Abraham Lincoln

From New World Encyclopedia

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
16th President of the United States
Term of office March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
Preceded by James Buchanan
Succeeded by Andrew Johnson
Date of birth February 12, 1809
Place of birth Hardin County, Kentucky (now in LaRue County, Kentucky)
Date of death April 15, 1865
Place of death Washington, D.C.
Spouse Mary Todd Lincoln
Political party Republican

Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865), 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.

In the history of the United States, Abraham Lincoln is an iconic figure. He is most famous for his roles in preserving the Union and helping to end slavery in the United States with the Emancipation Proclamation. The son of illiterate farmers, he exemplified the American Dream that in the land of promise and plenty, anyone can rise to the highest office. He may have battled depression for much of his life. For a man whose life had its share of tragedy, Lincoln's achievements were remarkable.

Lincoln staunchly opposed the expansion of slavery into federal territories, and his victory in the 1860 presidential election further polarized an already divided nation. Before his inauguration in March of 1861, seven southern slave states seceded from the United States, forming the Confederate States of America, and took control of U.S. forts and other properties within their boundaries. These events soon led to the American Civil War.

Lincoln is often praised for his work as a wartime leader who proved adept 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, which ultimately led the Union forces to victory over the Confederacy.

His leadership qualities were evident in his 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 that helped mobilize and inspire the North, and in his defusing of the peace issue in the 1864 U.S presidential campaign. Critics vehemently attacked him for violating the Constitution, overstepping the traditional bounds of executive power, refusing to compromise on slavery in the territories, declaring martial law, suspending habeas corpus, ordering the arrest of some opposing state government officials and a number of publishers, and for being a racist.

All historians agree that Lincoln had a lasting influence on American political values and social institutions. He redefined republicanism, democracy, and the meaning of the nation. He destroyed secessionism and greatly weakened states rights. There are some critics who argue that he prosecuted an unnecessary war. However, from the point of view of a divine providence that sees the United States as destined to fulfill a central role in championing freedom and democracy throughout the world, Lincoln appears to have been a providential figure. His stirring speeches helped to motivate people through difficult times, the most violent in US history. He defended democracy and freedom at a time when these ideals were under threat. For the United States to assume her historic role on the world stage in the twentieth century, Lincoln's role in securing national unity in the nineteenth century was essential.

Lincoln's administration established the U.S. Department of Agriculture, created the modern system of national banks, and encouraged farm ownership and westward expansion with the Homestead Act of 1862. During his administration West Virginia and Nevada were admitted as states.

Lincoln is ranked as one of the greatest presidents, due to his role in ending slavery, and his guiding the Union to victory in the American Civil War. His assassination made him a martyr to the cause of freedom for millions of Americans.

Early life

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky, then considered the frontier, to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. Lincoln was named after his deceased grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, who had been scalped in 1786 in an Indian raid. He had no middle name. Lincoln's parents were uneducated, illiterate farmers. Later, when Lincoln became more renowned, the poverty and obscurity of his birth were often exaggerated. In fact, Lincoln's father Thomas was a respected and relatively affluent citizen of the Kentucky backcountry. His parents belonged to a Baptist church that had pulled away from a larger church because they refused to support slavery. Accordingly, from a very young age, Lincoln was exposed to anti-slavery sentiment.

Three years after purchasing the property, a prior land claim forced the Lincolns to move. Thomas continued legal action until he lost the case in 1815. In 1811, they moved to a farm on Knob Creek a few miles away. Lincoln's earliest recollections are from this farm. In 1815, another claimant sought to eject the family from that 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.

In 1816, 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 along with others in the town died of "milk sickness." Nancy Hanks Lincoln was only 34 years old.

In 1830, after more economic and land title difficulties in Indiana, the family settled on government land in Macon County, Illinois. When his father relocated the family to a nearby site the following year, the 22-year-old Lincoln struck out on his own, canoeing down to the village of New Salem (Menard County), Illinois. Later that year, he transported goods from New Salem to New Orleans, Louisiana via flatboat. While there, he witnessed a slave auction that left an indelible impression on him. Living in a country with a considerable slave presence, he probably saw similar atrocities from time to time.

His formal education consisted of perhaps 18 months of schooling from itinerant teachers. In effect he was self-educated. He mastered the Bible, Shakespeare, English language and American history, and developed a plain style that puzzled audiences more used to flowery 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 wanted to avoid strenuous manual labor. He was skilled with an axe and a good wrestler.

Abraham Lincoln never joined his parents' church, or any other church, and as a youth ridiculed religion. Yet he read the Bible throughout his life and quoted from it extensively in his speeches. A contemporary mentioned that his views on Christian theology were not orthodox. Some historians suggest that he soured on organized Christianity by the excessive emotion and bitter sectarian quarrels that marked camp meetings and the ministries of traveling preachers. Yet although Lincoln was not a church member, he did ponder the eternal significance of his circumstances and his actions.[1]

Young Abraham Lincoln

Early career

Lincoln began his political career in 1832 with a campaign for the Illinois General Assembly as a member of the U.S. Whig Party. The centerpiece of his platform was the undertaking of navigational improvements on the Sangamon River to attract steamboat traffic, which would allow the area to grow and prosper. He served as a captain in the Illinois militia 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."

He later tried and failed at several small-time business ventures. Finally, he taught himself law, and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1837. That same year, he moved to Springfield and began to practice law with Stephen T. Logan. He became one of the most highly respected and successful lawyers, growing 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."[2]

In 1841, Lincoln entered law practice with William Herndon, a fellow Whig. Following Lincoln's assassination, Herndon began collecting anecdotes 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. He 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 army officers. He greatly admired the science that flourished in New England, and sent his son Robert Todd Lincoln to elite eastern schools, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and Harvard College.


On November 4, 1842, at the age of 33, Lincoln married Mary Todd. The couple had four sons.

  • Robert Todd Lincoln: born August 1, 1843, in Springfield, Illinois; died July 26, 1926, in Manchester, Vermont.
  • Edward Baker Lincoln: born March 10, 1846, in Springfield, Illinois; died February 1, 1850, in Springfield, Illinois.
  • William Wallace Lincoln: born December 21, 1850, in Springfield, Illinois; died February 20, 1862, in Washington, D.C.
  • Thomas "Tad" Lincoln: born April 4, 1853, in Springfield, Illinois; d. July 16, 1871, in Chicago, Illinois.

Only Robert survived into adulthood. Of Robert's three children, only Jessie 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 died on December 24, 1985.

Towards the Presidency

Lincoln in 1846 or 1847.

In 1846, Lincoln was elected to one term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He aligned himself with the "Whig" party, which meant those who saw themselves as opposing autocratic rule, and in favor of strengthening the role of Congress. A staunch Whig, Lincoln referred to Whig 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 Mexican-American War.

Lincoln was a key early supporter of Zachary Taylor's candidacy for the 1848 Whig Presidential nomination. The incoming Taylor administration offered Lincoln 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 Lincoln turned most of his energies to making a living as a lawyer.

By the mid-1850s, Lincoln had acquired prominence in Illinois legal circles, especially through his involvement in litigation involving competing transportation interests—both the river barges and the railroads. In 1849, he received a patent related to buoying vessels.

Lincoln's 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 when Lincoln used 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 for the would-be witness 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 by Congress. It 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 U.S. 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 Lyman Trumbull.

In 1857–1858, Douglas broke with President James Buchanan, leading to a 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[3] in which he stated, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free…. 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 the north.

The 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 (this was before the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution proscribed popular vote for Senate seats). Nevertheless, Lincoln's eloquence transformed him into a national political star.

Election and early Presidency

"The Rail Candidate," political cartoon, 1860

Lincoln was chosen as the Republican presidential candidate for the 1860 election for several reasons: because his views on slavery were seen as more moderate; because of his western origins (in contrast to his main rival for the nomination, the New Yorker William H. Seward); and because several other contenders had enemies within the party. During the campaign, Lincoln was dubbed "The Rail Splitter" by Republicans to emphasize Lincoln's humble origins, though in fact Lincoln was quite wealthy at the time due to his successful law practice.

On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States, beating Douglas, John C. Breckenridge, and John C. Bell. 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.

Even before Lincoln's election, some leaders in the South made it clear that their states would leave the Union in response to a Lincoln victory. South Carolina took the lead in December, followed by six other Southern states. They seceded before Lincoln took office, forming a new nation with the capital in Montgomery Alabama, a flag and seal, and a Congress of the Confederate States of America. President Buchanan and president-elect Lincoln refused to recognize the Confederacy.

At Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, 1861, a sizable garrison of federal troops was present, ready to protect the president and the capital from Confederate invasion.

Photograph showing March 4, 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in front of U.S. Capitol

In 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 U.S. 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 construed as a simple contract, would it not require the agreement of all parties to rescind it?

Also 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.

Because 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.

After U.S. 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, now seceded, along with North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware did not secede, and Lincoln urgently negotiated with their leaders, promising not to interfere with slavery in loyal states. Reportedly Lincoln commented, "I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky."

Slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln 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. He had campaigned against the expansion of slavery into the territories; however, he maintained that the federal government could not constitutionally bar slavery in states where it already existed. As president, Lincoln made it clear that the North was fighting the war to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery. On August 22, 1862, a few weeks before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln responded by letter to an editorial by Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, which had urged abolition:

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.[4]

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.[5][6]

Lincoln met with his Cabinet for the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation draft on July 22, 1862.

Lincoln is often credited with freeing enslaved African Americans with the Emancipation Proclamation. However, territories and states that still allowed slavery but were under Union control were exempt from the emancipation. The proclamation on its first day, January 1, 1863, freed only a few escaped slaves, but as Union armies advanced, more and more slaves were liberated. Lincoln signed the proclamation as a wartime measure, insisting that only the war gave constitutional power to the president to free slaves in states where it already existed. He did not ask or receive approval of Congress for the declaration. 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 Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Politically, the Emancipation Proclamation did much to help the Northern cause; Lincoln's strong abolitionist stand finally convinced the United Kingdom and other foreign countries that they could not support the Confederate States.

Important domestic measures of Lincoln's first term

Lincoln believed in the Whig theory of the presidency, which left Congress to write the laws. 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. 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. They allowed the creation of a strong national financial system.

1864 election and Second Inauguration

After Union victories at the Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga in 1863, many in the North believed that victory was soon to come after Lincoln appointed Ulysses 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.

However, when the spring campaigns all turned into bloody stalemates, Northern morale dipped and Lincoln seemed less likely to be re-nominated. U.S. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase strongly desired the Republican nomination and was working hard to win it, while John Fremont was nominated by a break-off group of radical Republicans, potentially taking away crucial votes in the November elections.

The Democratic Party, hoping to exploit the latest news from the war in their platform, waited until late summer to nominate a candidate. Their platform was heavily influenced by the Copperhead-Peace wing of the party, calling the war a "failure," but their candidate, Gen. George McClellan, was a War Democrat, determined to persecute the war until the Union was restored, although willing to compromise on all other issues, including slavery.

McClellan's candidacy was practically stillborn, as on September 1, just two days after the 1864 Democratic Convention, Atlanta was abandoned by the Confederate army. Coming on the heels of Farragut's capture of Mobile Bay and Sheridan's crushing victory over Gen. Early's army at Cedar Creek, it was now apparent that the war was drawing to a close, and the Democratic platform was wrong.

Still, Lincoln believed that he would win the U.S. Electoral College 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.

After Lincoln's election, on March 4, 1865, he delivered his second inaugural address, which was his favorite speech. At this time, a victory over the rebels was within sight, slavery had effectively ended, and Lincoln was looking to the future.

Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's 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 altogether.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Conducting the war effort

The war was a source of constant frustration for the president, and it occupied nearly all of his time. In April 1861, Lincoln had offered command of the army to Col. Robert E. Lee, then considered the best military commander. But Lee turned it down and threw his military future into his native state of Virginia. Lincoln had a contentious relationship with Gen. George B. McClellan, who became general in chief in the wake of the embarrassing Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in July. After the battle, Lincoln declared a National Day of Prayer and Fasting, proclaiming

It is fit and becoming…to acknowledge and revere the Supreme Government of God; to bow in humble submission to His chastisement; to confess and deplore their sins and transgressions…and to pray, with all fervency and contrition, for the pardon of their past offenses, and for a blessing upon their present and prospective action.

Lincoln wished to take an active part in planning the war strategy despite his inexperience in military affairs. Lincoln's strategic priorities were twofold: 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 West Point graduate and railroad executive called back to military service, took a more cautious approach. He took several months to plan and execute his Peninsula Campaign, which involved capturing Richmond, Virginia by moving the Army of the Potomac by boat to the Virginia peninsula between the James and York rivers. McClellan's 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 Campaign.

McClellan, a lifelong Democrat, was relieved after releasing his “Harrison's Landing Letter,” where he offered unsolicited political advice to Lincoln urging caution. His letter incensed Radical Republicans, who successfully pressured Lincoln to appoint fellow Republican John Pope as head of the army. Pope complied with Lincoln's strategic desire to move towards Richmond from the north, thus guarding Washington, D.C. However, Pope was soundly defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) during the summer of 1862, forcing the Army of the Potomac back into the defenses of Washington for a second time, leading to Pope's being sent west to fight against the American Indians. After this defeat, Lincoln wrote his “Meditation on the Divine Will”:

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party.

Panicked by Confederate General Lee's invasion of Maryland, Lincoln restored McClellan to command in time for the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. It was this Union victory that allowed Lincoln to release his Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln again relieved McClellan of command when the general did not destroy Lee's army and appointed Republican Ambrose Burnside, who promised an aggressive offensive against Lee and Richmond. After Burnside was embarrassingly routed at Fredericksburg, Joseph Hooker assumed command, but was defeated at Chancellorsville in May 1863, and was relieved of command.

In June and July 1863, as General Lee led his forces into Maryland and Pennsylvania, Lincoln confided to a wounded general,

“When everyone seemed panic-stricken, I went to my room and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed. Soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul that God Almighty had taken the whole business into His own hands.”

After the Union victory at Gettysburg and months of inactivity for the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln made the fateful decision to appoint a new army commander: General Ulysses S. Grant, who disfavored by Republican hardliners because he had been a Democrat, had a solid string of victories in the Western Theater, including the Battle of Vicksburg. Earlier, reacting to criticism of Grant, Lincoln was quoted as saying, "I cannot spare this man. He fights." Grant waged his bloody Overland Campaign in 1864, using a strategy of a war of attrition, characterized by high Union losses, 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.

Lincoln 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 factories, farms, and cities 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.

Lincoln 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 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.


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 in 1863. While 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.

During the American 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 frequently imprisoned accused Southern spies and sympathizers without trial. Some scholars have argued that Lincoln's political arrests extended to the highest levels of the government, including an attempted warrant for Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, though the allegation remains unresolved and controversial.

Lincoln faced a presidential election in 1864 during the Civil War, running 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 was reelected.


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. One 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 under Lincoln's generous terms.

"Let 'em up easy," he told his assembled military leaders General Grant (a future president), General Sherman, and Admiral 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 U.S. President held authority over the entire land. He was greeted 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."


The assassination of Abraham Lincoln. From left to right: Henry Rathbone, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Lincoln, and Booth.

Lincoln had met frequently with 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. He declined. The President's eldest son, Robert, also turned down the invitation.

John 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 a performance at 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.

Without his bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, to whom he related his dream of his own assassination, the Lincolns left to attend the play, Our American Cousin, a British musical comedy. As Lincoln sat in his state box in the balcony, Booth crept up behind the box and waited for the funniest line of the play, hoping the laughter would cover the gunshot noise. When the laughter came, Booth jumped into the box and aimed a single-shot, .44-caliber Derringer at Lincoln's head, firing at point-blank range. The bullet entered behind Lincoln's left ear and lodged behind his right eyeball. Booth then shouted "Sic semper tyrannis!" (Latin: "Thus always to tyrants," and Virginia's state motto) and jumped from the balcony to the stage below, breaking his leg. Booth managed to limp to his horse and make his escape.

The mortally wounded and paralyzed president was taken to a house across the street, now called the Petersen House, where he lay in a coma. Lincoln was officially pronounced dead at 7:22 A.M. the next morning, April 15, 1865. Upon seeing him die, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton lamented "Now he belongs to the ages." After Lincoln's body was returned to the White House, his body was prepared for his "lying in state."

Secretary Seward, who was also attacked that night, did survive. Vice President Johnson was never attacked.

Lincoln's funeral train carried his remains, as well as 300 mourners and the casket of his son William, 1,654 miles to Illinois.

Booth was shot 12 days later while being captured. Four co-conspirators were convicted and hanged, while three others were given life sentences.

Lincoln's body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession 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 Springfield, where a 177-foot (54 m) tall granite tomb surmounted with several bronze statues of Lincoln was constructed by 1874. To prevent attempts to steal Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom, Robert Todd Lincoln had Lincoln exhumed and reinterred in concrete several feet thick on September 26, 1901.

Legacy and memorials

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. Among contemporary admirers, Lincoln is usually seen as a figure who personifies classical values of honesty and 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 Group.

Daniel Chester French's seated Lincoln faces the National Mall to the east.

Over the years Lincoln has been memorialized in many ways: Lincoln, capital of Nebraska is named after him; the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. was built in his honor; the U.S. five dollar bill and the 1 cent coin (Illinois is the primary opponent to the removal of the penny from circulation) both bear Lincoln’s picture; and he is one of four presidents featured as part of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Lincoln's Tomb, Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois, 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 of Lincoln.”

Counties of the United States in 18 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 Lincoln County after him.

On February 12, 1892, Abraham Lincoln's birthday was declared to be a federal holiday, 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.

Lincoln's 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 is also in Springfield. The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is located in Elwood, Illinois.

Statues 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, one in Manchester and another in Edinburgh.

The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) was named in his honor. Also, the USS Nancy Hanks was named to honor his mother.

In a recent public vote entitled "The Greatest American," Lincoln placed second.


  • "If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what's said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference." -The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House, by Francis B. Carpenter (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1995), 258-259.
  • "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it." -Lincoln's Cooper Institute Address, February 27, 1860.
  • "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it." - "Letter To Henry L. Pierce and Others", April 6, 1859.
  • "…It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." -"Gettysburg Address," delivered November 19, 1864.

Presidential appointments


Lincoln was known for appointing his enemies and political rivals to high positions in his Cabinet. Not only did he use great political skill in reducing potential political opposition but he felt he was appointing the best qualified person for the good of the country.

President Abraham Lincoln 1861–1865
Vice President Hannibal Hamlin 1861–1865
  Andrew Johnson 1865
Secretary of State William H. Seward 1861–1865
Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase 1861–1864
  William P. Fessenden 1864–1865
  Hugh McCulloch 1865
Secretary of War Simon Cameron 1861–1862
  Edwin M. Stanton 1862–1865
Attorney General Edward Bates 1861–1864
  James Speed 1864–1865
Postmaster General Horatio King 1861
  Montgomery Blair 1861–1864
  William Dennison 1864–1865
Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles 1861–1865
Secretary of the Interior Caleb B. Smith 1861–1863
  John P. Usher 1863–1865

Supreme Court

Lincoln appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

  • Noah Haynes Swayne – 1862
  • Samuel Freeman Miller – 1862
  • David Davis – 1862
  • Stephen Johnson Field – 1863
  • Salmon P. Chase – Chief Justice – 1864

Major presidential acts

Involvement as President-elect
  • Morrill Tariff of 1861
  • Corwin Amendment
Enacted as President
  • Signed Revenue Act of 1861
  • Signed Homestead Act
  • Signed Morill Land-Grant College Act
  • Signed Internal Revenue Act of 1862
  • Established Bureau of Agriculture (1862)
  • Signed National Banking Act of 1863
  • Signed Internal Revenue Act of 1864
  • Signed the Coinage Act of 1864, which placed the motto “In God We Trust” upon the one-cent and two-cent coins

States admitted to the Union

See also


  1. Mark A Noll, "The Ambiguous Religion of President Abraham Lincoln", The Religious Affiliation of President Abraham Lincoln. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  2. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. The Abraham Lincoln Association. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  3. Abraham Lincoln, "A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand" Springfield, Illinois, June 16, 1858. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  4. Abraham Lincoln's Letter to Horace Greeley., August 22, 1862. Abraham Lincoln Online. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  5. The Emancipation Proclamation. National Archives. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  6. The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Retrieved July 18, 2019.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Burlingame, Michael (ed.). An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay's Interviews and Essays. Southern Illinois University Press, 2006. ISBN 0809326841
  • Carpenter, Francis B. The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, [1995] reprint ed. 2007 ISBN 0548107300.
  • Charnwood, Lord. Abraham Lincoln, (original 1916), new ed. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1998. ISBN 0486299597
  • The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler, 9 Volume set, Volume III, Rutgers Univ. Press, 1953.
  • DiLorenzo, Thomas. The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. New York: Three Rivers Press (Random House), 2003. ISBN 0761526463
  • Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999 ISBN 068482535X
  • Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era, 3rd ed. New York: Vintage, [1961] 2001. ISBN 0375725326
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0684824906
  • Guelzo, Allem C. Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0802842933
  • Hay, John, and John George Nicolay. Abraham Lincoln: A History. Volume 1 and Volume 2. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  • Holzer, Harold. Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. ISBN 0743224663
  • McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, reprint ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0195076060
  • Perret, Geoffrey. Lincoln's War: The Untold Story of America's Greatest President as Commander-in-Chief. New York: Random House, 2004. ISBN 0375507388.
  • Reilly, Philip. Abraham Lincoln's DNA and other adventures in genetics. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2000. ISBN 0879695803
  • Shenk, Joshua Wolf. Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. ISBN 0618551166
  • Tripp, C. A. The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Free Press, 2005. ISBN 0743266390
  • Willis, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, reprint ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. ISBN 0671867423

External links

All links retrieved June 14, 2023.


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