Abraham Lincoln: president ... and wrestler?

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November 09, 2012

But this match wasn’t in front of more than 90,000 fans in the Pontiac Silverdome. The bout likely took place near Offutt’s store. “It was in an opening in a grove of trees,” White said. “There would often be wrestling matches or political speeches in a clearing or grove of trees.”

Lincoln had the clear physical advantage in the match. “Armstrong was eight or 10 inches shorter, but had the reputation that he could lick anybody,” White said. When the match began, the gang leader struggled to keep up with the much larger Lincoln due to his much shorter reach. “They started out in various prescribed holds. They locked up and began to wrestle with a sequence of maneuvers.”

Various accounts have Armstrong sensing defeat and fouling Lincoln by tripping him — the equivalent to a low blow by today’s standards. Honest Abe, never one to break the rules, became incensed and used his long, powerful arms to grab his opponent by the neck and shake him vigorously like a rag doll. With The Clary’s Grove Boys backing up Armstrong, they began to corner Lincoln. Some say that Lincoln offered to take on each member of the gang, but their leader called off the bout instead. The competitors agreed on a draw and Armstrong proclaimed Lincoln to be, “the best fella that ever broke into this settlement.”

“It may have been under the rules that Lincoln would have won the match,” White explained. “But what really endeared Lincoln to this group of young men was that Lincoln didn’t want to win the match when he was obviously the stronger and better wrestler.” Instead, the two men agreed to simply shake hands out of respect. “It spoke volumes about the kind of person Lincoln became,” White said.

Lincoln had so much respect for his opponent that he and Armstrong became great friends. More than 25 years later, Armstrong’s son was on trial for murder. Like The Rock sprinting to the ring to assist an ally in need, Lincoln acted as the attorney and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

Lincoln’s reputation as a strong and talented wrestler contributed to his early success as a politician. “He actually ran for Illinois state legislature the very next year in 1832,” White said. “He didn’t win, but in the immediate vicinity of New Salem, he won almost all the votes.” As Lincoln’s reputation grew, so did his success. “Two years later he ran again. There were 14 men on the ballot for four seats. Lincoln finished in second place among the 14.”

White concluded, “His reputation rose rapidly, and wrestling was part of that.”

Lincoln went on to become arguably the greatest United States president of all time. But if WWE had been around, Lincoln very well could have become the greatest Superstar of all time instead.

Ronald C. White, Jr. is currently writing a biography on Ulysses S. Grant. You can purchase The New York Times Best Seller “A. Lincoln” on Amazon by clicking here. His website is RonaldCWhiteJr.com.

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