Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States of America was born into a poor Kentucky frontier family on 12 February 1809 near Hodgenville in HardinCounty. He is best remembered for leading the country through the Civil War. The Gettysburg Address is just one example of his eloquence in many speeches. His second inaugural address, which contains the phrase “With malice toward none; with charity for all…” is inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Lincoln family moved from the obscure backwoods to Indiana when he was a boy of seven. His older sister was called Sarah. His mother, Virginia born Nancy Hanks, died of the dreaded frontier disease called “milk sickness” when he was 9, and his father married the widow, Sarah Bush Johnston who brought her three children into the family in Indiana. Stepmother Sarah had a good influence on the boy. Indians killed his father, who was a farmer.
He spent less than a year in a one-teacher school, but he never stopped studying – during his entire life he remained a “learner.” He ardently read books such as the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, The Life of George Washington, Aesop’s Fables, and Robinson Crusoe. He started with a career when he learned to become a carpenter. Between farm chores he helped to run a ferry across the Ohio River to Kentucky. When he was 18 he built his own scow and transferred passengers over the shallows to steamers out in the river.
When Lincoln was 21 years old, he was ready to live his own life. As he loved the river, he took a flatboat to New Orleans, and on his return he became a clerk in the village store at New Salem, Ill. This small settlement stood on a bluff above the Sangamon, about 20 miles (32 km.) northwest of Springfield. Here he stayed for 6 years up to 1837. For $15 a month and a bedroom at the back, he tended the store and a gristmill.
When the Black Hawk War broke out in April 1832 he, and the Clary’s Grove men enlisted, and the Clary’s Grove men elected him as captain of their rifle company After his 30 day term of enlistment ended he re-enlisted as a private and served a further two months. He never saw battle, but later is his life, when he was commander in chief in the Civil War; he treated soldiers’ failings with great understanding. Before the Black Hawk War began, Lincoln made up his mind to run for the Illinois legislature. After the three months military service he once more started campaigning. The New Salem store failed and he was out of work, but another New Salem store was put up for sale. With William Berry as his partner, they bought it on credit.
Again the running of the store failed, and he became the postmaster of New Salem. Now he had more time on hand to read all the newspapers in the mail, and he had a keen interest in the political news. In 1833 Lincoln took an appointment as deputy county surveyor.
The following year his friends in New Salem and the SangamonCounty elected him to the Illinois General Assembly where he served as a Whig. Lincoln was reelected in 1836, 1838, and 1840.
For many years it was Lincoln’s ideal to become a lawyer. He borrowed law books, studied from it, and returned them. It paid off for he received his law license on 9 September 1836. In April 1837 when he was 28 years old Lincoln left New Salem to make his home in Springfield, where he soon established a reputation for himself as a lawyer. In 1839 he met Mary Todd, and the couple were married on 4 November 1842. The first son, Robert Todd, was born in 1843. Edward, William, and Thomas (Tad) were born in 1846, 1850, and 1853 respectively. He dressed smartly. He always wore fresh shirts, his boots were neatly polished, and his suit and stovepipe hat brushed.
The road to politics
In 1847 Lincoln left for Washington, D.C., as a representative from Illinois. It was the time of the Mexican War, and he opposed it, and was strongly against the institution of slavery. This antiwar addresses displeased his political supporters even though he new that they would not reelect him. Late in 1849 he was offered the governorship of the OregonTerritory. He refused the appointment as he was convinced that he was now a failure in politics.
Lincoln returned to the law. He again rode the circuit of courts, which kept him away from home almost six months per year. Wherever he appeared in a courtroom he could make the jury weep or split their sides with laughter. More important to his success was his reputation for honesty – often referred to as “Honest Abe”.
The threat of slavery being extended brought Lincoln back into politics in 1854. In 1856 he helped to organize the Illinois branch of the new Republican party, and became the leading Republican in Illinois His opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act led him into the newly formed Republican Party and he won national fame as a result of his Lincoln began a series of speeches protesting the act and the Democratic incumbent, S. A. Douglas, in the Illinois senatorial election in 1858. Although Douglas won the contest, Lincoln’s performance established him as the national spokesman for a strong federal union in opposition to the further extension of slavery and helped him to win the Republican nomination for the 1860 presidential election.
Lincoln was a man who knew what he wanted – to become the President of the United States in its time of crisis. He was determined to preserve the Union. At the Republican national convention in Chicago in 1860 he was nominated on the third ballot and was elected the 16th President of the United States, the first Republican, receiving 180 of the 303 possible electoral votes and 40 percent of the popular vote (1,865,593 votes). The South voted almost solidly against him. It was a difficult time to become president, since many Southern states did not agree with him on slavery, and they declared that they were not a part of the United States. The Southern states had the perception that a Republican president would not respect their rights or property. At the time just before his inauguration threats to kill him increased. On 12 April 1861, fewer than six weeks later, the Civil War began, and Lincoln shouldered the giant task to bring the rebel states back into the national group and to preserve the Union.
On 1 January 1863 President Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation thereby freeing all slaves in territories held by Confederates and emphasized the enlisting of black soldiers in the Union Army. The war to preserve the Union now became a revolutionary struggle for the abolition of slavery. In 1864 he was re-elected as President. He defeated the Democrat, George B. McClellan – he received 55 percent of the popular votes and 2l2 of 233 electoral votes
It was on Good Friday, 14 April 1865, when he attended a play at Ford’s Theatre that he was shot by an actor, John Wilkes Booth, who hoped the throw the country into political chaos. He died, without regaining consciousness early the following. He was buried in Springfield, Illinois.
Lincoln was the central figure of the Civil War, and is regarded by many historians and laymen as not only the foremost of the USA’s presidents but also the greatest American in American history. Lincoln is often considered the greatest President. Both friends and enemies praised his selflessness and kindly spirit after his death.