Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Term of office March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
Preceded by James Buchanan
Succeeded by Andrew Johnson
Date of birth February 12, 1809
Place of birth Hardin County, Kentucky (now in LaRue County)
Spouse Mary Todd Lincoln
Political party Republican

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 President of the United States (1861 to 1865), and the first president from the Republican Party.

Lincoln staunchly opposed the expansion of slavery into federal territories, and his victory in the 1860 presidential election further polarized an already divided nation. Before his inauguration in March of 1861, seven Southern slave states seceded1 from the United States, formed the Confederate States of America, and took control of U.S. forts and other properties within their boundaries. These events soon led to the American Civil War.

Lincoln is often praised for his work as a wartime leader who proved adept at balancing competing considerations and at getting rival groups to work together toward a common goal. Lincoln had to negotiate between Radical and Moderate Republican leaders, who were often far apart on the issues, while attempting to win support from War Democrats and loyalists in the seceding states. He personally directed the war effort, which ultimately led the Union forces to victory over the Confederacy.

His leadership qualities were evident in his diplomatic 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, in his many speeches and writings which helped mobilize and inspire the North, and in his defusing of the peace issue in the 1864 presidential campaign. He is sometimes criticized for issuing executive orders suspending habeas corpus, imprisoning opposing government officials, and ordering the arrest of a number of publishers.

Some historians also argue that Lincoln had a lasting influence on U.S. political and social institutions. The most important may have been setting the precedent for greater centralization of powers in the federal government and a weakening of the powers of the individual state governments. This claim, however, is disputed as the federal government largely reverted to its former weakness after Reconstruction and the modern administrative state would only emerge with the New Deal some seventy years later.

Lincoln is most famous for his role in ending slavery in the United States with the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation as a pragmatic war measure which would set the stage for the complete abolition of the institution.

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 encouraged efforts to expand white settlement in western North America, signing the Homestead Act (1862).

Lincoln is usually ranked as one of the greatest presidents. He is criticized by some for overstepping the traditional bounds of executive power. Others fault him for his refusal to make efforts at compromise with the seceding states. Because of his role in ending slavery, and his guiding the Union to victory in the civil war, his assassination made him a martyr to millions of Americans.


Early life

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a one-room log cabin on 348 acre (1.4 km²) Sinking Spring Farm in the Southeast part of Hardin County, Kentucky, then considered the frontier (now part of LaRue Co., in Nolin Creek, three miles (5 km) south of Hodgenville), to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. Lincoln was named after his deceased grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, who was killed in 1786 in a conflict with local Indians. He was given just his grandfather's first and last name and was not given any middle name. Lincoln's parents were largely uneducated. Later, when Lincoln became more renowned, reporters and storytellers often exaggerated the poverty and obscurity of Lincoln's birth. In fact, Lincoln's father Thomas was a respected and relatively affluent citizen of the Kentucky backcountry. He had purchased the Sinking Spring Farm in December 1808 for $200 cash and assumption of a debt. His parents belonged to a Baptist church that had pulled away from a larger church because they refused to support slavery. Accordingly, from a very young age, Lincoln was exposed to anti-slavery sentiment.

Three years after purchasing the property, a prior land claim filed in Hardin Circuit Court forced the Lincolns to move. Thomas continued legal action until he lost the case in 1815. Money spent on the lawsuit contributed to family difficulties. In 1811, they were able to lease 30 acres (0.1 km²) of a 230 acre (0.9 km²) farm on Knob Creek a few miles away, where they then moved. In a valley of the Rolling Fork River, this was some of the best farmland in the area. At this time, Lincoln's father was a respected community member and a successful farmer and carpenter. Lincoln's earliest recollections are from this farm. In 1815, another claimant sought to eject the family from the Knob Creek farm. Frustrated with litigation and lack of security provided by Kentucky courts, Thomas decided to move to Indiana, which had been surveyed by the federal government, making land titles more secure. Historians believe that these problems motivated Abraham to later learn surveying and become an attorney.

In 1816, when Lincoln was seven years old, he and his parents moved to Spencer County, Indiana, he would state "partly on account of slavery" and partly because of economic difficulties in Kentucky (mostly derived from losing two homes and financing years of litigation). In 1830, after more 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. Whether he actually witnessed a slave auction at that time or not, living in a country with a considerable slave presence, he probably saw similar atrocities from time to time.

Young Abraham Lincoln
Young Abraham Lincoln

Early career

Lincoln began his political career in 1832 at the age of 23 with a campaign for the Illinois General Assembly as a member of the Whig Party. The centerpiece of his platform was the undertaking of navigational improvements on the Sangamon River 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, although he never saw combat. He wrote 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. He held an Illinois state liquor license and operated several taverns. 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]

Lincoln shared a bed with Joshua Fry Speed from 1837 to 1841 in Springfield. While many claim it was not uncommon in the mid-19th century for men to share a bed (just as two men today may share a house or an apartment), C.A. Tripp's 2005 biography, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, suggesting that their relationship may also have been sexual, has generated a great deal of controversy.

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, at the age of 33, Lincoln married Mary Todd. The couple had four sons.

Only Robert survived into adulthood. Of Robert's three children, only Jessie Lincoln had any children (two: 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

Lincoln in 1846 or 1847
Lincoln in 1846 or 1847

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 buoying 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 on at least one criminal trial in 1858 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 had lied 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 such a low angle it could not have produced enough illumination for the would-be witness to see anything clearly. Based upon 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.

Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, proposing popular sovereignty as the solution to the slavery impasse, had sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Many eastern Republicans had urged the nomination of Douglas for the United States Senate in 1858, 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.

Accepting the Republican nomination for the Senate in 1858, Lincoln delivered a famous speech [3] in which he stated, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." (This statement is spoken by Jesus in Matthew 12:25.) The speech created a lasting image of the danger of disunion due to slavery. Lincoln was viewed as a heavy underdog against the popular Douglas.

During his unsuccessful 1858 campaign for the Senate, 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. 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. 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.

Election and early Presidency

"The Rail Candidate", political cartoon, 1860
"The Rail Candidate", political cartoon, 1860

Lincoln was chosen as the Republican candidate for several reasons: because his views on slavery were seen as more moderate; because of his Western origins (in contrast to his main rival for the nomination, the New Yorker William H. Seward), and because several other contenders had enemies within the party. 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, Breckenridge, and Bell. Lincoln was the first Republican president. He 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. Lincoln gained 1,865,908 votes for 180 electoral votes, Douglas 1,380,202 for 12 electoral votes, Breckenridge 848,019 for 72 electoral votes, and Bell 590,901 for 39 electoral votes.

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 states seceded 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, D.C. 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.

Photograph showing March 4, 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in front of U.S. Capitol
Photograph showing March 4, 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in front of U.S. Capitol

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 United States 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, in a final attempt to unite the Union and prevent the looming war, Lincoln supported the proposed Corwin Amendment to the constitution, of which he was a driving force. This proposed amendment would have explicitly protected slavery in those states in which it already existed, and had already passed both houses. Lincoln, however, adamantly opposed the Crittenden Compromise, which would have permitted slavery in the territories, renewing the boundary set by the Missouri Compromise and extending it to California. Despite support for this compromise among moderate Republicans and across the nation, Lincoln declared that were the Crittenden Compromise accepted, it "would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and state owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego." Lincoln also spurned requests to appoint a Southerner to his cabinet (Sam Houston, at that time governor of Texas and supporting the Union but rejecting offered troops to prevent secession, being a prominent suggestion).

Because opposition to slavery expansion was the key issue uniting the Republican Party at the time, Lincoln is sometimes criticized for putting politics ahead of the national interest in refusing to compromise on the slavery expansion issue. Supporters of Lincoln, however, point out that he did not oppose slavery because he was a Republican, but became a Republican because of his opposition to the expansion of slavery, that he opposed several other Republicans who were in favor of compromise, and that he clearly thought his course of action was in the national interest.

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", which in his view still existed intact despite the actions of the seceding states. 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 Emancipation Proclamation draft on July 22, 1862.
Lincoln met with his Cabinet for the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation draft on July 22, 1862.

Lincoln is well known for ending slavery in the United States and he personally opposed slavery as a moral evil. Yet, Lincoln's views of the role of the federal government 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. Thus, he campaigned against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. However, Lincoln maintained that the federal government could not constitutionally 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. However, territories and states that still allowed slavery but were under Union control were exempt from the emancipation. The proclamation initially freed only a few escaped slaves, but also enabled the freeing of slaves in territories captured after its proclamation. 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 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 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, 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, 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, though Lincoln had little do with the drafting of the act or its passage in Congress. 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 the age of 21 could obtain a Homestead tract of 160 acres (647,000 m²) 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 five years. Many were more than willing to take up this challenge.

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. Lincoln affirmed 39 of these 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."

1864 election and Second Inauguration

After Lincoln's election, on March 4, 1865, he delivered his second inaugural address, which was his favorite of all his speeches. At this time, a victory over the secessionists was within sight, slavery had effectively ended, and Lincoln was looking to the future.

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 B. McClellan, who became general-in-chief of all the Union armies in the wake of the embarrassing Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run and after the retirement of Winfield Scott in late 1861. Lincoln wished to take an active part in planning the war strategy despite his inexperience in military affairs. Lincoln's strategic priorities were two-fold: first, to ensure that Washington, D.C., was well-defended; and second, to conduct an aggressive war effort in hopes of ending the war quickly and appeasing the Northern public and press, who pushed for an offensive war. McClellan, a youthful West Point graduate and railroad executive called back to military service, took a more cautious approach. McClellan took several months to plan and execute his Peninsula Campaign, which involved capturing 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 the capital, a decision McClellan blamed for the ultimate failure of his Peninsula Campaign.

McClellan, a lifelong Democrat who was temperamentally conservative, was relieved as general-in-chief 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 Washington, D.C. However, Pope was soundly defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run during the summer of 1862, forcing the Army of the Potomac back into the defenses of Washington for a second time, leading to Pope's being sent west to fight against the American Indians.

Panicked by Confederate General Robert E. Lee's invasion of Maryland, Lincoln restored McClellan to command of all forces around Washington in time for the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. It was the 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 an aggressive offensive against Lee and Richmond. After Burnside was embarrassingly routed at Fredericksburg, Joseph Hooker assumed command, but was routed at Chancellorsville in May 1863 and also relieved of command.

After the Union victory at Gettysburg and months of inactivity for the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln made the fateful decision to appoint a new army commander: General Ulysses S. Grant, who was disfavored by Republican hardliners because he had been a Democrat, but who had a solid string of victories in the Western Theater, including Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Earlier, reacting to criticism of Grant, Lincoln was quoted as saying, "I cannot spare this man. He fights." Grant waged his bloody Overland Campaign in 1864, using a strategy of a war of attrition, characterized by high Union losses at battles such as the Wilderness and Cold Harbor, but by proportionately higher losses in the Confederate army. Grant's aggressive campaign would eventually bottle up Lee in the Siege of Petersburg and result in the Union taking Richmond and bringing the war to a close in the spring of 1865.

Lincoln authorized Grant to use a scorched earth approach to destroy the South's morale and economic ability to continue the war. This allowed Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan to destroy factories, farms, and cities in the Shenandoah Valley, Georgia, and South Carolina. The damage in Sherman's March to the Sea through Georgia totaled in excess of $100 million.

Lincoln had a star-crossed record as a military leader, possessing a keen understanding of strategic points (such as the Mississippi River and the fortress city of Vicksburg) and the importance of defeating the enemy's army, rather than simply capturing cities. However, he had little success in his efforts to motivate his generals to adopt his strategies. Eventually, he found in Grant a man who shared his vision of the war and was able to bring that vision to reality with his relentless pursuit of coordinated offensives in multiple theaters of war.

Lincoln, perhaps reflecting his lack of military experience, developed a keen curiosity with military campaigning during the war. He spent hours at the War Department telegraph office, reading dispatches from his generals through many a night. He frequently visited battle sites and seemed fascinated by watching scenes of war. During Jubal A. Early's raid into Washington, D.C., 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 the featured speaker, orator Edward Everett, spoke for two 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 proclaimed a blockade, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, spent money without congressional authorization, 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).

Lincoln was the only U.S. 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. Lincoln ran under the Union party banner, composed of War Democrats and Republicans. General Grant was facing severe criticism for his conduct of the bloody Overland Campaign that summer and the seemingly endless Siege of Petersburg. However, the Union capture of the key railroad center of Atlanta by Sherman's forces 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 (a future president), 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 five days after Lee surrendered, Lincoln was assassinated.


The assassination of Abraham Lincoln. From left to right: Henry Rathbone, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Lincoln, and Booth.
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln. From left to right: Henry Rathbone, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Lincoln, and Booth.

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. 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's box and waited for the funniest line of the play hoping the laughter would cover the gunshot noise. On stage, actor Harry Hawk said the last line Lincoln would ever hear "Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal—you sockdologizing old man-trap...". When the laughter came John Wilkes Booth jumped into the box the president was in and aimed a single-shot, round-slug .44 caliber Deringer at his head, firing at point-blank range. The bullet entered behind Lincoln's left ear and lodged behind his eyeball. Booth then 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. But as he dropped, the spur of his boot became caught in the American flag draping the box, and he fell awkwardly onto the stage, breaking his leg.

Despite his injury, Booth managed to limp to his horse and escape, and the mortally wounded & paralyzed President was taken to a house across the street, now called the Petersen House, where he lay in a coma for some time before he quietly expired. Abraham Lincoln was officially pronounced dead at 7:22 AM the next morning, April 15, 1865 (Easter Saturday). Upon seeing him die, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton lamented "Now he belongs to the ages."

After Lincoln's body was returned to the White House officials prepared him for his "lying in state," and now a newly discovered photograph from the estate of photographer, artist and engraver John B. Bachelder has surfaced showing Abraham Lincoln but a few hours post mortem. It was published for the first time ever in Lloyd Ostendorf's last book ("Lincoln's Photographs: A Complete Album" by Lloyd Ostendorf, Rockywood Press, Dayton, Ohio, 2004). As an archivist of Lincoln photographs published before his untimely death in September of 2004, Mr. Ostendorf labeled the photo in question here "O-130", and since there are currently 130 known photos of Lincoln, it is considered the most recent photographic discovery of Lincoln. Mr. Ostendorf did not include the details in his book of how he came upon the picture, however it is surmised that John B. Bachelder's descendants found it and let Mr. Ostendorf know about it and use it. The photograph of the 16th President is not linked here out of lurid interest, nor morbid curiosity, but as a new historical find; if authentic it is in fact the only immediately post mortem photograph of the late beloved president to be taken by Mr. Meserve, on the morning of April 15th 1865. Link:(WARNING; possibly disturbing image) [5]

Booth and several other conspirators had planned to kill a number of other government officials at the same time, but for various reasons Lincoln's was the only assassination actually carried out (although Secretary of State Seward was badly injured by an assailant). Several of the conspirators were eventually captured. Four people were tried by military tribunal and hanged for the assassination plot (David Herold, George Atzerodt, Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Payne) and Mary Surratt, the first woman ever executed by the United States government.) Three people were sentenced to life imprisonment (Michael O'Laughlin, Samuel Arnold and Dr. Samuel Mudd). Edman Spangler was sentenced to six years imprisonment. John Surratt, tried later by a civilian court, was acquitted. The fairness of the convictions, particularly of Mary Surratt, have been called into question, and there are doubts as to the exact degree of her involvement, if any. Booth himself was shot when discovered holed up in a barn (the barn itself collapsed in the 1930s and the site is now the median of a state highway in Virginia).

Lincoln's funeral train carried his remains, as well as 300 mourners and the casket of his son William, 1,654 miles to Illinois.
Lincoln's funeral train carried his remains, as well as 300 mourners and the casket of his son William, 1,654 miles to Illinois.

Lincoln's body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession through several states on its way back to Illinois. The nation mourned a man whom many viewed as the savior of the United States. He was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, where a 177 foot (54 m) tall granite tomb surmounted with several bronze statues of Lincoln was constructed by 1874. To prevent continued attempts to steal Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom, Robert Todd Lincoln had Lincoln exhumed and reinterred in concrete several feet thick on September 26, 1901. See Abraham Lincoln's burial and exhumation.

Many medical experts now suspect that Lincoln may have suffered from congestive heart failure and Marfan syndrome, both of which can be fatal.


  • 1809 Birth of Abraham Lincoln on February 12th
  • 1818 Death of Nancy Hanks, his mother, from snakeroot poisoning, on October 5th
  • 1842 Marriage to Mary Todd on November 4th
  • 1843 Birth of Robert Todd Lincoln, his son, on August 1st
  • 1846 Birth of Edward Baker Lincoln, his son, on March 10th
  • 1850 Death of Edward Baker Lincoln, his son, on February 1st
  • 1850 US Census in Springfield, Illinois
  • 1850 Birth of William Wallace Lincoln, his son, on December 21st
  • 1851 Death of Thomas Lincoln, his father, on January 17th
  • 1853 Birth of Thomas (Tad) Lincoln, his son, on April 4th
  • 1860 US Census in Springfield, Illinois
  • 1861 Begins term as 16th President of the United States
  • 1862 Death of William Wallace Lincoln, his son, in Washington on February 20th
  • 1865 Ends term as 16th President of the United States
  • 1865 Death of Abraham Lincoln on April 15th

Legacy and memorials

Lincoln's death made the President a martyr to many. Today he is perhaps America's second most famous and beloved President after George Washington. Repeated polls of historians have ranked Lincoln as among the greatest presidents in U.S. history. Among contemporary admirers, Lincoln is usually seen as a figure who personifies classical values of honesty, integrity, as well as respect for individual and minority rights, and human freedom in general. Many American organizations of all purposes and agendas continue to cite his name and image, with interests ranging from the gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans to the insurance corporation Lincoln Financial.

Daniel Chester French's seated Lincoln faces the National Mall to the east.
Daniel Chester French's seated Lincoln faces the National Mall to the east.

Over the years Lincoln has been memorialized in many city names, notably the capital of Nebraska; with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (pictured, right); on the U.S. $5 bill and the 1 cent coin (Illinois is the primary opponent to the removal of the penny from circulation); and as part of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Lincoln's Tomb, Lincoln's Home in Springfield, New Salem, Illinois (a reconstruction of Lincoln's early adult hometown), Ford's Theater and Petersen House are all preserved as museums. The state nickname for Illinois is Land of Lincoln.

Counties in 17 U.S. states (Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) are named after Lincoln.

On February 12, 1892, Abraham Lincoln's birthday was declared to be a federal holiday in the United States, although in 1971 it was combined with Washington's birthday in the form of President's Day. February 12 is still observed as a separate legal holiday in many states, including Illinois.

Lincoln's birthplace and family home are national historic memorials: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville, Kentucky and Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is also in Springfield. The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is located in Elwood, Illinois.

Statues of Lincoln can be found in other countries. In Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, is a 13-foot high bronze statue, a gift from the United States, dedicated in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The U.S. received a statue of Benito Juárez in exchange, which is in Washington, D.C. Juárez and Lincoln exchanged friendly letters, and Mexico remembers Lincoln's opposition to the Mexican-American War. There is also a statue in Tijuana, Mexico, showing Lincoln standing and destroying the chains of slavery. There are at least three statues of Lincoln in United Kingdom—one in London, one in Manchester and another in Edinburgh.

The ballistic missile submarine Abraham Lincoln (SSBN-602) and the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) were named in his honor.

Director Steven Spielberg is currently planning a movie on Lincoln with Liam Neeson in the leading role.

The American Disney theme parks feature an Audio-Animatronics Abraham Lincoln in the show Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the Hall of Presidents.

In a recent public vote entitled "The Greatest American," Lincoln placed second.


  • Lincoln stood 6'3 3/4" (192 cm) tall and thus was the tallest president in U.S. history, just edging out Lyndon Johnson at 6'3 1/2" (192 cm).
  • Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day of the same year, February 12, 1809.
  • The last surviving self-described witness to Lincoln's assassination was Samuel J. Seymour (~1860April 14, 1956), who appeared two months before his death at age 96 on the CBS-TV quiz show I've Got a Secret. As a five-year-old, he said that he thought at first that he, himself, had been shot because his nurse, trying to fix a torn place in his blouse, stuck him with a pin at the moment of the gun's discharge.
  • According to legend, Lincoln was referred to as "two-faced" by his opponent in the 1858 Senate election, Stephen Douglas. Upon hearing about this Lincoln jokingly replied, "If I had another face to wear, do you really think I would be wearing this one?"
  • According to legend, Lincoln also said, as a young man, on his appearance one day when looking in the mirror: "It's a fact, Abe! You are the ugliest man in the world. If ever I see a man uglier than you, I'm going to shoot him on the spot!" It would no doubt, he thought, be an act of mercy.


  • "If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what's said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference." The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House by Francis B. Carpenter (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1995), pp. 258-259.
  • "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, "Letter To Henry L. Pierce and Others" (April 6, 1859), p. 376.

Presidential appointments


Lincoln was known for appointing his enemies and political rivals to high positions in his Cabinet. Not only did he use great political skill in reducing potential political opposition but he felt he was appointing the best qualified person for the good of the country.

President Abraham Lincoln 1861–1865
Vice President Hannibal Hamlin 1861–1865
  Andrew Johnson 1865
Secretary of State William H. Seward 1861–1865
Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase 1861–1864
  William P. Fessenden 1864–1865
  Hugh McCulloch 1865
Secretary of War Simon Cameron 1861–1862
  Edwin M. Stanton 1862–1865
Attorney General Edward Bates 1861–1864
  James Speed 1864–1865
Postmaster General Horatio King 1861
  Montgomery Blair 1861–1864
  William Dennison 1864–1865
Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles 1861–1865
Secretary of the Interior Caleb B. Smith 1861–1863
  John P. Usher 1863–1865

Supreme Court

Lincoln appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Major presidential acts

Involvement as President-elect
Enacted as President

States admitted to the Union

See also

Further reading

External links

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Documents at Project Gutenberg

by Abraham Lincoln

about Lincoln

Preceded by:
John Henry
U.S. Congressman from the 7th District of Illinois
Succeeded by:
Thomas Langrell Harris
Preceded by:
John C. Frémont
Republican Party presidential candidate
1860 (won), 1864 (won)
Succeeded by:
Ulysses S. Grant
Preceded by:
James Buchanan
President of the United States
March 4, 1861April 15, 1865
Succeeded by:
Andrew Johnson

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