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Marty Malone

U.S. History Research Paper

Abraham Lincoln’s Legacy

“…That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government

of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.” Abraham Lincoln

spoke these words in his Gettysburg Address on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, and they

have forever since rang in our nation’s ears, reminding us who we are, and why we are here.

Lincoln was elected our nation’s 16th President in 1860, soon before the start of the Civil War.

Not only did Abraham Lincoln forever evolve the role of the President, but also of the United

States of America.

Abraham Lincoln was born on a mattress of cornhusks in a nest of bear rugs on the

morning of February 12th, a Sabbath, 1809. (1) The birthplace for this new child of the Republic

was a one-room, windowless, dirt-floored log cabin in Hardin County, near Hodgenville in

Kentucky. The cabin stood on land to which his father’s title was uncertain. His father, Thomas,

was a stocky, 30 year old hardscrabble farmer and carpenter who had a reputation among his

neighbors as a raconteur. His mother, Nancy Hanks, was a tall bony, sinewy undemanding

woman of about 25 when Abraham was born. (1)Lincoln’s occasional schooling was fitted in
between harvest and spring planting. Apart from Webster’s and Dillworth’s “Spelling Books”,

both of which had improving tales in them, one cornerstone of Abraham’s adolescent reading

would be Parson Weem’s “Life of Washington.” Also the Bible had a big influence on him, and a

family copy of “Barclay’s Dictionary” enlarged his armoury of words. (1)

Lincoln began his political career as a captain in the Black Hawk War. He then spent 8

years in the Illinois legislature, and rode the circuit courts for many years. His law partner said of

him, “His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.” (5) He married Mary Todd, and they

had four boys, only one of whom lived to maturity. In 1858, Lincoln ran against Stephen A.

Douglas for Senator of Illinois. He lost the election, but in Debating with Douglas he gained a

National reputation that won him the Republican nomination for President in 1860. (5) On

November 6, 1860, he was elected President – beating out Democrat Stephen A. Douglas and

Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge. Lincoln was the first Republican President, having

won mainly because of his support from the North who agreed with his anti-slavery views.

It was during Lincoln’s administration that the Civil War broke out. (5) Many Southern

States made it clear that if Lincoln was elected, they would secede (leave the Union.) The South

was against Lincoln because he opposed Slavery. (4). South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida,

Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas seceded after hearing word Lincoln won the election.

After his inauguration, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina seceded as well. These

states became known as the Confederacy. (4) On April 12th, 1861, Confederate troops bombarded
the Union’s Fort Sumter with heavy artillery, which set off the Civil War. (3) Up to the start of

the war, in the 72 years of existence of the U.S., a series of Southern slaveholders had occupied

the White House for a total of just under 50 years. (After the war it would be a hundred years

before a Southerner was elected President.) (1) Although Lincoln’s famous Emancipation

Proclamation did not free a single slave, it changed the way black men were accepted during the

war. Black men could join the Union Army and Navy. The liberated could become the

Liberators. By the end of the war, nearly 200,000 black soldiers and sailors fought for the Union

and for freedom. (4)

Lincoln’s re-election angered Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. On April 14,

1865, at Ford’s Theater in Washington, Lincoln saw the play “Our American Cousin.” It was

there that John Wilkes Booth entered the Presidential Box and shot the President. (4) Five days

earlier Robert E. Lee had surrendered his army to Grant at Appomattox Court House, less than a

week after the fall of the of the Confederate Capital. (3) In too small a bed in a cramped room

across the street from the theater, Lincoln lingered for a further nine hours after the shooting,

never regaining consciousness. The doctors who clustered around the bed to which he had been

carried were surprised by his resilience in extremis, but eventually, at 7:22 a.m. on Saturday,

April 15, 1865, he passed from life into history and memory. (3) A million or more grieving

people turned out to pay their respects as Lincoln’s body, after a military funeral, was taken to lie

in state in the Capitol and was then slowly carried on a special funeral train back to Springfield,

along the 1,600 mile route that the President – elect had taken to Washington in 1861. (3)
“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous

issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being

yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government,

while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it.” These words were

spoken by Abraham Lincoln at his First Inaugural Address. Though he was speaking to a group

of thousands who came to hear his first address as president, his words were meant to be heard

by the South. He was telling the South that he was not going to let them disband from the United

States. Although they did, Lincoln did not let them go without a fight – and a fight it was. The

Civil War broke out, and Lincoln led the North to victory, ultimately defeating the South and

untiting the Union. No previous President has ever had to go through such turmoil, and no

President since. During the Civil War, Lincoln used powers no previous President had: he used

his war powers to proclaim a blockade, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, spent money

without congressional authorization, and imprisoned 18,000 suspected Confederate sympathizers

without trial. President Lincoln’s achievements assured his continuing legacy. He saved the

Union and freed the slaves. In his Gettysburg Address, he defined the Civil War as a re-

dedication to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence.
Works Cited

1. Keneally, Thomas. Abraham Lincoln. 1. New York: Penguin Group, 2003.

2. Meltzer/Alcorn, Lincoln in His Own Words. 1. San Diego: Harcourt Brace &

Company, 1993.

3. Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln. 1. New York: Random House, Inc., 2006.

4. http://www.nps.gov/history/logcabin/html/al3.html

5. http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/al16.html