Top 10 Things to Know About Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was born in Hardin County, Kentucky on February 12, 1809. He served as the 16th president of the United States during the American Civil War. He was assassinated shortly after beginning his second term. Following are ten key facts that are important to understand when studying the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

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Only One Year of Formal Education

Abraham Lincoln. Getty Images

Lincoln moved to Indiana at age seven, living there for the rest of his youth. His father, Thomas, was a farmer and carpenter. His mother, Nancy Hanks, died when Lincoln was nine. His father soon remarried Sarah Bush Johnston. She was instrumental in nurturing his love of learning. Despite this, he only had one year of formal education. However, he did have a number of tutors over the years. 

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Married Mary Todd

Mary Todd was born into relative wealth in Lexington, Kentucky. She was well educated. She suffered from migraines and had other issues that impacted her ability to function effectively as first lady. She was not well liked by the Washington crowd. 

Together they had three sons. However only one lived past the age of eighteen. Their second son, William “Willie” Wallace Lincoln, died of a fever while Lincoln was president, leading to further mental illness for Mary. In 1871, their youngest son, “Tad”, died at the age of eighteen.

After his death, Mary Todd began having hallucinations and was sent to a mental institution in 1875. She then moved in with her sister until her death in 1882. 

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Had a Brief Military Career Before Turning to Politics

Lincoln enlisted in the military in 1832 to fight in the Black Hawk War. He was elected as captain of a company of volunteers under Colonel Zachary Taylor. After thirty days, he moved to be a private in the mounted Rangers. Then later, he joined the Independent Spy Corps. However, he never saw action during his time in the military.

Lincoln left the military to pursue a career in politics. He lost in his first attempt to win the Illinois state legislature in 1832. He served as postmaster of New Salem, Illinois from 1833 until 1836. At the same time, he independently studied law and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1837. He was elected to the Illinois legislature in 1834, where he served until 1842.

In 1847 he won a seat in the US House of Representatives where he served until 1849. He was later elected to the state legislature in 1854. He was a founding member of the Republican party in 1856. In 1858, he was nominated to run for the U.S. Senate. It was during this run that he gave the “house divided” speech in which he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”

Lincoln's opponent was Stephen Douglas. They debated each other seven times. One key issue was slavery. Douglas argued for popular sovereignty so that the citizens of  a state or territory could decide if slavery would be legal within its borders. Lincoln disagreed. Despite his loss, these debates made Lincoln a national figure.

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Won the Presidency With 40% of the Popular Vote

In 1860, Lincoln earned the Republican party nomination for the presidency. He denounced the calls for secession. In addition, he called for and to slavery in the US territories. He ran against three opponents, two of whom were Democrats. They split the vote which led to Lincoln's win with 40 percent of the popular vote and 180 of the 303 electors.

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Served as President During the American Civil War

The Civil War lasted from 1861 until 1865. With the announcement of Lincoln's election as president, seven Southern states seceded from the Union. By the beginning of the war, eleven states in total had seceded. Throughout the war, Lincoln firmly believed in preserving the Union.

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Issued the Emancipation Proclamation

In September 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slave in all Southern states. Lincoln was able to use his war powers to free the slaves of seceded states. However, he did not include slaves in Union states because he did not believe this was a constitutional power provided to him. 

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Suspended Civil Liberties During the Civil War

During the Civil War, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. This provided prisoners the right to be brought before a court to determine whether they were being justly held.  Lincoln's opponents felt that this was overstepping his bounds. In addition, Lincoln allowed antiwar activists to be arrested by the military. 

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Won Reelection With 55 Percent of the Popular Vote

Despite concerns about whether Lincoln could win the presidency in 1864, the Republicans nominated him with Andrew Johnson as his vice president. They ran on a platform of the end of slavery and the unconditional surrender of the Confederacy. Right before the election, the war began to appear favorable for the North and Lincoln was able to garner 55 percent of the popular vote. 

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Advocated Leniency at the End of the Civil War

When General William T. Sherman captured Atlanta and then was victorious in Savannah against Robert E. Lee. This was a blow to the Confederacy. By April 1865, the Confederate capital at Richmond fell and Lee surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Lincoln's goal for the Reconstruction of the South was leniency. His goal was to reunite the Union. However, members of Congress disagreed with him. Upon his Lincoln's assassination, they were able to prevail and enact punitive measures against the South.  

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Was Assassinated While watching a Play at Ford's Theater

On April 14, 1865, only a little more than a month after being inaugurated into his second term, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln and his wife were attending a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. 

Booth made his way into the presidential box and shot Lincoln in the head. He then jumped from the box,a fall which broke his leg, and made his way out of the theater shouting “Sic semper tyrannus,” or “As always to tyrants.” 

After getting his leg set, Booth fled from the city. He was found hiding out in a barn on April 26th. He would not surrender and was burned out of the barn before being shot and killed. 

The wounded President Lincoln was taken across the street to the Petersen House where he died the next day. The presidency then fell to Vice President Andrew Johnson.