Abraham Lincoln - 16th President of the United States

Lincoln memorial with quote behind
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Abraham Lincoln was born in Hardin County, Kentucky on February 12, 1809. He moved to Indiana in 1816 and lived there the rest of his youth. His mother died when he was nine but he was very close to his stepmother who urged him to read. Lincoln himself stated that he had about one year of formal education. However, he was taught by many different individuals. He loved to read and learn from any books he could get his hands on.

Family Ties

Lincoln was the son of Thomas Lincoln, a farmer and carpenter, and Nancy Hanks. His mother died when Lincoln was nine. His stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston, was very close to him. His sister Sarah Grigsby was the only sibling to live to maturity.

On November 4, 1842, Lincoln married Mary Todd. She had grown up in relative wealth. Four of her siblings fought for the South. She was considered mentally unbalanced. Together they had three children, all but one who died young. Edward died at age three in 1850. Robert Todd grew up to be a politician, lawyer and diplomat. William Wallace died at the age of twelve. He was the only president's child to die in the White House. Finally, Thomas "Tad" died at eighteen.

Abraham Lincoln's Military Career

In 1832, Lincoln enlisted to fight in the Black Hawk War. He was quickly elected to be the captain of a company of volunteers. His company joined regulars under Colonel Zachary Taylor.

He only served 30 days in this capacity and then signed on as a private in the mounted Rangers. He then joined the Independent Spy Corps. He saw no real action during his short stint in the military.

Career Before the Presidency

Lincoln worked as a clerk before joining the military. He ran for the state legislature and lost in 1832.

He was appointed as Postmaster of New Salem by Andrew Jackson (1833-36). He was elected as a Whig to the Illinois legislature (1834-1842). He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1836. Lincoln served as a US Representative (1847-49). He was elected to the state legislature in 1854 but resigned to run for the US Senate. He gave his famous "house divided" speech after being nominated.

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Lincoln debated his opponent, Stephen Douglas, seven times in what became known as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. While they agreed on many issues, they disagreed over the morality of slavery. Lincoln did not believe that slavery should spread any further but Douglas argued for popular sovereignty. Lincoln explained that while he was not asking for equality, he believed African-Americans should get the rights granted in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Lincoln lost the state election to Douglas.

Bid for the Presidency - 1860

Lincoln was nominated for the presidency by the Republican Party with Hannibal Hamlin as his running mate. He ran on a platform denouncing disunion and calling for an end to slavery in the territories. The Democrats were divided with Stephen Douglas representing the Democrats and John Breckinridge the National (Southern) Democrats.

John Bell ran for the Constitutional Union Party which basically took votes from Douglas. In the end, Lincoln won 40% of the popular vote and 180 of the 303 electors.

Reelection in 1864

The Republicans, now the National Union Party, had some concern that Lincoln wouldn't win but still renominated him with Andrew Johnson as his Vice President. Their platform demanded unconditional surrender and the official end to slavery. His opponent, George McClellan, had been relieved as the head of the Union armies by Lincoln. His platform was that the war was a failure, and Lincoln had taken away too many civil liberties. Lincoln won because the war turned in the North's favor during the campaign.

Events and Accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln's Presidency

The main event of Lincoln's presidency was the Civil War that lasted from 1861-65.

 Eleven states seceded from the Union, and Lincoln firmly believed in the importance of not only defeating the Confederation but eventually reuniting North and South.

In September 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This freed the slaves in all Southern states. In 1864, Lincoln promoted Ulysses S. Grant to be Commander of all Union forces. Sherman's raid on Atlanta helped clench Lincoln's reelection in 1864. In April, 1865, Richmond fell and Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. During the Civil War, Lincoln curbed civil liberties including suspending the writ of habeas corpus. However, at the end of the Civil War, the Confederate officers were allowed to return home with dignity. In the end, the war was the most costly in American history. Slavery was forever ended with the passage of the 13th amendment.

Due to opposition to Virginia's secession from the Union, West Virginia broke off from the state in 1863 and was admitted to the Union. Also, Nevada was made a state in 1864.

Other than the Civil War, during Lincoln's administration the Homestead Act was passed which allowed squatters to take title to 160 acres of land after having lived in it for five years which helped populate the Great Plains.

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated while attending a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. Actor John Wilkes Booth shot him in the back of the head before jumping onto the stage and escaping to Maryland. Lincoln died on April 15th.

On April 26th, Booth was found hiding in a barn which was set on fire. He was then shot and killed. Eight conspirators were punished for their roles. Learn about the details and the conspiracies surrounding Lincoln's assassination.

Historical Significance

Abraham Lincoln is considered by many scholars to have been the best President. He is credited with holding the Union together and leading the North to victory in the Civil War. Further, his actions and beliefs led to the emancipation of African-Americans from the bonds of slavery.