Lincoln’s Early Life
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, on Nolin Creek in Kentucky. His father, Thomas Lincoln, was a poverty-stricken farmer, who could never seem to make ends meet. Consequently, Lincoln spent his childhood learning how to weld an axe, hunt and work a plow. He was tall, athletic and active. During his campaign for the Presidency, Lincoln liked to recount how during his childhood he was kicked in the teeth by a horse and “apparently killed for a time.” His mother, Nancy Hanks, died soon after the family moved to Spencer County, Indiana, in 1819.
Left with two children to support, Thomas Lincoln remarried Sarah Bush. In 1830, the Lincolns moved to Macon, Illinois, and had three more children. Although both of his parents were illiterate, Lincoln learned to read and some of his favorite books included Arabian Nights and Robinson Crusoe. Lincoln was also popular among his friends, known for his good humor and storytelling abilities.
At the age of 22, Lincoln set out on his own for New Orleans. There, he became a partner in a grocery store, although the store eventually folded and left Lincoln deeply in debt. Before going into the law, Lincoln tried many different professions � he worked as a postmaster, a land surveyor and a rail splitter. He also enlisted as a volunteer in the Black Hawk war, but he never saw any action during his time of service. Throughout all his odd jobs and failed professions, Lincoln racked up a significant amount of debt, but he later repaid it, earning the nickname “Honest Abe.” In 1834, Lincoln was elected as a representative for the Illinois General Assembly.
In 1848, after working hard on Zachary Taylor’s presidential campaign, Lincoln was turned down for the office of Commissioner of General Land Office. Coupled with waning support from his constituents over his opposition to the Mexican War, Lincoln retired from politics and returned to law.
In 1856, Lincoln became a member of the Republican party and quickly became a political front-runner as a moderate who could woo both conservatives and abolitionists. However, Lincoln did not completely oppose slavery as he believed that it was an evil that should be contained and not allowed to grow. After gaining recognition as a possible vice presidential candidate in 1856, he was picked to oppose Stephen Douglas in the Illinois senatorial race. It was during this race that Lincoln and Douglas began a series of famous debates over the topic of slavery. While Lincoln lost the race, he became a pick for the Republican presidential bid in 1860 and won the presidency with a minority of the popular vote.
Lincoln presided over the country during one of its most tumultuous periods. However, despite the ravaging of America’s Civil War, Lincoln was able to maintain the continuity of the Union. The main goals during his presidency were restoration and preservation of the Union. These ideas were succinctly communicated during his Gettysburg Address. Although he is often remembered as “The Great Emancipator,” Lincoln, not wanting to alienate any American, at first tried to preserve the integrity of the Union by allowing for a gradual elimination to slavery. Yet, later he realized that in order for the Union to prevail slavery must end. Consequently, on September 22, 1862 Lincoln issued an Emancipation Proclamation, which attempted to free Confederate slaves. In addition to being both doubtful legally and feasibly, Lincoln’s efforts only freed a minority of slaves and didn’t come into full effect until after his death.
Lincoln was reelected to the presidency in 1864 with an overwhelming majority and he intended to conduct his second term with forgiveness. The president summed up his sentiments in his second inaugural address, stating, “With malice toward none; with charity for all.” Although he lived to see the end of the war, Lincoln did not see his plans for the reconstruction of the United States realized. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth while attending a performance at Ford’s Theater. After shooting the President, Booth allegedly leaped to the stage shouting, “sic semper tyrannus,” which is latin for “thus always to tyrants.” Booth fled from the building and led the nation on a manhunt that lasted twelve days until he was cornered in a barn in Virginia. When the barn was set on fire, Booth was shot during the confusion and died several hours later.
The whole country mourned for the President, even his most bitter of opponents and many considered him to be a martyr. Long after his death, Lincoln is still considered one of America’s greatest Presidents.