You may know Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States, the man with the stovepipe hat, or the free-er of slaves during the Civil War. But did you know that four score and seven years ago he was also a wrestler? In this article you will learn why the man on the penny is the most badass president who ever served this country, so let’s jump into Abraham Lincoln’s wrestling career.
Humble Beginnings: Kicking Butt in Kentucky
Honest Abe may be the most famous Kentucky wrestler in the history of the United States. Technically he is a part of Illinois wrestling history, too. That’s because Abe Lincoln was born in Kentucky but moved to Illinois in 1830, with a move to Indiana in between.
Since Abe was born in the 1800’s, you may be wondering how he is even considered a wrestler since high school and college wrestling didn’t even exist back then. It’s true that wrestling wasn’t very organized, it was mostly just a show of strength. But there were competitions among men. Crowds gathered and townspeople watched and gambled as the toughest men took each other on in different styles of wrestling. A popular style at the time was collar and elbow, in which each wrestler started out face-to-face with one hand on the neck in a collar tie and the other on the elbow.
Every town had its own wrestling champion. Abe started out wrestling at a young age when the owner of the shop where he worked started to promote his wrestling prowess to attract visitors to his store. As his stats grew he began to attract attention and this led to his most incredible wrestling feat, which came in the 1830’s.
Lincoln vs. Armstrong: The Pinnacle of Abe’s Wrestling Career
Lincoln’s wrestling career hit a peak when he took on the local wrestling champion in Salem, Illinois: Jack Armstrong. It may not have been as big as Dake vs. Burroughs at the 2020 Olympic Trials, but this was the biggest bout of the 1800s.
Armstrong challenged the 21 year old Lincoln as the townspeople watched. Abe was winning the match when Armstrong started cheating. Abe, being the honest man that he was, had enough and picked up and slammed Armstrong to win the match. After he won, Armstrong’s boys started coming to fight Abe, but Armstrong called them off. As an athlete of immense class, Armstrong took the defeat and ended up becoming lifelong friends with Lincoln. This real-life moment was depicted in the movie Abe Lincoln in Illinois.
The Trash Talking Tycoon
Abe’s wrestling style was unique because of his long reach. He had a lot of height on his opponents, considering he was 6’4” tall. And he was also a trash talker on the mat, or more accurately, in the streets.
After one match he looked to the crowd of wrestling fans and said “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.” Nobody took his challenge. Although he was from Kentucky, this seems like a very Iowa Wrestling thing to do if you ask me. Lincoln would have fit in very well with guys like Austin DeSanto and Thomas Gilman.
Lincoln’s Only Career Loss in 12 Years
As Lincoln’s career as a lawyer and eventual politician started, he still continued his wrestling career and claimed over 300 victories. But with every champion, there is a rival to test his skills. If Abe Lincoln was the Dan Gable of the 1800’s, then Hank Thompson was his Larry Owings, giving Lincoln his only defeat in 12 years. The loss came during the Black Hawk War in 1832 while Abe was a part of the Illinois Volunteers.
Thompson beat him for the regimental championship and was noted as the only man to throw the eventual Commander in Arms. Lincoln’s supporters were infuriated, but Lincoln humbly took the loss with honor. This led many Americans to follow his leadership as he ran for political office in the years to come.
How Wrestling Shaped Lincoln’s Political Career
Lincoln’s wrestling skills did not leave him when he started running for office. During the General Assembly election, a man in the crowd started causing trouble with one of Lincoln’s friends– see it happened back then too! Lincoln came down off of the stage, grabbed the man, and reportedly threw him 12 feet, then came back to the podium and continued his speech. Can you imagine if a political candidate did that nowadays?!
Honest Abe had a legendary wrestling career and that reputation carried into his run for President. Many of his wrestling fans became his most avid supporters and got him elected as the 16th President of the United States of America. With all of the support he has, maybe Spencer Lee should consider a run for office in a few years?
Lincoln’s Legacy Carries into Today’s World
While Abe is most known for the Gettysburg address and his freeing of the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation, we should also look to Lincoln as an incredible wrestler. And his legacy continues on in the wrestling world today in a wrestling town called Lincoln, Nebraska, which was named after the President following his assassination in 1865.
The town of Lincoln carries on his legacy since one of the best competitors in the modern era of wrestling attended college there and may not be able to compete in today’s society if not for Lincoln’s valiant efforts to free the slaves during his time in office. You may know this Olympic and World Champion as Jordan Burroughs.
Abraham Lincoln deserves to be recognized as one of the top wrestlers this world has seen, and that’s why he was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame as an Outstanding Wrestler in 1992.