The Extraordinary Life and Presidency of Abraham Lincoln

The Extraordinary Life of Abraham Lincoln

Life and Presidency of Abraham Lincoln | George Peter Alexander Healy’s 1869 painting of Abraham Lincoln. Image source.

Abraham Lincoln’s status as one of the greatest American heroes is certainly deserved. A Kentucky-born, Lincoln was raised in a family that did everything it could to eke out a living. Little did anyone know that half a century later, Abraham Lincoln would go on to leave an indelible mark and become one of the most incredible human beings to ever live.

As the 16th President of the United States of America, Lincoln stuck true to his beliefs in morality- the cardinal principle of the Founding Fathers- and kept together a country that was submerged deep in anarchy. As a result of his brave acts during the American Civil War, Lincoln was able to abolish slavery in America.

The following is everything that you need to know about the extraordinary life of Abraham Lincoln- the Great Emancipator:

Childhood and Early Life

The date and place of Abraham Lincoln’s birth was on February 12, 1809 at Hodgenville, Hardin County, Kentucky. He was born to quite an undistinguished family. The exact place of his birth was in a one-room backwoods cabin on a farm. His parents were Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. The young Abraham Lincoln was raised in a  very religious family. They were devout Baptist Church members. Lincoln himself took to reading the Bible at a young age.

The Lincolns traced their roots to Samuel Lincoln- an Englishman who first moved from Nortfolk to Massachusetts in 1638. Eventually, they settled in Kentucky, after Lincoln’s paternal grandfather, Captain Abraham Lincoln, moved from Virginia. Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln- an illiterate- worked several low-paying jobs in both Tennessee and Kentucky. Abe Lincoln had two siblings- Sarah and Thomas Junior. Of the two siblings that Lincoln had, only Sarah survived- Thomas died at a very young age.

The Lincolns were further plunged into financial difficulties after they lost about 200 acres of land due to a bitter legal dispute. From then onward, it became a real uphill battle to make ends meet. In 1816, they decided to relocate to Indiana to secure more favorable land rights. They made a home at Hurricane Township, Perry County. Thomas Lincoln took up several jobs in farming and carpentry. All in all, Indiana proved to be a very good place, financially and socially, for the Lincolns.

In October 1818, tragedy struck his home when his mother sadly passed away due to a mild sickness that went untreated. Nancy Lincoln was 34 at the time of her death. Subsequently, Abraham Lincoln’s older sister, Sarah Lincoln, stepped into her mother’s shoes and took care of Abraham.

Lincoln’s Self-Education and Absolute Love for Books

Lincoln never liked working on the farm. He rather preferred reading and writing. As a result of this, his family tagged him a very lazy kid. With very few chances of obtaining a formal education , Lincoln decided to self-educate himself. He was a prolific reader of books. Some of his favorite books as a child were the King James Bible, Aesop’s Fables, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, and the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

Although slightly a skeptic and freethinker during his early years, Lincoln still had a profound appreciation of the Bible. All throughout his political campaigns, he often quoted verses from the Bible. Other very important literally works that were dear to his heart included the works of William Shakespeare and John Stuart Mill.

During his free times (that is, if he ever had one), Lincoln got active in sports. His tall stature made it easy for him to engage in sports, particularly wrestling. He earned his nickname- the Rail-Splitter, from his ability to wield the ax very well.

Abraham Lincoln’s Wife and Children

In 1840, Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd got engaged. The couple met in Illinois while Lincoln practiced law. Mary Todd was the daughter of Robert Smith Todd- a wealthy Kentucky slave owner. Initially, the society in which Todd came from did not accept one of their own fraternizing with someone with an undistinguished background as Abraham Lincoln’s.

After a few mishaps and separation that lasted for about a year, Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln finally got married on November 4, 1842. The marriage took place at Mary’s sister’s Springfield mansion in Illinois. They made Illinois their home by purchasing a house in Springfield.

Abraham and Mary had 4 children- all boys- Robert (born in 1843), Edward (born in 1846), Willie (born in 1850), and Thomas (born in 1853). Out of the four children that they had, only one survived beyond adulthood- Robert Todd.

The early deaths of the children impacted Mary and Abraham severely, plunging them into bouts of depression. The times they spent away from each other’s company also put a strain on their marriage. Mary in particular suffered mental illness  as a result of her children’s deaths.

Her misery even got worse when she later witnessed the brutal murder of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 by Wilkes Booth. The awful incident occurred right before her eyes. All of these issues, and the resultant stress, culminated in her losing her mind towards the latter part of her life. Before her death in 1882, she spent her final years committed to a mental home.

Mary Todd Lincoln’s final resting place was at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, beside her husband and children.

How Lincoln made his way into politics

After a number of years working different jobs in Illinois, Lincoln decided to go into politics. In March 1832, he entered into the race for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. He based his campaign on the development of infrastructure around the Sangamon River. As a newbie, he did not have much funding or very important people in high places that could support him. The results of the election came as no surprise- Lincoln placed eight. The total number of candidates was 13. After an abysmal result at the polls, Lincoln took up a postmaster job at New Salem. He also temporarily worked as a surveyor for the county.

Sangamon County Representative

With experiences from the 1832 election, Lincoln decided to give the 1834 election a shot. This time around he won. He ran on the ticket of the Whig Party. He proceeded to  serve as a representative for Sangamon County in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1834 to 1838 – a total of four consecutive terms.

Right from the beginning of his tenure in the Illinois House, there were glimpses of his stern disapproval of slavery. He worked closely with Senator Henry Clay to provide support to freed slaves, as well as help some of them relocate freely to Liberia, Africa.  He also helped passed a bill that halted the disenfranchisement of white male voters that did not own lands.

Abraham Lincoln's sayings

One of Abraham Lincoln’s first public sayings about slavery (1837)

Lincoln’s Time as a Lawyer

Around the mid-1830s, Lincoln started extensively reading so many books, particularly law books. He was training himself to take up a profession as a lawyer. Lincoln would lock himself indoors for hours upon hours brushing up on several law books. The most famous of those books has got to be Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. Eventually, his hard work and diligence bore fruits. In 1836, Abraham Lincoln got accepted into the Illinois bar. Shortly after this, he started practicing law under the guidance of Illinois-based lawyer, John T. Stuart.

Quickly, he learned the ropes and made a good reputation for himself as a legal expert. From 1841 to 1844, Lincoln and Stuart were partners in the firm. Historical records show that Lincoln worked and partnered with the likes of Stephen T. Logan and William Herndon for quite some time.

After turning down an appointment from the 12th U.S. President Zachary Taylor to serve as a governor of the Oregon Territory, Lincoln set his sights fully on his law practice in Springfield. His clientele included a vast array of people. And the issues he dealt with ranged from business or trade litigation to transportation.

For some period of time, he was the representative of a bridge construction company. It was around this time that Lincoln secured a patent for his inflatable boat mechanism in 1849. The mechanism allowed boats to navigate through shallow waters that had obstacles. What this means is that Lincoln is the only U.S. [resident, to date, to have a patent.

All in all, Abraham Lincoln made close to about 200 court appearances. It has been estimated that he won about 30 of those cases. He spent about two decades in active legal practice, earning quite a lot of money in the process. His reputation in Illinois far preceded him, and he became a well-sought after legal counselor.

Tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives

In 1843, Abraham Lincoln contested his party’s (the Whig Party) primaries to nominate a candidate to represent Illinois’ 7th district at the U.S. House of Representatives. The election ended in a defeat for Lincoln. He was defeated by John J. Hardin.

After the retirement of Hardin, Lincoln became the obvious choice for the vacant seat. In 1846, Lincoln was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He went on to serve a single term, totaling two years (from 1847 to 1849). In the House, Lincoln made several speeches that promoted the ideals of the Whig Party. The core agenda of the Whigs was to create an economically strong federal government that could carry out massive modernization efforts across nation.

Lincoln also formed a very close partnership with Congressman Joshua R. Giddings. Together, the two campaigned to bring an end to slavery. Unfortunately, their anti-slavery efforts did not receive much support from Whig Party members.

Nevertheless, Lincoln continued to play an active role in the House. He sat on several House committees such as the Committee on Post Office and Post Roads, and the Committee on Expenditures in the War Department. After his term in the House was over, Lincoln devoted most of time working in Springfield as a lawyer.

Return to active politics

Lincoln’s return to full politics came during the debate over Senator Stephen A. Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The Act allowed the states to vote independently on whether to outlaw slavery or not. He, as well the various abolitionists, feared that with such act, slavery could gradually make its way to the North. He out rightly opposed the act. However, the act still got passed by Congress in May 1854.

Abraham Lincoln's quotes

Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery

Because there was no consensus on the issue of slavery within the Whig Party, Lincoln and other abolitionist went on to form a separate party- the Republican Party. The party included members from the Democratic Party that likewise opposed slavery or its extension. The sole goal of the party was to bring to end slavery.

He was in attendance on the day that the Illinois Republican Party was formally launched – in May 1856 – at the Bloomington Convention. Shortly after that, Lincoln’s reputation among the Republicans grew tremendously. He was also seen in positive light by some sections of the public.

The Famous 1858 Debate between Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln

Senator Douglas and Lincoln went head to head in a fierce debate. They both were vying for Senate seat. Douglas argued in favor of Freeport Doctrine— it stated that the states themselves should decide whether it was legal to have slaves. Douglas believed that it  was not up to the federal government to impose its will on the states.

On the other hand, Lincoln was against “the Slave Power”. He towed the line of morality and argued that Douglas wanted to extend slavery to the free states. Lincoln stuck to his moderate Republican ideals. He found the middle ground between the  abolitionists and radical anti-slavery  republicans of the Northeast.

The debate between these two titans drew thousands of people. In the end, Douglas was re-elected in 1858. However, the debate helped Lincoln win a lot of admiration from the public.

For the next couple of years, he continued giving speeches to defend his position on why slavery went against everything that the Founding Fathers of America stood for. The most famous of those speeches has to be the one given at the Cooper Union on February 27, 1860. It was to a group of powerful Republicans in New York.

1860 Presidential Win

On May 18, 1860, Abraham Lincoln won the Republican ticket at the 1860  Republican National Convention in Chicago. Hannibal Hamlin, a Southern Democrat, was selected as his running-mate. His chief opponent during the 1860 presidential election was Senator Stephen A. Douglas from the Democratic Party. Other opponents were John C. Brekinridge and John Bell, who came from the Democratic Party as well. Douglas had the backing of the Northern Democrats, while Brekinridge and John Bell received support from Southern Democrats and the Constitutional Union respectively.

The apparent division among the rank and file of the Democratic Party went to the advantage of Lincoln and his Republican Party. On November 6, 1860, Lincoln swept his way to the White House. Thus, he became the first Republican president. Most of his supporters came from the North and West. He did not get votes from majority of the Southern slave state. And he received just two wins from 996 counties in the South. The total popular vote scored by Lincoln was 1.8 million. This translated into about 39.8%. He won 180 votes at the Electoral College, compared to 123 of that all his opponents amassed.

In March 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn into office as the 16th President of the United States. However, trouble between the North and South was reaching boiling point long before his inauguration ceremony. A few weeks before his 1861 inauguration, he survived several an assassination attempt at Baltimore. It was around this time it dawned on him, becoming fully aware of the dangers that laid ahead.

Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural Speech of 1861

Excerpts from Abraham Lincoln’s speech at his inaugural ceremony on March 4, 1861

Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and stellar achievements during the American Civil War

As at the time that he was elected in 1860, there were already a number of states planning to leave the Union. As a matter of fact, South Carolina was the first state to announce its departure from the Union. The state issued an Ordinance of Secession on December 20, 1860.

A month before Lincoln’s swearing in as president, on February 1, 1861, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas all followed in the footstep of South Carolina and left the Union. Six of these states categorically stated that they were and had always been sovereign nations. The secessionists banded together and adopted the Confederate Constitution. They became the Confederate States of America. On February 9, 1861, they selected Jefferson Davis to become the provisional president of their confederation.

The states that did not join the secession were Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Outgoing president, President James Buchanan, and Lincoln vehemently refused recognizing the secessionists. The acts of the secessionists were considered treason. The North and South both tried to resolve things in an amicable fashion with the Crittenden Compromise. However, Lincoln was having none of it.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln’s uncompromising stance to a disunited nation

Similarly, the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution did little to avert the impending doom of a civil war. The Corwin Amendment to the Constitution stated that Southern states with slavery could remain in their current state. By that time, it was obvious that a legislative compromise could not prevent an all-out war between the North and the South. Southern leaders were in no way interested in rejoining the Union. Lincoln vowed to preserve the Union at all cost.

Lincoln’s Response to the first attack from the South

On April 12, 1861, the South attacked Union troops stationed at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The American Civil War was about to start. And the South was preparing for war. In response, Lincoln mobilized 75,000 troops to retake the forts. He also extended his presidential powers. He ordered that ports be blocked to Southerners.

Lincoln had to balance the competing needs of radicals and Copperheads in his party. The radical elements in his party pushed for sterner response to the aggressive moves made by the Southerners. On the other hand, the Copperheads were liberals that felt a war with the South was completely unnecessary and unethical.

There were also some arrests and imprisonments of sympathizers of the South. Additionally, the Confiscation Act was passed on August 6, 1861. The purpose of the act was to confiscate and free slaves used in the War. 

How Abraham Lincoln expertly managed tensions with Britain during the Trent Affair of 1861

He was also able to amicably resolve the Trent Affair of 1861 that involved the United States going on board a British ship in order to arrest two Southern diplomats- James Murray Mason(1798–1871) and John Slidell (1793–1871). The diplomats were en route to Britain to secure legitimacy from the British crown. They were hoping the British will recognize them and provide both economic and military support. However, that did not happen. Lincoln ordered the immediate release of those diplomats from captivity. Had Lincoln not intervened to diffuse tensions after the Trent Affair, the United States and Britain might have started fighting each other.

Lincoln’s Reconstruction Initiatives

Long before the war was over, Lincoln initiated reconstruction efforts that would allow the nation heal swiftly. His plans were to ensure that the South reintegrates into an environment that is free of hate and old grudges once the war came to an end. He needed to make provisions for the large number of freed slaves as well. Lincoln was fully aware of the economic, political and social ramifications of the Emancipation Proclamation he made in 1863. He instituted policies and agencies to provide support to the freed slaves.

His tenure helped to redefine the role of the president

Lincoln had to constantly balance the competing demands from Democrats and the radical Republicans. For example, he had to veto a radical Republican sponsored bill in 1864- the Wade-Davis Bill. Lincoln considered the bill too harsh and unduly penalized the Southerners. All in all, Lincoln steered clear from vetoing bills passed by Congress. He vetoed only 4 bills passed in Congress. He strongly believed that the federal government’s job was to enforce the laws made by the Congress.

Examples of some very popular acts that Lincoln championed are Homestead Act of 1862; the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act of 1862; and the Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864. Under the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act allowed for the federal government to fund projects and researches in agricultural institutions of higher learning, both new and old. The act’s effort was complemented by the establishment of the Department of Agriculture in 1862.

The last acts were designed to provide the federal government with adequate resources in order to put up railway infrastructure across the nation. It was called the First Transcontinental Railroad project.

Prior to those acts, Lincoln signed the Revenue Act of 1861. The act empowered the federal government to set up an agency that would bring reforms to the U.S. tax policy. For example, it was as result of this act that Americans first witnessed income tax.

Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 Re-election

During the 1864 presidential election campaign, Abraham Lincoln worked hard to bring  the various factions in the Republican party together. Andrew Johnson was picked to be his running mate for the election.

Lincoln went on to win majority of the votes at the polls on November 8, 1864. A lot of of soldiers voted for him as well-  about 78 percent of soldiers. For the second time in a row, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as President of the United States on March 4, 1865.

Abraham Lincoln

A line from Lincoln’s second term speech at his inauguration ceremony in 1865

Abraham Lincoln kept America’s economy afloat during the Civil War

On the monetory side of things, Lincoln was instrumental in getting America’s first paper currency issued. Ever since the issue, the color green has been the standard for all American paper currency. There was also the National Banking Act of 1863  and 1864. Those acts helped create a durable system for banking across the nation. The system was known as the U.S. National Banking System. The acts also helped set up the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency under the U.S. Treasury Department.

The Constitutional Amendment that made slavery illegal

He pushed for a constitutional amendment to make slavery illegal. It was only on his second try that Lincoln could get the amendment that he needed in the constitution. The first time around it failed to pass (i.e. get the two-thirds majority) in both Congress and the House. About six months after Lincoln’s assassination, on December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratitfied by the states.

After the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, and slavery abolished, the question on everyone’s mind was what would the Federal government do for the freed men and women. Lincoln devised a plan. He signed the Freedman’s Bureau bill in order to bring to being a federal agency that could properly provide support to the freed slaves. The bill allowed for freed slaves to acquire lands on lease arrangements.

Lincoln got the North’s act together and won the Civil War

After his promotion of General Ulysses Grant to the position of Lieutenant General, the North started to make coordinate attacks on the South. Grant was the first person to occupy the Lieutenant General position since George Washington.

On April 1 1865, Grant and his men took the city of Petersburg. The South made sure that the city was evacuated. Nine days later, on April 9 1865, the leader of the South’s Army General Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. After the war was over Lincoln pursued the path of reconciliation, reconstruction and reintegration. He did not want to treat the Southerners as outcasts.

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln’s view on how defeated Confederate soldiers should be treated by his Republican Party after the Civil War ended in 1865

Abraham Lincoln’s Reconstruction Policy

Lincoln got a barrage of criticism and opposition from radical Republicans for some of his liberal attitudes towards the Southerners. They wanted harsher punishments for the Southerners. Had Lincoln capitulated to their requests, the Southerners would have been marginalized economically and politically. They might have ended up becoming second class citizens.

He made sure that he stuck to the Amnesty Proclamation of December 8, 1863 by pardoning Southerners that followed rules of engagement – those who did not abuse prisoners and those who were willing to smoke the peace pipe.

The South’s capitulation meant that Lincoln had to appoint new set of individuals to administer the affairs in the Southern states. He appointed several military governors, judges and post masters.

Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination

There were several Southerners, as well as some Northerners, aggrieved by the manner in which politicians and military commanders handled the end of the Civil War. One of such persons was John Wilkes Booth– a famous actor from the Maryland. It is believed that he also served as a spy for the Confederate Army.

Booth’s anger resulted in him taking up a weapon and sneaking up on Abraham Lincoln while he was sat in the presidential booth of Ford’s Theater, Washington D.C. The president was there to watch a play- Our American Cousin. He was in the company of his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. There was also two other people in the booth- Major Henry Rathbone and his fiance, Clara Harris. The date of Lincoln’s assassination was on Good Friday the 4th of April 1865. The exact time of the incident was at about 10:13 in the evening. Booth’s bullet was lodged at the back of Lincoln’s head. Witnessing the incident, Major Henry Rathbone pounced on Booth. They both struggled. However, Booth was able to overpower Rathbone and fled before Lincoln’s security details showed up.

The president was immediately rushed to a nearby house,  Petersen House, where he stayed in coma for about nine hours before giving up the ghost. The exact time of Abraham Lincoln’s death was at 7:22 am on April 15, 1865.

The news of Lincoln’s assassination broke out that morning. It is believed that Lincoln’s face was full of a smile after he died. His body was then taken to the White House. Accompanying Lincoln’s body were several Union officers. Roughly around 11:00 am, Vice President Andrew Johnson was sworn in as Lincoln’s replacement.

It turned out that after Booth fled the scene, he made his way to a remote farm in Virginia. After resisting several attempts to hand himself over to the police, John Wilkes Booth- President Abraham Lincoln’s murderer- was gunned down on April 26, 1865- exactly 11 days after Lincoln’s death.

It was later revealed that Wilkes Booth’s anger stemmed from his disgust at the idea of President Lincoln granting voting rights to blacks. Booth, along with some friends of his, devised a plan to murder both the President Lincoln and Grant. He also made plans to go to the homes of Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward and murder them.

Abraham Lincoln’s Death and Burial Place

The federal government and Union soldiers draped the casket of Lincoln with flags. Flags across the nation flew at half-mast. And very few, if any, businesses opened on the day. Lincoln’s body was laid in state at the Capitol rotunda on April 18.

Tens of thousands of Americans lined the railroad route and paid their respects to their fallen leader during the train’s solemn progression through the North. Lincoln and his son, Willie, who died in the White House of typhoid fever in 1862, were interred on May 4, 1865, at Oak Ridge Cemetery near Springfield.

There was the Lincoln Special funeral train that ran for about three weeks. In those three weeks, Lincoln’s casket traveled from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois. On its way, the train made several stops in order to allow people pay their final respect to Abraham Lincoln. The exact place where Lincoln’s body was interred was at the Oak Ridge Cemetery, Illinois.

The public went into deep mourning for the death of their beloved Civil War hero, Abraham Lincoln. There were however some Southerners and critics of Lincoln that were completely ecstatic about the death of the President.

However, for those that could relate to the ideals of him, Abraham Lincoln was the truest American hero- a martyr in every sense of the word. A famous poet by name Walt Whitman wrote a poem purposefully to eulogize Abraham Lincoln. The title of the poem was When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.

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