Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln
An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.
16th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
Vice PresidentHannibal Hamlin
(1861–1865)
Andrew Johnson
(Mar–Apr. 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
from Sangamon County
In office
December 1, 1834 – December 4, 1842
Personal details
Born(1809-02-12)February 12, 1809
Sinking Spring Farm, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedApril 15, 1865(1865-04-15) (aged 56)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Cause of deathAssassination (gunshot)
Resting placeLincoln Tomb
Political partyWhig (before 1854)
Republican (1854–1864)
National Union (1864–1865)
Height6 ft 4 in (193 cm)[1]
Spouse(s)
Mary Todd (m. 1842)
Children
RelativesThomas Lincoln (father)
Nancy Hanks (mother)
SignatureCursive signature in ink
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Illinois
Branch/serviceIllinois Militia
Years of service1832
RankCaptain[a]
Private[a]
Battles/warsAmerican Indian Wars

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

Born in Kentucky, Lincoln grew up on the frontier in a poor family. Self-educated, he became a lawyer, Whig Party leader, Illinois state legislator and Congressman. In 1849, he left government to resume his law practice, but angered by the success of Democrats in opening the prairie lands to slavery, reentered politics in 1854. He became a leader in the new Republican Party and gained national attention in 1858 for debating national Democratic leader Stephen A. Douglas in the 1858 Illinois Senate campaign. He then ran for President in 1860, sweeping the North and winning. Southern pro-slavery elements took his win as proof that the North was rejecting the constitutional rights of Southern states to practice slavery. They began the process of seceding from the union. To secure its independence, the new Confederate States of America fired on Fort Sumter, one of the few U.S. forts 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 the factions by pitting them against each other, by carefully distributing political patronage, and by appealing to the American people.[4]:65–87 His Gettysburg Address became an iconic call for 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, including the selection of generals and the naval blockade that shut down the South's trade. As the war progressed, he maneuvered to end slavery, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863; ordering the Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraging border states to outlaw slavery, and pushing through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed slavery across the country.

Lincoln managed his own re-election campaign. He sought to reconcile his damaged nation by avoiding retribution against the secessionists. A few days after the Battle of Appomattox Court House, he was shot by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer, on April 14, 1865, and died the following day. Abraham Lincoln is remembered as the United States' martyr hero. He is 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 Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, in a one-room log cabin on Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky.[7]:20–22 He was a descendant of Samuel Lincoln, an Englishman who migrated from Hingham, Norfolk, to its namesake, Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1638. Samuel's grandson and great-grandson began the family's westward migration, passing through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.[8]:3,4[7]:20 Lincoln's paternal grandfather and namesake, Captain Abraham Lincoln, moved the family from Virginia to Jefferson County, Kentucky, in the 1780s.[8]:4 Captain Lincoln was killed in an Indian raid in 1786. His children, including eight-year-old Thomas,[9][10] Abraham's father, witnessed the attack.[7]:21[11]:1–2[12]:12–13 Thomas then worked at odd jobs in Kentucky and in Tennessee, before settling with members of his family in Hardin County, Kentucky, in the early 1800s.[8]:5[7]:21

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 documents this.[13]:79 Thomas and Nancy married on June 12, 1806, in Washington County, and moved to Elizabethtown, Kentucky.[8]:9 They produced three children: Sarah, born on February 10, 1807; Abraham, on February 12, 1809; and Thomas, who died in infancy.[8]:9–10

Thomas Lincoln bought or leased farms in Kentucky. Thomas became embroiled in legal disputes, and lost all but 200 acres (81 ha) of his land in court disputes over property titles.[14]:20 In 1816, the family moved to Indiana, where the survey process was more reliable and land titles were more secure.[8]:13 Indiana was a "free" (non-slaveholding) territory, and they settled in an "unbroken forest"[8]:26 in Hurricane Township, Perry County. (Their land became part of Spencer County, Indiana, when the county was established in 1818.)[8]:16 and 43[13]:3, 5, 16 In 1860, Lincoln noted that the family's move to Indiana was "partly on account of slavery", but mainly due to land title difficulties.[14]:20[7]:23–24

In Kentucky and Indiana, Thomas worked as a farmer, cabinetmaker, and carpenter.[13]:34, 156 He owned farms, town lots and livestock, paid taxes, sat on juries, appraised estates, served on country slave patrols, and guarded prisoners. Thomas and Nancy were members of a Separate Baptists church, which forbade alcohol, dancing, and slavery.[7]:22–24

Overcoming financial challenges, Thomas eventually obtained clear title to 80 acres (32 ha) of land in what became known as the Little Pigeon Creek Community.[13]:24, 104

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

Mother's death

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.[13]:22–23, 77 Ten years later, on January 20, 1828, Sarah died while giving birth to a stillborn son. Lincoln was very distraught over his sister's death.[7]:20, 30–33[13]:37

On December 2, 1819, Thomas married Sarah "Sally" Bush Johnston, a widow from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, with three children of her own.[13]:23, 83 Abraham became close to his stepmother, whom he referred to as "Mother".[7]:26–27[13]:10 Lincoln disliked the hard labor associated with farm life. He was called lazy for all his "reading, scribbling, writing, ciphering, writing Poetry, etc.".[15]:31[12]:25, 31, and 47[7]:33 His stepmother acknowledged he did not enjoy "physical labor", but loved to read.[13]:66

Education

Lincoln was largely self-educated. His formal schooling (from travelling teachers) was intermittent, totaling less than 12 months; however, he was an avid reader and retained a lifelong interest in learning.[13]:10, 33[16]:110 Family, neighbors, and schoolmates 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.[7]:29–31, 38–43

Teenaged Lincoln took responsibility for chores. He accepted the customary practice that a son give his father all earnings from work outside the home until age 21.[7]:30–33 Lincoln became adept at using an axe. Tall for his age, Lincoln was strong and athletic.[8]:134–35 He became known for his strength and audacity after winning a wrestling match with the renowned leader of a group of ruffians known as "the Clary's Grove boys".[7]:41

Illinois

In early March 1830, partly out of fear of a milk sickness outbreak, several members of the extended Lincoln family moved west to Illinois, a free state, and settled in Macon County, 10 miles (16 km) west of Decatur.[7]:36 Historians disagree on who initiated the move; Thomas Lincoln had no obvious reason to do so. One possibility is that other members of the family, including Dennis Hanks, might not have matched Thomas's stability and steady income.[13]:38–40

After the family relocated to Illinois, Abraham became increasingly distant from Thomas,[13]:71 in part because of his father's lack of education, although occasionally lending him money.[7]:28 and 152 In 1831, as Thomas and other family prepared to move to a new homestead in Coles County, Illinois, Abraham left home.[17]:15–17 He lived in New Salem for six years.[18]:23–53 Lincoln and some friends took goods by flatboat to New Orleans, where he witnessed slavery firsthand.[14]:22–23[7]:38

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.[19] She died on August 25, 1835, most likely of typhoid fever.[7]:55–58 In the early 1830s, he met Mary Owens from Kentucky.[7]:67–69[18]:56–57, 69–70

Late in 1836, Lincoln agreed to a match with Owens if she returned to New Salem. Owens arrived in November 1836, and Lincoln courted her for a time; however, they both had second thoughts. On August 16, 1837, Lincoln wrote Owens a letter suggesting he would not blame her if she ended the relationship. She never replied.[7]:67

In 1840, Lincoln became engaged to Mary Todd, a daughter of Robert Smith Todd, a wealthy slave-owner in Lexington, Kentucky.[20]:3 They met in Springfield, Illinois in December 1839[14]:46–48 and were engaged a year later.[7]:86 A wedding set for January 1, 1841, was canceled at Lincoln's initiative.[14]:46–48[7]:87 They reconciled and married on November 4, 1842, in the Springfield mansion of Mary's married sister.[14]:50–51 While anxiously preparing for the nuptials, Lincoln was asked where he was going and replied, "To hell, I suppose."[7]:93 In 1844, the couple bought a house in Springfield near Lincoln's law office. Mary kept house, often with the help of a relative or hired servant.[21]:142

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.[12]:179–181, 476 Robert reached adulthood and produced children. The Lincolns' last descendant, great-grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died in 1985.[22] Lincoln "was remarkably fond of children",[12]:126 and the Lincolns were not considered to be strict with their own.[21]:120 In fact, Lincoln's law partner William H. Herndon would grow irritated when Lincoln would bring his children to the law office. Their father, it seemed, was often too absorbed in his own work to notice his children's behaviour. Herndon recounted, "I have felt many and many a time that I wanted to wring their little necks, and yet out of respect for Lincoln I kept my mouth shut. Lincoln did not note what his children were doing or had done."[23]

The deaths of their sons had profound effects on both parents. Abraham suffered from "melancholy", a condition later referred to as clinical depression.[24] Later in life, Mary struggled with the stresses of losing her husband and sons, and Robert committed her temporarily to a mental health asylum in 1875.[25]:341

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 them.[26]:440–447

Mary cooked for Lincoln often during his presidency. Raised by a wealthy family, her cooking was simple, but satisfied Lincoln's tastes, which included imported oysters.[27]

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