Lincoln, 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 opposed the expansion of slavery and
oversaw the Union war effort during the American Civil War.
selected the generals and approved their strategy; selected senior
civilian officials; supervised diplomacy, patronage and party
operations; rallied public opinion through messages and speeches
such as the Gettysburg Address; and took personal charge of plans
for the abolition of slavery and the Reconstruction of the Union.
He was assassinated as the war ended.
President Lincoln was opposed to what he saw as the Slave Power
and staunchly opposed its efforts to expand slavery into federal
territories. His victory in the 1860 presidential election was
the final straw in the deep South, where seven states seceded,
formed the Confederate States of America, and took control of
U.S. forts and other properties within their boundaries, setting
the stage for the American Civil War.
is often praised for his work as a wartime leader who proved himself
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, in close cooperation (1864-65) with General
S. Grant which in spring 1865 led to the surrender of
all Confederate armies.
leadership qualities were evident in his first 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.
vehemently criticized him for violating the Constitution, overstepping
the bounds of executive power, refusing to compromise on slavery,
declaring martial law, suspending habeas corpus, ordering the
arrest of 18,000 opponents including public officials and newspaper
publishers, and killing hundreds of thousands of young men, soldiers
in the war. Radical Republicans criticized him for going too slow
in the abolition of slavery, and not being ruthless enough toward
the conquered South.
is most famous for his roles in preserving the Union and ending
slavery in the United States with the Emancipation Proclamation
and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
have argued that Lincoln had a lasting influence on U.S. political
and social institutions, importantly setting a precedent for greater
centralization of powers in the federal government and the weakening
of the powers of the individual state governments.
spent most of his attention on military matters and politics but
with his strong support his administration established the current
system of national banks with the National Bank Act. He increased
the tariff to raise revenue and encourage factories, imposed the
first income tax, issued hundreds of millions of dollars of bonds
and Greenbacks, encouraged immigration from Europe, started the
transcontinental railroad, set up the Department of Agriculture,
encouraged farm ownership with the Homestead Act of 1862, and
set up the modern system of state universities with the Morrill
Land-Grant Colleges Act. During the war his Treasury department
effectively controlled all cotton trade in the occupied South--the
most dramatic incursion of federal controls on the economy. During
his administration West Virginia and Nevada were admitted as states.
is always ranked as one of the two or three greatest presidents.
His importance comes from his roles in defining the great issues,
in organizing and winning a huge war, in destroying slavery, in
redefining national values, in building a new political party,
and in saving and redefining the Union. His assassination made
him a martyr to millions of Americans. However, his Copperhead
opponents denounced him as an unconstitutional tyrant for declaring
martial law, suspending civil liberties, habeas corpus, and the
First Amendment, and ordering the arrest of thousands of public
officials and newspaper publishers.
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a one-room log
cabin on the 348 acre 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, who was scalped in 1786 in an
Indian raid. He had no middle name. Lincoln's parents were uneducated,
Lincoln became famous, reporters and storytellers often exaggerated
the poverty and obscurity of his birth. However 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. The farm
site is now preserved as part of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National
Historic Site. His parents belonged to a Baptist church that had
pulled away from a larger church because they refused to support
slavery. From a very young age, Lincoln was exposed to anti-slavery
sentiment. However he never joined his parents' church, or any
other church, and as a youth ridiculed religion.
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. Legal expenses 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.
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. It is possible that these episodes motivated Abraham to
later learn surveying and become an attorney.
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. In 1818, Lincoln's mother died of "milk sickness"
at age thirty four, when Abe was nine. Soon afterwards, Lincoln's
father remarried to Sarah Bush Johnston. Sarah Lincoln raised
young Lincoln like one of her own children. Years later she compared
Lincoln to her own son, saying "Both were good boys, but
I must say — both now being dead that Abe was the best boy
I ever saw or ever expect to see." (Lincoln, by David Herbert
1830, after more economic and land-title difficulties in Indiana,
the family settled on government land on a site selected by Lincoln's
father in Macon County, Illinois. 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, canoing down the
Sangamon to Sangamon County, Illinois, in the village of New Salem.
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.
formal education consisted of perhaps 18 months of schooling from
itinerant teachers. In effect he was self-educated, studying every
book he could borrow. He mastered the Bible, Shakespeare, English
history and American history, and developed a plain style that
puzzled audiences more used to grandiloquent oratory. He avoided
hunting and fishing because he did not like killing animals even
for food and, though unusually tall and strong, spent so much
time reading that some neighbors thought he must be doing it to
avoid strenuous manual labor. He was skilled with an axe, they
called him the "rail splitter", and a good wrestler.
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."
later tried and failed at several small-time business ventures.
He held an Illinois state liquor license and sold whiskey. 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.
became one of the most respected and successful lawyers in the
prairie state, and grew steadily more prosperous. Lincoln served
four successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives,
as a representative from Sangamon County, beginning in 1834. He
became a leader of the Whig party in the legislature. 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."
shared a bed with Joshua Fry Speed from 1837 to 1841 in Springfield.
While gay activist C. A. Tripp generated controversy with his
2005 book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by suggesting
their relationship may also have been sexual, many historians
state 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).
1841, Lincoln entered law practice with William Herndon, a fellow
Whig. 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. Lincoln never joined an
antislavery society and denied he supported the abolitionists.
married into a prominent slave-owning family from Kentucky, and
allowed his children to spend time there surrounded by slaves.
Several of his in-laws became Confederate officers. He greatly
admired the science that flourished in New England, and was perhaps
the only father in Illinois at the time to send his son, Robert
Todd Lincoln, to elite eastern schools, Phillips Exeter Academy
and Harvard College.
On November 4, 1842, at the age of 33, Lincoln married Mary Todd.
The couple had four sons.
Robert Todd Lincoln: b. August 1, 1843, in Springfield, Illinois;
d. July 26, 1926, in Manchester, Vermont.
2. Edward Baker Lincoln: b. March 10, 1846, in Springfield, Illinois;
d. February 1, 1850, in Springfield, Illinois.
3. William Wallace Lincoln: b. December 21, 1850, in Springfield,
Illinois; d. February 20, 1862, in Washington, D.C.
4. Thomas "Tad" Lincoln: b. April 4, 1853, in Springfield,
Illinois; d. July 16, 1871, in Chicago, Illinois.
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
In 1846, Lincoln was elected to one term in the U.S. House of
Representatives. A staunch Whig, Lincoln often referred to party
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."
was a key early supporter of Zachary Taylor's candidacy for the
1848 Whig Presidential nomination. When Lincoln's term ended,
the incoming Taylor administration offered him the governorship
of remote Oregon Territory. Acceptance would end his career in
the fast-growing state of Illinois, so he declined. Returning
instead to Springfield, Illinois he turned most of his energies
to making a living at the bar, which involved extensive travels
on horseback from county to county.
By the mid-1850s, Lincoln faced 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 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 grounds that it had changed
its originally planned route.
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
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
most notable criminal trial came 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
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 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, drew Lincoln back into politics.
Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, the most powerful man in the Senate,
proposed popular sovereignty as the solution to the slavery impasse,
incorporating it into the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Douglas argued
that in a democracy the people of a territory should decide whether
to allow slavery or not, and not have a decision imposed on them
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. He helped form the new Republican party, drawing on
remnants of the old Whig, Free Soil, Liberty and Democratic parties.
In a stirring campaign, the Republicans carried Illinois in 1854,
and elected a senator. Lincoln was the obvious choice, but to
keep party unity he allowed the election to go to his colleague
1857-58 Douglas broke with President Buchanan, leading to a terrific
fight for control of the Democratic party. Some eastern Republicans
even favored the reelection of Douglas in 1858, since he led the
opposition to the 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 in which he stated, "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 a lasting image of the
danger of disunion due to slavery, and rallied Republicans across
1858 campaign featured the Lincoln-Douglas debates, a nationally
noticed discussion on the issues that threatened to split the
nation in two. Lincoln forced Douglas to propose his Freeport
Doctrine, which lost him further support among slave-holders and
speeded the division of the Democratic Party. Though the Republican
legislative candidates won more popular votes, the Democrats won
more seats and the legislature reelected Douglas to the Senate.
Nevertheless, Lincoln's eloquence transformed him into a national
the debates of 1858 the issue of race was often discussed. During
a time period when racial egalitarianism was considered politically
incorrect, Stephen Douglas would inform the crowds, “If
you desire negro citizenship…if you desire them to vote
on an equality with yourselves… then support Mr. Lincoln
and the Black Republican party, who are in favor of the citizenship
of the negro.” (Official Records of Debate) On the defensive
Lincoln countered that he was “not in favor of bringing
about in any way the social and political equality of the white
and black races.” (Official Records of Debate)
generally remained mixed on what Lincoln’s actual views
were on race. However, many tend to doubt that the highly political
nature of these debates offer reliable evidence about his personal
views. (Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, 2005) (Lincoln:
In Text and Context, by Donald Fehrenbacher, 1987) As Fredrick
Douglass observed, “[Lincoln was] the first great man that
I talked with in the United States freely who in no single instance
reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the
difference of color.” (Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass,
by Fredrick Douglass, 1895)
opposition to slavery was opposition to the Slave Power, and he
was not an abolitionist in 1858. But the Civil War changed everything,
and changed Lincoln's beliefs in race relations as well.
Entering the presidential nomination process as a distinct underdog,
Lincoln was eventually chosen as the Republican candidate for
the 1860 election for several reasons. His expressed views on
slavery were seen as more moderate than rivals William H. Seward
and Salmon Chase. His "western" origins also appealed
to the newer states. Other contenders, especially those with more
governmental experience, had acquired enemies within the party,
specifically Seward, who had run afoul of newspaperman Horace
Greeley. During the campaign, Lincoln was dubbed "The Rail
Splitter" by Republicans to emphasize the power of "free
labor," whereby a common farm boy could work his way to the
top by his own efforts.
November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the
United States, beating Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckenridge
of the Southern Democrats, and John C. Bell of the new Constitutional
Union Party. 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 there. Lincoln gained 1,865,908 votes (39.9%
of the total,) for 180 electoral votes, Douglas 1,380,202 (29.5%)
for 12 electoral votes, Breckenridge 848,019 (18.1%) for 72 electoral
votes, and Bell 590,901 (12.5%) for 39 electoral votes. There
were fusion tickets in some states, but even if his opponents
had combined in every state, Lincoln had a majority vote in all
but two of the states in which he won the electoral votes, and
would still have won the electoral college and the election.
As Lincoln's election became more and more probable, secessionists
made it clear that their states would leave the Union. South Carolina
took the lead followed by six other cotton-growing states: Georgia,
Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The upper
South (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee,
Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas) listened to and rejected the
decided to stay in the Union, though warning Lincoln they would
not support an invasion through their territory. The seven Confederate
states seceded before Lincoln took office, declaring themselves
an entirely new nation, the Confederate States of America. President
Buchanan and president-elect Lincoln refused to recognize the
Lincoln survived an assassination threat in Baltimore, and on
February 23, 1861 arrived in disguise in Washington. 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 capital from Confederate invasion or insurrection
from Confederates in the capital city.
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 a simple contract, would it not require
the agreement of all parties to rescind it?
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 had been a driving
force. It would have explicitly protected slavery in those states
in which it already existed, and had already passed both houses.
Lincoln adamantly opposed the Crittenden Compromise, however,
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 some Republicans,
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."
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
any compromise allowing the expansion of slavery. 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.
the time Lincoln took office the Confederacy was an established
fact and not a single leader of that country ever proposed rejoining
the Union on any terms. No compromise was found because no compromise
was possible. Lincoln perhaps could have allowed the southern
states to secede, and some Republicans recommended that. However
conservative Democratic nationalists, such as Jeremiah S. Black,
Joseph Holt, and Edwin M. Stanton had taken control of Buchanan's
cabinet around January 1, 1861, and refused to accept secession.
Lincoln, and nearly all Republican leaders, adopted this nationalistic
position by March, 1861: the Union could not be broken.
After Union troops at Fort Sumter were fired on and forced to
surrender in April, Lincoln called on governors of every state
to send 75,000 troops to recapture forts, protect the capital,
and "preserve the Union," which in his view still existed
intact despite the actions of the seceding states. Virginia, which
had repeatedly warned Lincoln it would not allow an invasion of
its territory or join an attack on another state, then seceded,
along with North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.
slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware did
not secede, and Lincoln urgently negotiated with state leaders
there, promising not to interfere with slavery in loyal states.
After the fighting started he had rebel leaders arrested in all
the border areas and held in military prisons without trial; over
18,000 were arrested. None were executed; one --Clement Vallandingham
--was exiled; all were released, usually after two or three months.
See Ex parte Merryman.
Main articles: Abraham Lincoln on slavery and Emancipation Proclamation
Congress in July 1862 moved to free the slaves by passing the
Second Confiscation Act. It provided:
if any person shall hereafter incite, set on foot, assist, or
engage in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority
of the United States, or the laws thereof, or shall give aid or
comfort thereto, or shall engage in, or give aid and comfort to,
any such existing rebellion or insurrection, and be convicted
thereof, such person shall be punished by imprisonment for a period
not exceeding ten years, or by a fine not exceeding ten thousand
dollars, and by the liberation of all his slaves, if any he have;
or by both of said punishments, at the discretion of the court.
SEC. 9. And be it further enacted, That all slaves of persons
who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government
of the United States, or who shall in any way give aid or comfort
thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the
lines of the army; and all slaves captured from such persons or
deserted by them and coming under the control of the government
of the United States; and all slaves of such person found on [or]
being within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterwards
occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives
of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not
again held as slaves.
Thus everyone who 60 days after July 17, 1862 supported the rebellion
was to be punished by having all their slaves freed. The goal
was to weaken the rebellion, which was led and controlled by slave
owners. This did not abolish the legal institution of slavery
(the XIII Amendment did that), but it shows Lincoln had the support
of (and was even somewhat pushed by) Congress in liberating the
slaves owned by rebels. Lincoln implemented the new law by his
is well known for ending slavery in the United States and he personally
opposed slavery as a profound moral evil not in accord with the
principle of equality asserted in the Declaration of Independence.
Yet, Lincoln's views of the role of the federal government on
the subject of slavery are more complicated. Before the Confederate
states seceded, Lincoln had campaigned against the expansion of
slavery into the territories, where Congress did have authority.
he maintained that the federal government could not constitutionally
bar slavery in states where it already existed. During his presidency,
Lincoln made it clear that the North was fighting the war to preserve
the Union, not to abolish slavery. Freeing the slaves was a war
measure to weaken the rebellion by destroying the economic base
of its leadership class.
was criticized both at home and abroad for his refusal to take
a stand for the complete abolition of slavery. On August 22, 1862,
a few weeks before signing the Proclamation, and after it had
already been drafted, Lincoln responded by letter to an editorial
by Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune which had urged abolition:
would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the
Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored;
the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was."
If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could
at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there
be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the
same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. 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 shall do less
whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and
I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help
the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors;
and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be
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. "
With the Emancipation Proclamation issued in two parts on September
22, 1862 and January 1, 1863, Lincoln made the abolition of slavery
a goal of the war. Lincoln addresses the issue of his consistency
(or lack thereof) between his earlier position and his later position
on emancipation in an 1864 letter to Albert G. Hodges
is often credited with freeing enslaved African Americans with
the Emancipation Proclamation. However, border states that still
allowed slavery but were under Union control were exempt from
the emancipation because they were not covered under any war measures.
The proclamation on its first day, January 1, 1863, freed only
a few escaped slaves, but as Union armies advanced south more
and more slaves were liberated until hundreds of thousands were
freed (exactly how many is unknown).
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; Lincoln
was one of the main promoters of that amendment.
some Northern conservatives recoiled at the notion that the war
was now being fought for the slaves instead of for preserving
the Union, in the end the Emancipation Proclamation did much to
help the Northern cause politically. 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 Confederate States of America. This move remains one of the
great seizures of private property by the federal government,
restoring the ownership of the blacks to themselves,
had for some time been working on plans to set up colonies in
Africa and South America for the nearly 4 million newly freed
slaves. He remarked upon colonization favorably in the Emancipation
Proclamation, but all attempts at such a massive undertaking failed.
domestic measures of Lincoln's first term
Lincoln believed in the Whig theory of the presidency, which left
Congress to write the laws while he signed them, vetoing only
bills that threatened his war powers. Thus he signed the Homestead
Act in 1862, making available millions of acres of government-held
land in the west for purchase at very low cost. The Morrill Land-Grant
Colleges Act, also signed in 1862, provided government grants
for agricultural universities in each state.
also signed the Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864, which granted
federal support to the construction of the United States' first
transcontinental railroad, which was completed in 1869. The most
important legislation involved money matters, including the first
income tax and higher tariffs. Most important was the creation
of the system of national banks by the National Banking Acts of
1863, 1864 and 1865 which allowed the creation of a strong national
sent a senior general to put down the "Sioux Uprising"
of August 1862 in Minnesota. Presented with 303 death warrants
for convicted Santee Dakota who had massacred innocent farmers,
Lincoln affirmed 39 of these for execution (one was later reprieved).
election and second inauguration
After Union victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chattanooga
in 1863, many in the North believed that victory was soon to come
after Lincoln appointed U.S. Grant General-in-Chief on March 12,
1864. Although no president since Andrew Jackson had been elected
to a second term (and none since Van Buren had been re-nominated),
Lincoln's re-election was considered a certainty.
when the spring campaigns, east and west, all turned into bloody
stalemates, Northern morale dipped and Lincoln seemed less likely
to be re-nominated. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase strongly
desired the Republican nomination and was working hard to win
it, while John Fremont was nominated by a breakoff group of radical
Republicans, potentially taking away crucial votes in the November
he might lose the election, Lincoln wrote out and signed the following
pledge, but did not show it to his cabinet, asking them each to
sign the sealed envelope. Lincoln wrote:
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 can not possibly
save it afterwards.
Democrats, hoping to make setbacks in the war a top campaign issue,
waited until late summer to nominate a candidate. Their platform
was heavily influenced by the Peace wing of the party, calling
the war a "failure," but their candidate, former General
George McClellan, was a War Democrat, determined to prosecute
the war until the Union was restored, although willing to compromise
on all other issues, including slavery.
candidacy was soon undercut as on September 1, just two days after
the convention, Atlanta was abandoned by the Confederate army.
Coming on the heels of David Farragut's capture of Mobile Bay
and followed by Phil Sheridan's crushing victory over Jubal Early's
army at Cedar Creek, it was now apparent that the tide had turned
in favor of the Union and that Lincoln may be reelected despite
the costs of the war.
Lincoln believed that he would win the electoral vote by only
a slim margin, failing to give him the mandate he'd need if he
was to push his lenient reconstruction plan. To his surprise,
Lincoln ended up winning all but two states, capturing 212 of
233 electoral votes.
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 rebels was within sight, slavery
had effectively ended, and Lincoln was looking to the future.
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 two hundred and fifty
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 three thousand years ago, so still it must
be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous
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.
War and reconstruction
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
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.
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
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.
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. Pope was
sent to Minnesota to fight the Sioux.
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 stunningly
defeated at Fredericksburg, Joseph Hooker was given command, despite
his idle talk about becoming a military strong man. Hooker was
routed by Lee at Chancellorsville in May 1863 and also relieved
the Union victory at Gettysburg, Meade's failure to pursue Lee,
and months of inactivity for the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln
decided to bring in a western general: General Ulysses S. Grant.
He 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
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.
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 farms and towns 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.
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.
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 while 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 that he delivered on November 19, 1863.
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.
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 imprisoned
thousands of accused Confederate sympathizers without trial. There
is a fragment of uncorraborated evidence that Lincoln made contingency
plans to arrest Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, though the allegation
remains unresolved and controversial (see the Taney Arrest Warrant
long war and the issue of emancipation appeared to be severely
hampering his prospects and pessimists warned that defeat appeared
likely. 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
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.
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
'em up easy," he told his assembled military leaders Gen.
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."
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.
He was the first President to be assassinated, and the third to
die in office.
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.
declined saying he had plans to meet their sons in New Jersey
and were catching an early train (Grant's wife, Julia Dent Grant,
is said to have strongly disliked Mary Todd Lincoln). A total
of thirteen people turned down the President's invitation including
the President's eldest son (he said he was too tired), Robert
Todd Lincoln, the House Speaker and War Secretary Stanton. Finally,
Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris (his step-sister and fiancee)
agreed to go.
Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and Southern sympathizer from
Maryland, heard that the president and Mrs. Lincoln, along with
the Grants, would be attending Ford's Theatre. Having failed in
a plot to kidnap Lincoln earlier, Booth informed his co-conspirators
of his intention to kill Lincoln. Others were assigned to assassinate
Vice-President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.
his main bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, to whom he related his famous
dream of his own assassination, the Lincolns left to attend the
play, Our American Cousin, at Ford's Theater. As a lone bodyguard
wandered, and Lincoln sat in his state box in the balcony, Booth
crept up behind the President's box and waited for the funniest
line of the play, hoping the laughter would cover the gunshot
stage, actor Harry Hawk said the last words 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 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 right eyeball. Major Henry Rathbone,
who was present in the Presidential Box, momentarily grappled
with Booth but was cut by Booth's knife.
then shouted "Sic semper tyrannis!" (Latin: "Thus
always to tyrants," the state motto of Virginia; some accounts
say he added "The South is avenged!") and jumped from
the balcony to the stage below, breaking his leg. Despite his
injury, Booth managed to limp to his horse and make his escape.
army surgeon, Dr. Charles Leale quickly assessed the wound as
mortal. The President was taken across the street from the theater
to the Petersen House, where he lay in a coma for nine hours before
he expired. Several physicians attended Lincoln, including U.S.
Army Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes of the Army Medical Museum.
Using a probe, Barnes located some fragments of Lincoln's skull
and the ball lodged 6 inches inside his brain.
who never regained consciousness, was officially pronounced dead
at 7:22 A.M. the next morning, April 15, 1865. There is some disagreement
among historians as to Stanton's words after Lincoln died. All
agree he began "Now he belongs to the..." with some
stating he said "ages" with others believe he said "angels".
After Lincoln's body was returned to the White House, his body
was prepared for his "lying in state" in the East Room.
Army Medical Museum, now named the National Museum of Health and
Medicine, has retained in its collection since the time of Lincoln's
death, several artifacts relating to the assassination. Currently
on display in the museum are the bullet that was fired from the
Deringer pistol, ending Lincoln's life, the probe used by Barnes,
pieces of his skull and hair and the surgeon's cuff, stained with
Lincoln's blood. The museum can be found at www.hmhm.washingtondc.museum
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 repeated attempts
to steal Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom, Robert Todd Lincoln
had Lincoln exhumed and reinterred in concrete several feet thick
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. The Lincoln automobile is also named after
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 Home National Historic Site
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
in 18 U.S. states (Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota,
Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma,
Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin,
and Wyoming) are named after Lincoln.
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.
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, opened in
2005 in Springfield as a major tourist attraction with state-of-the-art
exhibits. The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is located in
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 the United Kingdom—one
in London by Augustus St. Gaudens, one in Manchester by George
Grey Barnard and another in Edinburgh by George Bissell.
ballistic missile submarine Abraham Lincoln (SSBN-602) and the
aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) were named in his honor.
Also, the Liberty ship, SS Nancy Hanks was named to honor his
a recent public vote entitled "The Greatest American,"
Lincoln placed second (placing first was Ronald Reagan).
1. Lincoln stood 6'3 3/4" (192.4 cm) tall (not including
his hat) and thus was the tallest president in U.S. history, just
edging out Lyndon Johnson at 6'3 1/2" (191.8 cm).
2. He was born on the same day as Charles Darwin.
3. The last surviving self-described witness to Lincoln's assassination
was Samuel J. Seymour (~1860–April 14, 1956), who appeared
two months before his death at age 96 on the CBS-TV quiz show
I've Got a Secret. He said that as a five-year-old he had 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.
4. 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
5. 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.
6. Based on written descriptions of Lincoln, including the observations
that he was much taller than most men of his day and had long
limbs, an abnormally-shaped chest, and loose or lax joints, it
has been conjectured since the 1960s that Lincoln may have suffered
from Marfan syndrome.
7. Lincoln was a lifelong sufferer of depression. During one severe
episode triggered by the death of his fiancée, Ann Rutledge,
in 1835, his close friends, fearing him suicidal, kept constant
watch over him. At one point during his presidency, his depression
became so severe that he held a cabinet meeting from his bed.
He also suffered from frequent nightmares.
8. He once mentioned one of his haunting nightmares to his friend.
Lincoln mentioned that he was standing in a mourning crowd surrounding
a train, and when he asked a grieving woman what had happened,
she replied, "The President has been shot, and he has died."
9. Lincoln is the only American president to hold a patent. The
patent is for a device that lifts boats over shoals.
10. Lincoln was the first President to sport facial hair.