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Letter to George Latham

Abraham Lincoln wrote this now-classic letter of encouragement to a close friend of his son Robert. Both boys had been raised in Springfield, Illinois, attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and were Harvard hopefuls. Several months later, both would travel with the president-elect on his inaugural journey. Robert eventually was graduated from Harvard, while George studied at Yale for two years.

The letter reveals Lincoln's concern for a boy whose father died several years before, as well as his own passion for education and determination to persevere. At first glance, the pain referred to seems overstated, but probably not to a man who carved out his own education by great effort and lacked the finances to attend prep school or college.

Springfield, Ills. July 22, 1860

My dear George

I have scarcely felt greater pain in my life than on learning yesterday from Bob's letter, that you failed to enter Harvard University. And yet there is very little in it, if you will allow no feeling of discouragement to seize, and prey upon you. It is a certain truth, that you can enter, and graduate in, Harvard University; and having made the attempt, you must succeed in it. "Must" is the word.

I know not how to aid you, save in the assurance of one of mature age, and much severe experience, that you can not fail, if you resolutely determine, that you will not.

The President of the institution, can scarcely be other than a kind man; and doubtless he would grant you an interview, and point out the readiest way to remove, or overcome, the obstacles which have thwarted you.

In your temporary failure there is no evidence that you may not yet be a better scholar, and a more successful man in the great struggle of life, than many others, who have entered college more easily.

Again I say let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.

With more than a common interest I subscribe myself Very truly your friend,

A. Lincoln.


Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.

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