February 12, 1809
Born in: Sinking Spring Farm, southeast Hardin County, Kentucky
Career: Sixteenth President of the United States
Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth President of the United States, elected twice to the position. He has been credited with successfully leading his country through the Civil War. Before holding the Presidential post, he worked as a lawyer, a member of the United States House of Representatives and an unsuccessful candidate for election to the Senate. He not only preserved the United States by winning the Civil War, but also led to the abolition of slavery in the country. He was assassinated in 1865, becoming the first president to be assassinated in the US history.
Abraham Lincoln was born on 12th February 1809, at Sinking Spring Farm, in southeast Hardin County, Kentucky (now part of LaRue County). He was the son of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, two uneducated farmers. Though Lincoln’s father was an affluent citizen of the Kentucky backcountry, he was forced to move to Perry County, Indiana. The reason for this being slavery as well as difficulties with land deeds in Kentucky. Though his family belonged to a Hardshell Baptist church, Lincoln never joined any church in his life. Lincoln lost his mother at the age of nine, after which his father got re-married
Though Lincoln was pretty affectionate toward his stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston, he could never share the same warmth with his father. In 1830, Lincoln’s father moved to Macon County, Illinois, which was followed by a move to Coles County, Illinois, the next year. However, this time, instead of moving with his father, Lincoln struck out on his own. He canoed down to the village of New Salem and was hired by businessman Denton Offutt. Though Lincoln attended only 18 months of schooling, he was a voracious reader and largely self-educated himself.
Entry into Politics
Lincoln entered the political arena in 1832, at age 23, when he participated in the Whig Party’s unsuccessful campaign for the Illinois General Assembly. His main issue was ‘undertaking of navigational improvements on the Sangamon River’, which would help poorer areas along the river to flourish. During the Black Hawk War, he was elected captain of an Illinois militia company, drawn from New Salem. He won election to the state legislature in 1834 and began to learn law by himself. Lincoln moved to Springfield after being admitted to the bar and began to practice law, with John T. Stuart.
Within no time, he became one of the most respected and successful lawyers in Illinois. After serving 4 successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives, as Sangamon County representative, he became a leader of the Illinois Whig Party. His first protest against slavery came in 1837, in the Illinois House. In 1842, Lincoln published anonymous letters in the Sangamon Journal, mocking State Auditor and Democrat James Shields. Two year later, he entered law practice with William Herndon, a fellow Whig. A decade later, in 1854, he joined the fledgling Republican Party, along with Herndon.
Lincoln’s joining of Republican Party, leaving his fledging law practice, was in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). The act repealed the limits on extent of slavery, set by the Missouri Compromise (1820). Lincoln combined the remnants of old Whig Party, Free Soil Party, Liberty Party and Democratic Party and made a great contribution to the formation of the new Republican Party. In 1854, Republicans carried Illinois and elected a senator. Though Lincoln was the obvious choice for it, he let it go to ex-Democrat Lyman Trumbull.
Douglas broke with President Buchanan in 1857-58, following which Lincoln accepted Republican nomination for the Senate. However, Lincoln lost the election and Douglas was reelected to the Senate. Throughout this period, he concentrated on his efforts against slavery and ‘Slave Power. Even during the debates of 1858, the issue of race was often discussed. Illinois Republican State Convention was held in Decatur in May 1960. It was here that Lincoln received his first endorsement to run for the presidency.
Lincoln was chosen as the Republican candidate for the 1860 Presidential election. Amongst the reason for this were his moderate views on slavery and his "Western" origins. Throughout the election, Lincoln did not campaign or give speeches. There was almost no campaigning in the southern states too and the party did not even run a slate in most of the South. The campaign was concentrated in the North and focused mainly on party platform and Lincoln's life story (his genius and the rise from poverty).
Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States on 6th November 1860. He had defeated Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge of the Southern Democrats and John Bell of the new Constitutional Union Party. The first Republican president, he has won the elections entirely on the strength of his support in the North. He had a majority vote in all, but two of the states in which he won the electoral votes. His tally was 865,908 votes (39.9% of the total), for 180 electoral votes.
Presidency and Civil War
With the win of Lincoln, South Carolina and six other cotton-growing states in the South left the Union and declared themselves to be a new nation - the Confederate States of America. President Buchanan and President-elect Lincoln refused to recognize the Confederacy. Lincoln dodged possible assassins in Baltimore and reached Washington, DC, in disguise. His inauguration took place on 4th March 1861, where he was protected by German American Turners. In his inaugural address, he supported the pending Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, in an attempt to reunite the states.
Confederacy became an established fact by the time Lincoln took office, without any possibility of a compromise for rejoining the Union. In April 1861, after being refused secession, the South attacked Unionists. While Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas also seceded, slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware stay put. Rebel leaders in all the border areas were arrested, but none of them were executed. All of them were later released, with the only exception being Clement Vallandigham, who was exiled
July 1862 saw Congress passing the Second Confiscation Act, aimed at making slaves free. The main aim behind this was to weaken the rebellion being led and controlled by slave owners. Though the legal institution of slavery was not abolished, it did show Congress’ support for liberating slaves owned by rebels. The new law was implemented with Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation", which freed slaves in territories not under Union control. Following this, he concentrated his efforts on the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, for permanently abolishing slavery throughout the nation.
Second Presidential Election (1864)
The Union victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chattanooga, in 1863, paved way for the promotion of Ulysses S. Grant General-in-Chief and his strategy. Lincoln was again selected as the Republican candidate and Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat from the Southern state of Tennessee, as his running mate. Lincoln was re-elected in a landslide win, where he won all but two states, capturing 212 of 233 electoral votes. He delivered his second inaugural address on 4th March 1865, with victory over the rebels at hand and slavery dead.
During the war, reconstruction efforts were made to reintegrate the Southern states. Lincoln followed the moderate policy, urging holding of speedy elections under generous terms, throughout the war, in areas behind Union lines. He passed Amnesty Proclamation in December 1863, offering pardons to those who had not held a Confederate civil office, had not mistreated Union prisoners, and would sign an oath of allegiance.
Considering Lincoln’s policy to be way too lenient, the Radicals passed their own plan, the Wade-Davis Bill, in the year 1864. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill, following which the Radicals refused to seat elected representatives from Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee. With the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, in April 1865, the war was effectively over and even other rebel armies surrendered soon after.
John Wilkes Booth, an actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland, intended to kidnap Lincoln and secure the release of Confederate prisoners. However, Lincoln’s speech, in which he promoted voting rights for blacks, incensed Booth and he decided to assassinate the President. On 14th April 1865, Lincoln went to attend the play ‘Our American Cousin’, in Ford's Theatre. Booth crept up behind the President, when the latter’s lone bodyguard wandered, and fired a single-shot of round-slug .44 caliber Henry Deringer at his head, from point-blank range.
The President was taken to the Petersen House, where he lay in a coma for nine hours, before leaving for the heavenly abode. He was officially pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m., on 15th April 1865, at the age of 56. Though Booth managed to escape, he was cornered after a 12-day manhunt, in a Virginia barn house, and shot, dying of his wounds soon after. Lincoln was interred in The Lincoln Tomb, in Oak Ridge Cemetery of Springfield. In 1901, Robert Lincoln had Lincoln exhumed and reinterred in several feet thick concrete.
Lincoln married Mary Todd, daughter of a slave-owning family from Kentucky, in November 1842. Though the couple had four children from the marriage, all born in Springfield (Illinois), only one of them survived. The rest three died either during their childhood or teenage years. Robert Todd Lincoln was their first child, who was born in August 1843 and lived to see the world. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard College. The other three children, who couldn’t survive, were Edward Baker Lincoln (1846 - 1850), William Wallace Lincoln (1850 - 1862) and Thomas "Tad" Lincoln (1853 - 1871).