Arguably one of America’s greatest presidents and definitely one of the most loved figures on American historical record, Abraham Lincoln guided the infant United States through some of the most devastating periods of the Nation’s legendary saga. The dark days of the American Civil War saw neighbor turned against neighbor, and brother against brother, all for the right to enslave other human beings.
Born in a Log Cabin in the Kentucky Woods
Abraham Lincoln was born to Thomas and Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln on February 12, 1809 in Larue County (then Hardin), Kentucky. Thomas Lincoln, Abraham’s father, lost his own father when he was a young boy in 1786. He grew up as a “wandering labor boy” but became an accomplished carpenter and bought at least three farms in Kentucky before moving his family to Indiana where Abraham grew up. Nancy, Abraham’s mother, died when he was 10 years old (2 years after moving to Indiana) and not much is known about her. Abraham also had an older sister, Sarah, who died later in life (1828) while giving birth, and a younger brother named Thomas who died in infancy. Lincoln wrote of himself that he “was raised to farm and work” in a “wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up … Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher … but that was all.” Lincoln recounts attending “some schools, so called,” but for less than a year in total (ameslab, 2010).
The Development of a Leader
In 1830 Lincoln left Indiana for New Salem, Illinois where he studied hard to educate himself while he worked on a farm splitting rail fences. Lincoln served briefly in the Black Hawk War in 1832 and then later that year ran unsuccessfully for the Illinois legislature. In 1836 Lincoln became a lawyer and in 1841he was elected to the lower house where he served four successive terms. From 1847-49, Abraham Lincoln served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives where he openly opposed the Mexican War as unnecessary and unconstitutional. For Lincoln, then President James Polk, violated the Constitution by trying to expand territories that allowed slavery (which Lincoln was passionately against). Lincoln did not run for Congress again after the end of this term and was beginning to lose interest in politics until the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 which opened lands that had previously been closed to slavery and gave them that “option,” Lincoln viewed the provisions of this act as immoral and began debating against it (ameslab, 2010).
In the Words of a Peace Maker
Abraham Lincoln once said of himself that he was “naturally anti-slavery” and he could not remember a time when he “did not so think, and feel.” Abraham’s parents belonged to the Baptist church and disapproved of slavery, bringing Abraham up with the same ideals. Lincoln was alarmed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act being sponsored by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas because he believed it opened the doors for an expansion of slavery. Partially because of the fame generated by his vigorous debates with Douglas, Lincoln was finally elected to the presidency in 1860. Lincoln was not only against slavery, he also believed that seceding from the Union was unconstitutional (Lincoln, 2010). However, by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration in March of 1861, seven states had already seceded from the Union over the issue of slavery. In his Inaugural Address Lincoln laid the issue at the feet of the Southern gentlemen: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you…. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.”
On January 1, 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that forever declared free all slaves within the Confederacy. In his address at the military cemetery at Gettysburg he said: “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (Lincoln, 2010)
A Flash of Light in the Balcony
Just five days after Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Grant at Appomattox President Lincoln decided to take his wife, Mary (Todd) Lincoln to Ford’s Theater to see a play. On that Good Friday, April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Southern Confederate supporter charged the opera box where the President, his wife and two companions were seated and shot President Lincoln in the head at point blank range. President Abraham Lincoln was carried to a home across the street from the theatre where died the following day: April 15, 1865 at 7:22 a.m (ameslab, 2010). John Wilkes Booth was hunted down and shot by Union soldiers on Richard Garrett’s farm near Bowling Green, Virginia. According to the account given by Lieutenant Edward Doherty, the officer in charge of Booth’s capture, Booth was actually shot in the back of the head about an inch below where he had shot the president only eleven days previous. John Wilkes Booth died of a gunshot wound to the head on the veranda of the Garrett farm on April 26, 1865 at 7:00 a.m. Booth’s body was carried back up the Potomac, eventually returned to Washington, D.C, and buried beneath the penitentiary floor (eyewitnesshistory, 2010).
Impact on History
President Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th and possibly most beloved president made many invaluable contributions to America and all her generations to come. He saved the Union of the United States of America; he freed the slaves and made sure that slavery ended. Through his honest, eloquent, passionate speeches and addresses he reminded all Americans of that time and for all time to come that only through “malice toward none” and “charity for all” would there peace (ameslab, 2010).
Abraham Lincoln. Washington.org. http://sc94.ameslab.gov/tour/alincoln.html. Retrieved June 12, 2010.
16. Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865. The White House President Barack Obama. About the White House, Presidents. http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/abrahamlincoln. Retrieved June 11, 2010.
The Death of John Wilkes Booth, 1865. EyeWitness to History.com. http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/booth.htm. Retrieved June 11, 2010.