Can you imagine that Abraham Lincoln, probably the most significant American president ever, was a wrestler? No? Most people can't wrap their heads around this interesting fact either.
Abraham Lincoln's wrestling career is not something many people remember with regard to the iconic statesman. Today, his stovepipe hat is probably more popular than this part of his life.
During his days as a wrestler, the former president was one of the best in the sport. He loved wrestling and once made an open challenge to a stunned crowd of wrestling fans after beating a man with a single toss:
"Any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns!"
Naturally, nobody took him up on his offer. That said, despite being a proud wrestler, he was also a humble person who often showed kindness even to his fiercest opponents.
With that, here's everything you need to know about Abraham Lincoln's wrestling career.
Abraham Lincoln Was A Formidable Wrestler
Abraham Lincoln's wrestling career might sound like a myth to some, but it was very real. In fact, he was not the only person in his family to succeed in this sport. His uncle Mord was also famous for his wrestling prowess.
Abraham Lincoln's wrestling career started when he was nine and ended when he was 21. At his peak, Lincoln was a very formidable opponent.
He was 6 feet 4 inches tall with a weight of about 180 pounds, and he was also incredibly strong. At the time, a man of his size would be comparable to a man of about 6 feet 10 inches today.
Despite his wiry gait, Lincoln had built a lot of strength through manual labor as a farmer and rail-splitter.
Abraham Lincoln's Wrestling Career Made Him A Hero In New Salem
One of Lincoln's most famous matches took place in 1831 when he worked as a clerk in a general store in New Salem, Illinois. His reputation grew quickly after the store owner, Offutt, started boasting that Lincoln could take on any opponent from the area.
Soon enough, the local wrestling champion and known bully, Jake Armstrong, challenged Lincoln to a bout. Armstrong and his boys were popular for their mean pranks, which included putting newcomers in barrels and rolling them down a hill.
The match got a lot of publicity, and many people showed up to watch the showdown. At first, Lincoln was reluctant to participate in the match, but he was later persuaded to engage in the bout.
Lincoln was actually a little younger than Armstrong, but he had a few physical advantages. To begin with, Lincoln was 10 inches taller, which means Armstrong had a shorter reach.
Not long into the match, Armstrong sensed inevitable defeat and tripped Lincoln, which was a dirty tactic. Lincoln did not like the underhanded move and shook Armstrong like a rag with rage after this move.
The bout was declared a draw, and Lincoln was furious that his opponent had broken the rules but did not insist on a rematch. Lincoln would have won in a rematch, and his opponent realized this and claimed that Lincoln was the "best fella that ever broke into this settlement."
Lincoln also impressed people with his humility. The two actually ended up becoming great friends. When Armstrong's son was on trial for murder more than two decades later, Lincoln represented him as an attorney and won the case.
This match in Abraham Lincoln's wrestling career made him a legend. Due to this single bout, he had turned himself into a brave and strong hero and a fair yet principled man who could stand up to bullies.
Abraham Lincoln's Only Loss As A Wrestler
The only man to spoil Abraham Lincoln's wrestling career was Lorenzo Dow Thompson, who managed to throw him. This was the only loss in the 300 bouts he had in his wrestling career.
Still, it was not an easy win for Thompson, and he only managed the feat after many desperate tries. Although he could have gotten away with claiming the match was a draw, Lincoln insisted that Thompson had won and said that the man could wrestle a bear.
The wrestling match took place in 1832, during the Black Hawk War. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln was so successful that he was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Abraham Lincoln's Wrestling Career And His Political Success
Some people believe that Abraham Lincoln's wrestling career helped him meet with greater success as a politician. Lincoln did not win in his first attempt to get into the Illinois state legislature in 1832. Still, in the local community of New Salem, where he was famous as a wrestler, he had an overwhelming majority of the votes.
The second time he tried again two years later, he was the second out of 14 contestants, indicating that his reputation grew. His wrestling career was partly the reason he did so well in the campaign.
At the time, politicians had to demonstrate that they were both brave and strong, and wrestling gave Lincoln both of these attributes. Ironically, his opponent, Stephen Douglas, brought up Lincoln's wrestling past during a political debate in 1858, boosting his reputation. Douglas explained that Lincoln could beat "any of the boys at wrestling."
This statement served Abraham Lincoln well during his 1860 presidential campaign. Some people think that his ability to identify weaknesses as a wrestler gave him an edge as a politician as well.
Unfortunately, his political career came to an abrupt stop at the age of 56 after John Wilkes Booth assassinated him.
Later Political Success Dwarfed Abraham Lincoln's Wrestling Career
Ultimately, Lincoln ended up becoming one of the greatest presidents in history. Even though Abraham Lincoln's wrestling career was quite a success, his impact as a politician was even more significant, which is why most people have probably never heard of his wrestling career.
As surprising as Abraham Lincoln's wrestling career might be to some people, what's even more surprising is that he was not the only head of state who had a wrestling career.
George Washington was also a master of a British wrestling style known as collar and elbow. Other presidents who had tried their hand at this sport include Andrew Jackson, Chester A. Arthur, Zachary Taylor, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ulysses S. Grant.
The fact that Abraham Lincoln's wrestling career was not the highlight of his life proves just how successful he was as a politician, public speaker, and writer.