Lincoln's Birthday: Rumors Of His Business Failures Are Greatly Exaggerated

Was Lincoln really a failed small-business owner?

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Happy 200th, Abraham Lincoln. If he were still around, Abe might be too happy to know that he's remembered today almost as much for his failures as for his successes. Probably starting in classrooms at young ages, we've all heard the inspirational story about how Lincoln failed at almost every aspect of his life before becoming president. And one of those failures was that he was a failed businessman.

A quick Google search finds the same meme all over the web:

* 1832 Lost job Defeated for state legislature 
* 1833 Failed in business 
* 1835 Sweetheart died   
* 1836 Had nervous breakdown
* 1838 Defeated for Speaker
* 1843 Defeated for nomination for Congress   
* 1848 Lost renomination 
* 1849 Rejected for land officer
* 1854 Defeated for U.S. Senate 
* 1856 Defeated for nomination for Vice President   
* 1858 Again defeated for U.S. Senate   
* 1860 Elected President 

But it is fair to say that he "failed in business?" Mythbuster says otherwise:

The statement that Lincoln "failed in business" in 1831 is another misleading claim, because it implies that he was the owner or operator of the failed business, or at least was otherwise responsible for its failure. None of this is true. Lincoln left his father's home for good in 1831 and, along with his cousin John Hanks, took a flatboat full of provisions down the Mississippi River from Illinois to New Orleans on behalf of a "bustling, none too scrupulous businessman" named Denton Offutt. Offutt planned to open a general store, and he promised to make Lincoln its manager when Abraham returned from New Orleans. Lincoln operated the store as Offutt's clerk and assistant for several months (and by all accounts did a fine job of it) until Offutt, a poor businessman, overextended himself financially and ran it into the ground. Thus by the spring of 1832 Lincoln had indeed "lost his job," but not because he had "failed in business."

So the business venture with Offutt wasn't very entrepreneurial for Lincoln. But he did later get an Illinois state liquor license and start a whiskey-selling business, running a tavern out of New Salem, Illinois. But Lincoln never made a fortune at this business, partly because the temperance movement was on the upswing in the 1830s, and he had abandoned the business for law by 1837. But the record still stands that at least for a short time, Lincoln did run a business that wasn't a "failure."

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