Abraham Lincoln made a name for himself as an outspoken state congressman and lawyer before gaining national attention over his debates with Stephen Douglas during the 1958 Illinois senatorial race. Lincoln's court-proven legal prowess made him one of the most prominent politicians in the state. His candid personality and philosophical framing of the issues helped propel him to the presidency.
Lincoln began his public career in 1832, with a bid for the Illinois state legislature. He lost the election, but his affable nature made him popular in the locality, helping him win consecutively from 1834 to 1840. There, his antislavery position brought him to the inner circle of the state Whig party.
Around this time, Lincoln passed the bar exam and opened a private practice. He proved to be a skilled litigator. His extensive work in cases related to the new railroad system bolstered both his personal fortune - his $5,000 income exceeded the governor's salary - and his reputation.
Lincoln's local fame allowed him to finally win a seat in the House of Representatives in 1846. His opposition to the Mexican War won him the party's trust, even though it hurt his image with the general population. Throughout the 1850s, Lincoln unsuccessfully ran for political office. His campaign speeches during this decade, often filled with insightful philosophical rhetoric regarding the slavery issue, catapulted him to the center stage of the newly formed Republican Party.