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Presidential Debt: Abraham Lincoln and His Personal Debt

Abraham LincolnDon’t beat yourself up over the credit problems you have – even our greatest leaders have found themselves in drowning in debt and owing money. In this series celebrating Presidents’ Day, we’ll be taking a look at how the nation’s greatest leaders tried to get themselves out of debt and sought debt solutions for their own personal finances, as well as the debt of the country. While credit cards were not around, credit problems certainly were.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president and one of the greatest orators in our nation’s history, took a gamble on a village store in 1832, purchasing a shop in New Salem, Ill. with his partner, William Berry. Unfortunately, Lincoln did not have the necessary down payment and needed to borrow to pay his half. Less than a year later, the new store failed, leaving him at a loss at how to pay off his debt. When Berry died in 1835, Lincoln assumed his partner’s debt, increasing the amount he owed to $1,000, which is roughly $27,000 in current currency.

To pay off the debts, with a closed store and no other source of income, Lincoln took a new position as the New Salem postmaster. He also began working as a surveyor, lawyer, and as a state legislator. It’s unknown exactly how long it took to pay off the debt, which he jokingly referred to as his “national debt,” but it took him at least several years.

Unfortunately for Lincoln, he later married a shopaholic who drove herself into insurmountable debt… more on that next week, and how Mary Todd Lincoln’s compulsive shopping overtook the White House.

What lessons about debt reduction can we learn from Honest Abe? Work hard, and don’t expect the debt to go away overnight. Lincoln had to work several jobs to save enough money to pay off these debts, and he lived simply while doing so. This was also not without emotional sacrifice – during these years, Lincoln suffered from bouts of depression (much of which was caused by several failed romances and the death of a friend). But eventually, he got out from under his debt, and became one of the most revered leaders in our history.

Getting out of debt isn’t easy. If you are worried about your consumer debt and are in need of debt assistance, reach out for help and find out what your options are.

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