Born on Feb. 12, 1809, in a log cabin in backwoods Hardin co., Ky. (now Larue co.), he grew up on newly broken pioneer farms of the frontier. His father, Thomas Lincoln, was a migratory carpenter and farmer, nearly always poverty-stricken. Little is known of his mother, Nancy Hanks, who died in 1818, not long after the family had settled in the wilds of what is now Spencer co., Ind. Thomas Lincoln soon afterward married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow; she was a kind and affectionate stepmother to the boy. Abraham had almost no formal schooling—the scattered weeks of school attendance in Kentucky and Indiana amounted to less than a year; but he taught himself, reading and rereading a small stock of books. His first glimpse of the wider world came in a voyage downriver to New Orleans on a flatboat in 1828, but little is known of that journey. In 1830 the Lincolns moved once more, this time to Macon co., Ill.
After another visit to New Orleans, the young Lincoln settled in 1831 in the village of New Salem, Ill., not far from Springfield. There he began by working in a store and managing a mill. By this time a tall (6 ft 4 in./190 cm), rawboned young man, he won much popularity among the inhabitants of the frontier town by his great strength and his flair for storytelling, but most of all by his strength of character. His sincerity and capability won respect that was strengthened by his ability to hold his own in the roughest society. He was chosen captain of a volunteer company gathered for the Black Hawk War (1832), but the company did not see battle.
Returning to New Salem, Lincoln was a partner in a grocery store that failed, leaving him with a heavy burden of debt. He became a surveyor for a time, was village postmaster, and did various odd jobs, including rail splitting. All the while he sought to improve his education and studied law. The story of a brief love affair with Ann Rutledge, which supposedly occurred at this time, is now discredited.
In 1834, Lincoln was elected to the state legislature, in which he served four successive terms (until 1841) and achieved prominence as a Whig. In 1836 he obtained his license as an attorney, and the next year he moved to Springfield, where he became a law partner of John T. Stuart. Lincoln's practice steadily increased. That first partnership was succeeded by others, with Stephen T. Logan and then with William H. Herndon, who was later to be Lincoln's biographer. Lincoln displayed great ability in law, a ready grasp of argument, and sincerity, color, and lucidity of speech.
In 1842 he married Mary Todd (see Lincoln, Mary Todd) after a troubled courtship. He continued his interest in politics and entered on the national scene by serving one term in Congress (1847-49). He remained obscure, however, and his attacks as a Whig on the motives behind the Mexican War (though he voted for war supplies) seemed unpatriotic to his constituents, so he lost popularity at home. Lincoln worked hard for the election of the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor, in 1848, but when he was not rewarded with the office he desired—Commissioner of the General Land Office—he decided to retire from politics and return to the practice of law.
The prairie lawyer emerged again into politics in 1854, when he was caught up in the rising quarrel over slavery. He stoutly opposed the policy of Stephen A. Douglas and particularly the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In a speech at Springfield, repeated at Peoria, he attacked the compromises concerning the question of slavery in the territories and invoked the democratic ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence. In 1855 he sought to become a Senator but failed.
He had already realized that his sentiments were leading him away from the Whigs and toward the new Republican party, and in 1856 he became a Republican. He quickly came to the fore in the party as a moderate opponent of slavery who could win both the abolitionists and the conservative free-staters, and at the Republican national convention of 1856 he was prominent as a possible vice presidential candidate. Two years later he was nominated by the Republican party to oppose Douglas in the Illinois senatorial race.
Accepting the nomination (in a speech delivered at Springfield on June 16), Lincoln gave a ringing declaration in support of the Union: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." The campaign that followed was impressive. Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates (seven were held), in which he delivered masterful addresses for the Union and for the democratic idea. He was not an abolitionist, but he regarded slavery as an injustice and an evil, and uncompromisingly opposed its extension.
Though Douglas won the senatorial election, Lincoln had made his mark by the debates; he was now a potential presidential candidate. His first appearance in the East was in Feb., 1860, when he spoke at Cooper Union in New York City. He gained a large following in the antislavery states, but his nomination for President by the Republican convention in Chicago (May, 1860) was as much due to the opposition to William H. Seward, the leading contender, as to Lincoln's own appeal. He was nominated on the third ballot. In the election the Democratic party split; Lincoln was opposed by Douglas (Northern Democrat), John C. Breckinridge (Southern Democrat), and John Bell (Constitutional Unionist). Lincoln was elected with a minority of the popular vote.
To the South, Lincoln's election was the signal for secession. All compromise plans, such as that proposed by John J. Crittenden, failed, and by the time of Lincoln's inauguration seven states had seceded. The new President, determined to preserve the Union at all costs, condemned secession but promised that he would not initiate the use of force. After a slight delay, however, he did order the provisioning of Fort Sumter, and the South chose to regard this as an act of war. On Apr. 12, 1861, Fort Sumter was fired upon, and the Civil War began.
Although various criticisms have been leveled against him, it is generally agreed that Lincoln attacked the vast problems of the war with vigor and surpassing skill. He immediately issued a summons to the militia (an act that precipitated the secession of four more Southern states), ordered a blockade of Confederate ports, and suspended habeas corpus. The last action provoked much criticism, but Lincoln adhered to it, ignoring a circuit court ruling against him in the Merryman Case (see Merryman, ex parte). In the course of the war, Lincoln further extended his executive powers, but in general he exercised those powers with restraint. He was beset not only by the difficulties of the war, but by opposition from men on his own side. His cabinet was rent by internal jealousies and hatred; radical abolitionists condemned him as too mild; conservatives were gloomy over the prospects of success in the war.
In the midst of all this strife, Lincoln continued his course, sometimes almost alone, with wisdom and patience. The progress of battle went against the North at first. Lincoln himself made some bad military decisions (e.g., in ordering the direct advance into Virginia that resulted in the Union defeat at the first battle of Bull Run), and he ran through a succession of commanders in chief before he found Ulysses S. Grant. In the early stages of the war Lincoln revoked orders by John C. Frémont and David Hunter freeing the slaves in their military departments. However, the Union victory at Antietam gave him a position of strength from which to issue his own Emancipation Proclamation.
The restoration and preservation of the Union were still the main tenets of Lincoln's war aims. The sorrows of war and its rigorous necessity afflicted him; he expressed both in one of the noblest public speeches ever made, the Gettysburg Address, made at the dedication of the soldiers' cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863. For a time Lincoln was threatened by the desertion of the Republican leaders as well as by a strong opposition party in the presidential election that loomed ahead in the dark days of 1864; but a turn for the better took place before the election, a turn brought about to some extent by a change of military fortune after Grant became commander and particularly after William T. Sherman took Atlanta.
Lincoln was reelected over George B. McClellan by a great majority. His second inaugural address, delivered when the war was drawing to its close, was a plea for the new country that would arise from the ashes of the South. His own view was one of forgiveness, as shown in his memorable phrase "With malice toward none; with charity for all." He lived to see the end of the war, but he was to have no chance to implement his plans for Reconstruction. On the night of Apr. 14, 1865, when attending a performance at Ford's Theater, he was shot by the actor John Wilkes Booth. The next morning Lincoln died. His death was an occasion for grief even among those who had been his opponents, and many considered him a martyr.
As time passed Lincoln became more and more the object of adulation; a full-blown "Lincoln legend" appeared. Yet, even if his faults and mistakes are acknowledged, he stands out as a statesman of noble vision, great humanity, and remarkable political skill. It is not surprising that the Illinois "rail-splitter" is regarded as a foremost symbol of American democracy. Paintings, sculptures, and architectural works memorializing Lincoln are legion; the most famous shrines are his home and tomb in Springfield, Ill., and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Innumerable biographies, novels, poems, plays, and essays have been devoted to Lincoln. His collected works were edited by R. P. Basler (9 vol., 1953). See also D. C. Mearns, ed., The Lincoln Papers (1948). The standard older bibliography is J. Monaghan, Lincoln Bibliography, 1839-1939 (2 vol., 1943-45); others are P. M. Angle, A Shelf of Lincoln Books (1946); V. Searcher, Lincoln Today (1969); E. W. Matthews, Lincoln as a Lawyer (1991).
One of the most important early biographies was W. H. Herndon and J. W. Weid, Herndon's Life of Lincoln (3 vol., 1889; ed. by P. M. Angle, 1930, repr. 1965). J. G. Nicolay and J. Hay wrote the 10-volume Abraham Lincoln: A History (1890, abbr. ed. 1966). Probably the most popular biographies are C. Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926) and Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (4 vol., 1939); a one-volume condensation was first published in 1954. See also The Lincoln Reader (1947, repr. 1964; ed. by P. M. Angle) and biographies by A. J. Beveridge (2 vol., 1928; repr. 1971), B. P. Thomas (1952, repr. 1968), S. Lorant (1954, repr. 1961), R. H. Luthin (1960), P. B. Kunhardt, Jr., et al. (1992), D. H. Donald (1995), A. C. Guelzo (2000), R. Carwardine (2006), M. Burlingame (2 vol., 2008), and R. C. White, Jr. (2009). Almost the only work portraying Lincoln in a completely unfavorable light is E. L. Masters, Lincoln the Man (1931).
Preeminent among the special studies on Lincoln are those of J. G. Randall. See also T. H. Williams, Lincoln and the Radicals (1941, repr. 1965); H. J. Carman and R. H. Luthin, Lincoln and the Patronage (1943, repr. 1964); F. H. Meserve and C. Sandburg, The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln (1944); J. Monaghan, Diplomat in Carpet Slippers (1945, repr. 1962); B. J. Hendrick, Lincoln's War Cabinet (1946, repr. 1965); B. P. Thomas, Portrait for Posterity: Lincoln and His Biographers (1947); W. B. Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors (1948); The Living Lincoln (ed. by P. M. Angle and E. S. Miers, 1955); D. H. Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered (2d ed. 1961, repr. 1989) and "We Are Lincoln Men" (2003); D. E. Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness (1962, repr. 1970) and The Leadership of Abraham Lincoln (1970); W. H. Townsend, Lincoln and the Bluegrass (1989); G. Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (1992); J. T. Glatthaar, Partners in Command (1994); M. E. Neely, Jr., The Last Best Hope of Earth (1994); P. S. Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (1994); M. D. Peterson, Lincoln in American Memory (1994); D. L. Wilson, Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln (1998) and Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words (2006); J. Morris, Lincoln (2000); W. L. Miller, Lincoln's Virtues (2002); R. C. White, Jr., Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural (2002); M. Lind, What Lincoln Believed (2005); D. K. Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005); D. M. Epstein, The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage (2008); A. C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America (2008); F. Kaplan, Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer (2008); P. B. Kunhardt 3d et al., Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon (2008), J. M. McPherson, Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (2008); C. B. Flood, 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History (2009); H. L. Gates, Jr., and D. Yacovone, ed., Lincoln on Race and Slavery (2009).
Abraham Lincoln, 1863.
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Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865), the sixteenth President of the United States, successfully led his country through its greatest internal crisis, the American Civil War, only to be assassinated as the war was coming to an end. Before becoming the first Republican elected to the Presidency, Lincoln was a lawyer, an Illinois state legislator, a member of the United States House of Representatives, and an unsuccessful candidate for election to the Senate.
As an outspoken opponent of the expansion of slavery in the United States, Lincoln won the Republican Party nomination in 1860 and was elected president later that year. During his time in office, he contributed to the effort to preserve the United States by leading the defeat of the secessionist Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. He introduced measures that resulted in the abolition of slavery, issuing his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and promoting the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which passed Congress before Lincoln's death and was ratified by the states later in 1865.
Lincoln closely supervised the victorious war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including Ulysses S. Grant. Historians have concluded that he handled the factions of the Republican Party well, bringing leaders of each faction into his cabinet and forcing them to cooperate. Lincoln successfully defused a war scare with the United Kingdom in 1861. Under his leadership, the Union took control of the border slave states at the start of the war. Additionally, he managed his own reelection in the 1864 presidential election.
Opponents of the war (also known as "Copperheads") criticized Lincoln for refusing to compromise on the slavery issue. Conversely, the Radical Republicans, an abolitionist faction of the Republican Party, criticized him for moving too slowly in abolishing slavery. Even with these road blocks, Lincoln successfully rallied public opinion through his rhetoric and speeches; his Gettysburg Address is but one example of this. At the close of the war, Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to speedily reunite the nation through a policy of generous reconciliation. His assassination in 1865 was the first presidential assassination in U.S. history and made him a martyr for the ideal of national unity.
For some time, Thomas Lincoln, Abraham's father, was a respected and relatively affluent citizen of the Kentucky backcountry. He had purchased the Sinking Spring Farm in December 1808 for $200 cash and assumption of a debt. The family belonged to a Hardshell Baptist church, although Abraham himself never joined their church, or any other church for that matter.
In 1816, the Lincoln family was forced to make a new start in Perry County (now in Spencer County), Indiana. He later noted that this move was "partly on account of slavery," and partly because of difficulties with land deeds in Kentucky: Unlike land in the Northwest Territory, Kentucky never had a proper U.S. survey, and farmers often had difficulties proving title to their property.
When Lincoln was nine, his mother, then 34 years old, died of milk sickness. Soon afterwards, his father remarried to Sarah Bush Johnston. Lincoln was affectionate toward his stepmother, whom he would call "Mother" for the rest of his life, but he was distant from his father.
In 1830, after more economic and land-title difficulties in Indiana, the family settled on public land in Macon County, Illinois. The following winter was desolate and especially brutal, and the family considered moving back to Indiana. The following year, when his father relocated the family to a new homestead in Coles County, Illinois, 22-year-old Lincoln struck out on his own, canoeing down the Sangamon River to the village of New Salem in Sangamon County. Later that year, hired by New Salem businessman Denton Offutt and accompanied by friends, he took goods from New Salem to New Orleans via flatboat on the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
Lincoln's formal education consisted of about 18 months of schooling, but he was largely self-educated and an avid reader. He was also a talented local wrestler and skilled with an axe. Lincoln avoided hunting and fishing because he did not like killing animals, even for food. At 6 foot 4 inches (1.93 m), he was unusually tall, as well as strong.
Lincoln began his political career in 1832, at age 23, with an unsuccessful campaign for the Illinois General Assembly, as a member of the Whig Party. The centerpiece of his platform was the undertaking of navigational improvements on the Sangamon River. He believed that this would attract steamboat traffic, which would allow the sparsely populated, poorer areas along the river to flourish.
He was elected captain of an Illinois militia company drawn from New Salem during the Black Hawk War, and later wrote that he had not had "any such success in life which gave him so much satisfaction.
For several months, Lincoln ran a small store in New Salem. In 1834, he won election to the state legislature, and, after coming across the Commentaries on the Laws of England, began to teach himself law. Admitted to the bar in 1837, he moved to Springfield, Illinois, that same year and began to practice law with John T. Stuart. With a reputation as a formidable adversary during cross-examinations and in his closing arguments, Lincoln became an able and successful lawyer.
He served four successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives as a representative from Sangamon County, and became a leader of the Illinois Whig party. In 1837, he made his first protest against slavery in the Illinois House, stating that the institution was "founded on both injustice and bad policy. It was also in this same year that Lincoln met Joshua Fry Speed, who would become a close friend.
Lincoln wrote a series of anonymous letters, published in 1842 in the Sangamon Journal, mocking State Auditor and prominent Democrat James Shields. Two years later, Lincoln entered law practice with William Herndon, a fellow Whig. In 1854, both men joined the fledgling Republican Party. Following Lincoln's death, Herndon began collecting stories about Lincoln and published them in Herndon's Lincoln.
The other Lincoln children were born in Springfield, Illinois, and died either during childhood or their teen years. Edward Baker Lincoln was born on March 10, 1846, and died on February 1, 1850, also in Springfield. William "Willie" Wallace Lincoln was born on December 21, 1850, and died on February 20, 1862 in Washington, D.C., during President Lincoln's first term. Thomas "Tad" Lincoln was born on April 4, 1853, and died on July 16, 1871 in Chicago.
Lincoln later damaged his political reputation with a speech in which he declared, "God of Heaven has forgotten to defend the weak and innocent, and permitted the strong band of murderers and demons from hell to kill men, women, and children, and lay waste and pillage the land of the just." Two weeks later, President Polk sent a peace treaty to Congress. While no one in Washington paid any attention to Lincoln, the Democrats orchestrated angry outbursts from across his district, where the war was popular and many had volunteered.
Warned by his law partner, William Herndon, that the damage was mounting and irreparable, Lincoln decided not to run for reelection. His statements were not easily forgotten, and would haunt him during the Civil War. These statements were also held against him when he applied for a position in the new Taylor administration. Instead, Taylor's people offered Lincoln various positions in the remote Oregon Territory, primarily the governorship. Acceptance of this offer would have ended his career in the rapidly growing state of Illinois, so Lincoln declined the position. Returning to Springfield, Lincoln gave up politics for several years and turned his energies to his law practice.
The civil case which won Lincoln fame as a lawyer was the landmark Hurd v. Rock Island Bridge Company. America's expansion west, which Lincoln strongly supported, was seen as an economic threat to the river trade, which ran north-to-south, primarily on the Mississippi river. In 1856 a steamboat collided with a bridge, built by the Rock Island Railroad, between Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa, the first railroad bridge to span the Mississippi. The steamboat owner sued for damages, claiming the bridge was a hazard to navigation. Lincoln argued in court for the railroad and won, removing a costly impediment to western expansion by establishing the right of land routes to bridge waterways.
Possibly the most notable criminal trial of Lincoln's career as a lawyer came in 1858, when he defended William "Duff" Armstrong, who had been charged with murder. The case became famous for Lincoln's use of judicial notice — a rare tactic at that time — to show that an eyewitness had lied on the stand. After the witness testified to having seen the crime by moonlight, Lincoln produced a Farmers' Almanac to show that the moon on that date was at such a low angle that it could not have provided enough illumination to see anything clearly. Based almost entirely on this evidence, Armstrong was acquitted.
Lincoln was involved in more than 5,100 cases in Illinois alone during his 23-year legal career. Though many of these cases involved little more than filing a writ, others were more substantial and quite involved. Lincoln and his partners appeared before the Illinois State Supreme Court more than 400 times.
Drawing on remnants of the old Whig, Free Soil, Liberty and Democratic parties, he was instrumental in forming the new Republican Party. In a stirring campaign, the Republicans carried Illinois in 1854 and elected a senator. Lincoln was the obvious choice, but to keep the new party balanced he allowed the election to go to an ex-Democrat Lyman Trumbull. At the Republican convention in 1856, Lincoln placed second in the contest to become the party's candidate for Vice-President.
In 1857-58, Douglas broke with President Buchanan, leading to a fight for control of the Democratic Party. Some eastern Republicans even favored the reelection of Douglas in 1858, since he had led the opposition to the Lecompton Constitution, which would have admitted Kansas as a slave state. Accepting the Republican nomination for Senate in 1858, Lincoln delivered his famous speech: "'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'(Mark 3:25) I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. The speech created an evocative image of the danger of disunion caused by the slavery debate, and rallied Republicans across the north.
Lincoln was chosen as the Republican candidate for the 1860 election for several reasons. His expressed views on slavery were seen as more moderate than those of rivals William H. Seward and Salmon P. Chase. His "Western" origins also appealed to the newer states: other contenders, especially those with more governmental experience, had acquired enemies within the party and were weak in the critical western states, while Lincoln was perceived as a moderate who could win the West. Most Republicans agreed with Lincoln that the North was the aggrieved party as the Slave Power tightened its grasp on the national government. Throughout the 1850s he denied that there would ever be a civil war, and his supporters repeatedly rejected claims that his election would incite secession. On May 9-10, 1860, the Illinois Republican State Convention was held in Decatur. At this convention, Lincoln received his first endorsement to run for the presidency.
Throughout the general election, Lincoln did not campaign or give speeches. This was handled by the state and county Republican organizations, who used the latest techniques to sustain party enthusiasm and thus obtain high turnout. There was little effort to convert non-Republicans, and there was virtually no campaigning in the South except for a few border cities such as St. Louis, Missouri, and Wheeling, Virginia; indeed, the party did not even run a slate in most of the South. In the North, there were thousands of Republican speakers, tons of campaign posters and leaflets, and thousands of newspaper editorials. These focused first on the party platform, and second on Lincoln's life story, making the most of his boyhood poverty, his pioneer background, his native genius, and his rise from obscurity. His nicknames, "Honest Abe" and "the Rail-Splitter," were exploited to the full. The goal was to emphasize the superior power of "free labor," whereby a common farm boy could work his way to the top by his own efforts.
On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States, beating Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge of the Southern Democrats, and John Bell of the new Constitutional Union Party. He was the first Republican president, winning entirely on the strength of his support in the North: he was not even on the ballot in nine states in the South, and won only 2 of 996 counties in the other Southern states. Lincoln gained 1,865,908 votes (39.9% of the total), for 180 electoral votes; Douglas, 1,380,202 (29.5%) for 12 electoral votes; Breckenridge, 848,019 (18.1%) for 72 electoral votes; and Bell, 590,901 (12.5%) for 39 electoral votes. There were fusion tickets in some states, but even if his opponents had combined in every state, Lincoln had a majority vote in all but two of the states in which he won the electoral votes and would still have won the electoral college and the election.
Attempts at compromise, such as the Crittenden Compromise which would have extended the Missouri line of 1820, were discussed. Despite support for the Crittenden Compromise among some Republicans, Lincoln denounced it in private letters, saying "either the Missouri line extended, or... Pop. Sov. would lose us everything we gained in the election; that filibustering for all South of us, and making slave states of it, would follow in spite of us, under either plan", while other Republicans publicly stated it "would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and state owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego [at the far end of South America].
President-elect Lincoln evaded possible assassins in Baltimore, and on February 23, 1861, arrived in disguise in Washington, D.C.
At his inauguration on March 4, 1861, the German American Turners formed Lincoln's bodyguard; and a sizable garrison of federal troops was also present, ready to protect the capital from Confederate invasion and local insurrection. In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln declared, "I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments," arguing further that the purpose of the United States Constitution was "to form a more perfect union" than the Articles of Confederation which were explicitly perpetual, thus the Constitution too was perpetual. He asked rhetorically that even were the Constitution a simple contract, would it not require the agreement of all parties to rescind it?
Also in his inaugural address, in a final attempt to reunite the states and prevent the looming war, Lincoln supported the pending Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which had already passed Congress. This amendment, which explicitly protected slavery in those states in which it already existed, had more appeal to the critical border states than to the states that had already declared their separation.
By the time Lincoln took office, the Confederacy was an established fact, and no leaders of the insurrection proposed rejoining the Union on any terms. No compromise was found because a compromise was deemed virtually impossible. Buchanan might have allowed the southern states to secede, and some Republicans recommended that. However, conservative Democratic nationalists, such as Jeremiah S. Black, Joseph Holt, and Edwin M. Stanton had taken control of Buchanan's cabinet around January 1, 1861, and refused to accept secession. Lincoln and nearly every Republican leader adopted this position by March 1861: the Union could not be dismantled. Believing that a peaceful solution was still possible, Lincoln decided to not take any action against the South unless the Unionists themselves were attacked first. This finally happened in April 1861.
Historian Allan Nevins argues that Lincoln made three miscalculations in believing that he could preserve the Union, hold government property, and still avoid war. He "temporarily underrated the gravity of the crisis", overestimated the strength of Unionist sentiment in the South and border states, and misunderstood the conditional support of Unionists in the border states. In connection with Nevins's conclusions, it is interesting to note an incident from this period reported in the memoirs of William Tecumseh Sherman. Then a civilian, Sherman visited Lincoln in the White House during inauguration week, with his brother, Ohio Republican John Sherman. This meeting left the future General Sherman "sadly disappointed" at Lincoln's seeming failure to realize that "the country was sleeping on a volcano" and the South was "'preparing for war.'
The slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware did not secede, and Lincoln urgently negotiated with state leaders there, promising not to interfere with slavery. After the fighting started, he had rebel leaders arrested in all the border areas (especially in Maryland) and held in military prisons without trial. Over 18,000 were arrested, though none were executed. One, Clement Vallandigham, was exiled; but all of the remainder were released, usually after two or three months (see: Ex parte Merryman).
Ending slavery was always a primary goal of the Lincoln administration. However, the American public was slow to embrace the idea. In a shrewdly penned letter to Horace Greeley, editor of The New York Tribune, Lincoln masked his goal of ending slavery by making it subservient to the cause of preserving the union:
The Emancipation Proclamation, announced on September 22 and put into effect on January 1, 1863, freed slaves in territories not under Union control. As Union armies advanced south, more slaves were liberated until all of them in Confederate hands (over three million) were freed. Lincoln later said: "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper." The proclamation made the abolition of slavery in the rebel states an official war goal. Lincoln then threw his energies into passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to permanently abolish slavery throughout the nation.
In September 1862, thirteen northern governors met in Altoona, Pennsylvania, at the Loyal War Governors' Conference to discuss the Proclamation and Union war effort. In the end, the state executives fully supported the president's Proclamation and also suggested the removal of General George B. McClellan as commander of the Union's Army of the Potomac.
For some time, Lincoln continued earlier plans to set up colonies for the newly freed slaves. He commented favorably on colonization in the Emancipation Proclamation, but all attempts at such a massive undertaking failed. As Frederick Douglass observed, Lincoln was, "The first great man that I talked with in the United States freely who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the difference of color.
At the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, beginning with the now-iconic phrase "Four score and seven years ago...", Lincoln referred to the events of the Civil War and described the ceremony at Gettysburg as an opportunity not only to dedicate the grounds of a cemetery, but also to consecrate the living in the struggle to ensure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth".
Nevertheless, Republicans across the country feared that Lincoln would be defeated. Acknowledging this fear, Lincoln wrote and signed a pledge that, if he should lose the election, he would still defeat the Confederacy before turning over the White House:
Lincoln did not show the pledge to his cabinet, but asked them to sign the sealed envelope.
Lincoln provided Grant with new replacements and mobilized his party to support Grant and win local support for the war effort. Sherman's capture of Atlanta in September ended defeatist jitters; the Democratic Party was deeply split, with some leaders and most soldiers openly for Lincoln; the Union party was united and energized, and Lincoln was easily reelected in a landslide. He won all but two states, capturing 212 of 233 electoral votes.
On March 4, 1865, Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address, his favorite of all his speeches. At this time, a victory over the rebels was at hand, slavery was dead, and Lincoln was looking to the future.
The war was a source of constant frustration for the president, and occupied nearly all of his time. He had a contentious relationship with General McClellan, who became general-in-chief of all the Union armies in the wake of the embarrassing Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run and after the retirement of Winfield Scott in late 1861. Despite his inexperience in military affairs, Lincoln wanted to take an active part in determining war strategy. His priorities were twofold: to ensure that Washington, D.C. was well defended; and to conduct an aggressive war effort in the hope of ending the war quickly and appeasing the Northern public and press. McClellan, a youthful West Point graduate and railroad executive called back to active military service, took a more cautious approach. He took several months to plan and execute his Peninsula Campaign, with the objective of capturing Richmond by moving the Army of the Potomac by boat to the peninsula between the James and York Rivers. McClellan's delay irritated Lincoln, as did his insistence that no troops were needed to defend Washington, D.C. Lincoln insisted on holding some of McClellan's troops to defend the capital, a decision McClellan blamed for the ultimate failure of the Peninsula Campaign.
McClellan, a lifelong Democrat who was temperamentally conservative, was relieved as general-in-chief after releasing his Harrison's Landing Letter, where he offered unsolicited political advice to Lincoln urging caution in the war effort. McClellan's letter incensed Radical Republicans, who successfully pressured Lincoln to appoint John Pope, a Republican, as head of the new Army of Virginia. Pope complied with Lincoln's strategic desire to move toward Richmond from the north, thus protecting the capital from attack. But Pope was soundly defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run in the summer of 1862, forcing the Army of the Potomac to defend Washington for a second time. In response to his failure, Pope was sent to Minnesota to fight the Sioux.
Panicked by Lee's invasion of Maryland, Lincoln restored McClellan to command of all forces around Washington in time for the Battle of Antietam (September 1862). The ensuing Union victory enabled Lincoln to release his Emancipation Proclamation, but he relieved McClellan of his command shortly after the 1862 midterm elections and appointed Republican Ambrose Burnside to head the Army of the Potomac. Burnside had promised to follow through on Lincoln's strategic vision for a strong offensive against Lee and Richmond. After Burnside was stunningly defeated at Fredericksburg, Joseph Hooker was given the command, despite his idle talk about the necessity for a military dictator to win the war and a past history of criticizing his commanders. Hooker was routed by Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863), and relieved of command early in the subsequent Gettysburg Campaign replaced by George Meade.
After the Union victory at Gettysburg, Meade's failure to pursue Lee and months of inactivity for the Army of the Potomac persuaded Lincoln to bring in a western general, Ulysses S. Grant. Grant already had a solid string of victories in the Western Theater, including the battles of Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Responding to criticism of Grant, Lincoln was quoted as saying, "I cannot spare this man. He fights." Grant waged his bloody Overland Campaign in 1864 with a strategy of a war of attrition, characterized by high Union losses at battles such as the Wilderness and Cold Harbor, but by proportionately higher Confederate losses. His invasion campaign eventually bottled Lee up in the Siege of Petersburg, so that Grant could take Richmond, and bring the war to a close in the spring of 1865.
Lincoln authorized Grant to target civilians and infrastructure, hoping to destroy the South's morale and weaken its economic ability to continue fighting. This allowed Generals Sherman and Sheridan to destroy farms and towns in the Shenandoah Valley, Georgia, and South Carolina. The damage caused by Sherman's March to the Sea through Georgia totaled in excess of $100 million by Sherman's own estimate.
Lincoln had a star-crossed record as a military leader, possessing a keen understanding of strategic points (such as the Mississippi River and the fortress city of Vicksburg) and the importance of defeating the enemy's army, rather than simply capturing cities. He had, however, limited success in motivating his commanders to adopt his strategies until late 1863, when he found a man who shared his vision of the war in Ulysses S. Grant. Only then could he insist on using African American troops and relentlessly pursue a series of coordinated offensives in multiple theaters.
Throughout the war, Lincoln showed a keen curiosity with the military campaigns. He spent hours at the War Department telegraph office, reading dispatches from his generals. He visited battle sites frequently, and seemed fascinated by watching scenes of war. During Jubal Anderson Early's raid on Washington, D.C. in 1864, Lincoln had to be told to duck to avoid being shot while observing the battle.
Near the end of the war, Lincoln made an extended visit to Grant's headquarters at City Point, Virginia. This allowed the president to visit Richmond after it was taken by the Union forces and to make a public gesture of sitting at Jefferson Davis's own desk, symbolically saying to the nation that the President of the United States held authority over the entire land. He was greeted at the city as a conquering hero by freed slaves, whose sentiments were epitomized by one admirer's quote, "I know I am free for I have seen the face of Father Abraham and have felt him." When a general asked Lincoln how the defeated Confederates should be treated, Lincoln replied, "Let 'em up easy. Lincoln arrived back in Washington on the evening of April 9, 1865, the day Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The war was effectively over. The other rebel armies surrendered soon after, and there was no subsequent guerrilla warfare.
Lincoln's rhetoric defined the issues of the war for the nation, the world, and posterity. The Gettysburg Address defied Lincoln's own prediction that "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here." His second inaugural address is also greatly admired and often quoted.
In recent years, historians have stressed Lincoln's use of and redefinition of republican values. As early as the 1850s, a time when most political rhetoric focused on the sanctity of the Constitution, Lincoln shifted emphasis to the Declaration of Independence as the foundation of American political values — what he called the "sheet anchor" of republicanism. The Declaration's emphasis on freedom and equality for all, rather than the Constitution's tolerance of slavers, shifted the debate. As Diggins concludes regarding the highly influential Cooper Union speech, "Lincoln presented Americans a theory of history that offers a profound contribution to the theory and destiny of republicanism itself. His position gained strength because he highlighted the moral basis of republicanism, rather than its legalisms. Nevertheless, in 1861 Lincoln justified the war in terms of legalisms (the Constitution was a contract, and for one party to get out of a contract all the other parties had to agree), and then in terms of the national duty to guarantee a "republican form of government" in every state. That duty was also the principle underlying federal intervention in Reconstruction.
In his Gettysburg Address Lincoln redefined the American nation, arguing that it was born not in 1789 but in 1776, "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." He declared that the sacrifices of battle had rededicated the nation to the propositions of democracy and equality, "that this nation 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." By emphasizing the centrality of the nation, he rebuffed the claims of state sovereignty. While some critics say Lincoln moved too far and too fast, they agree that he dedicated the nation to values that marked "a new founding of the nation.
In 1862, Lincoln sent a senior general, John Pope, to put down the "Sioux Uprising" in Minnesota. Presented with 303 death warrants for convicted Santee Dakota who had massacred innocent farmers, Lincoln affirmed 39 of these for execution (one was later reprieved).
As a child, Lincoln was tall for his age. He reached his adult height of no later than age 21. Friends noticed his arms, legs, hands, and feet were long. Although well muscled as a young adult, he was always thin. Fragmentary evidence says he weighed around 170 pounds before the Presidency, but lost weight while in the White House. Based on Lincoln's unusual physical appearance, Dr. Abraham Gordon proposed in 1962 that Lincoln had Marfan syndrome. Lincoln's unremarkable cardiovascular history and his normal visual acuity have been the chief objections to the theory, and today the diagnosis is considered unlikely. Testing Lincoln's DNA for Marfan syndrome was contemplated in the 1990s, but such a test was not performed.
In 2007, Dr. John Sotos proposed that Lincoln had multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 2B (MEN2B). This theory suggests Lincoln had all the major features of the disease: a marfan-like body shape, large, bumpy lips, constipation, hypotonia, a history compatible with cancer and a family history of the disorder - his sons Eddie, Willie, and Tad, and probably his mother. The "mole" on Lincoln's right cheek, the asymmetry of his face, his large jaw, his drooping eyelid, and "pseudo-depression" are also suggested as manifestations of MEN2B. Lincoln's longevity is the principal challenge to the MEN2B theory, which could be proven by DNA testing.
Originally, John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland, had formulated a plan to kidnap Lincoln in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners. After attending an April 11 speech in which Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks, an incensed Booth changed his plans and determined to assassinate the president. Learning that the President and First Lady would be attending Ford's Theatre, he laid his plans, assigning his co-conspirators to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward.
Without his main bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, to whom he related his famous dream regarding his own assassination, Lincoln left to attend the play Our American Cousin on April 14, 1865. As a lone bodyguard wandered, and Lincoln sat in his state box (Box 7) in the balcony, Booth crept up behind the President and waited for what he thought would be the funniest line of the play ("You sock-dologizing old man-trap"), hoping the laughter would muffle the noise of the gunshot. When the laughter began, Booth jumped into the box and aimed a single-shot, round-slug 0.44 caliber Henry Deringer at his head, firing at point-blank range. Major Henry Rathbone momentarily grappled with Booth but was cut by Booth's knife. Booth then leapt to the stage and shouted "Sic semper tyrannis!" (Thus always to tyrants) and escaped, despite a broken leg suffered in the leap. A twelve-day manhunt ensued, in which Booth was chased by Federal agents (under the direction of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton). He was eventually cornered in a Virginia barn house and shot, dying of his wounds soon after.
An army surgeon, Doctor Charles Leale, initially assessed Lincoln's wound as mortal. The President was taken across the street from the theater to the Petersen House, where he lay in a coma for nine hours before dying. Several physicians attended Lincoln, including U.S. Army Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes of the Army Medical Museum. Using a probe, Barnes located some fragments of Lincoln's skull and the ball lodged 6 inches (15 cm) inside his brain. Lincoln never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at 7:22:10 a.m. April 15, 1865. There is some disagreement among historians as to Stanton's words after Lincoln died. All agree that he began "Now he belongs to the..." with some stating he said "ages" while others believe he said "angels." After Lincoln's body was returned to the White House, a brain-only autopsy was performed, and his body was prepared for his lying in repose in the East Room. He was the first president to be assassinated or to lie in state.
The Army Medical Museum, now named the National Museum of Health and Medicine, has retained in its collection several artifacts relating to the assassination. Currently on display are the bullet that was fired from the Philadelphia Deringer pistol, the probe used by Barnes, pieces of Lincoln's skull and hair, and the surgeon's cuff stained with Lincoln's blood. The chair in which Lincoln was shot is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, Michigan.
Lincoln's body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession through several states on its way back to Illinois. While much of the nation mourned him as the savior of the United States, Copperheads celebrated the death of a man they considered a tyrant. The Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, is 177 feet (54 m) tall and, by 1874, was surmounted with several bronze statues of Lincoln. To prevent repeated attempts to steal Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom, Robert Todd Lincoln had Lincoln exhumed and reinterred in concrete several feet thick in 1901.
There were few people who strongly or directly influenced Lincoln’s moral and intellectual development and perspectives. There was no teacher, mentor, church leader, community leader, or peer that Lincoln would credit in later years as a strong influence on his intellectual development. Lacking a formal education, Lincoln’s personal philosophy was shaped by "an amazingly retentive memory and a passion for reading and learning." It was Lincoln’s reading, rather than his relationships, that were most influential in shaping his personal beliefs.
Lincoln did, even as a boy, largely reject organized religion, but the Calvinistic "doctrine of necessity" would remain a factor throughout his life. In 1846 Lincoln described the effect of this doctrine as "that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control. In April 1864, in justifying his actions in regard to Emancipation, Lincoln wrote, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it.
As Lincoln matured, and especially during his term as president, the idea of a divine will somehow interacting with human affairs more and more influenced his public expressions. On a personal level, the death of his son Willie in February 1862 may have caused Lincoln to look towards religion for answers and solace. After Willie’s death, in the summer or early fall of 1862, Lincoln attempted to put on paper his private musings on why, from a divine standpoint, the severity of the war was necessary:
Lincoln’s religious skepticism was fueled by his exposure to the ideas of the Lockean Enlightenment and classical liberalism, especially economic liberalism. Consistent with the common practice of the Whig party, Lincoln would often use the Declaration of Independence as the philosophical and moral expression of these two philosophies. In a February 22, 1861 speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia Lincoln said,
He found in the Declaration justification for Whig economic policy and opposition to territorial expansion and the nativist platform of the Know Nothings. In claiming that all men were created free, Lincoln and the Whigs argued that this freedom required economic advancement, expanded education, territory to grow, and the ability of the nation to absorb the growing immigrant population.
It was the Declaration of Independence, rather than the Bible, that Lincoln most relied on in order to oppose any further territorial expansion of slavery. He saw the Declaration as more than a political document. To him, as well as to many abolitionists and other antislavery leaders, it was, foremost, a moral document that had forever determined valuable criteria in shaping the future of the nation.
Lincoln's death made the President a martyr to many. Repeated polls of historians have ranked Lincoln as among the greatest presidents in U.S. history, often appearing in the first position. Among contemporary admirers, Lincoln is usually seen as personifying classical values of honesty and integrity, as well as respect for individual and minority rights, and human freedom in general.
Many American organizations of all purposes and agendas continue to cite his name and image, with interests ranging from the gay rights-supporting Log Cabin Republicans to the insurance corporation Lincoln National Corporation. The Lincoln automobile is also named after him. The ballistic missile submarine Abraham Lincoln (SSBN-602) and the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) were named in his honor. Also, the Liberty ship SS Nancy Hanks was named for his mother. During the Spanish Civil War, the American faction of the International Brigades named themselves the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
Lincoln has been memorialized in many city names, notably the capital of Nebraska. Lincoln, Illinois, is the only city to be named for Abraham Lincoln before he became President. Lincoln's name and image appear in numerous places. These include the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Lincoln $5 bill and the Lincoln cent, Lincoln's sculpture on the Mount Rushmore, and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. In addition, New Salem, Illinois (a reconstruction of Lincoln's early adult hometown), Ford's Theatre, and Petersen House (where he died) are all preserved as museums. The Lincoln Shrine in Redlands, California, is located behind the A.K. Smiley Public Library. The state nickname for Illinois is Land of Lincoln.
Counties in 18 U.S. states (Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) are named after Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln's birthday, February 12, was formerly a national holiday, now commemorated as Presidents' Day. However, it is still observed in Illinois and many other states as a separate legal holiday, Lincoln's Birthday. A dozen states have legal holidays celebrating the third Monday in February as 'Presidents' Day' as a combination Washington-Lincoln Day.
To commemorate his upcoming 200th birthday in February 2009, Congress established the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (ALBC) in 2000. Dedicated to renewing American appreciation of Lincoln’s legacy, the 15-member commission is made up of lawmakers and scholars and also features an advisory board of over 130 various Lincoln historians and enthusiasts. Located at Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the ALBC is the organizing force behind numerous tributes, programs and cultural events highlighting a two-year celebration scheduled to begin in February 2008 at Lincoln’s birthplace: Hodgenville, Kentucky.
Lincoln's birthplace and family home are national historic memorials: the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville, and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opened in Springfield in 2005; it is a major tourist attraction, with state-of-the-art exhibits. The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is located in Elwood, Illinois.
1856 Republican National Convention (Vice Presidential tally):
1860 Republican National Convention (Final Results on 3rd Ballot):
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