You are on page 1of 7

3/31/2016

AbrahamLincolnU.S.PresidentsHISTORY.com

ABRAHAM LINCOLN
Abraham Lincoln, a self-taught Illinois lawyer and legislator with
a reputation as an eloquent opponent of slavery, shocked many
when he overcame several more prominent contenders to win
the Republican Partys nomination for president in 1860. His
election that November pushed several Southern states to
secede by the time of his inauguration in March 1861, and the
Civil War began barely a month later. Contrary to expectations,
Lincoln proved to be a shrewd military strategist and a savvy
leader during what became the costliest conict ever fought on
American soil. His Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863,
freed all slaves in the rebellious states and paved the way for
slaverys eventual abolition, while his Gettysburg Address later
that year stands as one of the most famous and inuential
pieces of oratory in American history. In April 1865, with the
Union on the brink of victory, Abraham Lincoln was shot and
killed by the Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth; his
untimely death made him a martyr to the cause of liberty and
Union. Over the years Lincolns mythic stature has only grown,
and he is widely regarded as one of the greatest presidents in
the nations history.
CONTENTS
Abraham Lincolns Early Life
Lincolns Road to the White House
A Wartime President
http://www.history.com/topics/uspresidents/abrahamlincoln/print

1/7

3/31/2016

AbrahamLincolnU.S.PresidentsHISTORY.com

Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address


Victory and Death
ABRAHAM LINCOLNS EARLY LIFE
Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a one-room log cabin
in Hardin County, Kentucky; his family moved to southern
Indiana in 1816. Lincolns formal schooling was limited to three
brief periods in local schools, as he had to work constantly to
support his family. In 1830, his family moved to Macon County in
southern Illinois, and Lincoln got a job working on a river atboat
hauling freight down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. After
settling in the town of New Salem, Illinois, where he worked as a
shopkeeper and a postmaster, Lincoln became involved in local
politics as a supporter of the Whig Party, winning election to the
Illinois state legislature in 1834. Like his Whig heroes, Henry Clay
and Daniel Webster, Lincoln opposed the spread of slavery to
the territories, and had a grand vision of the expanding United
States, with a focus on commerce and cities rather than
agriculture.
DID YOU KNOW?
The war years were dicult for Abraham Lincoln and his family.
After his young son Willie died of typhoid fever in 1862, the
emotionally fragile Mary Lincoln, widely unpopular for her frivolity
and spendthrift ways, held seances in the White House in the hopes
of communicating with him, earning her even more derision.
Lincoln taught himself law, passing the bar examination in 1836.
The following year, he moved to the newly named state capital of
Springeld. For the next few years, he worked there as a lawyer,
earning a reputation as Honest Abe and serving clients ranging
from individual residents of small towns to national railroad
lines. He met Mary Todd, a well-to-do Kentucky belle with many
suitors (including Lincolns future political rival, Stephen
Douglas), and they married in 1842.
http://www.history.com/topics/uspresidents/abrahamlincoln/print

2/7

3/31/2016

AbrahamLincolnU.S.PresidentsHISTORY.com

LINCOLNS ROAD TO THE WHITE HOUSE


Lincoln won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in
1846 and began serving his term the following year. As a
congressman, Lincoln was unpopular with Illinois voters for his
strong stance against the U.S. war with Mexico. Promising not to
seek reelection, he returned to Springeld in 1849. Events
conspired to push him back into national politics, however:
Douglas, a leading Democrat in Congress, had pushed through
the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), which declared
that the voters of each territory, rather than the federal
government, had the right to decide whether the territory should
be slave or free. On October 16, 1854, Lincoln went before a
large crowd in Peoria to debate the merits of the KansasNebraska Act with Douglas, denouncing slavery and its extension
and calling the institution a violation of the most basic tenets of
the Declaration of Independence.
With the Whig Party in ruins, Lincoln joined the new Republican
Partyformed largely in opposition to slaverys extension into the
territoriesin 1858 and ran for the Senate again that year (he had
campaigned unsuccessfully for the seat in 1855 as well). In June,
Lincoln delivered his now-famous house divided speech, in
which he quoted from the Gospels to illustrate his belief that
this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and
half free. Lincoln then squared o against Douglas in a series of
famous debates; though he lost the election, Lincolns
performance made his reputation nationally. His prole rose
even higher in early 1860, after he delivered another rousing
speech at New York Citys Cooper Union. That May, Republicans
chose Lincoln as their candidate for president, passing over
Senator William H. Seward of New York and other powerful
contenders in favor of the rangy Illinois lawyer with only one
undistinguished congressional term under his belt.
A WARTIME PRESIDENT
In the general election, Lincoln again faced Douglas, who
http://www.history.com/topics/uspresidents/abrahamlincoln/print

3/7

3/31/2016

AbrahamLincolnU.S.PresidentsHISTORY.com

represented the northern Democrats; southern Democrats had


nominated John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky, while John Bell ran
for the brand new Constitutional Union Party. With Breckenridge
and Bell splitting the vote in the South, Lincoln won most of the
North and carried the Electoral College. After years of sectional
tensions, the election of an antislavery northerner as the 16th
president of the United States drove many southerners over the
brink, and by the time Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861
seven southern states had seceded from the Union and formed
the Confederate States of America. After Lincoln ordered a eet
of Union ships to supply South Carolinas Fort Sumter in April,
the Confederates red on both the fort and the Union eet,
beginning the Civil War. Hopes for a quick Union victory were
dashed by defeat in the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), and
Lincoln called for 500,000 more troops as both sides settled in
for a long conict.
While the Confederate leader Jeerson Davis was a West Point
graduate, Mexican War hero and former secretary of war,
Lincoln had only a brief and undistinguished period of service in
the Black Hawk War (1832) to his credit. He surprised many by
proving to be a more than capable wartime leader, learning
quickly about strategy and tactics in the early years of the Civil
War, and about choosing the ablest commanders. General
George McClellan, though beloved by his troops, continually
frustrated Lincoln with his reluctance to advance, and when
McClellan failed to pursue Robert E. Lees retreating Confederate
Army in the aftermath of the Union victory at Antietam in
September 1862, Lincoln removed him from command. During
the war, Lincoln drew criticism for suspending some civil
liberties, including the right of habeas corpus, but he considered
such measures necessary to win the war.
EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION AND GETTYSBURG ADDRESS
Shortly after the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), Lincoln issued
a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which took eect on
http://www.history.com/topics/uspresidents/abrahamlincoln/print

4/7

3/31/2016

AbrahamLincolnU.S.PresidentsHISTORY.com

January 1, 1863, and freed all of the slaves in the rebellious


states but left those in the border states (loyal to the Union) in
bondage. Though Lincoln once maintained that his paramount
object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to
save or destroy slavery, he nonetheless came to regard
emancipation as one of his greatest achievements, and would
argue for the passage of a constitutional amendment outlawing
slavery (eventually passed as the 13th Amendment after his
death in 1865).
Two important Union victories in July 1863at Vicksburg,
Mississippi, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvanianally turned the tide
of the war. General George Meade missed the opportunity to
deliver a nal blow against Lees army at Gettysburg, and Lincoln
would turn by early 1864 to the victor at Vicksburg, Ulysses S.
Grant, as supreme commander of the Union forces. In
November 1863, Lincoln delivered a brief speech (just 272
words) at the dedication ceremony for the new national
cemetery at Gettysburg. Published widely, the Gettysburg
Address eloquently expressed the wars purpose, harking back
to the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence and
the pursuit of human equality. It became the most famous
speech of Lincolns presidency, and one of the most widely
quoted speeches in history.
VICTORY AND DEATH
In 1864, Lincoln faced a tough reelection battle against the
Democratic nominee, the former Union General George
McClellan, but Union victories in battle (especially William T.
Shermans capture of Atlanta in September) swung many votes
the presidents way. In his second inaugural address, delivered
on March 4, 1865, Lincoln addressed the need to reconstruct the
South and rebuild the Union: With malice toward none; with
charity for all.

http://www.history.com/topics/uspresidents/abrahamlincoln/print

5/7

3/31/2016

AbrahamLincolnU.S.PresidentsHISTORY.com

As Sherman marched triumphantly northward through the


Carolinas, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House
on April 9. Union victory was near, and Lincoln gave a speech on
the White House lawn on April 11, urging his audience to
welcome the southern states back into the fold. Tragically,
Lincoln would not live to help carry out his vision of
Reconstruction. On the night of April 14, the actor and
Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth slipped into the
presidents box at Fords Theatre in Washington and shot him
point-blank in the back of the head. Lincoln was carried to a
boardinghouse across the street from the theater, but he never
regained consciousness, and died in the early morning hours of
April 15.

Article Details:

Abraham Lincoln
Author
History.com Sta
Website Name
History.com
Year Published
2009
Title
Abraham Lincoln
URL
http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/abraham-lincoln
Access Date
March 31, 2016
Publisher
http://www.history.com/topics/uspresidents/abrahamlincoln/print

6/7

3/31/2016

AbrahamLincolnU.S.PresidentsHISTORY.com

A+E Networks

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.


2016, A&E Television Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

http://www.history.com/topics/uspresidents/abrahamlincoln/print

7/7