Saturday, August 13, 2011

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United states and the first president to be assassinated. Although he was born a poor farmer in Kentucky, Lincoln put himself through law school and served many years in Congress before winning the presidential office in 1860. Lincoln is an American icon and one of the country's most beloved presidents. 


Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809 in a cabin three miles south of Hodgenville, Kentucky. Abraham's father, Thomas, was the descendant of a weaver's apprentice who moved to Massachusetts from England in 1637. It is speculated that his mother, Nancy Hanks, was an illegitimate child. Abraham had two siblings, Sarah and Thomas, but Thomas died in infancy.

Abraham Lincoln in 1847
Abraham's father moved the family to a farm in Indiana after losing their farm in Kentucky due to a lawsuit. Abraham helped tend the family crops but disliked hunting and fishing. When Abraham was ten years old, his mother died suddenly of “milk sickness.” Milk sickness was an epidemic caused by drinking milk from cows that fed on poisonous plants. His father remarried a few years later and Abraham grew close to his new stepmother.

Thomas Lincoln moved his family to Illinois when Abraham was 21 years old. Abraham was described as a 6 feet four tall, good-natured, yet moody and muscular young man. After moving to Illinois, Abraham had no interest in farming and tried many jobs such working as a rail-splitter, flat boatman, storekeeper, postman, surveyor and volunteer in the Black Hawk War before deciding to run as a legislator for the state assembly. Abraham won his first election for a seat in the Illinois House of Representative in 1834. He was reelected again in 1836, 1838, and 1840 but then decided to leave politics and study law instead. After putting himself through law school, Abraham began working as a lawyer.


Mary Todd
After many years of single life, Abraham Lincoln met Mary Todd and proposed to her in 1841. Mary was from an educated, well-to-do family and Abraham often felt inadequate around her family. The couple broke up shortly after the engagement but quickly reconciled and were married on November 4, 1842. The couple had four boys, Willie, Robert, Thomas and Edward. 

Back to Politics

Abraham Lincoln was known as a critical, freethinker. His lack of religious faith was often used against him in his political career. When Abraham ran for Congress in 1846, he distributed a handbill defending himself against rumors that he spoke openly against religion.

Abraham won his bid for Congress in 1847. He did not seek renomination after serving his two-year term and was offered the job of secretary and then governor of Oregon territory. He turned down both offers and continued practicing law. Abraham returned to politics again and ran unsuccessfully for a seat as a U.S. senator in 1855 and again in 1858, before he was elected President of the United States in 1860.


Abraham Lincoln's legacy as president is marked by the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham’s election in 1860 was the last straw in the slow build up to the Civil War. Despite Abraham's anti-slavery stance, he believed slavery should be contained to the south, not eliminated completely, and did not believe in equality between the races. This still did not persuade southerners that he would protect their ownership of slaves. Even before Abraham's inauguration, South Carolina withdrew from the union. This lead many other states to secede and Abraham was forced to take action. In his inaugural address Abraham declared:

"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.”
Lincoln's Inauguration in 1861

Fighting began the next month when Abraham sent 75,000 troops to recapture forts taken by the rebels. The fighting continued for two years. Congress decided to pass the Emancipation Proclamation in July of 1862 in an attempt to weaken the rebellion. This law did not abolish slavery, the 13th amendment did that, but did free slaves in states the were not in Union territories.

In 1864, Abraham campaigned against New York democrat George B. McClellan and won reelection. The war finally ended a few months later in 1865 after the south lost a series of battles and admitted defeat.


Front page of the New York Times, April 15, 1865
Abraham Lincoln joined his wife at the Ford's Theater on the night of April 14, 1865 to a watch a play titled “Our American Cousin.” An actor and loyal confederate, John Wilkes Booth, discovered Abraham was at the theater and made his way to the presidential balcony. Booth approached the presidential box during the third act of the play and shot Abraham in the back of the head. Booth then jumped of the balcony and broke a bone in his left leg when he landed on the stage. He shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” (The Virginia state motto meaning: Thus always to tyrants) and then shouted “The south is avenged!” before making his escape.

The bullet lodged in Abraham's brain and paralyzed him yet did not kill him instantly. Abraham was carried across the street to a boarding house where a doctor tried desperately to save his life. There he laid for 9 hours before finally dying of his wounds.

Abraham Lincoln lying in his coffin in NYC hall
Abraham Lincoln 1850
Abraham Lincoln at Antietam
Abraham Lincoln in 1863
Abraham Lincoln in 1863
Abraham Lincoln & son Thomas in 1865
Abraham Lincoln Post-Mortem Photo
Abraham Lincoln's Funeral Procession on Pennsylvania Avenue

The White House: Abraham Lincoln

Encyclopedia Britannica: John Wilkes Booth

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Biography: Abraham Lincoln Biography

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