As the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln was well-known for leading the country through the American Civil War. He served from March 1861 until April 1865, when he became the first president to become assassinated. Lincoln also had other careers during his lifetime, becoming a country lawyer, member of the House of Representatives, and an Illinois state legislator. While only self-educated, he defeated many obstacles and achieved many victories. His eloquence was apparent in his thought-provoking speeches, including the most famous, the Gettysburg Address. He preserved the Union and promoted financial and economic modernization, while ending slavery.
Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, in a small log cabin on a farm in Hardin County, Kentucky. In 1816, he moved to non-slave territory of Indiana. Lincoln’s mother died in 1818 from milk sickness, when he was only nine years old. After his mother’s death, his older sister, Sarah, cared for Lincoln until 1819 when his father remarried.
As a pre-teen, Lincoln did not enjoy working the challenging jobs associated with frontier life, leading some to believe he was lazy. As he grew older, he became more responsible, taking on chores expected of him and work building rail fences. The Lincoln family moved west in 1830, due to fear of a milk sickness spread across the Ohio River. After settling in Illinois, 22-year-old Lincoln left home to seek a better life.
In 1832, Lincoln enlisted and was elected to be a captain of a group of volunteers in the Black Hawk War, under Colonel Zachary Taylor. Lincoln served 30 days, before signing on as a private in the mounted Rangers. He also joined the Independent Spy Corps. During his brief time in the military, Lincoln saw little action.
At the age of 23, Lincoln and a partner purchased a general store in Illinois. As the business continued to struggle, Lincoln sold his share. In March of 1832, he began his political career by building his first campaign for Illinois General Assembly. Lincoln finished eighth of the 13 candidates, although he received 277 of the 300 votes that were casted in his home town of New Salem.
Lincoln had several jobs during his early career, serving as New Salem’s postmaster, and later as the town’s county surveyor. He built a second campaign, and in 1834, won election to the state legislature. Lincoln then began teaching himself law, as he wanted to become a lawyer. Attorneys today can hardly imagine self-teaching themselves all that is involved in the legal profession. Any DUI attorney San Francisco would be impressed with Lincoln's accomplishment. He moved to Springfield, Illinois and practiced law under John T. Stuart. Lincoln served four terms as a Whig representative in the Illinois House of Representatives.
Lincoln was nominated for presidency, alongside Hannibal Hamlin, by the Republican Party. His success depended on his strong support for Whig-oriented programs, and his stand on the slavery issue. Democrats were divided with John Breckinridge for the National Democrats and Stephen Douglas for the other Democrats. Lincoln won the campaign in the end, obtaining 40 percent of the popular vote and acquiring 180 of the 303 electors.
In 1864, Lincoln fought for reelection against his opponent, George McClellan. The National Union Party, once the Republicans, had concern that Lincoln would not win. As Andrew Johnson as his Vice President, Lincoln built his platform around the failure of the war due to taken too many civil liberties away. Lincoln was reelected for president as the war turned in favor of the North during his campaign.
Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 while attending a play in Washington, D.C. at the Ford’s Theater. His assassin was actor John Wilkes Booth who shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Booth then jumped onto the stage and escaped to Maryland. Lincoln died from his wound on April 15th. Booth was found on April 26th, hiding in a barn that was set on fire. He was shot and killed, and eight more conspirators were punished for their roles in the crime.
For more information on the life and contributions of Abraham Lincoln, visit the following resources:
- The White House - Abraham Lincoln
- Abraham Lincoln Biography
- Miller Center – American President: Abraham Lincoln
- Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project
- The Lincoln Institute
- Lincoln Papers - Mr. Lincoln’s Virtual Library
- Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
- Facts about Abraham Lincoln
- Accomplishments of President Abraham Lincoln
- Ford’s Theatre – Biography of Abraham Lincoln