Examined: Akhmedova Z.G.
2. Early Life
5. Young Manhood
6. Politics and Law
7. Illinois Legislator
8. Marriage page6
9. Congressman page 7
10. Disillusionment with Politics
11. Return to Politics
12. Campaigns of 1856 and 1858 page 8
13. Election of 1860 page 9
14. Presidency page 9
15. Sumter Crisis page10
16. Military Policy page11
17. Emancipation page
18. Foreign Relations page
19. Wartime Politics page13
20. Life in the White House page
21. Reconstruction page
22. Death page
23. Source page
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Lincoln
entered office at a critical period in U. S. history, just before the Civil
War, and died from an assassin's bullet at the war's end, but before the
greater implications of the conflict could be resolved. He brought to the
office personal integrity, intelligence, and humanity, plus the wholesome
characteristics of his frontier upbringing. He also had the liabilities of
his upbringing--he was self-educated, culturally unsophisticated, and
lacking in administrative and diplomatic skills. Sharp-witted, he was not
especially sharp-tongued, but was noted for his warm good humor. Although
relatively unknown and inexperienced politically when elected president, he
proved to be a consummate politician. He was above all firm in his
convictions and dedicated to the preservation of the Union.
Lincoln was perhaps the most esteemed and maligned of the American
presidents. Generally admired and loved by the public, he was attacked on a
partisan basis as the man responsible for and in the middle of every major
issue facing the nation during his administration. Although his reputation
has fluctuated with changing times, he was clearly a great man and a great
president. He firmly and fairly guided the nation through its most perilous
period and made a lasting impact in shaping the office of chief
executive.Once regarded as the "Great Emancipator" for his forward strides
in freeing the slaves, he was criticized a century later, when the Civil
Rights Movement gained momentum, for his caution in moving toward equal
rights. If he is judged in the historical context, however, it can be seen
that he was far in advance of most liberal opinion. His claim to greatness
The future president was born in the most modest of circumstances in a
log cabin near Hodgenville, Ky., on Feb. 12, 1809. His entire childhood and
young manhood were spent on the brink of poverty as his pioneering family
made repeated fresh starts in the West. Opportunities for education,
cultural activities, and even socializing were meager.
Lincoln's paternal ancestry has been traced, in an unbroken line, to
Samuel Lincoln, a weaver's apprentice from Hingham, England, who settled in
Hingham, Mass., in 1637. From him the line of descent came down through
Mordecai Lincoln of Hingham and of Scituate, Mass.; Mordecai of Berks
county, Pa.; John of Berks county and of Rockingham county, Va.; and
Abraham, the grandfather of the president, who moved from Virginia to
Kentucky about 1782, settled near Hughes Station, east of Louisville, and
was killed in an Indian ambush in 1786.
Abraham's youngest son, Thomas, who became the father of the president, was
born in Rockingham county, Va., on Jan. 6, 1778. After the death of his
father, he roamed about, settling eventually in Hardin county, Ky., where
he worked at carpentry, farming, and odd jobs. He was not the shiftless
ne'er-do-well sometimes depicted, but an honest, conscientious man of
modest means, well regarded by his neighbors. He had practically no
education, however, and could barely scrawl his name.
Nancy Hanks, whom Thomas Lincoln married on June 12, 1806, and who became
the mother of the president, remains a shadowy figure. Her birth date is
uncertain, and descriptions of her are contradictory. Scholars despair of
penetrating the tangled Hanks genealogy, and the legitimacy of Nancy's
birth is a subject of argument. Lincoln, himself, apparently believed that
his mother was born out of wedlock. In either case, Nancy came of lowly
people. Reared by her aunt, Betsy Hanks, who married Thomas Sparrow, she
was utterly uneducated.
Thomas and Nancy Lincoln set up housekeeping in Elizabethtown, Ky.,
where their first child, Sarah, was born on Feb. 10, 1807. In December
1808, Thomas bought a hard-scrabble farm on the South Fork of Nolin Creek,
where Abraham was born. Soon after Abe's second birthday the family moved
to a more productive farm along Knob Creek, a branch of the Rolling Fork,
in a region of fertile bottomland surrounded by crags and bluffs. The old
Cumberland Trail from Louisville to Nashville passed close by, and the boy
could see a vigorous civilization on the march--settlers, peddlers, circuit-
riding preachers, now and then a coffle of slaves. This was probably his
first view of human bondage, for the small landholdings of the region were
not suited to slaveowning, and local sentiment, especially among the
Baptists, with whom the Lincolns had affiliated, was hostile to slavery.
Like most frontier children, Abraham performed chores at an early age, but
occasionally he and his sister Sarah attended classes in a log schoolhouse
some two miles (3 km) from home. Nancy bore a third child, Thomas, but he
died in infancy.
Faulty land titles, which were a constant problem to Kentucky settlers,
were especially troublesome to Thomas Lincoln. Because of a flaw in title,
he lost part of a farm he had bought before his marriage, and both his
other Kentucky farms became involved in litigation. For this reason, and
because of his roving disposition, he resolved to move to Indiana, where
land could be bought directly from the government.
Abraham was seven years old when, in December 1816, the Lincolns struck out
northwestward. They crossed the Ohio River on a ferry near the village of
Troy, made their way 16 miles (26 km) farther north through thick woods and
tangled underbrush, and settled near Pigeon Creek, in present Spencer
county, Ind. Thomas hastily threw up a half-faced camp, a rude shelter of
logs and boughs, closed on three sides and warmed only by a fire at the
open front. Here the family lived while Thomas built a cabin. The region
was gloomy, with few settlers, and wild animals prowled in the forest.
By spring Thomas had cleared a few acres for a crop. In an autobiography
that Abraham Lincoln composed in 1860, he said of himself: "Abraham, though
very young, was large of his age, and had an axe put into his hands at
once; and from that till within his twenty-third year, he was almost
constantly handling that most useful instrument--less, of course, in
plowing and harvesting seasons." So, year by year the clearing grew, and
the family's diet became more varied as farm products supplemented game and
fowl. At first, Thomas was a mere squatter on the land, but on Oct. 15,
1817, he applied for 160 acres (65 hectares) at the government land office
in Vincennes. Unable to complete payment on so large a tract, he later gave
up half, but paid for the rest.
The Lincolns had not been long in Indiana when they were joined by Thomas
and Elizabeth Sparrow, the relatives by whom Nancy had been reared. They
arrived from Kentucky with Dennis Hanks, the illegitimate son of another of
Nancy's aunts. An energetic youth of 19, he became Abraham's companion.
Within a year, however, the Sparrows became victims of the "milk-sick"
(milk sickness), a disease dreaded by Indiana settlers, and soon afterward,
on Oct. 5, 1818, Nancy Lincoln, too, died of this malady. Without a woman
to keep the household functioning, the Lincolns lived almost in squalor.
To remedy this intolerable condition, Thomas Lincoln returned to
Elizabethtown, where, on Dec. 2, 1819, he married Sarah Bush Johnston, a
widow with three children. A kindly, hard-working woman, she brought order
to the Lincolns' Indiana homestead. She also saw to it that at intervals
over the next two years Abraham received enough additional schooling to be
able, as he said later, "to read, write and cipher to the Rule of Three."
All told, however, he attended school less than a year.
During the 14 years the Lincolns lived in Indiana, the region became
more thickly settled, mostly by people from the South. But conditions
remained primitive, and farming was backbreaking work. Superstitions were
prevalent; social functions consisted of such utilitarian amusements as
corn shuckings, house raisings, and hog killings; and religion was dogmatic
and emotional. Abe, growing tall and strong, won a reputation as the best
local athlete and a rollicking storyteller. But his father kept him busy at
hard labor, hiring him out to neighbors when work at home slackened.
Abe's meager education had aroused his desire to learn, and he traveled
over the countryside to borrow books. Among those he read were Robinson
Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress, Aesop's Fables, William Grimshaw's History of
the United States, and Mason Weems' Life of Washington. The Bible was
probably the only book his family owned, and his abundant use of scriptural
quotations in his later writings shows how earnestly he must have studied
Young Lincoln worked for a while as a ferryman on the Ohio River, and at 19
helped take a flatboat cargo to New Orleans. There he encountered a manner
of living wholly unknown to him. Soon after he returned, his father decided
to move to Illinois, where a relative, John Hanks, had preceded him. On
March 1, 1830, the family set out with all their possessions loaded on
three wagons. Their new home was located on the north bank of the Sangamon
River, west of Decatur. When a cabin had been built and a crop had been
planted and fenced, young Lincoln hired out to split fence rails for
In the autumn all the Lincoln family came down with fever and ague. That
winter the pioneers experienced the deepest snow they had ever known,
accompanied by subzero temperatures. In the spring the family backtracked
eastward to Coles county, Ill. But this time Abraham did not accompany
them, for during the winter he, his stepbrother John D. Johnston, and his
cousin John Hanks had agreed to take another cargo to New Orleans for a
trader, Denton Offutt. A new life was opening for young Lincoln. Henceforth
he could make his own way.Supposedly it was on this second trip to New
Orleans that young Lincoln, watching a slave auction, declared: "If I ever
get a chance to hit that thing, I'll hit it hard." But the story is almost
certainly untrue. Lincoln at this period of his life could scarcely have
believed himself to be a man of destiny, and John Hanks, who originated the
story, was not with Lincoln, having left his fellow crewmen at St. Louis.
Near the outset of this voyage, at the little village of New Salem on the
Sangamon River, Lincoln had impressed Offutt by his ingenuity in moving the
flatboat over a milldam. Offutt, impressed likewise by the prospects of the
village, arranged to open a store and rent the mill. On Lincoln's return
from New Orleans, Offutt engaged him as clerk and handyman.
By late July 1831, when Lincoln came back, New Salem was enjoying what
proved to be a short-lived boom based on a local conviction that the
Sangamon River would be made navigable for steamboats. For a time the
village served as a trading center for the surrounding area and numbered
among its enterprises three stores, a tavern, a carding machine for wool, a
saloon, and a ferry. Among its residents were two physicians, a blacksmith,
a cooper, a shoemaker, and other craftsmen common to a pioneer settlement.
The people were mostly from the South, though a number of Yankees had also
drifted in. Community pastimes were similar to those Lincoln had previously
known, and life in general differed only in being somewhat more advanced.
Lincoln gained the admiration of the rougher element of the community, who
were known as the Clary's Grove boys, when he threw their champion in a
wrestling match. But his kindness, honesty, and efforts at self-betterment
so impressed the more reputable people of the community that they, too,
soon came to respect him. He became a member of the debating society,
studied grammar with the aid of a local schoolmaster, and acquired a
lasting fondness for the writings of Shakespeare and Robert Burns from the
village philosopher and fisherman.
Offutt paid little attention to business, and his store was about to fail,
when an Indian disturbance, known as the Black Hawk War, broke out in April
1832, in Illinois. Lincoln enlisted and was elected captain of his
volunteer company. When his term expired, he reenlisted, serving about 80
days in all. He experienced some hardships, but no fighting.
Politics and Law
Returning to New Salem, Lincoln sought election to the state
legislature. He won almost all the votes in his own community, but lost the
election because he was not known throughout the county. In partnership
with William F. Berry, he bought a store on credit, but it soon failed,
leaving him deeply in debt. He then got a job as deputy surveyor, was
appointed postmaster, and pieced out his income with odd jobs. The story of
his romance with Ann Rutledge is rejected as a legend by most authorities,
but he did have a short-lived love affair with Mary Owens.
In 1834, Lincoln was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives,
and he was reelected in 1836, 1838, and 1840. Political alignments were in
a state of flux during his first two candidacies, but as the WHIG and
DEMOCRATIC parties began to take form, he followed his political idol,
Henry Clay, and John T. Stuart, a Springfield lawyer and friend, into the
Whig ranks. Twice Lincoln was his party's candidate for speaker, and when
defeated, he served as its floor leader.
His greatest achievement in the legislature, where he was a consistent
supporter of conservative business interests, was to bring about the
removal of the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield, by means of
adroit logrolling. When certain resolutions denouncing antislavery
agitation were passed by the house, Lincoln and a colleague, Dan Stone,
defined their position by a written declaration that slavery was "founded
on both injustice and bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition
doctrines tends rather to increase than abate its evils." An internal
improvement project that Lincoln promoted in the legislature turned out to
be impractical and almost bankrupted the state. On national issues Lincoln
favored the United States Bank and opposed the presidential policies of
Andrew JACKSON and Martin VAN BUREN.
His friend Stuart had encouraged him to study law, and he obtained a
license on Sept. 9, 1836. By this time New Salem was in decline and would
soon be a ghost town. It has since been restored as a state park. On April
15, 1837, Lincoln moved to Springfield to become Stuart's partner. His
conscientious efforts to pay off his debts had earned him the nickname
"Honest Abe," but he was so poor that he arrived in Springfield on a
borrowed horse with all his personal property in his saddlebags.
With the courts in Springfield in session only a few weeks during the year,
lawyers were obliged to travel the circuit in order to make a living. Every
year, in spring and autumn, Lincoln followed the judge from county to
county over the 12,000 square miles (31,000 sq km) of the Eighth Circuit.
In 1841 he and Stuart disolved their firm, and Lincoln formed a new
partnership with Stephen T. Logan, who taught him the value of careful
preparation and clear, succinct reasoning as opposed to mere cleverness and
oratory. This partnership was in turn dissolved in 1844, when Lincoln took
young William H. Herndon, later to be his biographer, as a partner.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 4, 1842, after a somewhat tumultuous courtship,
Lincoln had married Mary Todd. Brought up in Lexington, Ky., she was a high-
spirited, quick-tempered girl of excellent education and cultural
background. Notwithstanding her vanity, ambition, and unstable temperament
and Lincoln's careless ways and alternating moods of hilarity and
dejection, the marriage turned out to be generally happy. Of their four
children, only Robert Todd Lincoln, born on Aug. 1, 1843, lived to
maturity. Edward Baker, who was born on March 10, 1846, died on Feb. 1,
1850; William Wallace, born Dec. 21, 1850, died on Feb. 20, 1862; and
Thomas ("Tad"), born April 4, 1853, died on July 15, 1871.
Though Mrs. Lincoln was by no means such a shrew as has been asserted, she
was difficult to live with. Lincoln responded to her impulsive and
imprudent behavior with tireless patience, forbearance, and forgiveness.
Borne down by grief and illness after her husband's death, Mrs. Lincoln
became so unbalanced at one time that her son Robert had her committed to
Having attained a position of leadership in state politics and worked
strenuously for the Whig ticket in the presidential election of 1840,
Lincoln aspired to go to CONGRESS. But two other prominent young Whigs of
his district, Edward D. Baker of Springfield and John J. Hardin of
Jacksonville, also coveted this distinction. So Lincoln stepped aside
temporarily, first for Hardin, then for Baker, under a sort of
understanding that they would "take a turn about." When Lincoln's turn came
in 1846, however, Hardin wished to serve again, and Lincoln was obliged to
maneuver skillfully to obtain the nomination. His district was so
predominantly Whig that this amounted to election, and he won handily over
his Democratic opponent.
Lincoln worked conscientiously as a freshman congressman, but was unable to
gain distinction. Both from conviction and party expediency, he went along
with the Whig leaders in blaming the Polk administration for bringing on
war with Mexico, though he always voted for appropriations to sustain it.
His opposition to the war was unpopular in his district, however. When the
annexations of territory from Mexico brought up the question of the status
of slavery in the new lands, Lincoln voted for the Wilmot Proviso and other
measures designed to confine the institution to the states where it already
Disillusionment with Politics
In the campaign of 1848, Lincoln labored strenuously for the
nomination and election of Gen. Zachary TAYLOR. He served on the Whig
National Committee, attended the national convention at Philadelphia, and
made campaign speeches. With the Whig national ticket victorious, he hoped
to share with Baker the control of federal patronage in his home state. The
juiciest plum that had been promised to Illinois was the position of
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