Abraham Lincoln: Facts and Brief Biography

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Alexander Gardner in February 1865
Abraham Lincoln in February 1865. Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress

Life span: Born: February 12, 1809, in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky.
Died: April 15, 1865, in Washington, D.C., the victim of an assassin.

Presidential term: March 4, 1861 - April 15, 1865.

Lincoln was in the second month of his second term when he was assassinated.

Accomplishments: Lincoln was the greatest president of the 19th century, and perhaps of all American history. His greatest accomplishment, of course, was that he held the nation together during the Civil War while also bringing an end to the great divisive issue of the 19th century, slavery in America.

Supported by: Lincoln ran for president as the candidate of the Republican Party in 1860, and was strongly supported by those who opposed the extension of slavery into new states and territories.

The most devoted Lincoln supporters had organized themselves into marching societies, called Wide-Awake Clubs. And Lincoln received support from a broad base of Americans, from factory workers to farmers to New England intellectuals who opposed the institution of slavery.

Opposed by: In the election of 1860, Lincoln had three opponents, the most prominent of whom was Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. Lincoln had run for the senate seat held by Douglas two years previously, and that election campaign featured the seven Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

In the election of 1864 Lincoln was opposed by General George McClellan, whom Lincoln had removed from command of the Army of the Potomac in late 1862. McClellan’s platform was essentially a call to bring an end to the Civil War.

Presidential campaigns: Lincoln ran for president in 1860 and 1864, in an era when candidates did not do much campaigning. In 1860 Lincoln only made one appearance at a rally, in his own hometown, Springfield, Illinois.

Personal Life

Photographic portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln. Library of Congress

 Spouse and family: Lincoln was married to Mary Todd Lincoln. Their marriage was often rumored to be troubled, and there were many rumors focusing on her alleged mental illness.

The Lincolns had four sons, only one of whom, Robert Todd Lincoln, lived to adulthood. Their son Eddie died in Illinois. Willie Lincoln died in the White House in 1862, after becoming ill, probably from unhealthy drinking water. Tad Lincoln lived in the White House with his parents and returned to Illinois after his father's death. He died in 1871, at the age of 18.

Education: Lincoln only attended school as a child for a few months, and was essentially self-educated. However, he read widely, and many stories about his youth concern him striving to borrow books and reading even while working in the fields.

Early career: Lincoln practiced law in Illinois, and became a well-respected litigator. He handled all sorts of cases, and his legal practice, often with frontier characters for clients, provided many stories he would tell as president.

Later career: Lincoln died while in office. It is a loss to history that he was never able to write a memoir.

Facts to Know About Lincoln

 Nickname: Lincoln was often called "Honest Abe." In the 1860 campaign, his history of having worked with an ax prompted him to be called the “Rail Candidate” and “The Rail Splitter.”

Unusual facts: The only president to have received a patent, Lincoln designed a boat that could, with inflatable devices, clear sandbars in a river. The inspiration for the invention was his observation that riverboats on the Ohio or even the Mississippi River could get stuck trying to cross the shifting obstacles of silt that would build up in the river.

Lincoln's fascination with technology extended to the telegraph. He relied on telegraphic messages while living in Illinois in the 1850s. And in 1860 he learned about his nomination as the Republican candidate via a telegraph message. On Election Day that November, he spent much of the day at a local telegraph office until word flashed over the wire that he had won.

As president, Lincoln used the telegraph extensively to communicate with generals in the field during the Civil War.

Quotes: These ten verified and significant Lincoln quotes are only a fraction of the many quotes attributed to him.

Death and funeral: Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre on the evening of April 14, 1865. He died early the next morning.

Lincoln’s funeral train traveled from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, stopping for observances in major cities of the North. He was buried in Springfield, and his body was eventually placed in a large tomb.

Legacy: Lincoln’s legacy is enormous. For his role in guiding the country during the Civil War and his actions that made enslavement illegal, he will always be remembered as one of the great American presidents.

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McNamara, Robert. "Abraham Lincoln: Facts and Brief Biography." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/abraham-lincoln-facts-and-brief-biography-1773418. McNamara, Robert. (2021, February 16). Abraham Lincoln: Facts and Brief Biography. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/abraham-lincoln-facts-and-brief-biography-1773418 McNamara, Robert. "Abraham Lincoln: Facts and Brief Biography." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/abraham-lincoln-facts-and-brief-biography-1773418 (accessed April 1, 2023).