Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, in a one-room log cabin on the Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky.
He was a descendant of Samuel Lincoln, an Englishman who migrated from Hingham, Norfolk, to its namesake of Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1638.
Samuel’s grandson and great-grandson began the family’s western migration, which passed through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Lincoln’s paternal grandfather and namesake, Captain Abraham Lincoln, moved the family from Virginia to Jefferson County, Kentucky, in the 1780s.
Captain Lincoln was killed in an Indian raid in 1786. His children, including eight-year-old Thomas, the future president’s father, witnessed the attack. After his father’s murder, Thomas was left to make his own way on the frontier, working at odd jobs in Kentucky and in Tennessee, before settling with members of his family in Hardin County, Kentucky, in the early 1800s.
Lincoln’s mother, Nancy, is widely assumed to have been the daughter of Lucy Hanks, although no record of Nancy Hanks’ birth has ever been found.
According to William Ensign Lincoln’s book The Ancestry of Abraham Lincoln, Nancy was the daughter of Joseph Hanks; however, the debate continues over whether she was born out of wedlock. Still another researcher, Adin Baber, claims that Nancy Hanks was the daughter of Abraham Hanks and Sarah Harper of Virginia.
Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks were married on June 12, 1806, in Washington County, and moved to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, following their marriage. They became the parents of three children: Sarah, born on February 10, 1807; Abraham, on February 12, 1809; and another son, Thomas, who died in infancy.
Thomas Lincoln bought or leased several farms in Kentucky, including the Sinking Spring farm, where Abraham was born; however, a land title dispute soon forced the Lincolns to move. In 1811, the family moved eight miles (13 km) north, to Knob Creek Farm, where Thomas acquired title to 230 acres (93 ha) of land. In 1815 a claimant in another land dispute sought to eject the family from the farm.
Of the 816.5 acres (330.4 ha) that Thomas held in Kentucky, he lost all but 200 acres (81 ha) of his land in court disputes over property titles.
Frustrated over the lack of security provided by the Kentucky title survey system in the courts, Thomas sold the remaining land he held in Kentucky in 1814, and began planning a move to Indiana, where the land survey process was more reliable and the ability for an individual to retain land titles was more secure.
In 1816, the family moved north across the Ohio River to Indiana, a free, non-slaveholding territory, where they settled in an “unbroken forest” in Hurricane Township, Perry County. (Their land in southern Indiana became part of Spencer County, Indiana, when the county was established in 1818) The farm is preserved as part of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.
In 1860, Lincoln noted that the family’s move to Indiana was “partly on account of slavery”; but mainly due to land title difficulties in Kentucky.
During the family’s years in Kentucky and Indiana, Thomas Lincoln worked as a farmer, cabinetmaker, and carpenter. He owned farms, several town lots and livestock, paid taxes, sat on juries, appraised estates, served on country slave patrols, and guarded prisoners.
Thomas and Nancy Lincoln were also members of a Separate Baptists church, which had restrictive moral standards and opposed alcohol, dancing, and slavery.
Within a year of the family’s arrival in Indiana, Thomas claimed title to 160 acres (65 ha) of Indiana land.
Despite some financial challenges he eventually obtained clear title to 80 acres (32 ha) of land in what became known as the Little Pigeon Creek Community in Spencer County. Prior to the family’s move to Illinois in 1830, Thomas had acquired an additional twenty acres of land adjacent to his property.
Several significant family events took place during Lincoln’s youth in Indiana. On October 5, 1818, Nancy Lincoln died of milk sickness, leaving eleven-year-old Sarah in charge of a household that included her father, nine-year-old Abraham, and Dennis Hanks, Nancy’s nineteen-year-old orphaned cousin.
On December 2, 1819, Lincoln’s father married Sarah “Sally” Bush Johnston, a widow from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, with three children of her own. Abraham became very close to his stepmother, whom he referred to as “Mother”. Those who knew Lincoln as a teenager later recalled him being very distraught over his sister Sarah’s death on January 20, 1828, while giving birth to a stillborn son.
As a youth, Lincoln disliked the hard labor associated with frontier life. Some of his neighbors and family members thought for a time that he was lazy for all his “reading, scribbling, writing, ciphering, writing Poetry, etc.”, and must have done it to avoid manual labor. His stepmother also acknowledged he did not enjoy “physical labor”, but loved to read. Lincoln was largely self-educated.
His formal schooling from several itinerant teachers was intermittent, the aggregate of which may have amounted to less than a year; however, he was an avid reader and retained a lifelong interest in learning. Family, neighbors, and schoolmates of Lincoln’s youth recalled that he read and reread the King James Bible, Aesop’s Fables, Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Weems’s The Life of Washington, and Franklin’s Autobiography, among others.
As he grew into his teens, Lincoln took responsibility for the chores expected of him as one of the boys in the household.
He also complied with the customary obligation of a son giving his father all earnings from work done outside the home until the age of twenty-one. Abraham became adept at using an axe.
Tall for his age, Lincoln was also strong and athletic. He attained a reputation for brawn and audacity after a very competitive wrestling match with the renowned leader of a group of ruffians known as “the Clary’s Grove boys”.
In early March 1830, partly out of fear of a milk sickness outbreak along the Ohio River, several members of the extended Lincoln family moved west to Illinois, a non-slaveholding state, and settled in Macon County, 10 miles (16 km) west of Decatur.
Historians disagree on who initiated the move; Thomas Lincoln had no obvious reason to leave Indiana, and one possibility is that other members of the family, including Dennis Hanks, might not have attained the stability and steady income that Thomas Lincoln had. After the family relocated to Illinois, Abraham became increasingly distant from his father, in part because of his father’s lack of education, and occasionally lent him money.
In 1831, as Thomas and other members of the family prepared to move to a new homestead in Coles County, Illinois, Abraham was old enough to make his own decisions and struck out on his own. Traveling down the Sangamon River, he ended up in the village of New Salem in Sangamon County. Later that spring, Denton Offutt, a New Salem merchant, hired Lincoln and some friends to take goods by flatboat from New Salem to New Orleans via the Sangamon, Illinois, and Mississippi rivers.
After arriving in New Orleans—and witnessing slavery firsthand—Lincoln returned to New Salem, where he remained for the next six years.
In 1832, at age 23, Lincoln and a partner bought a small general store on credit in New Salem, Illinois. Although the economy was booming in the region, the business struggled and Lincoln eventually sold his share. That March he began his political career with his first campaign for the Illinois General Assembly.
He had attained local popularity and could draw crowds as a natural raconteur in New Salem, though he lacked an education, powerful friends, and money, which may be why he lost. He advocated navigational improvements on the Sangamon River.
Before the election, Lincoln served as a captain in the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War. Following his return, Lincoln continued his campaign for the August 6 election for the Illinois General Assembly. At 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm), he was tall and “strong enough to intimidate any rival”.
At his first speech, when he saw a supporter in the crowd being attacked, Lincoln grabbed the assailant by his “neck and the seat of his trousers” and threw him. Lincoln finished eighth out of 13 candidates (the top four were elected), though he received 277 of the 300 votes cast in the New Salem precinct.
Lincoln served as New Salem’s postmaster and later as county surveyor, all the while reading voraciously. He then decided to become a lawyer and began teaching himself law by reading Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England and other law books. Of his learning method, Lincoln stated: “I studied with nobody”. His second campaign in 1834 was successful.
He won election to the state legislature; though he ran as a Whig, many Democrats favored him over a more powerful Whig opponent.
Admitted to the Illinois bar in 1836, he moved to Springfield, Illinois, and began to practice law under John T. Stuart, Mary Todd’s cousin. Lincoln became an able and successful lawyer with a reputation as a formidable adversary during cross-examinations and closing arguments. He partnered with Stephen T. Logan from 1841 until 1844. Then Lincoln began his practice with William Herndon, whom Lincoln thought “a studious young man”.
Successful on his second run for office, Lincoln served four successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives as a Whig representative from Sangamon County. He supported the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which he remained involved with later as a Canal Commissioner. In the 1835–36 legislative session, he voted to expand suffrage to white males, whether landowners or not. He was known for his “free soil” stance of opposing both slavery and abolitionism.
He first articulated this in 1837, saying, “[The Institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy, but the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than abate its evils.” His stance closely followed Henry Clay in supporting the American Colonization Society program of making the abolition of slavery practical by its advocation and helping the freed slaves to settle in Liberia in Africa
From the early 1830s, Lincoln was a steadfast Whig and professed to friends in 1861 to be “an old line Whig, a disciple of Henry Clay”. The party, including Lincoln, favored economic modernization in banking, protective tariffs to fund internal improvements including railroads, and espoused urbanization as well.
Lincoln ran for the Whig nomination for Illinois’s 7th district of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843, but was defeated by John J. Hardin. However, Lincoln won support for the principle of rotation, whereby Hardin would retire after only one term to allow for the nomination of another candidate. Lincoln hoped that this arrangement would lead to his nomination in 1846.
Lincoln was indeed elected to the House of Representatives in 1846, where he served one two-year term. He was the only Whig in the Illinois delegation, but he showed his party loyalty by participating in almost all votes and making speeches that echoed the party line. Lincoln, in collaboration with abolitionist Congressman Joshua R. Giddings, wrote a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia with compensation for the owners, enforcement to capture fugitive slaves, and a popular vote on the matter. He abandoned the bill when it failed to garner sufficient Whig supporters.
On foreign and military policy, Lincoln spoke out against the Mexican–American War, which he attributed to President Polk’s desire for “military glory—that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood”. Lincoln also supported the Wilmot Proviso, which, if it had been adopted, would have banned slavery in any U.S. territory won from Mexico.
Lincoln emphasized his opposition to Polk by drafting and introducing his Spot Resolutions. The war had begun with a Mexican slaughter of American soldiers in territory disputed by Mexico and the U.S. Polk insisted that Mexican soldiers had “invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil”. Lincoln demanded that Polk show Congress the exact spot on which blood had been shed and prove that the spot was on American soil.
Congress never enacted the resolution or even debated it, the national papers ignored it, and it resulted in a loss of political support for Lincoln in his district. One Illinois newspaper derisively nicknamed him “spotty Lincoln”. Lincoln later regretted some of his statements, especially his attack on the presidential war-making powers.
Realizing Clay was unlikely to win the presidency, Lincoln, who had pledged in 1846 to serve only one term in the House, supported General Zachary Taylor for the Whig nomination in the 1848 presidential election. Taylor won and Lincoln hoped to be appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office, but that lucrative patronage job went to an Illinois rival, Justin Butterfield, considered by the administration to be a highly skilled lawyer, but in Lincoln’s view, an “old fossil”.
The administration offered him the consolation prize of secretary or governor of the Oregon Territory. This distant territory was a Democratic stronghold, and acceptance of the post would have effectively ended his legal and political career in Illinois, so he declined and resumed his law practice.
Lincoln returned to practicing law in Springfield, handling “every kind of business that could come before a prairie lawyer”.
Twice a year for 16 years, 10 weeks at a time, he appeared in county seats in the midstate region when the county courts were in session. Lincoln handled many transportation cases in the midst of the nation’s western expansion, particularly the conflicts arising from the operation of river barges under the many new railroad bridges. As a riverboat man, Lincoln initially favored those interests, but ultimately represented whoever hired him.
In fact, he later represented a bridge company against a riverboat company in a landmark case involving a canal boat that sank after hitting a bridge. In 1849, he received a patent for a flotation device for the movement of boats in shallow water. The idea was never commercialized, but Lincoln is the only president to hold a patent.
In 1851, he represented the Alton & Sangamon Railroad in a dispute with one of its shareholders, James A. Barret, who had refused to pay the balance on his pledge to buy shares in the railroad on the grounds that the company had changed its original train route. Lincoln successfully argued that the railroad company was not bound by its original charter extant at the time of Barret’s pledge; the charter was amended in the public interest to provide a newer, superior, and less expensive route, and the corporation retained the right to demand Barret’s payment.
The decision by the Illinois Supreme Court has been cited by numerous other courts in the nation. Lincoln appeared before the Illinois Supreme Court in 175 cases, in 51 as sole counsel, of which 31 were decided in his favor. From 1853 to 1860, another of Lincoln’s largest clients was the Illinois Central Railroad. Lincoln’s reputation with clients gave rise to his nickname “Honest Abe.”
Lincoln’s most notable criminal trial occurred in 1858 when he defended William “Duff” Armstrong, who was on trial for the murder of James Preston Metzker. The case is famous for Lincoln’s use of a fact established by judicial notice in order to challenge the credibility of an eyewitness. After an opposing witness testified seeing the crime in the moonlight, Lincoln produced a Farmers’ Almanac showing the moon was at a low angle, drastically reducing visibility. Based on this evidence, Armstrong was acquitted.
Lincoln rarely raised objections in the courtroom; but in an 1859 case, where he defended a cousin, Peachy Harrison, who was accused of stabbing another to death, Lincoln angrily protested the judge’s decision to exclude evidence favorable to his client. Instead of holding Lincoln in contempt of court as was expected, the judge, a Democrat, reversed his ruling, allowing the evidence and acquitting Harrison.
The debate over the status of slavery in the territories exacerbated sectional tensions between the slave-holding South and the North, and the Compromise of 1850 failed to defuse the issue. In the early 1850s, Lincoln supported efforts for sectional mediation, and his 1852 eulogy for Henry Clay focused on the latter’s support for gradual emancipation and opposition to “both extremes” on the slavery issue.
As the 1850s progressed, the debate over slavery in the Nebraska Territory and Kansas Territory became particularly acrimonious, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois proposed popular sovereignty as a compromise measure; the proposal would take the issue of slavery out of the hands of Congress by allowing the people of each territory to decide the status of slavery themselves. The proposal alarmed many Northerners, who hoped to stop the spread of slavery into the territories. Despite this Northern opposition, Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act narrowly passed Congress in May 1854.
For months after its passage, Lincoln did not publicly comment on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but he came to strongly oppose it. On October 16, 1854, in his “Peoria Speech”, Lincoln declared his opposition to slavery, which he repeated en route to the presidency. Speaking in his Kentucky accent, with a very powerful voice, he said the Kansas Act had a “declared indifference, but as I must think, a covert real zeal for the spread of slavery. I cannot but hate it. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world …” Lincoln’s attacks on the Kansas-Nebraska Act marked his return to political life.
Nationally, the Whigs were irreparably split by the Kansas–Nebraska Act and other efforts to compromise on the slavery issue. Reflecting the demise of his party, Lincoln would write in 1855, “I think I am a Whig, but others say there are no Whigs, and that I am an abolitionist I do no more than oppose the extension of slavery.” Drawing on the antislavery portion of the Whig Party, and combining Free Soil, Liberty, and antislavery Democratic Party members, the new Republican Party formed as a northern party dedicated to antislavery.
Lincoln resisted early attempts to recruit him to the new party, fearing that it would serve as a platform for extreme abolitionists. Lincoln also still hoped to rejuvenate the ailing Whig Party, though he bemoaned his party’s growing closeness with the nativist Know Nothing movement.
Lincoln was elected to the Illinois legislature as Whig. In the aftermath of the 1854 elections, which showed the power and popularity of the movement opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln declined to take his seat and instead sought election to the United States Senate. At that time, senators were elected by the state legislature. After leading in the first six rounds of voting, but unable to obtain a majority, Lincoln instructed his backers to vote for Lyman Trumbull.
Trumbull was an antislavery Democrat, and had received few votes in the earlier ballots; his supporters, also antislavery Democrats, had vowed not to support any Whig. Lincoln’s decision to withdraw enabled his Whig supporters and Trumbull’s antislavery Democrats to combine and defeat the mainstream Democratic candidate, Joel Aldrich Matteson.
In part due to the ongoing violent political confrontations in the Kansas, opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act remained strong in Illinois and throughout the North. As the 1856 elections approached, Lincoln abandoned the defunct Whig Party in favor of the Republicans. He attended the May 1856 Bloomington Convention, which formally established the Illinois Republican Party.
The convention platform asserted that Congress had the right to regulate slavery in the territories and called for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state. Lincoln gave the final speech of the convention, in which he endorsed the party platform and called for the preservation of the Union. At the June 1856 Republican National Convention, Lincoln received significant support on the vice presidential ballot, though the party nominated a ticket of John C. Frémont and William Dayton. Lincoln strongly supported the Republican ticket, campaigning for the party throughout Illinois.
The Democrats nominated former Ambassador James Buchanan, who had been out of the country since 1853 and thus had avoided the debate over slavery in the territories, while the Know Nothings nominated former Whig President Millard Fillmore. In the 1856 elections, Buchanan defeated both his challengers, but Frémont won several Northern states and Republican William Henry Bissell won election as Governor of Illinois. Though Lincoln did not himself win office, his vigorous campaigning had made him the leading Republican in Illinois.
Eric Foner contrasts the abolitionists and anti-slavery Radical Republicans of the Northeast who saw slavery as a sin, with the conservative Republicans who thought it was bad because it hurt white people and blocked progress. Foner argues that Lincoln was a moderate in the middle, opposing slavery primarily because it violated the republicanism principles of the Founding Fathers, especially the equality of all men and democratic self-government as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
In March 1857, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford; Chief Justice Roger B. Taney opined that blacks were not citizens, and derived no rights from the Constitution. While many Democrats hoped that Dred Scott would end the dispute over slavery in the territories, the decision sparked further outrage in the North. Lincoln denounced the decision, alleging it was the product of a conspiracy of Democrats to support the Slave Power. Lincoln argued, “The authors of the Declaration of Independence never intended ‘to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity’, but they ‘did consider all men created equal—equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’
Douglas was up for re-election in 1858, and Lincoln hoped to defeat the powerful Illinois Democrat. With the former Democrat Trumbull now serving as a Republican Senator, many in the party felt that a former Whig should be nominated in 1858, and Lincoln’s 1856 campaigning and willingness to support Trumbull in 1854 had earned him favor in the party. Some eastern Republicans favored the reelection of Douglas for the Senate in 1858, since he had led the opposition to the Lecompton Constitution, which would have admitted Kansas as a slave state. But many Illinois Republicans resented this eastern interference. For the first time, Illinois Republicans held a convention to agree upon a Senate candidate, and Lincoln won the party’s Senate nomination with little opposition.
Accepting the nomination, Lincoln delivered his House Divided Speech, drawing on Mark 3:25, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
The speech created an evocative image of the danger of disunion caused by the slavery debate, and rallied Republicans across the North. The stage was then set for the campaign for statewide election of the Illinois legislature which would, in turn, select Lincoln or Douglas as its U.S. senator. On being informed of Lincoln’s nomination, Douglas stated “[Lincoln] is the strong man of the party…and if I beat him, my victory will be hardly won.”
The Senate campaign featured the seven Lincoln–Douglas debates of 1858, the most famous political debates in American history. The principals stood in stark contrast both physically and politically. Lincoln warned that “The Slave Power” was threatening the values of republicanism, and accused Douglas of distorting the values of the Founding Fathers that all men are created equal, while Douglas emphasized his Freeport Doctrine, that local settlers were free to choose whether to allow slavery or not, and accused Lincoln of having joined the abolitionists.
The debates had an atmosphere of a prize fight and drew crowds in the thousands. Lincoln stated Douglas’ popular sovereignty theory was a threat to the nation’s morality and that Douglas represented a conspiracy to extend slavery to free states. Douglas said that Lincoln was defying the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Dred Scott decision.
Though the Republican legislative candidates won more popular votes, the Democrats won more seats, and the legislature re-elected Douglas to the Senate. Despite the bitterness of the defeat for Lincoln, his articulation of the issues gave him a national political reputation. In May 1859, Lincoln purchased the Illinois Staats-Anzeiger, a German-language newspaper which was consistently supportive; most of the state’s 130,000 German Americans voted Democratic but there was Republican support that a German-language paper could mobilize.
In the aftermath of the 1858 election, newspapers frequently mentioned Lincoln as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 1860, with William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Simon Cameron looming as rivals for the nomination. While Lincoln was popular in the Midwest, he lacked support in the Northeast, and was unsure as to whether he should seek the presidency. In January 1860, Lincoln told a group of political allies that he would accept the 1860 presidential nomination if offered, and in the following months several local papers endorsed Lincoln for president.
On February 27, 1860, New York party leaders invited Lincoln to give a speech at Cooper Union to a group of powerful Republicans. Lincoln argued that the Founding Fathers had little use for popular sovereignty and had repeatedly sought to restrict slavery. Lincoln insisted the moral foundation of the Republicans required opposition to slavery, and rejected any “groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong”. Despite his inelegant appearance—many in the audience thought him awkward and even ugly—Lincoln demonstrated an intellectual leadership that brought him into the front ranks of the party and into contention for the Republican presidential nomination. Journalist Noah Brooks reported, “No man ever before made such an impression on his first appeal to a New York audience.”
Historian Donald described the speech as a “superb political move for an unannounced candidate, to appear in one rival’s (Seward) own state at an event sponsored by the second rival’s (Chase) loyalists, while not mentioning either by name during its delivery”. In response to an inquiry about his presidential intentions, Lincoln said, “The taste is in my mouth a little.
On May 9–10, 1860, the Illinois Republican State Convention was held in Decatur. Lincoln’s followers organized a campaign team led by David Davis, Norman Judd, Leonard Swett, and Jesse DuBois, and Lincoln received his first endorsement to run for the presidency. Exploiting the embellished legend of his frontier days with his father (clearing the land and splitting fence rails with an ax), Lincoln’s supporters adopted the label of “The Rail Candidate”. In 1860 Lincoln described himself : “I am in height, six feet, four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing, on an average, one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair, and gray eyes.” A biographer added that he had a:
Large head, with high crown of skull; thick, bushy hair; large and deep eye-caverns; heavy eyebrows; a large nose; large ears; large mouth; thin upper and somewhat thick under lip; very high and prominent cheek-bones; cheeks thin and sunken; strongly developed jawbone; chin slightly upturned; a thin but sinewy neck, rather long; long arms; large hands; chest thin and narrow as compared with his great height; legs of more than proportionate length, and large feet.
On May 18, at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Lincoln’s friends promised and manipulated and won the nomination on the third ballot, beating candidates such as Seward and Chase. A former Democrat, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, was nominated for Vice President to balance the ticket. Lincoln’s success depended on his reputation as a moderate on the slavery issue, and his strong support for Whiggish programs of internal improvements and the protective tariff.
On the third ballot Pennsylvania put him over the top. Pennsylvania iron interests were reassured by his support for protective tariffs. Lincoln’s managers had been adroitly focused on this delegation as well as the others, while following Lincoln’s strong dictate to “Make no contracts that bind me”.
Most Republicans agreed with Lincoln that the North was the aggrieved party, as the Slave Power tightened its grasp on the national government with the Dred Scott decision and the presidency of James Buchanan. Throughout the 1850s, Lincoln doubted the prospects of civil war, and his supporters rejected claims that his election would incite secession.
Meanwhile, Douglas was selected as the candidate of the Northern Democrats. Delegates from 11 slave states walked out of the Democratic convention, disagreeing with Douglas’ position on popular sovereignty, and ultimately selected incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge as their candidate. A group of former Whigs and Know Nothings formed the Constitutional Union Party and nominated John Bell of Tennessee. Lincoln and Douglas would compete for votes in the North, while Bell and Breckinridge primarily found support in the South.
Prior to the Republican convention, the Lincoln campaign began cultivating a nationwide teen and young adult organization, the Wide Awakes, which it used to generate popular support for Lincoln throughout the country to spearhead large voter registration drives, knowing that new voters and young voters tend to embrace new and young parties. As Lincoln’s ideas of abolishing slavery grew, so did his supporters. People of the Northern states knew the Southern states would vote against Lincoln because of his ideas of anti-slavery and took action to rally supporters for Lincoln.
As Douglas and the other candidates went through with their campaigns, Lincoln was the only one of them who gave no speeches. Instead, he monitored the campaign closely and relied on the enthusiasm of the Republican Party. The party did the leg work that produced majorities across the North, and produced an abundance of campaign posters, leaflets, and newspaper editorials. There were thousands of Republican speakers who focused first on the party platform, and second on Lincoln’s life story, emphasizing his childhood poverty.
The goal was to demonstrate the superior power of “free labor”, whereby a common farm boy could work his way to the top by his own efforts. The Republican Party’s production of campaign literature dwarfed the combined opposition; a Chicago Tribune writer produced a pamphlet that detailed Lincoln’s life, and sold 100,000 to 200,000 copies.
On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States, beating Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell. He was the first president from the Republican Party. His victory was entirely due to the strength of his support in the North and West; no ballots were cast for him in 10 of the 15 Southern slave states, and he won only two of 996 counties in all the Southern states.
Lincoln received 1,866,452 votes, Douglas 1,376,957 votes, Breckinridge 849,781 votes, and Bell 588,789 votes. Turnout was 82.2 percent, with Lincoln winning the free Northern states, as well as California and Oregon. Douglas won Missouri, and split New Jersey with Lincoln. Bell won Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and Breckinridge won the rest of the South.
Although Lincoln won only a plurality of the popular vote, his victory in the Electoral College was decisive: Lincoln had 180 and his opponents added together had only 123. There were fusion tickets in which all of Lincoln’s opponents combined to support the same slate of Electors in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, but even if the anti-Lincoln vote had been combined in every state, Lincoln still would have won a majority in the Electoral College.
As Lincoln’s election became evident, secessionists made clear their intent to leave the Union before he took office the next March. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina took the lead by adopting an ordinance of secession; by February 1, 1861, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed. Six of these states then adopted a constitution and declared themselves to be a sovereign nation, the Confederate States of America.
The upper South and Border States (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas) listened to, but initially rejected, the secessionist appeal. President Buchanan and President-elect Lincoln refused to recognize the Confederacy, declaring secession illegal. The Confederacy selected Jefferson Davis as its provisional President on February 9, 1861.
There were attempts at compromise. The Crittenden Compromise would have extended the Missouri Compromise line of 1820, dividing the territories into slave and free, contrary to the Republican Party’s free-soil platform. Lincoln rejected the idea, saying, “I will suffer death before I consent … to any concession or compromise which looks like buying the privilege to take possession of this government to which we have a constitutional right.”
Lincoln, however, did tacitly support the proposed Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which passed Congress before Lincoln came into office and was then awaiting ratification by the states. That proposed amendment would have protected slavery in states where it already existed and would have guaranteed that Congress would not interfere with slavery without Southern consent. A few weeks before the war, Lincoln sent a letter to every governor informing them Congress had passed a joint resolution to amend the Constitution. Lincoln was open to the possibility of a constitutional convention to make further amendments to the Constitution.
En route to his inauguration by train, Lincoln addressed crowds and legislatures across the North. The president-elect then evaded possible assassins in Baltimore, who were uncovered by Lincoln’s head of security, Allan Pinkerton. On February 23, 1861, he arrived in disguise in Washington, D.C., which was placed under substantial military guard. Lincoln directed his inaugural address to the South, proclaiming once again that he had no intention, or inclination, to abolish slavery in the Southern states:
Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
In the First inaugural address, 4 March 1861, The President ended his address with an appeal to the people of the South: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies … The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” The failure of the Peace Conference of 1861 signaled that legislative compromise was impossible. By March 1861, no leaders of the insurrection had proposed rejoining the Union on any terms. Meanwhile, Lincoln and the Republican leadership agreed that the dismantling of the Union could not be tolerated. Lincoln said as the war was ending:
Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the Nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
The commander of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, Major Robert Anderson, sent a request for provisions to Washington, and the execution of Lincoln’s order to meet that request was seen by the secessionists as an act of war. On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Union troops at Fort Sumter, forcing them to surrender, and began the war. Historian Allan Nevins argued that the newly inaugurated Lincoln made three miscalculations: underestimating the gravity of the crisis, exaggerating the strength of Unionist sentiment in the South, and not realizing the Southern Unionists were insisting there be no invasion.
William Tecumseh Sherman talked to Lincoln during inauguration week and was “sadly disappointed” at his failure to realize that “the country was sleeping on a volcano” and that the South was preparing for war. Historian Donald concludes that, “His repeated efforts to avoid collision in the months between inauguration and the firing on Ft. Sumter showed he adhered to his vow not to be the first to shed fraternal blood. But he also vowed not to surrender the forts. The only resolution of these contradictory positions was for the confederates to fire the first shot; they did just that.”
On April 15, Lincoln called on all the states to send detachments totaling 75,000 troops to recapture forts, protect Washington, and “preserve the Union”, which, in his view, still existed intact despite the actions of the seceding states. This call forced the states to choose sides. Virginia declared its secession and was rewarded with the Confederate capital, despite the exposed position of Richmond so close to Union lines. North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas also voted for secession over the next two months. Secession sentiment was strong in Missouri and Maryland, but did not prevail; Kentucky tried to be neutral. The Confederate attack on Fort Sumter rallied Americans north of the Mason-Dixon line to the defense of the American nation.
Historian Allan Nevins says: The thunderclap of Sumter produced a startling crystallization of Northern sentiment … Anger swept the land. From every side came news of mass meetings, speeches, resolutions, tenders of business support, the muster of companies and regiments, the determined action of governors and legislatures.
After the Battle of Fort Sumter, Lincoln realized the importance of taking immediate executive control of the war and making an overall strategy to put down the rebellion. Lincoln encountered an unprecedented political and military crisis, and he responded as commander-in-chief, using unprecedented powers. He expanded his war powers, and imposed a blockade on all the Confederate shipping ports, disbursed funds before appropriation by Congress, and after suspending habeas corpus, arrested and imprisoned thousands of suspected Confederate sympathizers. Lincoln was supported by Congress and the northern public for these actions. In addition, Lincoln had to contend with reinforcing strong Union sympathies in the border slave states and keeping the war from becoming an international conflict.
The war effort was the source of continued disparagement of Lincoln, and dominated his time and attention. From the start, it was clear that bipartisan support would be essential to success in the war effort, and any manner of compromise alienated factions on both sides of the aisle, such as the appointment of Republicans and Democrats to command positions in the Union Army. Copperheads criticized Lincoln for refusing to compromise on the slavery issue. Conversely, the Radical Republicans criticized him for moving too slowly in abolishing slavery.
On August 6, 1861, Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act that authorized judiciary proceedings to confiscate and free slaves who were used to support the Confederate war effort. In practice, the law had little effect, but it did signal political support for abolishing slavery in the Confederacy.
In terms of war strategy, Lincoln articulated two priorities: to ensure that Washington was well-defended, and to conduct an aggressive war effort that would satisfy the demand in the North for prompt, decisive victory; major Northern newspaper editors expected victory within 90 days. Twice a week, Lincoln would meet with his cabinet in the afternoon, and occasionally Mary Lincoln would force him to take a carriage ride because she was concerned he was working too hard.
Lincoln learned from reading the theoretical book of his chief of staff General Henry Halleck, a disciple of the European strategist Jomini; he began to appreciate the critical need to control strategic points, such as the Mississippi River. Lincoln saw the importance of Vicksburg and understood the necessity of defeating the enemy’s army, rather than simply capturing territory.
Lincoln understood that the Federal government’s power to end slavery was limited by the Constitution, which before 1865, committed the issue to individual states. He argued before and during his election that the eventual extinction of slavery would result from preventing its expansion into new U.S. territory. At the beginning of the war, he also sought to persuade the states to accept compensated emancipation in return for their prohibition of slavery.
Lincoln believed that curtailing slavery in these ways would economically expunge it, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, under the constitution. President Lincoln rejected two geographically limited emancipation attempts by Major General John C. Frémont in August 1861 and by Major General David Hunter in May 1862, on the grounds that it was not within their power, and it would upset the border states loyal to the Union.
On June 19, 1862, endorsed by Lincoln, Congress passed an act banning slavery on all federal territory. In July, the Confiscation Act of 1862 was passed, which set up court procedures that could free the slaves of anyone convicted of aiding the rebellion. Although Lincoln believed it was not within Congress’s power to free the slaves within the states, he approved the bill in deference to the legislature.
He felt such action could only be taken by the Commander-in-Chief using war powers granted to the president by the Constitution, and Lincoln was planning to take that action. In that month, Lincoln discussed a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation with his cabinet. In it, he stated that “as a fit and necessary military measure, on January 1, 1863, all persons held as slaves in the Confederate states will thenceforward, and forever, be free”.
Privately, Lincoln concluded at this point that the slave base of the Confederacy had to be eliminated. However, Copperheads argued that emancipation was a stumbling block to peace and reunification. Republican editor Horace Greeley of the highly influential New York Tribune fell for the ploy, and Lincoln refuted it directly in a shrewd letter of August 22, 1862. Although he said he personally wished all men could be free, Lincoln stated that the primary goal of his actions as the U.S. president (he used the first person pronoun and explicitly refers to his “official duty”) was that of preserving the Union:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union … I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on September 22, 1862, and put into effect on January 1, 1863, declared free the slaves in 10 states not then under Union control, with exemptions specified for areas already under Union control in two states. Lincoln spent the next 100 days preparing the army and the nation for emancipation, while Democrats rallied their voters in the 1862 off-year elections by warning of the threat freed slaves posed to northern whites.
Once the abolition of slavery in the rebel states became a military objective, as Union armies advanced south, more slaves were liberated until all three million of them in Confederate territory were freed. Lincoln’s comment on the signing of the Proclamation was: “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.” For some time, Lincoln continued earlier plans to set up colonies for the newly freed slaves.
He commented favorably on colonization in the Emancipation Proclamation, but all attempts at such a massive undertaking failed. A few days after Emancipation was announced, 13 Republican governors met at the War Governors’ Conference; they supported the president’s Proclamation, but suggested the removal of General George B. McClellan as commander of the Union Army.
Enlisting former slaves in the military was official government policy after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. By the spring of 1863, Lincoln was ready to recruit black troops in more than token numbers. In a letter to Andrew Johnson, the military governor of Tennessee, encouraging him to lead the way in raising black troops, Lincoln wrote, “The bare sight of 50,000 armed and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once”
By the end of 1863, at Lincoln’s direction, General Lorenzo Thomas had recruited 20 regiments of blacks from the Mississippi Valley. Frederick Douglass once observed of Lincoln: “In his company, I was never reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color”.
With the great Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, and the defeat of the Copperheads in the Ohio election in the fall, Lincoln maintained a strong base of party support and was in a strong position to redefine the war effort, despite the New York City draft riots. The stage was set for his address at the Gettysburg battlefield cemetery on November 19, 1863. Defying Lincoln’s prediction that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here”, the Address became the most quoted speech in American history.
In 272 words, and three minutes, Lincoln asserted the nation was born not in 1789, but in 1776, “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. He defined the war as an effort dedicated to these principles of liberty and equality for all. The emancipation of slaves was now part of the national war effort. He declared that the deaths of so many brave soldiers would not be in vain, that slavery would end as a result of the losses, and the future of democracy in the world would be assured, that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. Lincoln concluded that the Civil War had a profound objective: a new birth of freedom in the nation.
While the war was still being waged, Lincoln faced reelection in 1864. Lincoln was a master politician, bringing together—and holding together—all the main factions of the Republican Party, and bringing in War Democrats such as Edwin M. Stanton and Andrew Johnson as well.
Lincoln spent many hours a week talking to politicians from across the land and using his patronage powers—greatly expanded over peacetime—to hold the factions of his party together, build support for his own policies, and fend off efforts by Radicals to drop him from the 1864 ticket. At its 1864 convention, the Republican Party selected Johnson, a War Democrat from the Southern state of Tennessee, as his running mate. To broaden his coalition to include War Democrats as well as Republicans, Lincoln ran under the label of the new Union Party.
When Grant’s 1864 spring campaigns turned into bloody stalemates and Union casualties mounted, the lack of military success wore heavily on the President’s re-election prospects, and many Republicans across the country feared that Lincoln would be defeated. Sharing this fear, Lincoln wrote and signed a pledge that, if he should lose the election, he would still defeat the Confederacy before turning over the White House:
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterward.
Lincoln did not show the pledge to his cabinet, but asked them to sign the sealed envelope.
While the Democratic platform followed the “Peace wing” of the party and called the war a “failure”, their candidate, General George B. McClellan, supported the war and repudiated the platform. Lincoln provided Grant with more troops and mobilized his party to renew its support of Grant in the war effort. Sherman’s capture of Atlanta in September and David Farragut’s capture of Mobile ended defeatist jitters; the Democratic Party was deeply split, with some leaders and most soldiers openly for Lincoln. By contrast, the National Union Party was united and energized as Lincoln made emancipation the central issue, and state Republican parties stressed the perfidy of the Copperheads. On November 8, Lincoln was re-elected in a landslide, carrying all but three states, and receiving 78 percent of the Union soldiers’ vote.
On March 4, 1865, Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address. In it, he deemed the high casualties on both sides to be God’s will. Historian Mark Noll concludes it ranks “among the small handful of semi-sacred texts by which Americans conceive their place in the world”. Lincoln said:
Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”. 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; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Reconstruction began during the war, as Lincoln and his associates anticipated questions of how to reintegrate the conquered southern states, and how to determine the fates of Confederate leaders and freed slaves. Shortly after Lee’s surrender, a general had asked Lincoln how the defeated Confederates should be treated, and Lincoln replied, “Let ’em up easy.” In keeping with that sentiment, Lincoln led the moderates regarding Reconstruction policy, and was opposed by the Radical Republicans, under Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, Sen. Charles Sumner and Sen. Benjamin Wade, political allies of the president on other issues.
Determined to find a course that would reunite the nation and not alienate the South, Lincoln urged that speedy elections under generous terms be held throughout the war. His Amnesty Proclamation of December 8, 1863, offered pardons to those who had not held a Confederate civil office, had not mistreated Union prisoners, and would sign an oath of allegiance.
Unlike Sumner and other Radicals, Lincoln did not see Reconstruction as an opportunity for a sweeping political and social revolution beyond emancipation. He had long made clear his opposition to the confiscation and redistribution of land. He believed, as most Republicans did in April 1865, that the voting requirements should be determined by the states. He assumed that political control in the South would pass to white Unionists, reluctant secessionists, and forward-looking former Confederates.
But time and again during the war, Lincoln, after initial opposition, had come to embrace positions first advanced by abolitionists and Radical Republicans. … Lincoln undoubtedly would have listened carefully to the outcry for further protection for the former slaves … It is entirely plausible to imagine Lincoln and Congress agreeing on a Reconstruction policy that encompassed federal protection for basic civil rights plus limited black suffrage, along the lines Lincoln proposed just before his death.”
The successful reunification of the states had consequences for the name of the country. The term “the United States” has historically been used, sometimes in the plural (“these United States”), and other times in the singular, without any particular grammatical consistency. The Civil War was a significant force in the eventual dominance of the singular usage by the end of the 19th century.
In March 1861, in Lincoln’s first inaugural address, he explored the nature of democracy. He denounced secession as anarchy, and explained that majority rule had to be balanced by constitutional restraints in the American system. He said “A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people.”
According to some sources, Lincoln’s first romantic interest was Ann Rutledge, whom he met when he first moved to New Salem; these sources indicate that by 1835, they were in a relationship but not formally engaged. She died at the age of 22 on August 25, 1835, most likely of typhoid fever. In the early 1830s, he met Mary Owens from Kentucky when she was visiting her sister.
Late in 1836, Lincoln agreed to a match with Mary if she returned to New Salem. Mary did return in November 1836, and Lincoln courted her for a time; however, they both had second thoughts about their relationship. On August 16, 1837, Lincoln wrote Mary a letter suggesting he would not blame her if she ended the relationship. She never replied and the courtship ended.
In 1840, Lincoln became engaged to Mary Todd, who was from a wealthy slave-holding family in Lexington, Kentucky. They met in Springfield, Illinois, in December 1839 and were engaged the following December. A wedding set for January 1, 1841, was canceled when the two broke off their engagement at Lincoln’s initiative. They later met again at a party and married on November 4, 1842, in the Springfield mansion of Mary’s married sister. While preparing for the nuptials and feeling anxiety again, Lincoln, when asked where he was going, replied, “To hell, I suppose.” In 1844, the couple bought a house in Springfield near Lincoln’s law office. Mary Todd Lincoln kept house, often with the help of a relative or hired servant girl.
He was an affectionate, though often absent, husband and father of four children. Robert Todd Lincoln was born in 1843 and Edward Baker Lincoln (Eddie) in 1846. Edward died on February 1, 1850, in Springfield, probably of tuberculosis. “Willie” Lincoln was born on December 21, 1850, and died of a fever on February 20, 1862. The Lincolns’ fourth son, Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, was born on April 4, 1853, and died of heart failure at the age of 18 on July 16, 1871. Robert was the only child to live to adulthood and have children. The Lincolns’ last descendant, great-grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died in 1985. Lincoln “was remarkably fond of children” and the Lincolns were not considered to be strict with their own.
The deaths of their sons had profound effects on both parents. Later in life, Mary struggled with the stresses of losing her husband and sons, and Robert Lincoln committed her temporarily to a mental health asylum in 1875. Abraham Lincoln suffered from “melancholy”, a condition which now is referred to as clinical depression.
Lincoln’s father-in-law and others of the Todd family were either slave owners or slave traders. Lincoln was close to the Todd’s, and he and his family occasionally visited the Todd estate in Lexington.
During his term as President of the United States of America, Mary was known to cook for Lincoln often. Since she was raised by a wealthy family, her cooking abilities were simple, but satisfied Lincoln’s tastes, which included, particularly, imported oysters.
Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre as the American Civil War was drawing to a close. The assassination occurred five days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Booth was a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland; though he never joined the Confederate army, he had contacts with the Confederate secret service.
In 1864, Booth formulated a plan (very similar to one of Thomas N. Conrad previously authorized by the Confederacy) to kidnap Lincoln in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners. After attending an April 11, 1865, speech in which Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks, an incensed Booth changed his plans and became determined to assassinate the president.
Learning that the President and Grant would be attending Ford’s Theatre, Booth formulated a plan with co-conspirators to assassinate Lincoln and Grant at the theater, as well as Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward at their homes. Without his main bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln left to attend the play Our American Cousin on April 14. At the last minute, Grant decided to go to New Jersey to visit his children instead of attending the play.
Lincoln’s bodyguard, John Parker, left Ford’s Theater during intermission to drink at the saloon next door. The now unguarded President sat in his state box in the balcony. Seizing the opportunity, Booth crept up from behind and at about 10:13 pm, aimed at the back of Lincoln’s head and fired at point-blank range, mortally wounding the President. Major Henry Rathbone momentarily grappled with Booth, but Booth stabbed him and escaped.
After being on the run for 12 days, Booth was tracked down and found on a farm in Virginia, some 70 miles (110 km) south of Washington. After refusing to surrender to Union troops, Booth was killed by Sergeant Boston Corbett on April 26.
Doctor Charles Leale, an Army surgeon, found the President unresponsive, barely breathing and with no detectable pulse. Having determined that the President had been shot in the head, and not stabbed in the shoulder as originally thought, he made an attempt to clear the blood clot, after which the President began to breathe more naturally. The dying President was taken across the street to Petersen House. After remaining in a coma for nine hours, Lincoln died at 7:22 am on April 15. Secretary of War Stanton saluted and said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Lincoln’s flag-enfolded body was then escorted in the rain to the White House by bareheaded Union officers, while the city’s church bells rang. President Johnson was sworn in at 10:00 am, less than 3 hours after Lincoln’s death. The late President lay in state in the East Room, and then in the Capitol Rotunda from April 19 through April 21.
For his final journey with his son Willie, both caskets were transported in the executive coach “United States” and for three weeks the Lincoln Special funeral train decorated in black bunting bore Lincoln’s remains on a slow circuitous waypoint journey from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, stopping at many cities across the North for large-scale memorials attended by hundreds of thousands, as well as many people who gathered in informal trackside tributes with bands, bonfires, and hymn singing or silent reverence with hat in hand as the railway procession slowly passed by. Poet Walt Whitman composed When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed to eulogize Lincoln, one of four poems he wrote about the assassinated president.
Historians have emphasized the widespread shock and sorrow, but also noted that some Lincoln haters cheered when they heard the news. African-Americans were especially moved; they had lost ‘their Moses’. In a larger sense, the outpouring of grief and anguish was in response to the deaths of so many men in the war that had just ended.
As a young man, Lincoln was a religious skeptic, or, in the words of a biographer, an iconoclast. Later in life, Lincoln’s frequent use of religious imagery and language might have reflected his own personal beliefs or might have been a device to appeal to his audiences, who were mostly evangelical Protestants. He never joined a church, although he frequently attended with his wife. However, he was deeply familiar with the Bible, and he both quoted and praised it. He was private about his beliefs and respected the beliefs of others. Lincoln never made a clear profession of Christian beliefs. However, he did believe in an all-powerful God that shaped events and, by 1865, was expressing those beliefs in major speeches.
In the 1840s, Lincoln subscribed to the Doctrine of Necessity, a belief that asserted the human mind was controlled by some higher power. In the 1850s, Lincoln believed in “providence” in a general way, and rarely used the language or imagery of the evangelicals; he regarded the republicanism of the Founding Fathers with an almost religious reverence. When he suffered the death of his son Edward, Lincoln more frequently expressed a need to depend on God. The death of his son Willie in February 1862 may have caused Lincoln to look toward religion for answers and solace.
After Willie’s death, Lincoln considered why, from a divine standpoint, the severity of the war was necessary. He wrote at this time that God “could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.” On the day Lincoln was assassinated, he reportedly told his wife he desired to visit the Holy Land.
In surveys of U.S. scholars ranking presidents conducted since the 1940s, Lincoln is consistently ranked in the top three, often as number one. A 2004 study found that scholars in the fields of history and politics ranked Lincoln number one, while legal scholars placed him second after Washington. In presidential ranking polls conducted in the United States since 1948, Lincoln has been rated at the very top in the majority of polls. Generally, the top three presidents are rated as 1. Lincoln 2. George Washington 3. Franklin D. Roosevelt. although Lincoln and Washington, and Washington and Roosevelt, are occasionally reversed.
President Lincoln’s assassination increased his status to the point of making him a national martyr. Lincoln was viewed by abolitionists as a champion for human liberty. Republicans linked Lincoln’s name to their party. In the South many, though not all considered Lincoln as a man of outstanding ability.
Historians have said he was “a classical liberal” in the 19th century sense. Allen C. Guelzo states that Lincoln was a:
classical liberal democrat—an enemy of artificial hierarchy, a friend to trade and business as ennobling and enabling, and an American counterpart to Mill, Cobden, and Bright (whose portrait Lincoln hung in his White House office).
Lincoln became a favorite exemplar for liberal intellectuals across Europe and Latin America and even in Asia.
Schwartz argues that Lincoln’s American reputation grew slowly in the late 19th century until the Progressive Era (1900–1920s) when he emerged as one of the most venerated heroes in American history, with even white Southerners in agreement.
The high point came in 1922 with the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
In the New Deal era liberals honored Lincoln not so much as the self-made man or the great war president, but as the advocate of the common man who they believe would have supported the welfare state. In the Cold War years, Lincoln’s image shifted to emphasize the symbol of freedom that brought hope to those oppressed by communist regimes.
By the 1970s Lincoln had become a hero to political conservatives for his intense nationalism, support for business, his insistence on stopping the spread of human bondage, his acting in terms of Lockean and Burkean principles on behalf of both liberty and tradition, and his devotion to the principles of the Founding Fathers.
As a Whig activist, Lincoln was a spokesman for business interests, favoring high tariffs, banks, internal improvements, and railroads in opposition to the agrarian Democrats.
William C. Harris found that Lincoln’s “reverence for the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, the laws under it, and the preservation of the Republic and its institutions undergirded and strengthened his conservatism”. James G. Randall emphasizes his tolerance and especially his moderation “in his preference for orderly progress, his distrust of dangerous agitation, and his reluctance toward ill digested schemes of reform”. Randall concludes that, “he was conservative in his complete avoidance of that type of so-called ‘radicalism’ which involved abuse of the South, hatred for the slaveholder, thirst for vengeance, partisan plotting, and ungenerous demands that Southern institutions be transformed overnight by outsiders.”
By the late 1960s, some African American intellectuals led by Lerone Bennett Jr., rejected Lincoln’s role as the Great Emancipator. Bennett won wide attention when he called Lincoln a white supremacist in 1968. He noted that Lincoln used ethnic slurs and told jokes that ridiculed blacks. Bennett argued that Lincoln opposed social equality, and proposed sending freed slaves to another country. Defenders, such as authors Dirck and Cashin, retorted that he was not as bad as most politicians of his day; and that he was a “moral visionary” who deftly advanced the abolitionist cause, as fast as politically possible. The emphasis shifted away from Lincoln-the-emancipator to an argument that blacks had freed themselves from slavery or at least was responsible for pressuring the government on emancipation.
Historian Barry Schwartz wrote in 2009 that Lincoln’s image suffered “erosion, fading prestige, benign ridicule” in the late 20th century.On the other hand, Donald opined in his 1996 biography that Lincoln was distinctly endowed with the personality trait of negative capability, defined by the poet John Keats and attributed to extraordinary leaders who were “content in the midst of uncertainties and doubts, and not compelled toward fact or reason”. In the 21st century, President Barack Obama named Lincoln his favorite president and insisted on using Lincoln’s Bible for his swearing in of office at both his inaugurations.
Lincoln has often been portrayed by Hollywood, almost always in a flattering light
Lincoln’s portrait appears on two denominations of United States currency, the penny and the $5 bill. His likeness also appears on many postage stamps and he has been memorialized in many town, city, and county names, including the capital of Nebraska. While he is usually portrayed bearded, he first grew a beard in 1860 at the suggestion of 11-year old Grace Bedell.
The most famous and most visited memorials are Lincoln’s sculpture on Mount Rushmore; Lincoln Memorial, Ford’s Theatre, and Petersen House (where he died) in Washington, D.C.; and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, not far from Lincoln’s home, as well as his tomb.
There was also the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln exhibit in Disneyland, and the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World, which had to do with Walt Disney admiring Lincoln ever since he was a little boy.
The United States Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) is named after Lincoln, the second Navy ship to bear his name.
Truly Abraham Lincoln is a man never to be forgotten not only by the Americans but also the world.