A review of Rebirthing Lincoln, A Biography (Southern Books, 2021) by Howard Ray White
I have always been skeptical of historical mysteries. We know that there have been people who claimed to be the French Dauphin and the Russian Princess Anastatia, who somehow survived their reported demise. At least six people claimed to be Jesse James, and there are those who believe that Hitler escaped to Bolivia. Ludicrously, there was some fool or impostor who claimed that Abraham Lincoln’s natural father was John C. Calhoun, an absurdity.
Howard White’s fourteenth book, however, has convinced me that he has the real story about Lincoln’s origins. White has racked up an extraordinary record as a War between the States historian, notable for exhaustive research and unique perspectives.
There is no documentary record of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Generally people have traced out every President’s origins back many generations and centuries, but for Lincoln almost nothing has been established even about grandparents. The accepted Lincoln story is a birth date of February 12, 1809 to parents Thomas Lincoln and his wife Nancy Hanks. The evidence for this was written in a newly purchased Bible by Lincoln himself more than forty years after the fact (1852—1853) when Lincoln’s political career was getting a new start.
In fact, Lincoln was born in Rutherford County in western North Carolina, the illegitimate child of the illegitimate servant girl Nancy Hanks and a prosperous married landowner Abraham Enloe. Abraham Lincoln was already a toddler when his mother married Thomas Lincoln in Kentucky.
Abraham never visited Thomas Lincoln after he left home. Thomas Lincoln was never introduced to Abraham’s wife and children. Abraham refused to attend Thomas’s deathbed or funeral. Thomas Lincoln was short, stocky, and somewhat lethargic, while Abraham was notable for his height, long arms and legs, and energy. Neither the Hankses nor the Lincoln family had ever shown any above average intelligence or enterprise.
Enter Abraham Enloe who was a successful man for his time and place, as were his forebears on both sides. In fact, he owned a few slaves. White marshals exhaustive material for his case, most of which I am leaving for the reader.
Two things convince me. Comparing a photo of Abraham and his probable half-brother Wesley Enloe. They never met but both have the unusually long arms and legs that everyone noticed about Lincoln. The second thing is that everybody who has studied Lincoln knows about his ruthless, relentless, and devious political ambition. Covering up illegitimacy was natural for such a man. Even if fear of disclosure perhaps had less influence on Lincoln’s conduct than the author thinks.