Biography of President Lincoln and past presidents courtesy of the White House Historical Association.
Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States in 1861, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation that declared slaves within the Confederacy free forever in 1863.
Lincoln warned the South in his inaugural address: “In your hands, my dissatisfied countrymen, and not mine, lies the momentous issue of civil war. The government is not going to attack you…. you have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I will have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.”
Lincoln thought secession was illegal and was willing to use force to uphold federal law and the union. when confederate batteries fired on fort sumter and forced its surrender, he asked the states for 75,000 volunteers. four more slave states joined the confederation but four remained within the union. the civil war had begun.
The son of a Kentucky frontiersman, Lincoln had to struggle to earn a living and learn. five months before receiving the nomination for party chairman from him, he sketched his life:
“I was born in February. December 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. my parents were born in virginia, from undistinguished families, second families, maybe i should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was from a family named Hanks…. my father… moved from kentucky to… indiana, in my eighth year… it was a wild country, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. there I grew up…. Of course, when I came of age, I didn’t know much. somehow, it could read, write and encrypt… but that was all.”
lincoln went to extraordinary lengths to gain knowledge while working on a farm, cutting fence railings, and storing supplies in new salem, illinois. He was a captain in the black hawk warfare, spent eight years in the illinois legislature, and was on the court circuit for many years. His law partner said of him, “His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.”
he married mary todd and they had four children, only one of whom lived to maturity. In 1858 Lincoln competed against Stephen A. douglas for senator He lost the election, but by debating Douglas he earned a national reputation that earned him the Republican nomination for president in 1860.
as president, he built the republican party into a strong national organization. moreover, he rallied most of the Northern Democrats for the union cause. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared slaves within the Confederacy free forever.
Lincoln never let the world forget that the civil war involved an even bigger problem. This he stated most poignantly in dedicating the military cemetery at Gettysburg: “That we here firmly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of liberty, and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln won re-election in 1864, when union military triumphs heralded the end of the war. In planning his peace, the president was flexible and generous, encouraging southerners to lay down their arms and quickly join the meeting.
The spirit that guided him was clearly that of his second inaugural address, now inscribed on a wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. c.: “without malice towards any; with charity for all; firmly in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bandage the wounds of the nation… ”
on good friday, april 14, 1865, lincoln was assassinated at ford’s theater in washington by john wilkes booth, an actor, who somehow thought he was helping the south. The result was the opposite, because with the death of Lincoln, the possibility of peace with magnanimity died.
Learn more about Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.