14. These marks give clues to the likelihood of at least 3 other shelves of books in Jack’s bedroom.
But the hundreds or thousands of books that world-trotting Jack Lincoln might have hoped to amass over his lifetime never reached that level. He died in London in March 1890, age 16, of an infection that today would be cleared by a simple shot. Robert Lincoln knew then that the surname ‘Lincoln’ would die with him (1926, it turned out). But books and signatures live on.