New Lincoln math pages suggest more education

Jun 08, 2013 by David Mercer
This undated photo provided by permission of the Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., shows one of two pages (call number MS Am 1326) from the library's archives that Illinois State University math professors Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements on Friday, June 7, 2013, confirmed as two new pages to add to the math notebook believed to be the oldest surviving document written by Abraham Lincoln. The pages are from the 1820s. Lincoln's stepmother gave the notebook to Lincoln law partner William Herndon after the 16th president's death. (AP Photo/With permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University)

Two math-notebook pages recently authenticated as belonging to Abraham Lincoln suggest the 16th president, who was known to downplay his formal education, may have spent more time in school than usually thought.

And the Illinois State University math professors behind the discovery say the work shows Lincoln was no slouch, either.

Math professors Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements said Friday at the university in Normal that they'd recently confirmed that the two pages were part of a previously known math notebook from Lincoln's childhood. It was found in the archives of Houghton Library at Harvard University, where it remains.

The book, known as a cyphering book in Lincoln's day, is a sort math workbook in which Lincoln wrote and their answers. It's the oldest known Lincoln manuscript.

Based on the difficulty of the problems involved and dates on some of the pages—1824 and, on the recently authenticated pages, 1826, when Lincoln was 17—Lincoln likely worked in the book intermittently over several calendar years while his family lived in Indiana, the married professors said. They think he could have started as early as the age of 10 and believe his work happened while he was in school.

"Most people say he went to school for anything between three months and nine months" over the course of his life, Clements said. "We think he went to school (up to) two years."

And very little of the work is wrong, he added.

"He made very few errors, and he always knew what he was trying to do," Clements added. "We've studied thousands of these cyphering books. You don't always get the feeling that 'this guy knew what he was doing.'"

The professors' find suggests Lincoln may have gone to school over as many as three to five winters, according to historian Daniel Stowell, director of the Papers of project at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. The library owns one previously identified page of the book.

"They are arguing with some merit that a cyphering book would have been created in a school setting," Stowell said. "It does at least open the possibility that he may have had more formal schooling than originally thought. Not a whole lot more, but still more."

This undated photo provided by permission of the Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., shows one of two pages from the library's archives (call number MS Am 1326) that Illinois State University math professors Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements on Friday, June 7, 2013 confirmed as two new pages to add to the math notebook believed to be the oldest surviving document written by Abraham Lincoln. The pages are from the 1820s. Lincoln's stepmother gave the notebook to Lincoln law partner William Herndon after the 16th president's death. (AP Photo/With permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University)

The pages—attached as a single leaf—include word problems that are the equivalent of roughly eighth-grade modern work, Clements said.

"If 100 dollars in one year gain 3½ dollars interest, what sum will gain $38.50 cents in one year and a quarter?" one reads.

Any student doing such work in the 1820s would have been more advanced than most on the frontier in Indiana, Clements said.

"If you got to that stage, you'd sort of done well," he said.

Lincoln is known to have later studied trigonometry and geometry on his own.

The newly authenticated have been in the Harvard library's archives since 1954. They were known as Lincoln documents, but their origin wasn't known, the professors said. The two looked at the documents as they researched a book they've written on books from the period.

A letter from former Lincoln law partner William Herndon from 1875 that accompanied the papers, describing them, made the authentication relatively straightforward, Clements said.

Lincoln's stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, gave the cyphering book to Herndon after Lincoln's death, and Herndon then gave them to other people, Stowell said.

Explore further: Best of Last Week – quantum pigeonholing, a hoverbike drone project and the sun goes quiet

3.7 /5 (7 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Report of first doctor to reach shot Lincoln found

Jun 05, 2012

(AP) — The first doctor to reach President Abraham Lincoln after he was shot in a Washington theater rushed to his ceremonial box and found him paralyzed, comatose and leaning against his wife. Dr. Charles Leale ordered ...

New genetic disorder of balance and cognition discovered

Dec 07, 2012

The family of disorders known as ataxia can impair speech, balance and coordination, and have varying levels of severity. Scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh have identified a new member of this group ...

Lincoln may have had rare genetic disease

Nov 26, 2007

A California doctor who studies rare ailments said Abraham Lincoln was probably dying of cancer from a rare genetic syndrome at the time he was assassinated.

Researchers solve mystery of Lincoln's funeral train

Apr 26, 2013

With the 2015 sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's death approaching, interest in it is rising, and with new scientific tools, UA researchers have turned their attention to one of the last remaining mysteries ...

Recommended for you

How to win a Tour de France sprint

Jul 22, 2014

The final dash to the line in a Tour de France sprint finish may appear to the bystander to be a mess of bodies trying to cram into the width of a road, but there is a high degree of strategy involved. It ...

User comments : 13

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2013
"If 100 dollars in one year gain 3½ dollars interest, what sum will gain $38.50 cents in one year and a quarter?" one reads.

Any student doing such work in the 1820s would have been more advanced than most on the frontier in Indiana, Clements said.


It is a tricky question, because it doesn't specify whether you're talking about compound interest. I.e whether you calculate that 3.5% interest only for the original deposited sum, or for the compounding sum.

One way you could calculate that 100 dollars for 1.25 years earns you $4.375 so if you earn $38.50 you must have deposited a sum that was 8.8 times greater than $100. That's just multiplication and division, and that's trivial to do on paper.

But if you have to take into account compound interest, you actually have to calculate 1.035 to the power of 1.25 which gives you a profit of approximately $4.394 and subsequently the original sum was 8.76 times a hundred dollars. That's not trivial to do on paper due to the exponent.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2013
Or, if you specify that the interest on the money is paid yearly, then you have to calculate a 3.5% interest for a sum of $103.50 which is what you have after one year, and then divide it by four to get the compound interest for the quarter year - then compare that to the given amount to find the size of the original deposit.

So there's at least three different ways you can understand the question.
nkalanaga
not rated yet Jun 08, 2013
True, but compound interest wasn't common at that period, for the simple reason that calculating it was beyond the skills of most bankers.

The third way would be practical, and is what would have been done for savings accounts, since the interest would now be part of the principle. It wouldn't be done on a loan IF the interest was actually paid each year, but if the borrower was in arrears, it would make sense.

Calculating the exponents isn't trivial, but it also isn't that hard, if you have a slide rule or log tables. I doubt that Lincoln could afford a slide rule, but even in the 1970s, math textbooks included log tables.
DruidDrudge
1 / 5 (6) Jun 08, 2013
although not needed, Lincoln could most surely "afford" a slide rule.
MikeBowler
not rated yet Jun 08, 2013
it's simple, start with $100 and by the end of the year you have $103.50, so it's 3.5%, knowing that the sum is simple $38.5 x 0.035% or $3.85 x 0.35% both equal $1.3475 which of course you round up to $1.35
beleg
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 08, 2013
Internal banking always uses a compounded interest taken to the limit that has a smaller amount of deposit size than of the original deposit from patrons of a bank.

The difference is booked as a bank's capital gain.
No one is the wiser.
Not even Abe.
To this day.
ThomasQuinn
not rated yet Jun 09, 2013
True, but compound interest wasn't common at that period, for the simple reason that calculating it was beyond the skills of most bankers.


Nice try, but simply not true. It's was already an established part of the mathematics curriculum when Richard Witt's "Arithmeticall Questions" was published in 1613.

Lincoln's downplaying of his education (admittedly, mostly the downplaying of Lincoln's education by others) was part of a larger strategy to get him elected at a time when learning and intelligence in a president were equated with East Coast corruption (as opposed to equally omnipresent frontier corruption, but that aside), as had been the strategy for all major parties in the U.S. since the 1840-elections. In 1860, this was especially important because the grossly incompetent Buchanan was a highly experienced and not unlearned man, and because Stephen Douglas was also an establishment character.
VendicarE
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 09, 2013
It is interesting to see that Lincoln had a better education than War Criminal George Bush Jr.
freethinking
1.4 / 5 (10) Jun 09, 2013
Interesting that there is more proof and records that Lincoln was educated than Obama!

Wonder if we will ever see any of Obama's school records?
VendicarE
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 09, 2013
"Interesting that there is more proof and records that Lincoln was educated than Obama!" - FreeTard

UC Law School statement: The Law School has received many media requests about Barack Obama, especially about his status as "Senior Lecturer." From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year. Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors, although not full-time or tenure-track. The title of Senior Lecturer is distinct from the title of Lecturer, which signifies adjunct status. Like Obama, each of the Law School's Senior Lecturers have high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined.
VendicarE
3 / 5 (4) Jun 09, 2013
FreeTard seems to think that as a "free thinker" he is free to fabricate his own facts.

Moron.
geokstr
1.6 / 5 (7) Jun 10, 2013
It is interesting to see that Lincoln had a better education than War Criminal George Bush Jr.

Yes, of course. Bush merely had an MBA from Harvard, so he must have been really stupid. Funny how when his grades were leaked, they turned out to be better than those of alGore, who flunked out of Divinity school. (How does one do that? All you have to do is think up creative ways to say "goddidit".) Bush's grades were better than Kerry's too.

As for the Supreme LightBringer, the greatest intelligence in the history of mankind, if he really had these unbelievably high grades, he would have been shouting them from the rooftops in his elections, non? But, non.

I'm more interested in seeing his theses, what classes he took and who taught them, since in his own (allegedly) autohagiography he says the sought out the Marxist professors. His applications might be interesting, too. He's never explained how an admitted slacker got into these premiere schools and who paid for it all.
freethinking
1 / 5 (8) Jun 10, 2013
Conservatives generally are smarter than Progressives, which is why conservatives in universities gravitate to hard sciences and business. Progressives are lied to in universities because they gravitate to the humanities which don't believe in truth, and since they don't question authority they actually believe they are smart, without again proof.