Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis.In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy.
Born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Lincoln grew up on the western frontier in Kentucky and Indiana. Largely self-educated, he became a lawyer in Illinois, a Whig Party leader, and a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, in which he served for twelve years. Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1846, Lincoln promoted rapid modernization of the economy through banks, tariffs, and railroads. Because he had originally agreed not to run for a second term in Congress, and because his opposition to the Mexican–American War was unpopular among Illinois voters, Lincoln returned to Springfield and resumed his successful law practice. Reentering politics in 1854, he became a leader in building the new Republican Party, which had a statewide majority in Illinois. In 1858, while taking part in a series of highly publicized debates with his opponent and rival, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln spoke out against the expansion of slavery, but lost the U.S. Senate race to Douglas.
In 1860, Lincoln secured the Republican Party presidential nomination as a moderate from a swing state. Though he gained very little support in the slaveholding states of the South, he swept the North and was elected president in 1860. Lincoln’s victory prompted seven southern slave states to form the Confederate States of America before he moved into the White House – no compromise or reconciliation was found regarding slavery and secession. Subsequently, on April 12, 1861, a Confederate attack on Fort Sumter inspired the North to enthusiastically rally behind the Union in a declaration of war. As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican Party, Lincoln confronted Radical Republicans, who demanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats, who called for more compromise, anti-war Democrats (called Copperheads), who despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists, who plotted his assassination. Politically, Lincoln fought back by pitting his opponents against each other, by carefully planned political patronage, and by appealing to the American people with his powers of oratory.His Gettysburg Address became an iconic endorsement of the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy.
Lincoln initially concentrated on the military and political dimensions of the war. His primary goal was to reunite the nation. He suspended habeas corpus, leading to the controversial ex parte Merryman decision, and he averted potential British intervention in the war by defusing the Trent Affair in late 1861. Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including his most successful general, Ulysses S. Grant. He also made major decisions on Union war strategy, including a naval blockade that shut down the South’s normal trade, moves to take control of Kentucky and Tennessee, and using gunboats to gain control of the southern river system. Lincoln tried repeatedly to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond; each time a general failed, Lincoln substituted another, until finally Grant succeeded. As the war progressed, his complex moves toward ending slavery included the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863; Lincoln used the U.S. Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraged the border states to outlaw slavery, and pushed through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery.
An exceptionally astute politician deeply involved with power issues in each state, Lincoln reached out to the War Democrats and managed his own re-election campaign in the 1864 presidential election. Anticipating the war’s conclusion, Lincoln pushed a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness. On April 14, 1865, five days after the April 9th surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer.
Lincoln has been consistently ranked both by scholars and the public as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents.
Family and childhood
Early life and family ancestry
Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, in a one-room log cabin on the Sinking Spring Farm in Hardin County, Kentucky (now LaRue County). He was a descendant of Samuel Lincoln, who migrated from Norfolk, England to Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1638. Samuel’s grandson and great-grandson began the family’s western migration, which passed through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Lincoln’s paternal grandfather and namesake, Captain Abraham Lincoln, moved the family from Virginia to Jefferson County, Kentucky in the 1780s. Captain Lincoln was killed in an Indian raid in 1786. His children, including six-year-old Thomas, the future president’s father, witnessed the attack. After his father’s murder, Thomas was left to make his own way on the frontier, working at odd jobs in Kentucky and in Tennessee, before settling with members of his family in Hardin County, Kentucky, in the early 1800s.
Marriage and children
Lincoln’s first romantic interest was Ann Rutledge, whom he met when he first moved to New Salem; by 1835, they were in a relationship but not formally engaged. She died at the age of 22 on August 25, 1835, most likely of typhoid fever.In the early 1830s, he met Mary Owens from Kentucky when she was visiting her sister.
Late in 1836, Lincoln agreed to a match with Mary if she returned to New Salem. Mary did return in November 1836, and Lincoln courted her for a time; however, they both had second thoughts about their relationship. On August 16, 1837, Lincoln wrote Mary a letter suggesting he would not blame her if she ended the relationship. She never replied and the courtship ended.
Early career and militia service
In 1832, at age 23, Lincoln and a partner bought a small general store on credit in New Salem, Illinois. Although the economy was booming in the region, the business struggled and Lincoln eventually sold his share. That March he began his political career with his first campaign for the Illinois General Assembly. He had attained local popularity and could draw crowds as a natural raconteur in New Salem, though he lacked an education, powerful friends, and money, which may be why he lost. He advocated navigational improvements on the Sangamon River.
U.S. House of Representatives, 1847–49
From the early 1830s, Lincoln was a steadfast Whig and professed to friends in 1861 to be, “an old line Whig, a disciple of Henry Clay”.The party, including Lincoln, favored economic modernization in banking, protective tariffs to fund internal improvements including railroads, and espoused urbanization as well.
Lincoln returned to practicing law in Springfield, handling “every kind of business that could come before a prairie lawyer”. Twice a year for 16 years, 10 weeks at a time, he appeared in county seats in the midstate region when the county courts were in session. Lincoln handled many transportation cases in the midst of the nation’s western expansion, particularly the conflicts arising from the operation of river barges under the many new railroad bridges. As a riverboat man, Lincoln initially favored those interests, but ultimately represented whoever hired him.In fact, he later represented a bridge company against a riverboat company in a landmark case involving a canal boat that sank after hitting a bridge. In 1849, he received a patent for a flotation device for the movement of boats in shallow water. The idea was never commercialized, but Lincoln is the only president to hold a patent.
Republican politics 1854–60
Slavery and a “House Divided”
By the 1850s, slavery was still legal in the southern United States, but had been generally outlawed in the northern states, including Illinois, whose original 1818 Constitution forbade slavery, as required by the Northwest Ordinance. Lincoln disapproved of slavery, and the spread of slavery to new U.S. territory in the west. He returned to politics to oppose the pro-slavery Kansas–Nebraska Act (1854); this law repealed the slavery-restricting Missouri Compromise (1820). Senior Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois had incorporated popular sovereignty into the Act. Douglas’ provision, which Lincoln opposed, specified settlers had the right to determine locally whether to allow slavery in new U.S. territory, rather than have such a decision restricted by the national Congress.
1860 election and secession
On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States, beating Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge of the Southern Democrats, and John Bell of the new Constitutional Union Party. He was the first president from the Republican Party. His victory was entirely due to the strength of his support in the North and West; no ballots were cast for him in 10 of the 15 Southern slave states, and he won only two of 996 counties in all the Southern states.
Assassination and funeral
John Wilkes Booth was a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland; though he never joined the Confederate army, he had contacts with the Confederate secret service. In 1864, Booth formulated a plan (very similar to one of Thomas N. Conrad previously authorized by the Confederacy) to kidnap Lincoln in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners. After attending an April 11, 1865, speech in which Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks, an incensed Booth changed his plans and became determined to assassinate the president. Learning that the President and Grant would be attending Ford’s Theatre, Booth formulated a plan with co-conspirators to assassinate Lincoln and Grant at the theater, as well as Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward at their homes. Without his main bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln left to attend the play Our American Cousin on April 14. At the last minute, Grant decided to go to New Jersey to visit his children instead of attending the play.
Religious and philosophical beliefs
As a young man, Lincoln was a religious skeptic, or, in the words of a biographer, an iconoclast. Later in life, Lincoln’s frequent use of religious imagery and language might have reflected his own personal beliefs or might have been a device to appeal to his audiences, who were mostly evangelical Protestants. He never joined a church, although he frequently attended with his wife.However, he was deeply familiar with the Bible, and he both quoted and praised it. He was private about his beliefs and respected the beliefs of others. Lincoln never made a clear profession of Christian beliefs. However he did believe in an all-powerful God that shaped events and, by 1865, was expressing those beliefs in major speeches.
Several claims abound that Lincoln’s health was declining before the assassination. These are often based on photographs appearing to show weight loss and muscle wasting. One such claim is that he suffered from a rare genetic disorder MEN2b, which manifests with a medullary thyroid carcinoma, mucosal neuromas and a Marfinoid appearance. Others simply claim he had Marfan’s syndrome, based on his tall appearance with spindly fingers, and the association of possible aortic regurgitation, which can cause bobbing of the head (DeMusset’s sign) – based on blurring of Lincoln’s head in photographs, which back then had a long exposure time. DNA analysis is so far being refused by the Grand Army of the Republic museum in Philadelphia.
In surveys of U.S. scholars ranking presidents conducted since the 1940s, Lincoln is consistently ranked in the top three, often as number one. A 2004 study found that scholars in the fields of history and politics ranked Lincoln number one, while legal scholars placed him second after Washington. In presidential ranking polls conducted in the United States since 1948, Lincoln has been rated at the very top in the majority of polls: Schlesinger 1948, Schlesinger 1962, 1982 Murray Blessing Survey, Chicago Tribune 1982 poll, Schlesinger 1996, CSPAN 1996, Ridings-McIver 1996, Time 2008, and CSPAN 2009. Generally, the top three presidents are rated as 1. Lincoln; 2. George Washington; and 3. Franklin D. Roosevelt, although Lincoln and Washington, and Washington and Roosevelt, are occasionally reversed.
Memory and memorials
Lincoln’s portrait appears on two denominations of United States currency, the penny and the $5 bill. His likeness also appears on many postage stamps and he has been memorialized in many town, city, and county names, including the capital of Nebraska.
The most famous and most visited memorials are Lincoln’s sculpture on Mount Rushmore; Lincoln Memorial, Ford’s Theatre, and Petersen House (where he died) in Washington, D.C.; and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, not far from Lincoln’s home, as well as his tomb.
343 total views, 2 views today