Abraham Lincoln wasthe 16th president of the United States. He preserved the Union during the U.S.Civil War and brought about the emancipation of slaves.
Abraham Lincoln is regarded as one of America's greatestheroes due to both his incredible impact on the nation and his unique appeal.His is a remarkable story of the rise from humble beginnings to achieve thehighest office in the land; then, a sudden and tragic death at a time when hiscountry needed him most to complete the great task remaining before the nation.Lincoln's distinctively human and humane personality and historical role assavior of the Union and emancipator of the slaves creates a legacy thatendures. His eloquence of democracy and his insistence that the Union was worthsaving embody the ideals of self-government that all nations strive to achieve.
Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Hardin County,Kentucky to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Thomas was a strong anddetermined pioneer who found a moderate level of prosperity and was wellrespected in the community. The couple had two other children: Abraham's oldersister Sarah and younger brother Thomas, who died in infancy. Due to a landdispute, the Lincolns were forced to move from Kentucky to Perry County,Indiana in 1817, where the family "squatted" on public land to scrapout a living in a crude shelter, hunting game and farming a small plot. Thomaswas eventually able to buy the land.
When young Abraham was 9 years old, his mother died on October5, 1818, of tremetol (milk sickness) at age 34. The event was devastating onhim and young Abraham grew more alienated from his father and quietly resentedthe hard work placed on him at an early age. Just over a year after Nancy's death,in December 1819, Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnston, a Kentucky widow withthree children of her own. She was a strong and affectionate woman with whomAbraham quickly bonded. Though both his parents were most likely illiterate,Sarah encouraged Abraham to read. It was while growing into manhood that hereceived his formal education—an estimated total of 18 months—a few days orweeks at a time. Reading material was in short supply in the Indianawilderness. Neighbors recalled how Abraham would walk for miles to borrow abook. He undoubtedly read the family Bible and probably other popular books atthat time such as Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrims Progressand Aesop’s Fables.
In March, 1830, the family again migrated, this time to Macon County, Illinois.When his father moved the family again to Coles County, 22-year-old AbrahamLincoln struck out on this own, making a living in manual labor. At six feetfour inches tall, Lincoln was rawboned and lanky, but muscular and physicallystrong. He spoke with a backwoods twang and walked with a long-striding gait.He was known for his skill in wielding an ax and early on made a livingsplitting wood for fire and rail fencing. Young Lincoln eventually migrated tothe small community of New Salem, Illinois, where over a period of years heworked as a shopkeeper, postmaster, and eventually general store owner. It washere that Lincoln, working with the public, acquired social skills and honedstory-telling talent that made him popular with the locals. When the Black HawkWar broke out in 1832 between the United States and Native Americans, thevolunteers in the area elected Lincoln to be their captain. He saw no combatduring this time, save for "a good many bloody struggles with themosquitoes," but was able to make several important political connections.
After the Black Hawk War, Abraham Lincoln began his political career andwas elected to the Illinois state legislature, in 1834, as a member of the WhigParty. He supported the Whig politics of government-sponsored infrastructureand protective tariffs. This political understanding led him to formulate hisearly views on slavery, not so much as a moral wrong, but as an impediment toeconomic development. It was around this time that he decided to become a lawyer,teaching himself the law by reading William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws ofEngland. After being admitted to the bar in 1837, he moved to Springfield,Illinois, and began to practice in the John T. Stuart law firm.
It was soon after this that he purportedly met and became romanticallyinvolved with Anne Rutledge. Before they had a chance to be engaged, a wave oftyphoid fever came over New Salem and Anne died at age 22. Her death was saidto have left Lincoln severely depressed. However, several historians disagreeon the extent of Lincoln’s relationship with Rutledge and his level of sorrowat her death may be more the makings of legend.
In 1844, Abraham Lincoln partnered with William Herndon in the practice oflaw. Though the two had different jurisprudent styles, they developed a closeprofessional and personal relationship. Lincoln made a good living in his earlyyears as a lawyer, but found that Springfield alone didn't offer enough work,so to supplement his income, he followed the court as it made its rounds on thecircuit to the various county seats in Illinois.
Abraham Lincoln served a single term in the U.S. House ofRepresentatives from 1847 to 1849. His foray into national politics seemed tobe as unremarkable as it was brief. He was the lone Whig from the state ofIllinois, showing party loyalty, but finding few political allies. He used histerm in office to speak out against the Mexican-American War and supportedZachary Taylor for president in 1848. His criticism of the war made himunpopular back home and he decided not to run for second term, but insteadreturned Springfield to practice law.
By the 1850s, the railroad industry was moving west and Illinoisfound itself becoming a major hub for various companies. Abraham Lincoln servedas a lobbyist for the Illinois Central Railroad as its company attorney.Success in several court cases brought other business clients as well—banks,insurance companies and manufacturing firms. Lincoln also did some criminaltrials. In one case, a witness claimed that he could identify Lincoln's clientwho was accused of murder, because of the intense light from a full moon.Lincoln referred to an almanac and proved that the night in question had beentoo dark for the witness to see anything clearly. His client was acquitted.
About a year after the death of Anne Rutledge, Lincoln courtedMary Owens. The two saw each other for a few months and marriage wasconsidered. But in time, Lincoln called off the match. In 1840, Lincoln became engagedto Mary Todd, a high spirited, well-educated woman from a distinguishedKentucky family. In the beginning, many of the couple's friends and familycouldn't understand Mary’s attraction, and at times Lincoln questioned ithimself. However, in 1841, the engagement was suddenly broken off, most likelyat Lincoln's initiative. They met later at a social function and eventuallymarried on November 4, 1842. The couple had four children, of which only one,Robert, survived to adulthood.
In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed theMissouri Compromise, and allowed individual states and territories to decidefor themselves whether to allow slavery. The law provoked violent opposition inKansas and Illinois, and it gave rise to the Republican Party. This awakenedAbraham Lincoln's political zeal once again, and his views on slavery movedmore toward moral indignation. Lincoln joined the Republican Party in 1856.
In 1857, the Supreme Court issued its controversial decision Scott v.Sanford, declaring African Americans were not citizens and had no inherentrights. Though Abraham Lincoln felt African Americans were not equal to whites,he believed the America's founders intended that all men were created withcertain inalienable rights. Lincoln decided to challenge sitting U.S. SenatorStephen Douglas for his seat. In his nomination acceptance speech, hecriticized Douglas, the Supreme Court, and President Buchanan for promotingslavery and declared "a house divided cannot stand."
The 1858 Senate campaign featured seven debates held in different citiesacross Illinois. The two candidates didn't disappoint the public, givingstirring debates on issues ranging from states' rights to western expansion,but the central issue was slavery. Newspapers intensely covered the debates,often times with partisan commentary. In the end, the state legislature electedDouglas, but the exposure vaulted Lincoln into national politics.
In 1860, political operatives in Illinois organized a campaign to supportAbraham Lincoln for the presidency. On May 18, at the Republican NationalConvention in Chicago, Lincoln surpassed better known candidates such asWilliam Seward of New York and Salmon P. Chase of Ohio. Lincoln's nominationwas due in part to his moderate views on slavery, his support for improving thenational infrastructure, and the protective tariff. In the general election,Lincoln faced his friend and rival, Stephan Douglas, this time besting him in afour-way race that included John C. Breckinridge of the Northern Democrats andJohn Bell of the Constitution Party. Lincoln received not quite 40 percent ofthe popular vote, but carried 180 of 303 Electoral votes.
Abraham Lincoln selected a strong cabinet composed of many of hispolitical rivals, including William Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates andEdwin Stanton. Formed out the adage "Hold your friends close and yourenemies closer," Lincoln's Cabinet became one of his strongest assets inhis first term in office… and he would need them. Before his inauguration inMarch, 1861, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union and by April theU.S. military installation Fort Sumter was under siege in Charleston Harbor,South Carolina. In the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, the gunsstationed to protect the harbor blazed toward the fort signaling the start ofAmerica’s costliest and most deadly war.
Abraham Lincoln responded to the crisis wielding powers as noother president before him. He distributed $2 million from the Treasury for warmaterial without an appropriation from Congress; he called for 75,000volunteers into military service without a declaration of war; and he suspendedthe writ of habeas corpus, arresting and imprisoning suspected Confederatesympathizers without a warrant. Crushing the rebellion would be difficult underany circumstances, but the Civil War, with its preceding decades of white-hotpartisan politics, was especially onerous. From all directions, Lincoln faceddisparagement and defiance. He was often at odds with his generals, hisCabinet, his party and a majority of the American people.
The Union Army's first year and a half of battlefield defeatsmade it especially difficult to keep morale up and support strong for areunification the nation. With the hopeful, but by no means conclusive Unionvictory at Antietam on September 22, 1862, Lincoln felt confident enough toreshape the cause of the war from saving the union to abolishing slavery. Heissued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which stated that allindividuals who were held as slaves in rebellious states "henceforwardshall be free." The action was more symbolic than effective because theNorth didn’t control any states in rebellion and the proclamation didn’t applyto Border States, Tennessee or some Louisiana parishes.
Gradually, the war effort improved for the North, though moreby attrition than by brilliant military victories. But by 1864, the Confederatearmies had eluded major defeat and Lincoln was convinced he'd be a one-termpresident. His nemesis, George B. McClellan, the former commander of the Armyof the Potomac, challenged him for the presidency, but the contest wasn't evenclose. Lincoln received 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 of 243 Electoralvotes. On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army ofVirginia, surrendered his forces to Union General Ulysses S. Grant and the warfor all intents and purposes was over.
Reconstruction began during the war as early as 1863 in areasfirmly under Union military control. Abraham Lincoln favored a policy of quickreunification with a minimum of retribution. But he was confronted by a radicalgroup of Republicans in the Senate and House that wanted complete allegianceand repentance from former Confederates. Before a political battle had a chanceto firmly develop, Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, by well-knownactor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater inWashington, D.C. Lincoln was taken from the theater to a Petersen House acrossthe street and laid in a coma for nine hours before dying the next morning. Hisbody lay in state at the Capitol before a funeral train took him back to hisfinal resting place in Springfield, Illinois.