Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln
An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.
President Lincoln in November 1863
16th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
Vice PresidentHannibal Hamlin (1861–1865)
Andrew Johnson (1865)
Preceded byJames Buchanan
Succeeded byAndrew Johnson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1847 – March 3, 1849
Preceded byJohn Henry
Succeeded byThomas L. Harris
Member of the
Illinois House of Representatives
In office
1834–1842
Personal details
Born(1809-02-12)February 12, 1809
Sinking Spring Farm,
near Hodgenville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedApril 15, 1865(1865-04-15) (aged 56)
Petersen House,
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Cause of deathAssassination
Resting placeLincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery,
Springfield, Illinois, U.S.
Political partyRepublican (1854–64)
National Union (1864–65)
Other political
affiliations
Whig (1834–54)
Height6 ft 4 in (193 cm)[1]
Spouse(s)
Mary Todd (m. 1842)
ChildrenRobert Lincoln
Edward Lincoln
Willie Lincoln
Tad Lincoln
ParentsThomas Lincoln
Nancy Hanks
ProfessionLawyer, politician
SignatureCursive signature in ink
Military service
Nickname(s)Honest Abe
Allegiance United States
Service/branchIllinois Militia
Years of service3 months
(April 21 – July 10, 1832)
Rank
Battles/warsBlack Hawk War

Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 16th President of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the nation through the Civil War, its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis.[2][3] In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy.

Born in Kentucky, Lincoln grew up on the western frontier in a poor family. Self-educated, he became a lawyer in Illinois. As a Whig Party leader, he served eight years in the legislature and two in Congress, then resumed his law practice. Angered by the success of Democrats in opening the western prairie lands to slavery, he reentered politics in 1854. He was a leader in building in the West the new Republican Party from Whigs and anti-slavery Democrats. He gained national attention in 1858 debating a top national Democratic leader Stephen A. Douglas. Although he lost that race he became the western candidate for the 1860 presidential nomination as a moderate from a swing state. He swept the North and was elected president in 1860. Southern pro-slavery elements took his win as proof that the North was rejecting the Constitutional rights of Southern states to promote slavery. They began the process of seceding from the union and forming a new country. But nationalism was a powerful force in the North, which refused to tolerate secession. When the new Confederate States of America fired on Fort Sumter, one of the few U.S. forts left in the South, Lincoln called up volunteers and militia to suppress the rebellion and restore the Union. As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican Party, Lincoln confronted Radical Republicans, who demanded harsher treatment of the South; War Democrats, who rallied a large faction of former opponents into his camp; anti-war Democrats (called Copperheads), who despised him; and irreconcilable secessionists, who plotted his assassination.

Lincoln fought back by pitting his opponents against each other, by carefully distributed political patronage and by appealing to the American people with his powers of oratory.[4] His Gettysburg Address became an iconic endorsement of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy. He suspended habeas corpus, and he averted British intervention by defusing the Trent Affair. Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of generals, including his most successful general, Ulysses S. Grant. He made major decisions on Union war strategy, including a naval blockade that shut down the South's trade. As the war progressed, his complex moves toward ending slavery included the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863; Lincoln used the U.S. Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraged the border states to outlaw slavery, and pushed through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery.

An astute politician, knowledgeable concerning factional feuds in each state, Lincoln reached out to the War Democrats and managed his own re-election campaign in the 1864 presidential election. Anticipating the war's conclusion, Lincoln pushed a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness. A few days after victory was complete he was assassinated, and ever since Lincoln has been remembered as the martyr hero of the reunited nation. Lincoln has been consistently ranked both by scholars[5] and the public[6] as among the greatest U.S. presidents.

Family and childhood

Early life

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, as the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, in a one-room log cabin on the Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky.[7] He was a descendant of Samuel Lincoln, an Englishman who migrated from Hingham, Norfolk, to its namesake of Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1638. Samuel's grandson and great-grandson began the family's western migration, which passed through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.[8][9] Lincoln's paternal grandfather and namesake, Captain Abraham Lincoln, moved the family from Virginia to Jefferson County, Kentucky, in the 1780s.[10] Captain Lincoln was killed in an Indian raid in 1786. His children, including eight-year-old Thomas,[12] the future president's father, witnessed the attack.[13][14][15] After his father's murder, Thomas was left to make his own way on the frontier, working at odd jobs in Kentucky and in Tennessee, before settling with members of his family in Hardin County, Kentucky, in the early 1800s.[16][17]

Replica of Lincoln's birthplace near Hodgenville, Kentucky

Lincoln's mother, Nancy, is widely assumed to have been the daughter of Lucy Hanks, although no record of Nancy Hanks' birth has ever been found.[18] According to William Ensign Lincoln's book The Ancestry of Abraham Lincoln, Nancy was the daughter of Joseph Hanks;[19] however, the debate continues over whether she was born out of wedlock. Still another researcher, Adin Baber, claims that Nancy Hanks was the daughter of Abraham Hanks and Sarah Harper of Virginia.[20]

Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks were married on June 12, 1806, in Washington County, and moved to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, following their marriage.[21] They became the parents of three children: Sarah, born on February 10, 1807; Abraham, on February 12, 1809; and another son, Thomas, who died in infancy.[22]

Thomas Lincoln bought or leased several farms in Kentucky, including the Sinking Spring farm, where Abraham was born; however, a land title dispute soon forced the Lincolns to move.[23][24] In 1811, the family moved eight miles (13 km) north, to Knob Creek Farm, where Thomas acquired title to 230 acres (93 ha) of land. In 1815 a claimant in another land dispute sought to eject the family from the farm.[24]

Of the 816.5 acres (330.4 ha) that Thomas held in Kentucky, he lost all but 200 acres (81 ha) of his land in court disputes over property titles.[25] Frustrated over the lack of security provided by the Kentucky title survey system in the courts, Thomas sold the remaining land he held in Kentucky in 1814, and began planning a move to Indiana, where the land survey process was more reliable and the ability for an individual to retain land titles was more secure.[26]

In 1816, the family moved north across the Ohio River to Indiana, a free, non-slaveholding territory, where they settled in an "unbroken forest"[27] in Hurricane Township, Perry County. (Their land in southern Indiana became part of Spencer County, Indiana, when the county was established in 1818.)[28][29] The farm is preserved as part of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. In 1860, Lincoln noted that the family's move to Indiana was "partly on account of slavery"; but mainly due to land title difficulties in Kentucky.[25][30]

During the family's years in Kentucky and Indiana, Thomas Lincoln worked as a farmer, cabinetmaker, and carpenter.[31] He owned farms, several town lots and livestock, paid taxes, sat on juries, appraised estates, served on country slave patrols, and guarded prisoners. Thomas and Nancy Lincoln were also members of a Separate Baptists church, which had restrictive moral standards and opposed alcohol, dancing, and slavery.[32]

Within a year of the family's arrival in Indiana, Thomas claimed title to 160 acres (65 ha) of Indiana land. Despite some financial challenges he eventually obtained clear title to 80 acres (32 ha) of land in what became known as the Little Pigeon Creek Community in Spencer County.[33] Prior to the family's move to Illinois in 1830, Thomas had acquired an additional twenty acres of land adjacent to his property.[34]

A statue of young Lincoln sitting on a stump, holding a book open on his lap
Young Lincoln by Charles Keck at Senn Park, Chicago

Several significant family events took place during Lincoln's youth in Indiana. On October 5, 1818, Nancy Lincoln died of milk sickness, leaving 11-year-old Sarah in charge of a household that included her father, 9-year-old Abraham, and Dennis Hanks, Nancy's 19-year-old orphaned cousin.[35]

On December 2, 1819, Lincoln's father married Sarah "Sally" Bush Johnston, a widow from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, with three children of her own.[36] Abraham became very close to his stepmother, whom he referred to as "Mother".[37][38] Those who knew Lincoln as a teenager later recalled him being very distraught over his sister Sarah's death on January 20, 1828, while giving birth to a stillborn son.[39][40]

As a youth, Lincoln disliked the hard labor associated with frontier life. Some of his neighbors and family members thought for a time that he was lazy for all his "reading, scribbling, writing, ciphering, writing Poetry, etc.",[41][42][43] and must have done it to avoid manual labor. His stepmother also acknowledged he did not enjoy "physical labor", but loved to read.[44]

Lincoln was largely self-educated. His formal schooling from several itinerant teachers was intermittent, the aggregate of which may have amounted to less than a year; however, he was an avid reader and retained a lifelong interest in learning.[45][46] Family, neighbors, and schoolmates of Lincoln's youth recalled that he read and reread the King James Bible, Aesop's Fables, John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Mason Locke Weems's The Life of Washington, and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, among others.[47][48][49][50]

As he grew into his teens, Lincoln took responsibility for the chores expected of him as one of the boys in the household. He also complied with the customary obligation of a son giving his father all earnings from work done outside the home until the age of 21.[51] Abraham became adept at using an axe. Tall for his age, Lincoln was also strong and athletic.[52] He attained a reputation for brawn and audacity after a very competitive wrestling match with the renowned leader of a group of ruffians known as "the Clary's Grove boys".[53]

In early March 1830, partly out of fear of a milk sickness outbreak along the Ohio River, several members of the extended Lincoln family moved west to Illinois, a non-slaveholding state, and settled in Macon County, 10 miles (16 km) west of Decatur.[54][55] Historians disagree on who initiated the move; Thomas Lincoln had no obvious reason to leave Indiana, and one possibility is that other members of the family, including Dennis Hanks, might not have attained the stability and steady income that Thomas Lincoln had.[56]

After the family relocated to Illinois, Abraham became increasingly distant from his father,[57] in part because of his father's lack of education, but occasionally lent him money.[58] In 1831, as Thomas and other members of the family prepared to move to a new homestead in Coles County, Illinois, Abraham was old enough to make his own decisions and struck out on his own.[59] Traveling down the Sangamon River, he ended up in the village of New Salem in Sangamon County.[60] Later that spring, Denton Offutt, a New Salem merchant, hired Lincoln and some friends to take goods by flatboat from New Salem to New Orleans via the Sangamon, Illinois, and Mississippi rivers. After arriving in New Orleans—and witnessing slavery firsthand—Lincoln returned to New Salem, where he remained for the next six years.[61][62]

Marriage and children

A seated Lincoln holding a book as his young son looks at it
1864 photo of President Lincoln with youngest son, Tad
Black and white photo of Mary Todd Lincoln's shoulders and head
Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, age 28

According to some sources, Lincoln's first romantic interest was Ann Rutledge, whom he met when he first moved to New Salem; these sources indicate that by 1835, they were in a relationship but not formally engaged.[63] She died at the age of 22 on August 25, 1835, most likely of typhoid fever.[64] In the early 1830s, he met Mary Owens from Kentucky when she was visiting her sister.[65]

Late in 1836, Lincoln agreed to a match with Mary if she returned to New Salem. Mary did return in November 1836, and Lincoln courted her for a time; however, they both had second thoughts about their relationship. On August 16, 1837, Lincoln wrote Mary a letter suggesting he would not blame her if she ended the relationship. She never replied and the courtship ended.[65]

In 1840, Lincoln became engaged to Mary Todd, who was from a wealthy slave-holding family in Lexington, Kentucky.[66] They met in Springfield, Illinois in December 1839[67] and were engaged the following December.[68] A wedding set for January 1, 1841, was canceled when the two broke off their engagement at Lincoln's initiative.[67][69] They later met again at a party and married on November 4, 1842, in the Springfield mansion of Mary's married sister.[70] While preparing for the nuptials and feeling anxiety again, Lincoln, when asked where he was going, replied, "To hell, I suppose."[71] In 1844, the couple bought a house in Springfield near Lincoln's law office. Mary Todd Lincoln kept house, often with the help of a relative or hired servant girl.[72]

He was an affectionate, though often absent, husband and father of four children. Robert Todd Lincoln was born in 1843 and Edward Baker Lincoln (Eddie) in 1846. Edward died on February 1, 1850, in Springfield, probably of tuberculosis. "Willie" Lincoln was born on December 21, 1850, and died of a fever on February 20, 1862. The Lincolns' fourth son, Thomas "Tad" Lincoln, was born on April 4, 1853, and died of heart failure at the age of 18 on July 16, 1871.[73] Robert was the only child to live to adulthood and have children. The Lincolns' last descendant, great-grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died in 1985.[74] Lincoln "was remarkably fond of children",[75] and the Lincolns were not considered to be strict with their own.[76]

The deaths of their sons had profound effects on both parents. Abraham Lincoln suffered from "melancholy", a condition which now is referred to as clinical depression.[77] Later in life, Mary struggled with the stresses of losing her husband and sons, and Robert Lincoln committed her temporarily to a mental health asylum in 1875.[78]

Lincoln's father-in-law and others of the Todd family were either slave owners or slave traders. Lincoln was close to the Todds, and he and his family occasionally visited the Todd estate in Lexington.[79]

During his term as president of the United States, Mary was known to cook for Lincoln often. Since she was raised by a wealthy family, her cooking abilities were simple, but satisfied Lincoln's tastes, which included, particularly, imported oysters.[80]

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