At age forty, Abraham Lincoln studied Euclid for training in reasoning, and as a traveling lawyer on horseback, kept a copy of Euclid’s Elements in his saddlebag. In his biography of Lincoln, his law partner Billy Herndon tells how late at night Lincoln would lie on the floor studying Euclid’s geometry by lamplight. Lincoln’s logical speeches and some of his phrases such as “dedicated to the proposition” in the Gettysburg address are attributed to his reading of Euclid.
Lincoln explains why he was motivated to read Euclid:
I consulted Webster’s Dictionary. They told of ‘certain proof,’ ‘proof beyond the possibility of doubt’; but I could form no idea of what sort of proof that was. I thought a great many things were proved beyond the possibility of doubt, without recourse to any such extraordinary process of reasoning as I understood demonstration to be. I consulted all the dictionaries and books of reference I could find, but with no better results. You might as well have defined blue to a blind man.
At last I said,- Lincoln, you never can make a lawyer if you do not understand what demonstrate means; and I left my situation in Springfield, went home to my father’s house, and stayed there till I could give any proposition in the six books of Euclid at sight. I then found out what demonstrate means, and went back to my law studies.”