- The Railsplitter
Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life
Lincoln’s backwoods upbringing remained part of his identity as he left the frontier to seek a new life as a gentleman lawyer and political leader.
Detail from a life-size oil portrait painted for Lincoln's presidential campaign in 1860. Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum
The initials “A L” appear on one side of the wedge. John Spears, a neighbor, recalled the day Lincoln went to a blacksmith shop and asked to have his initials cut into the wedge. The blacksmith hesitated, claiming he was “no scholar.” Lincoln borrowed the tools and marked the wedge himself.
The delegates wildly cheered the theatrics, and Lincoln handily won the nomination. One observer noted, “That banner was to be the ‘Battle flag’ in the coming contest between ‘labor free’ and ‘labor slave,’ between democracy and aristocracy.” In that moment, Lincoln became a symbol of the self-made frontiersman and representative of honest, enterprising labor.