Lincoln, Abraham (1809-65), 16th president of the United States (1861-65), who steered the Union to victory in the American Civil War and abolished slavery.
Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, near Hodgenville, Kentucky, the son of Nancy Hanks and Thomas Lincoln, pioneer farmers. At the age of two he was taken by his parents to nearby Knob Creek and at eight to Spencer County, Indiana. The following year his mother died. In 1819 his father married Sarah Bush Johnston, a kindly widow, who soon gained the boy's affection. Lincoln grew up a tall, gangling youth, who could hold his own in physical contests and also showed great intellectual promise, although he had little formal education. In 1831, after moving with his family to Macon County, Illinois, he struck out on his own, taking cargo on a flatboat to New Orleans, Louisiana. He then returned to Illinois and settled in New Salem, a short-lived community on the Sangamon River, where he split rails and clerked in a store. He gained the respect of his fellow townspeople, including the so-called Clary Grove boys, who had challenged him to physical combat, and was elected captain of his company in the Black Hawk War (1832). Returning from the war, he began an unsuccessful venture in shopkeeping that ended when his partner died. In 1833 he was appointed postmaster but had to supplement his income with surveying and various other jobs. At the same time he began to study law. That he gradually paid off his and his deceased partner's debts firmly established his reputation for honesty. The story of his romance with Ann Rutledge, a local young woman whom he knew briefly before her untimely death, is unsubstantiated.
Illinois Politician and Lawyer
Defeated in 1832 in a race for the state legislature, Lincoln was elected on the Whig ticket two years later and served in the lower house from 1834 to 1841. He quickly emerged as one of the leaders of the party and was one of the authors of the removal of the capital to Springfield, where he settled in 1837. After his admission to the bar (1836), he entered into successive partnerships with John T. Stuart, Stephen T. Logan, and William Herndon, and soon won recognition as an effective and resourceful attorney. In 1842 Lincoln married Mary Todd, the daughter of a prominent Kentucky banker, and despite her somewhat difficult disposition, the marriage seems to have been reasonably successful. The Lincolns had four children, only one of whom reached adulthood. His birth in a slave state notwithstanding, Lincoln had long opposed slavery. In the legislature he voted against resolutions favorable to the "peculiar institution" and in 1837 was one of two members who signed a protest against it. Elected to Congress in 1846, he attracted attention because of his outspoken criticism of the war with Mexico and formulated a plan for gradual emancipation in the District of Columbia. He was not an abolitionist, however. Conceding the right of the states to manage their own affairs, he merely sought to prevent the spread of human bondage.
National Recognition Disappointed in a quest for federal office at the end of his one term in Congress (1847-49), Lincoln returned to Springfield to pursue his profession. In 1854, however, because of his alarm at Senator Stephen A. Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act, he became politically active again. Clearly setting forth his opposition to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, he argued that the measure was wrong because slavery was wrong and that Congress should keep the territories free for actual settlers (as opposed to those who traveled there mainly to vote for or against slavery). The following year he ran for the U.S. Senate, but seeing that he could not win, he yielded to Lyman Trumbull, a Democrat who opposed Douglas's bill. He campaigned for the newly founded Republican party in 1856, and in 1858 he became its senatorial candidate against Douglas. In a speech to...