Abraham Lincoln, 16 th president of the United States, rose to the highest office in the land from a humble home in Hardin County, Kentucky. He was born on February 12, 1809 to an undistinguished family. His father was a frontiersman, and Lincoln knew hard work during his childhood – splitting rails for fences and running a farm in rural Kentucky. His only education was how to read, write, and do simple arithmetic. His entire education spanned less than a year of his childhood.
Lincoln’s ambition led him to serve as a captain in the Black Hawk War, and later to win a seat in the Illinois legislature. He spent eight years serving the state’s government and studied law between legislative sessions, becoming a fully licensed attorney in 1836. Besides beginning his life in government, Lincoln’s adult life was also marked by his marriage to Mary Todd in 1842. The couple had four children during their marriage, but only their eldest boy lived to adulthood. Although Mary Todd Lincoln was temperamental and often hysterical, Abraham Lincoln was devoted to her, and their marriage seemed to be a happy one.
After Lincoln’s time spent in the state legislature, he turned his eye on Congress. Being a well-known and popular legislator in Illinois, he was elected to Congress in 1846. Lincoln began to lose interest in politics until, in 1854, he was confronted with the expansion of slavery into Kansas and Nebraska, a violation of the old boundary between free and slave states. This caused him to become an ardent spokesperson for antislavery forces. In 1858, he lost an election again Stephen A. Douglas for Illinois Senator, but his debating skills earned him the Republican nomination for President in 1860. Even before Election Day, Southern slavery supporters were threatening to secede from the Union if Lincoln was elected.
During his presidency, Lincoln’s strong leadership
and commitment to the Union made him a legendary president. As Southern
states began to secede from the Union, Lincoln built up support in the
Northern states to his cause. Most importantly, on January 1, 1863, he
issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared all slaves within the
Confederacy to be free. To Lincoln, the Civil War involved a much larger
issue than slavery: the future of democracy. The United States had long
been a symbol of hope to believers in democracy the world over, and Lincoln
realized that the future of representative government might depend on
the outcome of the war. “This is essentially a people's contest,”
Lincoln told Congress. It was the destiny of the Union “to demonstrate
to the world that those who can fairly carry out an election can also
suppress a rebellion; and ballots are the rightful successors to bullets...”
On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre by John Wilkes Booth, an actor with pro-Southern sympathies. With Booth’s shot, one of the most influential politicians of any age was lost to history.
The White House.
This page is part of the 100 Years Carnegie project