Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Abraham Lincoln

ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809–1865)

Abraham Lincoln, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing right; hair parted on Lincoln's right side. Berger, Anthony, b. 1832, photographer. [1864 Feb. 9, printed later], Prints and Photographs Division Library of Congress. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.19305

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. His parents were farmers. The family moved to Indiana in 1816 and Lincoln's mother died in 1818. Lincoln received little schooling during his childhood, but, as a teenager, he borrowed and read every book he could find. Lincoln moved with his father to Illinois, and in 1831 he moved to New Salem where he worked at a number of jobs. In New Salem he made many friends, studied mathematics and literature, and joined a debating society. He enlisted in the militia, and during the Black Hawk War he was elected a captain.

In 1832 Lincoln ran for the state legislature. He lost that election, but won when he ran in 1834 and kept the seat until 1841. In the legislature Lincoln met John T. Stuart who encouraged him to study law. Lincoln passed the bar in 1836 and soon after moved to Springfield to become Stuart's law partner. Lincoln married Mary Todd in 1842. They had four sons, one of whom survived to adulthood. Lincoln dissolved his law partnership in 1844 and soon after started a new practice with another lawyer. In the next decades he led a very lucrative career. In 1846 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1858 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate, but he attracted national attention in his debates (in which he often supported the abolishment of slavery) with the winning candidate, Stephen A. Douglas.

Lincoln accepted the Republican nomination for president in 1860 and was elected that November. In December, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union and six more states followed suit before Lincoln was inaugurated as the sixteenth president of the United States on March 4, 1861. On April 12 the Confederate Army fired on Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War.

The war went badly for the United States Army for most of 1861 and 1862. After the victory at Antietam, Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation, announcing that all slaves held in the rebelling states would be freed on January 1, 1863, and on New Year's Day, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln made his most famous speech, now known as the Gettysburg Address, at the ceremony on November 19, 1863, establishing the Pennsylvania battlefield as a national cemetery. The Battle of Gettysburg fought July 1–3, 1863, was the turning point of the war; thereafter the United States Army slowly began to drive back the Confederates and gain more and more Southern territory.

Lincoln was reelected by the states remaining in the Union in November 1864, soon after the fall of Atlanta. General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, effectively ending the Civil War. Soon after, Lincoln made a speech from the White House urging peaceful reconstruction of the Union and suggesting more rights for free blacks. On April 14, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and fervent Confederate, as the president and his wife watched a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died the next morning.

Suggested Reading:

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. New York: Penguin Press, 2008.

Related Links:

The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

Photographs of Lincoln at the Library of Congress