Abraham Lincoln Biography and History

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Abraham Lincoln Biography and History

Abraham Lincoln History
Abraham Lincoln.jpg
Abraham Lincoln Biography

Mrs. Abraham Lincoln History and Biography
Abraham Lincoln History.jpg
Mary Todd Lincoln, age 28

Abraham Lincoln History and Biography
Abraham Lincoln History and Biography.jpg
Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad

Born in a simple log cabin in Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President and guided this country through the most devastating experience in its history — the Civil War. Many historians consider him the greatest American President ever. Lincoln is remembered for his vital role in preserving the Union and starting the process that led to the end of slavery. Nicknamed "Honest Abe," he is also remembered for his character, his speeches, and letters. He was a man of humble origins whose determination led him to the nation's highest office.

(Right) Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad looking at an album of photographs.

Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky. His family faced many hardships. They struggled to survive and to learn. The Lincolns moved to Indiana in 1816, partly because of their opposition to slavery. Lincoln took every opportunity to learn while he worked on a farm, split rails for fences, and tended a store in Illinois.

He married Mary Todd on November 4, 1842. She was from Kentucky and came from a more upper class slave owning family. The couple had four sons: Robert Todd (1843-1926), Edward Baker (1846-50), William Wallace (1850-62), and Thomas "Tad" (1853-71). Only Robert lived to adulthood. He, in fact, served on General Ulysses S. Grant's Civil War staff at City Point, Virginia.

In 1846, Lincoln ran for the United States House of Representatives and won. While in Washington, he became known for his opposition to the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848). He opposed this war because he saw it as a way to extend slavery. The War started when Mexico objected to the Republic of Texas becoming a U.S. state. This was the first foreign war for the U.S. and soldiers from every state served in it, including Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and William T. Sherman. These men later played an important role in the Civil War. Lincoln became disappointed with politics and others' views on slavery and returned home to practice law.

Lincoln's interest in politics was renewed by passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The Act allowed people in these two territories to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery within their borders. This led to bloody battles in Kansas. President Franklin Pierce sent in Federal troops to end the fighting, but the slavery debate continued.

Lincoln reentered politics and ran for the Senate in 1856, but was unsuccessful. Two years later, he ran against Stephen A. Douglas for a senate seat. He lost that election, but in a series of debates with Douglas, he gained a reputation as a skilled and passionate speaker.

As he entered the 1860 presidential election, Lincoln was not favored to win the Republican Presidential nomination, because of the South's dislike of him and his views on slavery. He was finally chosen his party's nominee with Hannibal Hamlin as his running mate. Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President on November 6, 1860, defeating Douglas, John Bell, and John C. Breckinridge. Southern voters split their votes among the four candidates, with Lincoln ultimately winning the race.

In February 1861, Lincoln and his wife, Mary, departed by train for Washington, D.C. President Lincoln was sworn in on March 4, 1861.

Abraham Lincoln History and Biography
1860 Electoral College Map.jpg
1860 Electoral College Map

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. South Carolina was the first to secede in December 1860. Six other Southern states followed: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. After Lincoln's inauguration, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina also left the Union. These states became known as the Confederacy. The secession of the Southern states led to the first shots of the Civil War when the Confederates seized Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April 1861.

Lincoln faced the greatest national crisis of any U.S. President. He hated war and the death and destruction it would bring. However, he accepted war as the only means of saving the Union. He warned the South in his Inaugural Address:

"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 have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."

As the nation neared the third year of the bloody Civil War, President Lincoln issued the historic Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."

This proclamation actually freed few people. It did not apply to slaves in the Border States of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware; nor did it affect slaves in southern areas already under Union control. Naturally, the states that had seceded did not act on Lincoln's orders. But the proclamation showed Americans — and the world — that the war was being fought to end slavery.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately 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 freedom.

On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The speech dedicated the battlefield to the soldiers who had died there. The battle site became a military cemetery. Lincoln stated in his moving speech: "...we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — 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 the earth."

President Abraham Lincoln History and Biography
1864 Electoral College Map.jpg
1864 Electoral College Map

Lincoln was re-elected President in 1864. At the same time, Union military victories began to bring an end of the war. The President was anxious to end the fighting and traveled from Washington to General Ulysses S. Grant's Union Armies headquarters in City Point, Virginia. (This city is now known as Hopewell.) There, Lincoln discussed military strategy with Grant and mapped out a plan to join the nation together again. He wanted to find the best path to peace and to reunite the divided nation. He was generous in his offer of peace. He asked Southerners to lay down their arms and join in a speedy reunion.

Lincoln waited at City Point for news from General Grant that he had taken Petersburg and defeated the Confederate armies led by General Robert E. Lee. During this tense time, Lincoln was aboard the River Queen, a ship docked outside City Point. While on the ship, he had a dream. He dreamt that he was in the White House and walked in on a group of mourners. When he asked a soldier who had died, the soldier replied, "the President."

Within days after the dream, the capture of Petersburg, Virginia was completed. Soon after at Appomattox, Confederate troops under General Lee surrendered to General Grant and the Civil War ended in Virginia. Lee's defeat in Virginia helped to end the Civil War, as President Lincoln had wanted. But Lincoln was not to see this peaceful end, because within weeks of his return from City Point, Virginia to Washington, D.C., his life would end tragically, just as his dream had foretold.

Lincoln's re-election as President changed the racial future of the United States. It also angered a Southern sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth. Booth began planning to kidnap Lincoln and kill him. On April 14, 1865, five days after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Lincoln attended a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre in Washington.

President Abraham Lincoln dead
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Only photo in circulation with Lincoln in casket

Booth entered the presidential box and shot him. Lincoln died the next morning at 7:22 at the age of 56. Booth thought that assassinating the President would help the South's cause. However, Lincoln's death had the opposite affect. People loved and admired him. The pastor who preached Lincoln's funeral stated:

"I have said that the people confided in the late lamented President with a full and a loving confidence. Probably no man since the days of Washington was ever so deeply and firmly embedded and enshrined in the very hearts of the people as Abraham Lincoln. Nor was it a mistaken confidence and love. He deserved it well-deserved it all. He merited it by his character, by his acts, and by the whole tenor, and tone, and spirit of his life. He was simple and sincere, plain and honest, truthful and just, benevolent and kind. His perceptions were quick and clear, his judgements were calm and accurate, and his purposes were good and pure beyond a question." (Excerpt from the April 19, 1865 funeral sermon by Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church).

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 rededication to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence.

The spirit that guided Lincoln was evident in his second Inaugural Address. This speech is inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. "...With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds..." See also President Abraham Lincoln Homepage.

Sources: National Park Service; Library of Congress; National Archives.


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