Birthplace: Hardin County, KY
Location of death: Washington, DC
Cause of death: Assassination
Remains: Buried, Oak Ridge Cemetery and Abbey, Springfield, IL
Religion: Atheist 
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight 
Occupation: Head of State, Attorney
Party Affiliation: Republican
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: 16th US President, 1861-65
Sixteenth president of the United States of America, was born on Rock Spring farm, 3 miles from Hodgenville, in Hardin (now Larue) county, Kentucky, on the 12th of February 1809. His grandfather, also Abraham Lincoln, settled in Kentucky about 1780 and was killed by Indians in 1784. His father, Thomas, was born in Rockingham (then Augusta) county, Virginia; he was hospitable, shiftless, restless and unsuccessful, working now as a carpenter and now as a farmer, and could not read or write before his marriage, in Washington county, Kentucky, on the 12th of June 1806, to Nancy Hanks, who was, like him, a native of Virginia, but had much more strength of character and native ability, and seemed to have been in intellect and character distinctly above the social class in which she was born.
The Lincolns had removed from Elizabethtown, Hardin County, their first home, to the Rock Spring farm, only a short time before Abraham's birth; about 1813 they removed to a farm of 238 acres on Knob Creek, about 6 miles from Hodgenville; and in 1816 they crossed the Ohio River and settled on a quarter-section, 1.5 miles east of the present village of Gentryville, in Spencer county, Indiana. There Abraham's mother died on the 5th of October 1818. In December 1819 his father married, at his old home, Elizabethtown, Mrs. Sarah (Bush) Johnston (d. 1869), whom he had courted years before, whose thrift greatly improved conditions in the home, and who exerted a great influence over her stepson. Spencer County was still a wilderness, and the boy grew up in pioneer surroundings, living in a rude log cabin, enduring many hardships and knowing only the primitive manners, conversation and ambitions of sparsely settled backwoods communities.
Schools were rare, and teachers qualified only to impart the merest rudiments. "Of course when I came of age I did not know much", he wrote years afterward, "still somehow I could read, write and cipher to the rule of three, but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity." His entire schooling, in five different schools, amounted to less than a year; but he became a good speller and an excellent penman. His own mother taught him to read, and his stepmother urged him to study. He read and re-read in early boyhood the Bible, Aesop, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress, Weems's Life of Washington and a history of the United States; and later read every book he could borrow from the neighbors, Robert Burns and William Shakespeare becoming favorites. He wrote rude, coarse satires, crude verse, and compositions on the American government, temperance, etc. At the age of seventeen he had attained his full height, and began to be known as a wrestler, runner and lifter of great weights. When nineteen he made a journey as a hired hand on a flatboat to New Orleans.
In March 1830 his father emigrated to Macon county, Illinois (near the present Decatur), and soon afterward removed to Coles county. Being now twenty-one years of age, Abraham hired himself to Denton Offutt, a migratory trader and storekeeper then of Sangamon county, and he helped Offutt to build a flatboat and float it down the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. In 1831 Offutt made him clerk of his country store at New Salem, a small and unsuccessful settlement in Menard county; this gave him moments of leisure to devote to self-education. He borrowed a grammar and other books, sought explanations from the village schoolmaster and began to read law. In this frontier community law and politics claimed a large proportion of the stronger and the more ambitious men; the law early appealed to Lincoln and his general popularity encouraged him as early as 1832 to enter politics. In this year Offutt failed and Lincoln was thus left without employment.
He became a candidate for the Illinois House of Representatives; and on the 9th of March 1832 issued an address "To the people of Sangamon county" which betokens talent and education far beyond mere ability to "read, write and cipher", though in its preparation he seems to have had the help of a friend. Before the election the Black Hawk Indian War broke out; Lincoln volunteered in one of the Sangamon county companies on the 21st of April and was elected captain by the members of the company. It is said that the oath of allegiance was administered to Lincoln at this time by Lt. Jefferson Davis. The company, a part of the 4th Illinois, was mustered out after the five weeks service for which it volunteered, and Lincoln reenlisted as a private on the 29th of May, and was finally mustered out on the 16th of June by Lt. Robert Anderson, who in 1861 commanded the Union troops at Fort Sumter. As captain Lincoln was twice in disgrace, once for firing a pistol near camp and again because nearly his entire company was intoxicated. He was in no battle, and always spoke lightly of his military record.
He was defeated in his campaign for the legislature in 1832, partly because of his unpopular adherence to Henry Clay and the American system, but in his own election precinct, he received nearly all the votes cast. With a friend, William Berry, he then bought a small country store, which soon failed chiefly because of the drunken habits of Berry and because Lincoln preferred to read and to tell stories -- he early gained local celebrity as a storyteller -- rather than sell; about this time be got hold of a set of Blackstone, the English law books. In the spring of 1833 the store's stock was sold to satisfy its creditors, and Lincoln assumed the firm's debts, which he did not fully pay off for fifteen years. In May 1833, local friendship, disregarding politics, procured his appointment as postmaster of New Salem, but this paid him very little, and in the same year the county surveyor of Sangamon county opportunely offered to make him one of his deputies. He hastily qualified himself by study, and entered upon the practical duties of surveying farm lines, roads and town sites. "This", to use his own words, "procured bread, and kept body and soul together."
In 1834 Lincoln was elected (second of four successful candidates, with only 14 fewer votes than the first) a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, to which he was re-elected in 1836, 1838 and 1840, serving until 1842. In his announcement of his candidacy in 1836 he promised to vote for Hugh L. White of Tennessee (a vigorous opponent of Andrew Jackson in Tennessee politics) for president, and said: "I go for all sharing the privileges of the government who assist in bearing its burdens. Consequently, I go for admitting all whites to the right of suffrage, who pay taxes or bear arms (by no means excluding females)" -- a sentiment frequently quoted to prove Lincoln a believer in woman's suffrage. In this election he led the poll in Sangamon county. In the legislature, like the other representatives of that county, who were called the "Long Nine" because of their stature, he worked for internal improvements, for which lavish appropriations were made, and for the division of Sangamon county and the choice of Springfield as the state capital, instead of Vandalia. He and his party colleagues followed Stephen A. Douglas in adopting the convention system, to which Lincoln had been strongly opposed.
In 1837 with one other representative from Sangamon county, named Dan Stone, he protested against a series of resolutions, adopted by the Illinois General Assembly, expressing disapproval of the formation of abolition societies and asserting, among other things, that "the right of property in slaves is sacred to the slave holding states under the Federal Constitution"; and Lincoln and Stone put out a paper in which they expressed their belief "that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than abate its evils", "that the Congress of the United States has no power under the Constitution to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different states", "that the Congress of the United States has the power, under the Constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, but that the power ought not to be exercised unless at the request of the people of the District." Lincoln was very popular among his fellow legislators, and in 1838 and in 1840 he received the complimentary vote of his minority colleagues for the speakership of the state House of Representatives. In 1842 he declined a renomination to the state legislature and attempted unsuccessfully to secure a nomination to Congress. In the same year he became interested in the Washingtonian temperance movement.
In 1846 he was elected a member of the National House of Representatives by a majority of 1511 over his Democratic opponent, Peter Cartwright, the Methodist preacher. Lincoln was the only Whig member of Congress elected in Illinois in 1846. In the House of Representatives on the 22nd of December 1847 he introduced the "Spot Resolutions", which quoted statements in the president's messages of the 11th of May 1846 and the 7th and 8th of December that Mexican troops had invaded the territory of the United States, and asked the president to tell the precise "spot" of invasion; he made a speech on these resolutions in the House on the 12th of January 1848. His attitude toward the war and especially his vote for George Ashmun's amendment to the supply bill at this session, declaring that the Mexican War was "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President", greatly displeased his constituents. He later introduced a bill regarding slavery in the District of Columbia, which (in accordance with his statement of 1837) was to be submitted to the vote of the District for approval, and which provided for compensated emancipation, forbade the bringing of slaves into the District of Columbia, except by government officials from slave states, and the selling of slaves away from the District, and arranged for the emancipation after a period of apprenticeship of all slave children born after the 1st of January 1850. While he was in Congress he voted repeatedly for the principle of the Wilmot Proviso. At the close of his term in 1848 he declined an appointment as governor of the newly organized Territory of Oregon and for a time worked, without success, for an appointment as Commissioner of the General Land Office. During the presidential campaign he made speeches in Illinois, and in Massachusetts he spoke before the Whig State Convention at Worcester on the 12th of September, and in the next ten days at Lowell, Dedham, Roxbury, Chelsea, Cambridge and Boston. He had become an eloquent and influential public speaker, and in 1840 and 1844 was a candidate on the Whig ticket for presidential elector.
In 1834 his political friend and colleague John Todd Stuart (1807-1885), a lawyer in full practice, had urged him to fit himself for the bar, and had lent him textbooks; and Lincoln, working diligently, was admitted to the bar in September 1836. In April 1837 he left New Salem and removed to Springfield, which was the county seat and was soon to become the capital of the state, to begin practice in a partnership with Stuart, which was terminated in April 1841; from that time until September 1843 he was junior partner to Stephen Trigg Logan (1800-1880), and from 1843 until his death he was senior partner of William Henry Herndon (1818-1891). Between 1849 and 1854 he took little part in politics, devoted himself to the law and became one of the leaders of the Illinois bar. His small fees -- he once charged $3.50 for collecting an account of nearly $600 -- his frequent refusals to take cases which he did not think right and his attempts to prevent unnecessary litigation have become proverbial. Judge David Davis, who knew Lincoln on the Illinois circuit and whom Lincoln made in October 1862 an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, said that he was "great both at nisi prius and before an appellate tribunal." He was an excellent cross-examiner, whose candid friendliness of manner often succeeded in eliciting important testimony from unwilling witnesses.
Among Lincoln's most famous cases were: one (Bailey v. Cromwell, frequently cited) before the Illinois Supreme Court in July, 1841 in which he argued against the validity of a note in payment for a Negro girl, adducing the Ordinance of 1787 and other authorities; a case (tried in Chicago in September 1857) for the Rock Island railway, sued for damages by the owners of a steamboat sunk after collision with a railway bridge, a trial in which Lincoln brought to the service of his client a surveyor's knowledge of mathematics and a riverman's acquaintance with currents and channels, and argued that crossing a stream by bridge was as truly a common right as navigating it by boat, thus contributing to the success of Chicago and railway commerce in the contest against St. Louis and river transportation; the defense (at Beardstown in May 1858) on the charge of murder of William ("Duff") Armstrong, son of one of Lincoln's New Salem friends, whom Lincoln freed by controverting with the help of an almanac the testimony of a crucial witness that between 10 and 11 o'clock at night he had seen by moonlight the defendant strike the murderous blow -- this dramatic incident is described in Edward Eggleston's novel, The Graysons; and the defense on the charge of murder (committed in August 1859) of "Peachy" Harrison, a grandson of Peter Cartwright, whose testimony was used with great effect.
From law, however, Lincoln was soon drawn irresistibly back into politics. The slavery question, in one form or another, had become the great overshadowing issue in national, and even in state politics; the abolition movement, begun in earnest by William Lloyd Garrison in 1831, had stirred the conscience of the North, and had had its influence even upon many who strongly deprecated its extreme radicalism; the Compromise of 1850 had failed to silence sectional controversy, and the Fugitive Slave Law, which was one of the compromise measures, had throughout the North been bitterly assailed and to a considerable extent had been nullified by state legislation; and finally in 1854 the slavery agitation was fomented by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and gave legislative sanction to the principle of "popular sovereignty" -- the principle that the inhabitants of each Territory as well as of each state were to be left free to decide for themselves whether or not slavery was to be permitted therein. In enacting this measure Congress had been dominated largely by one man -- Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois -- then probably the most powerful figure in national politics. Lincoln had early put himself on record as opposed to slavery, but he was never technically an abolitionist; he allied himself rather with those who believed that slavery should be fought within the Constitution, that, though it could not be constitutionally interfered with in individual states, it should be excluded from territory over which the national government had jurisdiction.
In this, as in other things, he was eminently clear-sighted and practical. Already he had shown his capacity as a forcible and able debater; aroused to new activity upon the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, which he regarded as a gross breach of political faith, he now entered upon public discussion with an earnestness and force that by common consent gave him leadership in Illinois of the opposition, which in 1854 elected a majority of the legislature; and it gradually became clear that he was the only man who could be opposed in debate to the powerful and adroit Douglas. He was elected to the state House of Representatives, from which he immediately resigned to become a candidate for United States senator from Illinois, to succeed James Shields, a Democrat; but five opposition members, of Democratic antecedents, refused to vote for Lincoln (on the second ballot he received 47 votes -- 50 being necessary to elect) and he turned the votes which he controlled over to Lyman Trumbull, who was opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and thus secured the defeat of Joel Aldrich Matteson (1808-1883), who favored this act and who on the eighth ballot had received 47 votes to 35 for Trumbull and 15 for Lincoln.
The various anti-Nebraska elements came together, in Illinois as elsewhere, to form a new party at a time when the old parties were disintegrating; and in 1856 the Republican party was formally organized in the state. Lincoln before the state convention at Bloomington of "all opponents of anti-Nebraska legislation" (the first Republican state convention in Illinois) made on the 29th of May a notable address known as the "Lost Speech." The National Convention of the Republican Party in 1856 cast 110 votes for Lincoln as its vice-presidential candidate on the ticket with John C. Fremont, and he was on the Republican electoral ticket of this year, and made effective campaign speeches in the interest of the new party. The campaign in the state resulted substantially in a drawn battle, the Democrats gaining a majority in the state for president, while the Republicans elected the governor and state officers. In 1858 the term of Douglas in the United States Senate was expiring, and he sought re-election. On the 16th of June 1858 by unanimous resolution of the Republican state convention Lincoln was declared "the first and only choice of the Republicans of Illinois for the United States Senate as the successor of Stephen A. Douglas", who was the choice of his own party to succeed himself. Lincoln, addressing the convention which nominated him, gave expression to the following bold prophecy:
A house divided against itself cannot stand. 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. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new -- North as well as South.
In this speech, delivered in the state House of Representatives, Lincoln charged Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Roger Brooke Taney and Douglas with conspiracy to secure the Dred Scott decision. Yielding to the wish of his party friends, on the 24th of July, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a joint public discussion. The antagonists met in debate at seven designated places in the state. The first meeting was at Ottawa, La Salle County, about 90 miles southwest of Chicago, on the 21st of August. At Freeport, on the Wisconsin boundary, on the 27th of August, Lincoln answered questions put to him by Douglas, and by his questions forced Douglas to "betray the South" by his enunciation of the "Freeport heresy", that, no matter what the character of Congressional legislation or the Supreme Court's decision "slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere unless it is supported by local police regulations." This adroit attempt to reconcile the principle of popular sovereignty with the Dred Scott decision, though it undoubtedly helped Douglas in the immediate fight for the senatorship, necessarily alienated his Southern supporters and assured his defeat, as Lincoln foresaw it must, in the presidential campaign of 1860. The other debates were: at Jonesboro, in the southern part of the state, on the 15th of September; at Charleston, 150 miles northeast of Jonesboro, on the 18th of September; and, in the western part of the state, at Galesburg (October 7), Quincy (October 13) and Alton (October 15).
In these debates Douglas, the champion of his party, was overmatched in clearness and force of reasoning, and lacked the great moral earnestness of his opponent; but he dexterously extricated himself time and again from difficult argumentative positions, and retained sufficient support to win the immediate prize. At the November election the Republican vote was 126,084, the Douglas Democratic vote was 121,940 and the Lecompton (or Buchanan) Democratic vote was 5091; but the Democrats, through a favorable apportionment of representative districts, secured a majority of the legislature (Senate: 14 Democrats, 11 Republicans; House 40 Democrats, 35 Republicans), which re-elected Douglas. Lincoln's speeches in this campaign won him a national fame. In 1859 he made two speeches in Ohio -- one at Columbus on the 16th of September criticizing Douglas's paper in the September Harper's Magazine, and one at Cincinnati on the 17th of September, which was addressed to Kentuckians -- and he spent a few days in Kansas, speaking in Elwood, Troy, Doniphan, Atchison and Leavenworth, in the first week of December. On the 27th of February 1860 in Cooper Union, New York City, he made a speech (much the same as that delivered in Elwood, Kansas, on the 1st of December) which made him known favorably to the leaders of the Republican party in the East and which was a careful historical study criticizing the statement of Douglas in one of his speeches in Ohio that "our fathers when they framed the government under which we live understood this question [slavery] just as well and even better than we do now", and Douglas's contention that "the fathers" made the country (and intended that it should remain) part slave. Lincoln pointed out that the majority of the members of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 opposed slavery and that they did not think that Congress had no power to control slavery in the Territories. He spoke at Concord, Manchester, Exeter and Dover in New Hampshire, at Hartford (5th March), New Haven (6th March), Woonsocket (8th March) and Norwich (9th March). The Illinois State Convention of the Republican party, held at Decatur on the 9th and 10th of May 1860, amid great enthusiasm declared Abraham Lincoln its first choice for the presidential nomination, and instructed the delegation to the National Convention to cast the vote of the state as a unit for him.
The Republican national convention, which made "No Extension of Slavery" the essential part of the party platform, met at Chicago on the 16th of May 1860. At this time William Henry Seward was the most conspicuous Republican in national politics, and Salmon P. Chase had long been in the forefront of the political contest against slavery. Both had won greater national fame than had Lincoln, and, before the convention met, each hoped to be nominated for president. Chase, however, had little chance, and the contest was virtually between Seward and Lincoln, who by many was considered more available, because it was thought that he could (and Seward could not) secure the vote of certain doubtful states. Lincoln's name was presented by Illinois and seconded by Indiana. At first Seward had the strongest support.
On the first ballot Lincoln received only 102 votes to 173.5 for Seward. On the second ballot Lincoln received 181 votes to Seward's 184.5. On the third ballot the 50.5 votes formerly given to Simon Cameroni (who became Lincoln's Secretary of War) were given to Lincoln, who received 231.5 votes to 180 for Seward, and without taking another ballot enough votes were changed to make Lincoln's total 354 (233 being necessary for a choice) and the nomination was then made unanimous. Hannibal Hamlin, of Maine, was nominated for the vice-presidency. The convention was singularly tumultuous and noisy; large claques were hired by both Lincoln's and Seward's managers. During the campaign Lincoln remained in Springfield, making few speeches and writing practically no letters for publication. The campaign was unusually animated -- only the Whig campaign for William Henry Harrison in 1840 is comparable to it; there were great torchlight processions of "wide-awake" clubs, which did "rail-fence", or zigzag, marches, and carried rails in honor of their candidate, the "rail-splitter." Lincoln was elected by a popular vote of 1,866,452 to 1,375,157 for Douglas, 847,953 for John C. Breckinridge and 590,631 for Bell -- as the combined vote of his opponents was so much greater than his own he was often called the "minority president"; the electoral vote was: Lincoln, 180; John C. Breckinridge, 72; John Bell, 39; Stephen A. Douglas, 12. On the 4th of March 1861 Lincoln was inaugurated as president.
During the campaign radical leaders in the South frequently asserted that the success of the Republicans at the polls would mean that the rights of the slave-holding states under the Federal constitution, as interpreted by them, would no longer be respected by the North, and that, if Lincoln were elected, it would be the duty of these slave-holding states to secede from the Union. There was much opposition in these states to such a course, but the secessionists triumphed, and by the time President Lincoln was inaugurated, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas had formally withdrawn from the Union. A provisional government under the designation "The Confederate States of America", with Jefferson Davis as president, was organized by the seceding states, which seized by force nearly all the forts, arsenals and public buildings within their limits.
Great division of sentiment existed in the North, whether in this emergency acquiescence or coercion was the preferable policy. Lincoln's inaugural address declared the Union perpetual and acts of secession void, and announced the determination of the government to defend its authority, and to hold forts and places yet in its possession. He disclaimed any intention to invade, subjugate or oppress the seceding states. "You can have no conflict", he said, "without being yourselves the aggressors." Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor, had been besieged by the secessionists since January; and, it being now on the point of surrender through starvation, Lincoln sent the besiegers official notice on the 8th of April that a fleet was on its way to carry provisions to the fort, but that he would not attempt to reinforce it unless this effort were resisted. The Confederates, however, immediately ordered its reduction, and after a thirty-four hours' bombardment the garrison capitulated on the 13th of April 1861.
With civil war thus provoked, Lincoln, on the 15th of April, by proclamation called 75,000 three months' militia under arms, and on the 4th of May ordered the further enlistment of 64,748 soldiers and 18,000 seamen for three years' service. He instituted by proclamation of the 19th of April a blockade of the Southern ports, took effective steps to extemporize a navy, convened Congress in special session (on the 4th of July), and asked for legislation and authority to make the war "short, sharp and decisive." The country responded with enthusiasm to his summons and suggestions; and the South on its side was not less active.
The slavery question presented vexatious difficulties in conducting the war. Congress in August 1861 passed an act (approved August 6th) confiscating rights of slave-owners to slaves employed in hostile service against the Union. On the 30th of August General Fremont by military order declared martial law and confiscation against active enemies, with freedom to their slaves, in the State of Missouri. Believing that under existing conditions such a step was both detrimental in present policy and unauthorized in law, President Lincoln directed him (2nd September) to modify the order to make it conform to the Confiscation Act of Congress, and on the 11th of September annulled the parts of the order which conflicted with this act. Strong political factions were instantly formed for and against military emancipation, and the government was hotly beset by antagonistic counsel. The Unionists of the border slave states were greatly alarmed, but Lincoln by his moderate conservatism held them to the military support of the government.
Meanwhile he sagaciously prepared the way for the supreme act of statesmanship which the gathering national crisis already dimly foreshadowed. On the 6th of March 1862, he sent a special message to Congress recommending the passage of a resolution offering pecuniary aid from the general government to induce states to adopt gradual abolishment of slavery. Promptly passed by Congress, the resolution produced no immediate result except in its influence on public opinion. A practical step, however, soon followed. In April Congress passed and the president approved (6th April) an act emancipating the slaves in the District of Columbia, with compensation to owners -- a measure which Lincoln had proposed when in Congress. Meanwhile slaves of loyal masters were constantly escaping to military camps. Some commanders excluded them altogether; others surrendered them on demand; while still others sheltered and protected them against their owners. Lincoln tolerated this latitude as falling properly within the military discretion pertaining to local army operations.
A new case, however, soon demanded his official interference. On the 9th of May 1862 General David Hunter, commanding in the limited areas gained along the southern coast, issued a short order declaring his department under martial law, and adding -- "Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible. The persons in these three States -- Georgia, Florida and South Carolina -- heretofore held as slaves are, therefore, declared for ever free." As soon as this order, by the slow method of communication by sea, reached the newspapers, Lincoln (May 19) published a proclamation declaring it void; adding further, "Whether it be competent for me as commander-in-chief of the army and navy to declare the slaves of any state or states free, and whether at any time or in any case it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the government to exercise such supposed power, are questions which under my responsibility I reserve to myself, and which I cannot feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field. These are totally different questions from those of police regulations in armies or camps." But in the same proclamation Lincoln recalled to the public his own proposal and the assent of Congress to compensate states which would adopt voluntary and gradual abolishment. "To the people of these states now", he added, "I must earnestly appeal. I do not argue. I beseech you to make the argument for yourselves. You cannot, if you would, be blind to the signs of the times."
Meanwhile the anti-slavery sentiment of the North constantly increased. Congress by express act (approved on the 19th of June) prohibited the existence of slavery in all territories outside of states. On July the 12th the president called the representatives of the border slave states to the executive mansion, and once more urged upon them his proposal of compensated emancipation. "If the war continues long", he said, "as it must if the object be not sooner attained, the institution in your states will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion -- by the mere incidents of the war. It will be gone, and you will have nothing valuable in lieu of it." Although Lincoln's appeal brought the border states to no practical decision -- the representatives of these states almost without exception opposed the plan -- it served to prepare public opinion for his final act. During the month of July his own mind reached the virtual determination to give slavery its coup de grāce; on the 17th he approved a new Confiscation Act, much broader than that of the 6th of August 1861 (which freed only those slaves in military service against the Union) and giving to the president power to employ persons of African descent for the suppression of the rebellion; and on the 22nd he submitted to his cabinet the draft of an emancipation proclamation substantially as afterward issued. Serious military reverses constrained him for the present to withhold it, while on the other hand they served to increase the pressure upon him from anti-slavery men. Horace Greeley having addressed a public letter to him complaining of "the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the rebels", the president replied on the 22nd of August, saying, "My paramount object is to save the Union, and not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and, if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that." Thus still holding back violent reformers with one hand, and leading up halting conservatives with the other, he on the 13th of September replied among other things to an address from a delegation: "I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will see must necessarily be inoperative like the pope's bull against the comet... I view this matter as a practical war measure, to be decided on according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion... I have not decided against a proclamation of liberty to the slaves, but hold the matter under advisement."
The year 1862 had opened with important Union victories. Admiral A. H. Foote captured Fort Henry on the 6th of February, and General Ulysses S. Grant captured Fort Donelson on the 16th of February, and won the battle of Shiloh on the 6th and 7th of April. General Ambrose Burnside took possession of Roanoke island on the North Carolina coast (7th February). The famous contest between the new ironclads "Monitor" and "Merrimac" (9th April), though indecisive, effectually stopped the career of the Confederate vessel, which was later destroyed by the Confederates themselves. David Farragut, with a wooden fleet, ran past the twin forts St. Philip and Jackson, compelled the surrender of New Orleans (26th April), and gained control of the lower Mississippi. The succeeding three months brought disaster and discouragement to the Union army. George B. McClellan's campaign against Richmond was made abortive by his timorous generalship, and compelled the withdrawal of his army. John Pope's army, advancing against the same city by another line, was beaten back upon Washington in defeat. The tide of war, however, once more turned in the defeat of Robert E. Lee's invading army at South Mountain and Antietam in Maryland on the 14th and on the 16th and 17th of September, compelling him to retreat.
With public opinion thus ripened by alternate defeat and victory, President Lincoln, on the 22nd of September 2862, issued his preliminary proclamation of emancipation, giving notice that on the 1st of January 1863, "all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward and for ever free." In his message to Congress on the 1st of December following, he again urged his plan of gradual, compensated emancipation (to be completed on the 1st of December 1900) "as a means, not in exclusion of, but additional to, all others for restoring and preserving the national authority throughout the Union."
On the 1st day of January 1863 the final proclamation of emancipation was duly issued, designating the States of Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and certain portions of Louisiana and Virginia, as "this day in rebellion against the United States", and proclaiming that, in virtue of his authority as commander-in-chief, and as a necessary war measure for suppressing rebellion, "I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated states and parts of states are and henceforward shall be free", and pledging the executive and military power of the government to maintain such freedom. The legal validity of these proclamations was never pronounced upon by the national courts; but their decrees gradually enforced by the march of armies were soon recognized by public opinion to be practically irreversible. Such dissatisfaction as they caused in the border slave states died out in the stress of war. The systematic enlistment of negroes and their incorporation into the army by regiments, hitherto only tried as exceptional experiments, were now pushed with vigor, and, being followed by several conspicuous instances of their gallantry on the battlefield, added another strong impulse to the sweeping change of popular sentiment.
To put the finality of emancipation beyond all question, Lincoln in the winter session of 1863-64 strongly supported a movement in Congress to abolish slavery by constitutional amendment, but the necessary two-thirds vote of the House of Representatives could not then be obtained. In his annual message of the 6th of December 1864, he urged the immediate passage of the measure. Congress now acted promptly; on the 31st of January 1865, that body by joint resolution proposed to the states the 13th amendment of the Federal Constitution, providing that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Before the end of that year twenty-seven out of the thirty-six states of the Union (being the required three-fourths) had ratified the amendment, and official proclamation made by President Andrew Johnson on the 18th of December 1865, declared it duly adopted.
The foreign policy of President Lincoln, while subordinate in importance to the great questions of the Civil War, nevertheless presented several difficult and critical problems for his decision. The arrest (8th of November 1861) by Captain Charles Wilkes of two Confederate envoys proceeding to Europe in the British steamer "Trent" seriously threatened peace with England. Public opinion in America almost unanimously sustained the act; but Lincoln, convinced that the rights of Great Britain as a neutral had been violated, promptly, upon the demand of England, ordered the liberation of the prisoners (26th of December). Later friendly relations between the United States and Great Britain, where, among the upper classes, there was a strong sentiment in favor of the Confederacy, were seriously threatened by the fitting out of Confederate privateers in British ports, and the Administration owed much to the skilful diplomacy of the American minister in London, Charles Francis Adams. A still broader foreign question grew out of Mexican affairs, when events culminating in the setting up of Maximilian of Austria as emperor under protection of French troops demanded the constant watchfulness of the United States. Lincoln's course was one of prudent moderation.
France voluntarily declared that she sought in Mexico only to satisfy injuries done her and not to overthrow or establish local government or to appropriate territory. The United States Government replied that, relying on these assurances, it would maintain strict non-intervention, at the same time openly avowing the general sympathy of its people with a Mexican republic, and that "their own safety and the cheerful destiny to which they aspire are intimately dependent on the continuance of free republican institutions throughout America." In the early part of 1863 the French Government proposed a mediation between the North and the South. This offer President Lincoln (on the 6th of February) declined to consider, Seward replying for him that it would only be entering into diplomatic discussion with the rebels whether the authority of the government should be renounced, and the country delivered over to disunion and anarchy.
The Civil War gradually grew to dimensions beyond all expectation. By January 1863 the Union armies numbered near a million men, and were kept up to this strength until the end of the struggle. The Federal war debt eventually reached the sum of $2,700,000,000. The fortunes of battle were somewhat fluctuating during the first half of 1863, but the beginning of July brought the Union forces decisive victories. The reduction of Vicksburg (4th of July) and Port Hudson (9th of July), with other operations, restored complete control of the Mississippi, severing the Southern Confederacy. In the east Lee had the second time marched his army into Pennsylvania to suffer a disastrous defeat at Gettysburg, on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of July, though he was able to withdraw his shattered forces south of the Potomac. At the dedication of this battlefield as a soldiers' cemetery in November, President Lincoln made the following oration, which has taken permanent place as a classic in American literature:
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God 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.
In the unexpected prolongation of the war, volunteer enlistments became too slow to replenish the waste of armies, and in 1863 the government was forced to resort to a draft. The enforcement of the conscription created much opposition in various parts of the country, and led to a serious riot in the city of New York on the 13th-16th of July. President Lincoln executed the draft with all possible justice and forbearance, but refused every importunity to postpone it. It was made a special subject of criticism by the Democratic party of the North, which was now organizing itself on the basis of a discontinuance of the war, to endeavor to win the presidential election of the following year. Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, having made a violent public speech at Mt. Vernon, Ohio, on the 1st of May against the war and military proceedings, was arrested on the 5th of May by General Burnside, tried by military commission, and sentenced on the 16th to imprisonment; a writ of habeas corpus had been refused, and the sentence was changed by the president to transportation beyond the military lines. By way of political defiance the Democrats of Ohio nominated Vallandigham for governor on the 11th of June. Prominent Democrats and a committee of the Convention having appealed for his release, Lincoln wrote two long letters in reply discussing the constitutional question, and declaring that in his judgment the president as commander-in-chief in time of rebellion or invasion holds the power and responsibility of suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, but offering to release Vallandigham if the committee would sign a declaration that rebellion exists, that an army and navy are constitutional means to suppress it, and that each of them would use his personal power and influence to prosecute the war. This liberal offer and their refusal to accept it counteracted all the political capital they hoped to make out of the case; and public opinion was still more powerfully influenced in behalf of the president's action, by the pathos of the query which he propounded in one of his letters: "Must I shoot the simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?" When the election took place in Ohio, Vallandigham was defeated by a majority of more than a hundred thousand.
Many unfounded rumors of a willingness on the part of the Confederate States to make peace were circulated to weaken the Union war spirit. To all such suggestions, up to the time of issuing his emancipation proclamation, Lincoln announced his readiness to stop fighting and grant amnesty, whenever they would submit to and maintain the national authority under the Constitution of the United States. Certain. agents in Canada having in 1864 intimated that they were empowered to treat for peace, Lincoln, through Greeley, tendered them safe conduct to Washington. They were by this forced to confess that they possessed no authority to negotiate. The president thereupon sent them, and made public, the following standing offer:
To whom it may concern: Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States, will be received and considered by the Executive Government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on substantial and collateral points, and the bearer or bearers thereof shall have safe conduct both ways. July 18, 1864. /s/ ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
A noteworthy conference on this question took place near the close of the Civil War, when the strength of the Confederacy was almost exhausted. F. P. Blair, senior, a personal friend of Jefferson Davis, acting solely on his own responsibility, was permitted to go from Washington to Richmond, where, on the 12th of January 1865, after a private and unofficial interview, Davis in writing declared his willingness to enter a conference "to secure peace to the two countries." Report being duly made to President Lincoln, he wrote a note (dated 18th January) consenting to receive any agent sent informally "with the view of securing peace to the people of our common country." Upon the basis of this latter proposition three Confederate commissioners (A. H. Stevens, J. A. C. Campbell and R. M. T. Hunter) finally came to Hampton Roads, where President Lincoln and Secretary Seward met them on the U.S. steam transport "River Queen", and on the 3rd of February 1865 an informal conference of four hours' duration was held. Private reports of the interview agree substantially in the statement that the Confederates proposed a cessation of the Civil War, and postponement of its issues for future adjustment, while for the present the belligerents should unite in a campaign to expel the French from Mexico, and to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.
President Lincoln, however, although he offered to use his influence to secure compensation by the Federal government to slave-owners for their slaves, if there should be "voluntary abolition of slavery by the states", a liberal and generous administration of the Confiscation Act, and the immediate representation of the southern states in Congress, refused to consider any alliance against the French in Mexico, and adhered to the instructions he had given Seward before deciding to personally accompany him. These formulated three indispensable conditions to adjustment: first, the restoration of the national authority throughout all the states; second, no receding by the executive of the United States on the slavery question; third, no cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the government. These terms the commissioners were not authorized to accept, and the interview ended without result.
As Lincoln's first presidential term of four years neared its end, the Democratic party gathered itself for a supreme effort to regain the ascendancy lost in 1860. The slow progress of the war, the severe sacrifice of life in campaign and battle, the enormous accumulation of public debt, arbitrary arrests and suspension of habeas corpus, the rigor of the draft, and the proclamation of military emancipation furnished ample subjects of bitter and vindictive campaign oratory. A partisan coterie which surrounded McClellan loudly charged the failure of his Richmond campaign to official interference in his plans. Vallandigham had returned to his home in defiance of his banishment beyond military lines, and was leniently suffered to remain. The aggressive spirit of the party, however, pushed it to a fatal extreme. The Democratic National Convention adopted (August 29, 1864) a resolution (drafted by Vallandigham) declaring the war a failure, and demanding a cessation of hostilities; it nominated McClellan for president, and instead of adjourning sine die as usual, remained organized, and subject to be convened at any time and place by the executive national committee. This threatening attitude, in conjunction with alarming indications of a conspiracy to resist the draft, had the effect to thoroughly consolidate the war party, which had on the 8th of June unanimously renominated Lincoln, and had nominated Andrew Johnson of Tennessee for the vice-presidency. At the election held on the 8th of November 1864, Lincoln received 2,216,076 of the popular votes, and McClellan (who had openly disapproved of the resolution declaring the war a failure) but 1,808,725; while of the presidential electors 212 voted for Lincoln and 21 for McClellan. Lincoln's second term of office began on the 4th of March 1865.
While this political contest was going on the Civil War was being brought to a decisive close. Grant, at the head of the Army of the Potomac, followed Lee to Richmond and Petersburg, and held him in siege to within a few days of final surrender. General William T. Sherman, commanding the bulk of the Union forces in the Mississippi Valley, swept in a victorious (and quite devastating) march through the heart of the Confederacy to Savannah on the coast, and from there northward to North Carolina. Lee evacuated Richmond on the 2nd of April, and was overtaken by Grant and compelled to surrender his entire army on the 9th of April 1865. Sherman pushed Joseph Eggleston Johnston to a surrender on the 26th of April. This ended the war.
Lincoln being at the time on a visit to the army, entered Richmond the day after its surrender. Returning to Washington, he made his last public address on the evening of the 11th of April, devoted mainly to the question of reconstructing loyal governments in the conquered states. On the evening of the 14th of April he attended Ford's Theater in Washington. While seated with his family and friends absorbed in the play, John Wilkes Booth, an actor, who with others had prepared a plot to assassinate the several heads of government, went into the little corridor leading to the upper stage-box, and secured it against ingress by a wooden bar. Then stealthily entering the box, he discharged a pistol at the head of the president from behind, the ball penetrating the brain. Brandishing a huge knife, with which he wounded Colonel Rathbone who attempted to hold him, the assassin rushed through the stage-box to the front and leaped down upon the stage, escaping behind the scenes and from the rear of the building, but was pursued, and twelve days afterwards shot in a barn where he had concealed himself. The wounded president was borne to a house across the street, where he breathed his last at 7 AM on the 15th of April 1865.
President Lincoln was of unusual stature, 6 ft. 4 in., and of spare but muscular build; he had been in youth remarkably strong and skilful in the athletic games of the frontier, where, however, his popularity and recognized impartiality more often made him an umpire than a champion. He had regular and prepossessing features, dark complexion, broad high forehead, prominent cheek bones, grey deep-set eyes, and bushy black hair, turning to grey at the time of his death. Abstemious in his habits, he possessed great physical endurance. He was almost as tender-hearted as a woman. "I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man's bosom", he was able to say. His patience was inexhaustible. He had naturally a most cheerful and sunny temper, was highly social and sympathetic, loved pleasant conversation, wit, anecdote and laughter. Beneath this, however, ran an undercurrent of sadness; he was occasionally subject to hours of deep silence and introspection that approached a condition of trance. In manner he was simple, direct, void of the least affectation, and entirely free from awkwardness, oddity or eccentricity. His mental qualities were -- a quick analytic perception, strong logical powers, a tenacious memory, a liberal estimate and tolerance of the opinions of others, ready intuition of human nature; and perhaps his most valuable faculty was rare ability to divest himself of all feeling or passion in weighing motives of persons or problems of state. His speech and diction were plain, terse, forcible. Relating anecdotes with appreciative humor and fascinating dramatic skill, he used them freely and effectively in conversation and argument. He loved manliness, truth and justice. He despised all trickery and selfish greed.
In arguments at the bar he was so fair to his opponent that he frequently appeared to concede away his client's case. He was ever ready to take blame on himself and bestow praise on others. "I claim not to have controlled events", he said, "but confess plainly that events have controlled me." The Declaration of Independence was his political chart and inspiration. He acknowledged a universal equality of human rights. "Certainly the Negro is not our equal in color", he said, "perhaps not in many other respects; still, in the right to put into his mouth the bread that his own hands have earned, he is the equal of every other man white or black." He had unchanging faith in self-government. "The people", he said, "are the rightful masters of both congresses and courts, not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the constitution." Yielding and accommodating in non-essentials, he was inflexibly firm in a principle or position deliberately taken. "Let us have faith that right makes might", he said, "and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it." The emancipation proclamation once issued, he reiterated his purpose never to retract or modify it. "There have been men base enough", he said, "to propose to me to return to slavery our black warriors of Port Hudson and Olustee, and thus win the respect of the masters they fought. Should I do so I should deserve to be damned in time and eternity. Come what will, I will keep my faith with friend and foe." Benevolence and forgiveness were the very basis of his character; his worldwide humanity is aptly embodied in a phrase of his second inaugural: "With malice toward none, with charity for all." His nature was deeply religious, but he belonged to no denomination.
 It is difficult to determine Lincoln's religion, if any. He would sometimes attend services, likely as a courtesy to his wife, and occasionally quote scripture in speeches. In a letter quoted by Joseph Lewis, Lincoln wrote "The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma." Law partner William Herndon stated that Lincoln "was an infidel of the radical type... never mentioned the name of Jesus, except to scorn and detest the idea of a miraculous conception." Wife Mary Todd Lincoln's opinion was that "Mr. Lincoln had no hope and no faith in the usual acceptance of those words."
 Certain scholars, notably C. A. Tripp, make the highly dubious argument that Lincoln was gay based on his close friendship with Joshua Speed. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (who spent ten years writing a book about Lincoln) notes that many figures of the time exchanged affectionate letters that, if taken in the context of the 20th century vocabulary and idiom, one might consider as evidence of homosexuality. However, in their correct context, this view is totally false -- otherwise a large percentage of the ruling cognoscenti would be gay, and no one makes that argument. [Interview, Charlie Rose, 19 December 2005.] Incidentally, regarding Tripp's book, Philip Nobile in the Weekly Standard accuses Tripp (who died in 2003) of plagiarism and predetermined bias. The two were originally to collaborate on the work, but this became untenable once Tripp's intentions of fitting the facts were clear. Nobile's article ends, "the fraud and the hoax of C. A. Tripp's The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln are no way to explore the hallowed ground of history."
Father: Thomas Lincoln (b. 6-Jan-1778, d. 17-Jan-1851)
Mother: Nancy Hanks Lincoln (b. 5-Feb-1784, m. 12-Jun-1806, d. 5-Oct-1818 accidental poisoning)
Mother: Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln (stepmother, b. 13-Dec-1788, m. 2-Dec-1819, d. 12-Apr-1869)
Sister: Sarah Lincoln Grigsby (b. 10-Feb-1807, d. 20-Jan-1828 childbirth)
Brother: Thomas Lincoln (b. 1812, d. infancy)
Wife: Mary Todd Lincoln (m. 4-Nov-1842, d. 1882)
Son: Robert Todd Lincoln (Secretary of War, b. 1-Aug-1843, d. 1926)
Son: Edward Baker Lincoln (b. 10-Mar-1846, d. 1850)
Son: William Wallace Lincoln (b. 21-Dec-1850, d. 20-Feb-1862)
Son: Thomas Lincoln ("Tad", b. 4-Apr-1853, d. 15-Jul-1871)
US President 1861-65
US Congressman, Illinois 1847-49
Fraternitas Rosę Crucis
Military Order of the Loyal Legion Posthumous
National Cowboy Hall of Fame (1972)
Assassination Attempt Baltimore, MD (23-Feb-1861)
Nervous Breakdown 1836
Assassination Attempt Fort Stevens (12-Jul-1864)
Shot Washington, DC (14-Apr-1865)
Coma Washington, DC (14-Apr-1865)
Proxy Baptism: Mormon per 17-Aug-1991 Salt Lake Tribune article
Portrait on American currency $5
Birthday Is Holiday 12-Feb Presidents' Day (USA)
Lain in state at the Capitol Rotunda
Risk Factors: Depression, Smallpox
Rotten Library Page:
Do you know something we don't?
Submit a correction or make a comment about this profile
Copyright ©2015 Soylent Communications