Abraham Lincoln



Abraham Lincoln


Lincoln, Abraham (1809-65), 16th president of the United States (1861-65), who
steered the Union to victory in the American Civil War and abolished slavery.

Early Life

Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, near Hodgenville, Kentucky, the son of
Nancy Hanks and Thomas Lincoln, pioneer farmers. At the age of two he was taken
by his parents to nearby Knob Creek and at eight to Spencer County, Indiana. The
following year his mother died. In 1819 his father married Sarah Bush Johnston,
a kindly widow, who soon gained the boy\'s affection. Lincoln grew up a tall,
gangling youth, who could hold his own in physical contests and also showed
great intellectual promise, although he had little formal education. In 1831,
after moving with his family to Macon County, Illinois, he struck out on his own,
taking cargo on a flatboat to New Orleans, Louisiana. He then returned to
Illinois and settled in New Salem, a short-lived community on the Sangamon River,
where he split rails and clerked in a store. He gained the respect of his fellow
townspeople, including the so-called Clary Grove boys, who had challenged him to
physical combat, and was elected captain of his company in the Black Hawk War
(1832). Returning from the war, he began an unsuccessful venture in shopkeeping
that ended when his partner died. In 1833 he was appointed postmaster but had to
supplement his income with surveying and various other jobs. At the same time he
began to study law. That he gradually paid off his and his deceased partner\'s
debts firmly established his reputation for honesty. The story of his romance
with Ann Rutledge, a local young woman whom he knew briefly before her untimely
death, is unsubstantiated.

Illinois Politician and Lawyer

Defeated in 1832 in a race for the state legislature, Lincoln was elected on the
Whig ticket two years later and served in the lower house from 1834 to 1841. He
quickly emerged as one of the leaders of the party and was one of the authors of
the removal of the capital to Springfield, where he settled in 1837. After his
admission to the bar (1836), he entered into successive partnerships with John T.
Stuart, Stephen T. Logan, and William Herndon, and soon won recognition as an
effective and resourceful attorney. In 1842 Lincoln married Mary Todd, the
daughter of a prominent Kentucky banker, and despite her somewhat difficult
disposition, the marriage seems to have been reasonably successful. The Lincolns
had four children, only one of whom reached adulthood. His birth in a slave
state notwithstanding, Lincoln had long opposed slavery. In the legislature he
voted against resolutions favorable to the "peculiar institution" and in 1837
was one of two members who signed a protest against it. Elected to Congress in
1846, he attracted attention because of his outspoken criticism of the war with
Mexico and formulated a plan for gradual emancipation in the District of
Columbia. He was not an abolitionist, however. Conceding the right of the states
to manage their own affairs, he merely sought to prevent the spread of human
bondage.

National Recognition Disappointed in a quest for federal office at the end of
his one term in Congress (1847-49), Lincoln returned to Springfield to pursue
his profession. In 1854, however, because of his alarm at Senator Stephen A.
Douglas\'s Kansas-Nebraska Act, he became politically active again. Clearly
setting forth his opposition to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, he argued
that the measure was wrong because slavery was wrong and that Congress should
keep the territories free for actual settlers (as opposed to those who traveled
there mainly to vote for or against slavery). The following year he ran for the
U.S. Senate, but seeing that he could not win, he yielded to Lyman Trumbull, a
Democrat who opposed Douglas\'s bill. He campaigned for the newly founded
Republican party in 1856, and in 1858 he became its senatorial candidate against
Douglas. In a speech to the party\'s state convention that year he warned that "a
house divided against itself cannot stand" and predicted the eventual triumph of
freedom. Meeting Douglas in a series of debates, he challenged his opponent in
effect to explain how he could reconcile his principles of popular sovereignty
with the Dred Scott decision (see Dred Scott Case). In his reply, Douglas
reaffirmed his belief in the practical ability of settlers to keep slavery out
of the territories despite the Supreme Court\'s denial of their right to do so.
Although Lincoln lost the election to Douglas, the debates won him national
recognition.

Election and Secession Crisis In 1860 the Republicans, anxious to attract as
many