Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States and the first president to be assassinated. Although he was born a poor farmer in Kentucky, Lincoln worked as a lawyer and served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives and the U.S. Congress before winning the presidential office in 1860.
Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809 in a cabin three miles south of Hodgenville, Kentucky. Lincoln’s father, Thomas, was the descendant of a weaver’s apprentice who moved to Massachusetts from England in 1637. It is speculated that his mother, Nancy Hanks, was an illegitimate child. Lincoln had two siblings, Sarah and Thomas, but Thomas died in infancy.
Lincoln’s father moved the family to a farm in Indiana after losing their farm in Kentucky due to a lawsuit. Lincoln helped tend the family crops but disliked hunting and fishing. When he was ten years old, Lincoln’s mother died suddenly of “milk sickness,” caused by drinking milk from a cow that fed on poisonous plants. His father remarried a few years later and Lincoln grew close to his new stepmother.
Thomas Lincoln moved his family to Illinois when Abraham was 21 years old. Lincoln, who was six foot four, was described as a tall, muscular, good-natured, yet moody young man. It has been speculated that Lincoln suffered from depression, an illness that plagued him his entire life. After moving to Illinois, Lincoln had no interest in farming and tried many jobs, such working as a rail-splitter, flat boatman, storekeeper, postman, surveyor and volunteer in the Black Hawk War before deciding to run as a legislator for the state assembly. Lincoln won his first election for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly in 1834. He was reelected again in 1836, 1838, and 1840 but then decided to leave politics and study law instead, eventually becoming a professional lawyer.
After many years of single life, Lincoln met Mary Todd and proposed to her in 1841. Mary was from an educated, well-to-do family and Lincoln often felt inadequate around her family. The couple broke up shortly after the engagement but quickly reconciled and were married on November 4, 1842. The couple had four boys, Willie, Robert Todd, Thomas and Edward.
Back to Politics
Lincoln was known as a critical, freethinker. His lack of religious faith was often used against him in his political career. When Lincoln ran for Congress in 1846, he distributed a handbill defending himself against rumors that he spoke openly against religion.
Lincoln won his bid for Congress in 1847. He did not seek renomination after serving his two-year term and was offered the job of secretary and then governor of Oregon territory. He turned down both offers and continued practicing law. Lincoln returned to politics again and ran unsuccessfully for a seat as a U.S. senator in 1855 and again in 1858, before he was elected President of the United States in 1860.
Abraham Lincoln’s legacy as president is defined by his actions during the Civil War and his support of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th amendment. Lincoln’s election in 1860 was the last straw in the slow build up to the Civil War. Despite his anti-slavery stance, Lincoln believed slavery should be contained to the south, not eliminated completely, and did not believe in equality between the races. This still did not persuade southerners that he would protect their ownership of slaves. Even before Lincoln’s inauguration, South Carolina withdrew from the union. This lead many other states to secede and Lincoln was forced to take action. In his inaugural address Lincoln declared:
“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.”
Fighting began the next month when Lincoln sent 75,000 troops to recapture forts taken by the rebels. The fighting continued for two years before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, in January of 1863, in an attempt to weaken the rebellion. This law did not abolish slavery, the 13th amendment did that, but did free slaves in seceded states the were not occupied by Union forces.
In 1864, Lincoln campaigned against New York democrat George B. McClellan and won reelection. The war finally ended a few months later in 1865 after the south lost a series of battles and admitted defeat.
Lincoln joined his wife at the Ford’s Theater on the night of April 14, 1865 to a watch a play titled “Our American Cousin.” An actor and loyal Confederate, John Wilkes Booth, whom was one of Lincoln’s favorite actors, discovered Lincoln planned to attend the performance that night and made his way to the theater. Later that night, Booth approached the presidential box during the third act of the play and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Booth then jumped of the balcony and broke a bone in his left leg when he landed on the stage. He shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” (The Virginia state motto meaning: Thus always to tyrants) and then shouted “The south is avenged!” before making his escape.
The bullet lodged in Lincoln’s brain and paralyzed him yet did not kill him instantly. Lincoln was carried across the street to a boarding house where a doctor tried desperately to save his life. There he laid for 9 hours before finally dying of his wounds.
National Park Service: Lincoln Chronology: http://www.nps.gov/liho/historyculture/lincolnchronology.htm
The White House: Abraham Lincoln: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/abrahamlincoln
Encyclopedia Britannica: John Wilkes Booth: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/73713/John-Wilkes-Booth
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=l000313
Biography: Abraham Lincoln Biography: http://www.biography.com/articles/Abraham-Lincoln-9382540