Abraham Lincoln was highly conscious of the importance of education. His first political statement in 1832 emphasized education. He said it was the "most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in." Mr. Lincoln was painfully aware of his own educational deficiencies and devoted his life to filling in some of the gaps such as a mid-life attention to the principles of Euclid and a later careful study of the principles followed by the Founders of the American Republic.
Mr. Lincoln tied education to two other principles which were even more central to his political philosophy: liberty and work. In September 1859, President Lincoln addressed the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society: "The old general rule was that educated people did not perform manual labor. They managed to eat their bread, leaving the toil of producing it to the uneducated. This was not an insupportable evil to the working bees, so long as the class of drones remained very small. But now, especially in these free States, nearly all are educated quite too nearly all, to leave the labor of the uneducated, in any wise adequate to the support of the whole. It follows from this that henceforth educated people must labor. Otherwise, education itself would become a positive and intolerable evil. No country can sustain, in idleness, more than a small percentage of its numbers. The great majority must labor at something productive."
Education, like work, requires effort. But both are crucial rungs on the ladder of opportunity. In eulogizing fellow Kentuckian Henry Clay in 1852, Mr. Lincoln said: "Mr. Clay's lack of a more perfect early education, however it may be regretted generally, teaches at least one profitable lesson; it teaches that in this country, one can scarcely be so poor, but that, if he will, he can acquire sufficient education to get through the world respectably." The Lehrman Institute encourages educational institutions which share Mr. Lincoln's values of the fundamental worth of work, study, and achievement.