Essay On Abraham Lincoln Life

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Without question, Abraham Lincoln is one of the most celebrated figures in American history. Like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson before him, Lincoln is almost universally revered today as a man of rare ability and character who shaped the United States in his image, to the lasting benefit of all Americans who followed in his wake.

Because of Lincoln's firm place in the echelon of national heroes, he is often portrayed in a sanctified light, as though he worked according to a grand design in which he was incapable of doing wrong. History, in providing a narrative to events past, makes the world seem as though they it could not have happened otherwise. But the living, breathing reality of a life is always far more contingent, and often downright arbitrary.

Lincoln was well aware of his shortcomings as a leader, perched as he was upon the precarious position that his fortune—and indeed the nation's fortunes—rested. In discussing his role as commander-in-chief during the closing months of the Civil War, Lincoln was quite able to "plainly confess that events have controlled me more than I have controlled them."

Over time, in the droves and droves of words that have been written about him, Lincoln the legend has grown into a giant of unparalleled proportions. Lincoln the man, meanwhile, stood six feet, four inches—a large man in any case, but more to human scale than is generally assumed.

A voracious reader, Lincoln himself recognized the power of the written word, and was highly wary of its tendency to distort. In an 1856 letter to his law partner, William H. Herndon, he remarked that "biographies as generally written are not only misleading, but most instances they commemorate a lie, and cheat posterity out of the truth."

With many a Lincoln lie well into its second century of existence, some of the falsehoods that have been propagated about him may be ingrained beyond repair. Still, one would like to believe that even in the age of information, a carefully considered, critical biography is still possible. This author hopes that the following can in some small way begin to restore the true Lincoln to posterity, by giving him a fair and honest treatment, holding him liable where culpable, and finding him laudable where such praise is deserved.


When Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809, the United States of America had just begun to emerge as a cohesive nation. The federal government as it is known today had been organized just over twenty years before. The country maintained the shape of its original thirteen colonies, with a sizable portion of territory yet to be settled. Lincoln's youth would coincide with rapid frontier movements and an overriding spirit of pioneer expansionism.

Such a young country was bound to experience growing pains. Having clearly established its independence, but still very much subjected to the influence of its parent country, the United States did much to solidify its autonomy with a victory over Britain in the War of 1812. On the strength of this success, the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 asserted the American right to self- determination within its own hemisphere.

Domestically, the balance of power between federal and state governments continued to play a leading role in the national debate. After independence, the several states had been organized according to the Articles of Confederation. By this short-lived document, each individual state maintained considerable powers over its own internal affairs, and as such the centralized governmental apparatus was necessarily weaker. When this arrangement quickly proved impracticable and unsatisfactory, a stronger central infrastructure was established under the present Constitution, ratified by a majority of states in 1788.

The first political parties in the United States were established according to their support or opposition of a powerful federal system. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, these two rival factions clashed over the balance of power between the federal and state branches. This conflict came to a head in 1833, when South Carolina threatened to secede after a series of high tariffs were passed by the federal government. Under the leadership of John C. Calhoun, South Carolina attempted to nullify federal tariff policy as inapplicable in its domain. President Andrew Jackson responded by signing the Force Act, authorizing federal military intervention in the face of a potential insurgency. South Carolina eventually backed down, but not before revealing the precarious balance between the federal government and several states.

In addition to federal and state tensions, regional divisions began to intensify during the early nineteenth century. As the northern states began to industrialize, the southern states became increasingly more dependent on agriculture, which in turn made slavery more integral to the prosperity of the south. As the nation began to expand westward, with several northern states having abolished slavery, the question of slavery policy in new territories became fraught with controversy.

As the representative of western interests, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky engineered two compromises to diffuse the tensions between the old north and south. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 created a line of demarcation between free and slave territory. This solved the problem for a generation, but with further westward expansion the question was opened to debate again. Clay's vague Compromise of 1850 provided for California to enter the Union as a free state in exchange for a stricter fugitive slave law.

Then, all compromise was thrown open to anarchy after Stephen Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854. This legislation, which essentially nullified Clay's earlier compromises, allowed for popular sovereignty. With the question of slavery in the territories thrown open to local sentiment, abolitionists and slavers rushed to populate various districts in the interest of advancing their cause. Internecine warfare ensued in Kansas, sparking a fierce national debate over slavery and sovereignty.

After the Supreme Court released its controversial Dred Scott decision in 1857, slaves were legally defined not as citizens but as property: property that no full-fledged citizen could be deprived of in any part of the United States without due process of the law. This decision not only opened the territories permanently to slavery, but also declared the abolition of slavery in free states to be unconstitutional.

Into this heated atmosphere, Abraham Lincoln, a former state legislator and congressman from Illinois, was elected as president in 1860 on the Republican ticket. The Republicans were a nascent party composed largely of abolitionists who took advantage of the regional discord that divided the more established Democratic party. With the weakest mandate ever enjoyed by an American president, Abraham Lincoln was faced with the daunting challenge to resolve the dual question of secession and slavery.

When South Carolina left the Union six weeks after Lincoln's election, and fired on federal forces at Fort Sumter four months later, the Civil War that had been so long in coming had finally arrived. Before the end of Lincoln's presidency, secession would be quelled and the institution of slavery crippled. But in the bargain, Lincoln would be deprived of his life, and the United States would be forever altered, strengthened just as it was devastated by the bloodiest war the nation has ever known.

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln in November 1863

16th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
Vice PresidentHannibal Hamlin (1861 to 1865);
Andrew Johnson (March  — April 1865)
Preceded byJames Buchanan
Succeeded byAndrew Johnson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1847 – March 4, 1849
Preceded byJohn Henry
Succeeded byThomas Harris
Personal details
Born(1809-02-12)February 12, 1809
Hodgenville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedApril 15, 1865(1865-04-15) (aged 56)
Washington, D.C.
Political partyRepublican and Whig
Height6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)
Spouse(s)Mary Todd Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (February 12 1809  – April 15 1865) was the 16th President of the United States. He served as president from 1861 to 1865, during the American Civil War. Just five days after most of the Confederate forces had surrendered and the war was ending, John Wilkes Boothassassinated Lincoln. Lincoln was the first president of the United States to be assassinated. Lincoln has been remembered as the "Great Emancipator" because he worked to end slavery in the United States.[1]

Life[change | change source]

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Hodgenville, Kentucky, United States. His parents were Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. His family was very poor.[2] Abraham had one brother and one sister. His brother died in childhood. They grew up in a small log cabin, with just one room inside. Although slavery was legal in Kentucky at that time, Lincoln's father, who was a religious Baptist, refused to own any slaves.

When Lincoln was seven years old, his family moved to Indiana. Later they moved to Illinois.[3] In his childhood he helped his father on the farm, but when he was 22 years old he left home and moved to New Salem, Illinois, where he worked in a general store.[4] Later, he said that he had gone to school for just one year, but that was enough to learn how to read, write, and do simple math. In 1842, he married Mary Todd Lincoln. They had four children, but three of them died when they were very young.[5] Abraham Lincoln was sometimes called Abe Lincoln or "Honest Abe" after he ran miles to give a customer the right amount of change. The nickname "Honest Abe" came from a time when he started a business that failed. Instead of running away like many people would have, he stayed and worked to pay off his debt.[6]

Early political career[change | change source]

Lincoln started his political career in 1832 when he ran for the IGA Illinois General Assembly, but he lost the election. He served as a captain in the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War, a war with Native American tribes. When he moved to Springfield in 1837, he began to work as a lawyer. Soon, he became one of the most highly respected lawyers in Illinois.[7][8] In 1837, as a member of the Illinois General Assembly, Lincoln issued a written protest of its passage of a resolution stating that slavery could not be abolished in Washington, D.C.[9][10]

In 1841, he won a court case (Bailey v. Cromwell). He represented a black woman who claimed she had already been freed and could not be sold as a slave. In 1847, he lost a case (Matson v. Rutherford) representing a slave owner (Robert Matson) claiming return of fugitive slaves. After he moved to Illinois, he worked as a shopkeeper and  postmaster. He rode the circuit of courts for many years. When he was 21, he worked on a flatboat that carried freight. He joined the Independent Spy Corp. At first, he was a member of the Whig Party. He later became a Republican. Lincoln ran for senate against Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas won.

In 1846, Lincoln joined the Whig Party and was elected to one term in the House of Representatives. After that, he ignored his political career and instead worked as a lawyer. In 1854, in reaction to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln became involved in politics again. He joined the Republican Party, which had recently been formed in opposition to the expansion of slavery. In 1858, he wanted to become senator; although this was unsuccessful, the debates drew national attention to him.[11] The Republican Party nominated him for the Presidential election of 1860.[12]

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Lincoln was chosen as a candidate for the elections in 1860 for different reasons. Among these reasons were that his views on slavery were less extreme than those of other people who wanted to be candidates. Lincoln was from what was then one of the Western states, and had a bigger chance of winning the election there. Other candidates that were older or more experienced than him had enemies inside the party.[13][14] Lincoln's family was poor, which added to the Republican position of free labor, the opposite of slave labor. Lincoln won the election in 1860, and was made the 16th President of the United States. He won with almost no votes in the South. For the first time, a president had won the election because of the large support he got from the states in the North.[14] During his presidency Lincoln became well-known because of his large stovepipe hat. He used his tall hat to store papers and documents when he was traveling.[15]

Lincoln and the Civil War[change | change source]

After Lincoln's election in 1860, seven States (South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana) formed the Confederate States of America. When the United States refused to surrender Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, the Confederates attacked the fort, beginning the American Civil War. Later, four more states (Arkansas, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina) joined the Confederacy for a total of eleven. In his whole period as President, he had to rebuild the Union with military force and many bloody battles. He also had to stop the "border states", like Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland, from leaving the Union and joining the Confederacy.

Lincoln was not a general, and had only been in the army for a short time during the Black Hawk War.[16] However, he still took a major role in the war, often spending days and days in the War Department. His plan was to cut off the South by surrounding it with ships, control the Mississippi River, and take Richmond, the Confederate capital. He often clashed with generals in the field, especially George B. McClellan, and fired generals who lost battles or were not aggressive enough. Eventually, he made Ulysses S. Grant the top general in the army.

Emancipation Proclamation[change | change source]

With the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, Lincoln ordered the freedom of all slaves in those states still in rebellion during the American Civil War. It did not actually immediately free all those slaves however, since those areas were still controlled by the rebelling states of the Confederacy. Only a small number of slaves already behind Union lines were immediately freed. As the Union army advanced, nearly all four million slaves were effectively freed. Some former slaves joined the Union army. The Proclamation also did not free slaves in the slave states that had remained loyal to the Union (the federal government of the US). Neither did it apply to areas where Union forces had already regained control.[1] Until the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, only the states had power to end slavery within their own borders, so Lincoln issued the proclamation as a war measure.

The Proclamation made freeing the slaves a Union goal for the war, and put an end to movements in European nations (especially in Great Britain and France) that would have recognized the Confederacy as an independent nation. Lincoln then sponsored a constitutional amendment to free all slaves. The Thirteenth Amendment, making slavery illegal everywhere in the United States, was passed late in 1865, eight months after Lincoln was assassinated.

Gettysburg Address[change | change source]

Main article: Gettysburg Address

Lincoln made a famous speech after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 called the Gettysburg Address. The battle was very important, and many soldiers from both sides died. The speech was given at the new cemetery for the dead soldiers. It is one of the most famous speeches in American history.[17]

Second term and assassination[change | change source]

Main article: Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln was reelected president in 1864 and re-inaugurated March 4 1865. Soon afterwards, it appeared likely that the Union would win the Civil War. Lincoln proposed lenient terms for restoring self-government in the states that had rebelled. On April 9 1865, the leading Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, surrendered his armies. On April 11, 1865, Lincoln gave a speech in which he promoted voting rights for blacks.[18]

On April 14th, Lincoln went to attend a play with his wife at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.. During the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland, entered the presidential box and shot Lincoln at point-blank range,[19] mortally wounding him. An unconscious Lincoln was carried across the street to Petersen House. He was placed diagonally on the bed because his tall frame would not fit normally on the smaller bed.[20] He remained in a coma for nine hours before dying the next morning.[21] According to some accounts, at his last drawn breath, on the morning after the assassination, he smiled broadly and then expired.[22]Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated.[23]

Booth escaped, but died from shots fired during his capture on April 26.

Legacy[change | change source]

Lincoln has been consistently ranked both by scholars and the public[25] as one of the greatest U.S. presidents. He is often considered the greatest president for his leadership during the American Civil War and his eloquence in speeches such as the Gettysburg Address.

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.01.1"Lincoln". Yale University. Retrieved 2009-08-22. 
  2. Thornton, Brian (October 31, 2005). 101 things you didn't know about Lincoln: loves and losses, political power. Adams Media. ISBN 9781593373993. 
  3. "Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park". Abraham Lincoln Online. Retrieved 2008-05-21s. 
  4. Fehrenbacher, Don (1989). Speeches and Writings 1859-1865. Library of America. p. 163. 
  5. Goodwin, Doris Kearns (2005). Team of Rivals. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc. 
  6. ↑White, Jr., Ronald C. (2009). A. Lincoln: A Biography. Random House, Inc. ISBN 9781400064991
  7. Frank, John (1991). Lincoln as a Lawyer. Americana House. ISBN 0962529028. 
  8. "Biography of Lincoln". Quotable Lincoln. Retrieved 2009-08-28. 
  9. "Lincoln on Slavery". Retrieved 2009-NOV-15. 
  10. "Protest in Illinois Legislature on Slavery". University of Michigan Library. 1937-03-03. Retrieved 2009-NOV-15. 
  11. Lincoln, Abraham (1858). "A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand". National Center for Public Policy Research. Retrieved 2008-05-21. 
  12. "Abraham Lincoln". 
  13. Boritt, Gabor S. (1997). Why the Civil War Came. Oxford University Press. pp. 3–30. ISBN 0195113764. 
  14. 14.014.1Blum, John M. (1981). Team of Rivals. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 340—342. 
  15. ↑Abe Lincoln's Hat Step into Reading Books Series A Step 2 Book by Martha Brenner Books at
  16. ↑"Captain Abraham Lincoln", Illinois State Military Museum, Illinois National Guard, accessed April 12, 2009.
  17. "Outline of U.S. History". United States Department of State. p. 73. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  18. "Last Public Address". Speeches and Writings. Abraham Lincoln Online. April 11, 1865. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 
  19. ↑Swanson, James. Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Harper Collins, 2006. pp. 42–3. ISBN 978-0-06-051849-3
  20. ↑Steers, Edward. Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. University Press of Kentucky, 2001. p. 123–24. ISBN 978-0-8131-9151-5
  21. "Abraham Lincoln". History. AETN UK. Retrieved 16 February 2014. 
  22. Fox, Richard (2015). Lincoln's Body: A Cultural History. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393247244. 
  23. Swanson, James (2006). Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Harper Collins. ISBN 9780060518493. 
  24. ↑"Americans Say Reagan Is the Greatest President". Gallup Inc. February 28, 2011.

Other websites[change | change source]

A sketch of candidate Abraham Lincoln
The first photographic image of the new president


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