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Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Abe Lincoln

Order: 16th President
Term of Office: March 4, 1861April 15, 1865
Predecessor: James Buchanan
Successor: Andrew Johnson
Date of Birth: February 12, 1809
Place of Birth: Hardin County, Kentucky
(site now in LaRue County)
Date of Death: April 20,2005
Place of Death: Washington, D.C.
First Lady: Mary Todd Lincoln
Profession: Lawyer
Political Party: Republican
Vice President:

Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809April 15, 1865), sometimes called Abe Lincoln and nicknamed Honest Abe, the Rail Splitter, and the Great Emancipator, was the 16th (18611865) President of the United States, and the first president from the Republican Party.

Lincoln staunchly opposed the expansion of slavery into federal territories, and his election polarized the nation and soon led to the declarations of secession by Southern states, their formation of the Confederate States of America and seizure of federal properties within their boundaries, thus triggering the Civil War. During the war, Lincoln assumed more power than any previous president in U.S. history. Taking a broad view of the president's war powers, he proclaimed a blockade, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, spent money without congressional authorization, and personally directed the war effort, which ultimately led the Union forces to victory over the seceding Confederacy.

Lincoln was a calculating politician who emerged as a wartime leader skilled at balancing competing considerations and adept at getting rival groups to work together toward a common goal. His leadership qualities were evident in his handling of the border slave states at the beginning of the fighting, in his defeat of a congressional attempt to reorganize his cabinet in 1862, and in his defusing of the peace issue in the 1864 presidential campaign.

Lincoln had a lasting influence on U.S. political and social institutions. The most important was setting the precedent for greater centralization of powers in the federal government and a weakening of the powers of the individual state governments. Lincoln was also the president who declared Thanksgiving as a national holiday, established the U.S. Department of Agriculture (though not as a Cabinet-level department), revived national banking and banks, and admitted West Virginia and Nevada as states. He also greatly encouraged the settling and development of the American West, signing the Homestead Act (1862). His assassination, shortly after the end of the Civil War, made him a martyr to millions of Americans. His reputation was forever sealed by the victory that he won, but without the tarnishing that could have resulted from the disorder of Reconstruction in the aftermath of the war. He is usually ranked as one of the greatest presidents, though is criticized by some for overstepping the traditional bounds of executive power.


Early life

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 (coincidentally on the same day as Charles Darwin), in a one-room log cabin on a farm in Hardin County, Kentucky (now in LaRue Co., in Nolin Creek , three miles (5 km) south of the town of Hodgenville), to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. Lincoln was named after his deceased grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, who was killed by Native Americans. Lincoln's parents were largely uneducated. When Abraham Lincoln was seven years old, he and his parents moved to Spencer County, Indiana, "partly on account of slavery" and partly because of economic difficulty in Kentucky. In 1830, after economic and land-title difficulties in Indiana, the family settled on government land along the Sangamon River on a site selected by Lincoln's father in Macon County, Illinois, near the present city of Decatur. The following winter was especially brutal, and the family nearly moved back to Indiana. When his father relocated the family to a nearby site the following year, the 22-year-old Lincoln struck out on his own, canoeing down the Sangamon to homestead on his own in Sangamon County, Illinois (now in Menard County), in the village of New Salem. Later that year, hired by New Salem businessman Denton Offutt and accompanied by friends, he took goods from New Salem to New Orleans via flatboat on the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi rivers. While in New Orleans he may have witnessed a slave auction that left an indelible impression on him for the rest of his life.

Lincoln began his political career in 1832 with a campaign for the Illinois General Assembly. The centerpiece of his platform was the undertaking of navigational improvements on the Sangamon in the hopes of attracting steamboat traffic to the river, which would allow sparsely populated, poor areas along and near the river to grow and prosper. He served as a captain in a company of the Illinois militia drawn from New Salem during the Black Hawk War, writing after being elected by his peers that he had not had "any such success in life which gave him so much satisfaction."

He later tried his hand at several business and political ventures, and failed at them all. Finally, after coming across the second volume of Sir William Blackstone's four-volume Commentaries on the Laws of England, he taught himself the law, and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1837. That same year, he moved to Springfield, Illinois and began to practice law with Stephen T. Logan. He became one of the most highly respected and successful lawyers in the state of Illinois, and became steadily more prosperous. Lincoln served four successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives, as a representative from Sangamon County, beginning in 1834. In 1837 he made his first protest against slavery in the Illinois House, stating that the institution was "founded on both injustice and bad policy." [1]

Abraham Lincoln shared a bed with Joshua Fry Speed from 1837 to 1841 in Springfield. A recent biography has suggested the controversial theory that their relationship may also have been sexual: See Abraham Lincoln's sexuality.

In 1841, Lincoln entered law practice with William Herndon, a fellow member of the Whig Party. In 1856, both men joined the fledgling Republican Party. Following Lincoln's assassination, Herndon began collecting stories about Lincoln from those who knew him in central Illinois, eventually publishing a book, Herndon's Lincoln.

On November 4, 1842, Lincoln married Mary Todd. President Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln had four sons.

Only Robert survived into adulthood. Of Robert's children, only Jessie Lincoln had any children (2 - Mary Lincoln Beckwith and Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith). Neither Robert Beckwith nor Mary Beckwith had any children, so Abraham Lincoln's bloodline ended when Robert Beckwith (Lincoln's great-grandson) died on December 24, 1985. [2]

Towards the Presidency

In 1846 Lincoln was elected to one term in the House of Representatives as a member of the United States Whig Party. A staunch Whig, Lincoln often referred to Whig leader Henry Clay as his political idol. As a freshman House member, Lincoln was not a particularly powerful or influential figure in Congress. He used his office as an opportunity to speak out against the war with Mexico, which he attributed to President Polk's desire for "military glory — that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood."

Lincoln was a key early supporter of Zachary Taylor's candidacy for the 1848 Whig Presidential nomination. When his term ended, the incoming Taylor administration offered him the governorship of the Oregon Territory. He declined, returning instead to Springfield, Illinois where, although remaining active in Whig Party affairs in the state, he turned most of his energies to making a living at the bar.

By the mid-1850s, Lincoln had acquired prominence in Illinois legal circles, especially through his involvement in litigation involving competing transportation interests — both the river barges and the railroads. In 1849, he received a patent related to bouying vessels.

Lincoln represented the Alton & Sangamon Railroad, for example, in an 1851 dispute with one of its shareholders, James A. Barret. Barret had refused to pay the balance on his pledge to that corporation on the ground that it had changed its originally planned route. Lincoln argued that as a matter of law a corporation is not bound by its original charter when that charter can be amended in the public interest, that the newer proposed Alton & Sangamon route was superior and less expensive, and that accordingly the corporation had a right to sue Mr. Barret for his delinquent payment. He won this case, and the decision by the Illinois Supreme Court was eventually cited by several other courts throughout the United States.

Another important example of Lincoln's skills as a railroad lawyer was a lawsuit over a tax exemption that the state granted to the Illinois Central Railroad. McLean County argued that the state had no authority to grant such an exemption, and it sought to impose taxes on the railroad notwithstanding. In January 1856, the Illinois Supreme Court delivered its opinion upholding the tax exemption, accepting Lincoln's arguments.

In addition, Lincoln worked in at least one criminal trial in 1857 when he defended William "Duff" Armstrong pro bono who was on trial for the murder of James Preston Metzker. The case is famous for when Lincoln used judicial notice, a rare tactic at that time, to show an eyewitness perjured himself on the stand claiming he witnessed the crime in the moonlight. Lincoln produced a Farmer's Almanac to show that the moon on that date was at a low angle and could not have produced enough lumination for the witness to see anything clearly. Based on this evidence, Armstrong was acquitted.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which expressly repealed the limits on slavery's spread that had been part of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, helped draw Lincoln back into electoral politics. It was a speech against Kansas-Nebraska, on October 16, 1854 in Peoria, that caused Lincoln to stand out among the other free-soil orators of the day.

During his unsuccessful 1858 campaign for the United States Senate against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln debated Douglas in a series of events which became a national discussion on the issues that were about to split the nation in two. Lincoln also delivered his famous "House Divided" speech during this campaign, [3] creating a lasting image of the danger of disunion due to slavery. Douglas, proposing popular sovereignty as the solution to the slavery impasse, had sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. However, prior to the campaign, many eastern Republicans urged support for Douglas, since he was a Northern leader who had led the opposition to the Buchanan administration's push for the Lecompton Constitution which would have admitted Kansas as a slave state. Lincoln was viewed as a heavy underdog.

However, though Douglas was eventually reelected by the Illinois legislature (this was before the 17th Amendment), Lincoln's eloquence during the campaign transformed him into a national political star. During the debates, Lincoln forced Douglas to propose his Freeport Doctrine, which lost him further support among slave-holders and may have forced the eventual dissolution of the Democratic Party.

Election and Early Presidency

Lincoln's eloquence in debating Douglas and during his 1858 Senate campaign, along with his subsequent speeches, transformed him into a political star. Lincoln was chosen as the Republican candidate because his views on slavery were more moderate than those of the Radical Republicans and because his of his Western origins, in contrast to the New Yorker William Henry Seward. During the campaign, Lincoln was dubbed "The Rail Splitter" by Republicans to emphasize Lincoln's humility and humble origins, though in fact Lincoln was quite wealthy at the time due to his successful law practice.

On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States, beating Douglas and two other major candidates. Lincoln was the first Republican president. Lincoln won entirely on the strength of his support in the North: he was not even on the ballot in nine states in the South — and won only 2 of 996 counties in the entire South. Even before Lincoln's election, leaders in the South made it clear that their States would leave the Union in response to a Lincoln victory. A total of seven slave states declared their secession even before Lincoln took office, forming the Confederate States of America.

President-elect Lincoln survived an assassination attempt in Baltimore, Maryland, and on February 23, 1861 arrived secretly in disguise to Washington, DC. Southerners ridiculed Lincoln for this subterfuge, but the efforts at security may have been prudent. At Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, 1861, the Turners formed Lincoln's bodyguard; and a sizable garrison of federal troops was also present, ready to protect the president and the capital from rebel invasion.

In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln declared, "I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments", arguing further that the purpose of the Constitution was "to form a more perfect union" than the Articles of Confederation which were explicitly perpetual, and thus the Constitution too was perpetual. He asked rhetorically that even were the Constitution construed as a simple contract, would it not require the agreement of all parties to rescind it?

Also in his Inaugural Address, Lincoln supported the proposed Corwin amendment to the constitution, which would have protected slavery in those states in which it already existed, but refused to compromise on the issue of westward expansion of slavery.

After Union troops at Fort Sumter were fired on and forced to surrender in April, Lincoln called for more troops from each remaining state to recapture forts, protect the capital, and preserve the Union. In response, four more slave states seceded by May 1861, and splinter factions from Missouri and Kentucky joined the Confederacy by December.

Slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln met with his Cabinet for the first reading of the draft on , .
Lincoln met with his Cabinet for the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation draft on July 22, 1862.

Though Lincoln is well known for ending slavery in the USA and he personally opposed slavery as a moral evil, Lincoln's views of his own Constitutional powers on the subject of slavery are more complicated. He believed that the Declaration of Independence's statement that "all men are created equal" should apply also to black slaves, and that slavery was a profound evil which should not spread to the Territories. However, Lincoln maintained that the federal government did not possess the constitutional power to bar slavery in states where it already existed, and he supported colonization, believing that freed black slaves were too different to live in the same society as white Americans. Lincoln addresses the issue of his consistency (or lack thereof) between his earlier position and his later position of emancipation in an 1864 letter to Albert G. Hodges[4] See: Abraham Lincoln on slavery

Lincoln is often credited with freeing enslaved African-Americans with the Emancipation Proclamation, though in practice this only freed the slaves in areas of the Confederacy as those areas came under control of Union forces; in territories and states that still allowed slavery but had remained loyal to the Union, slaves were not initially freed. Lincoln signed the Proclamation as a wartime measure, insisting that only the outbreak of war gave constitutional power to the President to free slaves in states where it already existed. He later said: "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper." The proclamation made abolishing slavery in the rebel states an official war goal and it became the impetus for the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution which abolished slavery. Politically, the Emancipation Proclamation did much to help the Northern cause; Lincoln's strong abolitionist stand finally convinced Britain and other foreign countries that they could not support the South.

Important Non-Civil War measures of Lincoln's first term

While Lincoln is usually portrayed bearded, he only grew a beard the last few years of his life, perhaps at the suggestion of 11-year-old Grace Bedell.
While Lincoln is usually portrayed bearded, he only grew a beard the last few years of his life, perhaps at the suggestion of 11-year-old Grace Bedell.

Perhaps Lincoln's most important contribution as President, outside of his military leadership as Commander-in-Chief, was his signing of the Homestead Act in 1862. Considered by some to be the most important piece of legislation in American history, the Act made available millions of acres of government-held land in the midwest for purchase at very low cost. Any male over 21 could obtain a Homestead tract of 160 acres simply by filing a claim and paying a processing fee of $18. The land had then to be lived upon, built up, and improved, for a period of no less than 5 years. Many were more than willing to take up this challenge. Lincoln, however, had little do with the drafting of the act or its passage in Congress.

The Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, also signed by Lincoln in 1862, provided government grants for agricultural universities throughout the American states. Such universities -- often founded in Homesteading states -- provided education and know-how for masses of local Homesteaders. They helped found the concept of scientific Agriculture and, perhaps more importantly, helped democratize American education. Like the Homestead Act, Lincoln had little to do with this act's framing or passage in Congress.

After the "Sioux Uprising" of August 1862 in Minnesota, Lincoln was presented with 303 death warrants for convicted Santee Dakota who had taken part. Of these, Lincoln only affirmed 39 men for execution (one was later reprieved). Lincoln was strongly chastised for this action in Minnesota and throughout his administration because many felt that all 303 Native Americans should have been executed. Reaction in Minnesota was so strong concerning Lincoln's leniency toward the Native Americans that Republicans lost their political strength in the state in 1864. Lincoln's response was: "I could not afford to hang men for votes."

Civil War and Reconstruction

Conducting the war effort

The war was a source of constant frustration for the president, and it occupied nearly all of his time. Lincoln had a contentious relationship with General George McClellan, who led the Northern war effort after the retirement of Winfield Scott in late 1861. Lincoln wished to take an active part in planning the Northern war strategy despite his inexperience in military affairs. Lincoln's strategic priorities were two-fold: First, to ensure that Washington, DC, was well-defended; and second, to conduct an aggressive war effort in hopes of ending the war sooner and appeasing the Northern public, who rabidly pushed for an offensive war. McClellan, a career military man and West Point graduate, took a more cautious approach. McClellan took several months to plan and execute his Peninsula Campaign, which involved invading Richmond by moving the Army of the Potomac by boat to the peninsula between the James and York Rivers. McClellan's delay irritated Lincoln, as did McClellan's insistence that no troops were needed to defend Washington, D.C. Lincoln insisted on holding some of McClellan's troops to defend Washington, a decision McClellan blamed for the ultimate failure of his Peninsula Campaign.

McClellan, a lifelong Democrat who was temperamentally conservative, was relieved of effective control of the Virginia campaign after releasing his Harrison's Landing Letter, where he offered unsolicited political advice to Lincoln urging caution in the war effort. McClellan's letter incensed Radical Republicans, who successfully pressured Lincoln to appoint fellow Republican John Pope as head of the new Army of Virginia. Pope complied with Lincoln's strategic desire for the Union to move towards Richmond from the North, thus guarding the Washington, DC. However, Pope was soundly defeated st Second Bull Run during the summer of 1862, forcing the Army of the Potomac to abandon Virginia for the time being, leading to Pope's being sent West to command against the American Indians. Lincoln restored McClellan to effective command in time for the Battle of Antietam in September of that year. It was Union victory in that battle that allowed Lincoln to release his Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln relieved McClellan of command shortly after the 1862 midterm elections and appointed Republican Ambrose Burnside to head the Army of the Potomac, who promised to follow through on Lincoln's strategic vision for a sack of Richmond from the North. After Burnside was embarrassingly routed at Fredericksburg, Joseph Hooker assumed command, but was routed at Chancellorsville and also relieved of command.

After Union victory at Gettysburg and months of inactivity for the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln made the fateful decision to appoint a radical and somewhat scandalous army commander: General Ulysses S. Grant, who was disfavored by Republican hardliners because he had been a Democrat. Grant would daringly wage his bloody Wilderness campaign, characterized by shockingly high Union losses at battles such as Cold Harbor and the Crater. Grant's aggressive campaign, however, would eventually result in the Union taking Richmond and bringing the war to a close in Spring 1865.

Lincoln authorized Grant to used the scorched earth approach to pacify the South. This allowed Generals Sherman and Sheridan to destroy and loot homes, farms and cities in Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina. The damage in Georgia alone totalled in excess of 100 million dollars.

Lincoln had a star-crossed record as a military leader, finding little success in his efforts to coordinate troop movements. Eventually, he found in Grant a man who shared his vision of the war and was able to bring that vision into reality with his battlefield daring.

Lincoln, perhaps reflecting his lack of military experience, developed a keen curiosity with military campaigning during the war. Lincoln continually visited battle sights and seemed fascinated by watching scenes of war. During Jubal Early's raid into Washington, DC, in 1864, Lincoln had to be told to duck his head to avoid being shot observing the scenes of battle.


Lincoln was more successful in giving the war meaning to Northern civilians through his oratorical skills. Despite his meager education and “backwoods” upbringing, Lincoln possessed an extraordinary command of the English language, as evidenced by the Gettysburg Address, a speech dedicating a cemetery of Union soldiers from the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. While most of the speakers—e.g. Edward Everett—at the event spoke at length, some for hours, Lincoln's few choice words resonated across the nation and across history, defying Lincoln's own prediction that "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here." Lincoln's second inaugural address is also greatly admired and often quoted. In these speeches, Lincoln articulated better than any of his contemporaries the rationale behind the Union effort.

During the Civil War, Lincoln exercised powers no previous president had wielded; he suspended the writ of habeas corpus and frequently imprisoned accused Southern spies and sympathizers without trial. Some scholars have argued that Lincoln's political arrests extended to the highest levels of the government including an attempted warrant for Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, though the allegation remains unresolved and controversial (see the Taney Arrest Warrant controversy). On the other hand, he often commuted executions.

Lincoln was the only President to face a presidential election during a civil war (in 1864). The long war and the issue of emancipation appeared to be severely hampering his prospects and an electoral defeat appeared likely against the Democratic nominee and former general, George McClellan. General Grant was facing severe criticism for his conduct of the bloody Wilderness campaign. Lincoln formed a Union party which composed of War Democrats and Republicans. However, a Union victory at Atlanta in September changed the situation dramatically and Lincoln was reelected.


The reconstruction of the Union weighed heavy on the President's mind throughout the war effort. He was determined to take a course that would not permanently alienate the former Confederate states, and throughout the war Lincoln urged speedy elections under generous terms in areas behind Union lines. This irritated congressional Republicans, who urged a more stringent Reconstruction policy. One of Lincoln's few vetoes during his term was of the Wade-Davis bill, an effort by congressional Republicans to impose harsher Reconstruction terms on the Confederate areas. Republicans in Congress retaliated by refusing to seat representatives elected from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee during the war under Lincoln's generous terms.

"Let 'em up easy," he told his assembled military leaders Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. William T. Sherman and Adm. David Dixon Porter in an 1865 meeting on the steamer River Queen. When Richmond, the Confederate capital, was at long last captured, Lincoln went there to make a public gesture of sitting at Jefferson Davis's own desk, symbolically saying to the nation that the President of the United States held authority over the entire land. He was greeted at the city as a conquering hero by freed slaves, whose sentiments were epitomized by one admirer's quote, "I know I am free for I have seen the face of Father Abraham and have felt him."

On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. This left only Joseph Johnston's forces in the East to deal with. Weeks later Johnston would defy Jefferson Davis and surrender his forces to Sherman. Of course, Lincoln would not survive to see the surrender of all Confederate forces; just days after Lee surrendered, Lincoln was assassinated.


Lincoln had met frequently with Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant as the war drew to a close. The two men planned matters of reconstruction, and it was evident to all that they held each other in high regard. During their last meeting, on April 14, 1865 (Good Friday), Lincoln invited Grant to a social engagement that evening. Grant declined (Grant's wife, Julia Dent Grant, is said to have strongly disliked Mary Todd Lincoln). The President's eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, also turned down the invitation.

Without his bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, to whom he related his famous dream of his own assassination, the Lincolns left to attend a play at Ford's Theater. The play was Our American Cousin, a musical comedy by the British writer Tom Taylor (1817-1880). As Lincoln sat in his state box in the balcony, John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and Southern sympathizer from Maryland, crept up behind the President and aimed a single-shot, round-slug .44 caliber Deringer at his head, firing at point-blank range. He shouted "Sic semper tyrannis!" (Latin: "Thus always to tyrants," and Virginia's state motto; some accounts say he added "The South is avenged!") and jumped from the balcony to the stage below. Booth managed to limp to his horse and escape, and the mortally wounded President was taken to a house a

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