Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was born in a one-room log cabin on February 12, 1809 in Hardin County Illinois, the son of a Kentucky frontiersman. Throughout his childhood, Lincoln worked on his family’s farm, occasionally attending school when time allowed. As a young man, Lincoln struggled to earn a living, working in and then owning a store in New Salem, Illinois, and was often in debt. In 1832 when he was nominated to become a candidate for the Illinois General Assembly. His future in politics was suspended temporarily, though, at the outset of the Black Hawk War between the Midwestern states and Native Indians. Enlisting in the army, Lincoln was later made captain of his rifle company, then later re-enlisted as a private when the company was disbanded. Though he only served for 3 months, Lincoln never saw battle. After the war, he continued his bid for the General Assembly, but lost on August 6th.
After his unsuccessful bid for the state General Assembly, Lincoln lost his business and became even more debt-ridden after the death of his business partner. In 1833, though, Lincoln was appointed Postmaster of New Salem, and by that autumn, became the appointed Deputy County Supervisor. His political future became even brighter when, at the age of 24, he was finally elected to the General Assembly in 1834 as a Whig Party candidate. During that same year, Lincoln studied law (without ever having attended law school) and passed the bar in 1836. While still a member of the General Assembly, to which he was re-elected in 1836, Lincoln practiced law, often defending cases in the state of Illinois.
Over the years, Lincoln’s political ambitions led to several losses, such as his unsuccessful bid for the Whig nomination to the U.S. Congress in 1843. Yet his persistence often won out. In 1846 he became the Illinois representative in Congress. Still a practicing lawyer, Lincoln argued unsuccessfully in a case regarding the Illinois statute of limitations before the Supreme Court in 1849. During that same year, he left politics to continue his law practice. His practice in the 8th Judicial court enabled him to travel over 400 miles in 14 counties in Illinois, thus earning him the reputation as “Honest Abe” for his legal work.
During his rise in both politics and law, Lincoln’s personal life saw its rise and falls as well. After being engaged several times to different women, Lincoln finally married Mary Todd in 1842, with whom he would have four children, all boys. Yet only one of Abe and Mary’s children survived into adulthood. Lincoln also suffered debilitating bouts of depression, for which he would become afflicted throughout his life and presidency.
Despite his success in law, Lincoln could not stay away from politics forever. In 1854, he opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and was elected, but declined a seat, to the state legislature. Lincoln was holding out an appointment to the U.S. Senate instead (during this time, Senators were appointed, not elected, to their seats). He lost that bid to the Senate, but in 1856, he helped organize the Republican party, and was immediately awarded 110 votes for the vice presidential nomination. That same year, he campaigned for the Republican presidential candidate, John C. Fremont.
Lincoln’s opposition to slavery became more public when he outright opposed the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision, which ruled that slaves were not U.S. citizens and therefore did not have any rights accorded by the Constitution. In 1858, Lincoln became the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. It was during his bid for the U.S. Senate that Lincoln gained his nationwide reputation in a series of 7 debates with his opposition, Stephen A. Douglas. Each debate attracted large audiences. That year, Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech for the national Republican convention. Though he lost his bid for Senate, his speech and debates with Douglas, which were published the following year, earned him enough trust among Republican electors that he was nominated in the presidential bid two years later during the national election.
Lincoln won the election with 180 out of 303 electoral votes and 40% of the popular vote. But before he could enjoy the spoils of his electoral win, Lincoln was thrust into a catastrophe that would send the United States to the brink of national disaster. In 1860, the southern states, beginning with South Carolina and joined by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, seceded from the union, thus throwing the United States into civil war over the issue of slavery.
The war’s official start began in 1861 when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumpter in Charleston Harbor. Lincoln, an ardent opponent to slavery, led the Union in the war against the South, often introducing laws to aid the war effort. He was also responsible for signing the Federal Homestead Act, which enabled Americans to claim publicly owned land and work that land for 5 years. This Act also helped strengthen the union during the war by developing land for freed states further out west. Yet it was Lincoln’s reputation as a national leader during this ugly period in American history that also became a part of his presidential legacy. One of his more famous speeches, The Gettysburg Address, was delivered in 1863 after the bloody defeat of the Confederates at Gettysburg, which left thousands dead and wounded. The speech was delivered on the occasion of the ceremony dedicating the battlefield as a national cemetery. During this period, Lincoln also signed several proclamations, such as the Proclamation of Thanksgiving on November 19, which made Thanksgiving a national holiday, the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction on December 8th, to restore the union, and the Proclamation of Emancipation, which abolished slavery in the United States territories.
Lincoln led the union to victory and was re-elected in 1864. Sadly in 1865, Lincoln was assassinated in the Ford Theater, while watching a production of “Our American Cousin,” with his wife, Mary. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was a southern sympathizer who had conspired with others to assassinate the president.