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Abraham Lincoln

— 16th President of the United States —

View full portraits at:
National Portrait Gallery or the White House Presidential Portrait Gallery

 

ELECTED FROM: Illinois
POLITICAL PARTY:
Republican
TERM:
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865

BORN: February 12, 1809
BIRTHPLACE:
Hardin County, Kentucky
DIED:
April 15, 1865, Washington, D.C.
Buried in Springfield, Illinois
OCCUPATION:
Lawyer
MARRIED:
Mary Todd, 1842
CHILDREN:
Robert, Edward, Willie, Tad

Abraham Lincoln was born on a small farm near Larue, Kentucky. His family lived in a one-room log cabin that was typical for poor farmers on the Kentucky frontier. When Abraham was three, his family moved to another farm in Knob Creek, Kentucky. The farm was located on the main road that connected Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee.

As a young boy, Abraham Lincoln met many people as they moved along the Louisville-Nashville road – pioneer families, peddlers, and politicians who were traveling to the state capital.

There was always plenty of work for the young Abraham. Since there were no schools on the Kentucky frontier, Abraham Lincoln could spend his days working. And he did. He plowed the fields at planting time, he pulled weeds that grew up around the crops, and he kept the box of firewood filled all the time, along with many other chores. When he was eight, his family moved to Indiana, where his mother died less than two years later. His father then married Sarah Johnson, who helped Abraham learn to read.

By age 16, Abraham was a tall, slim, and strong young man. He did any and all odd jobs anyone would hire him for. He worked as a farmhand, grocery clerk, and rail splitter. He also worked as a deckhand on a flatboat that floated down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans.

In 1836, Abraham Lincoln received his license to practice law. After practicing law for a while, he was elected to the House of Representatives. He served one term and then returned to Springfield, Illinois to resume his law practice. In 1855, when the Kansas-Nebraska Act that allowed new states to decide whether or not they wanted to be admitted as slave states was passed, Abraham Lincoln was called to action.

In 1858, he ran for the Senate against Stephen Douglas, who was in favor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. During this election campaign, Lincoln and Douglas debated each other on the topic of slavery. These debates are known as the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and they are some of the most famous debates in American history. Douglas won the election, but these debates made Lincoln famous.

In 1860, the Republican party chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for president. The elections were held in the fall of 1860 and Lincoln won. Soon afterward, South Carolina and other states seceded from the Union. By the time Lincoln got into office, tensions between the North and South were very strong. If fact, one month after Lincoln took office, southern soldiers fired on Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. This was the beginning of the war between the states, now known as the Civil War.

In 1862, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to all slaves in the South. After two years of a war that was being won by the South, this proclamation did not have much effect. But in July 1863, there was a battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where the Southern army was forced to retreat, and for the first time the North got the upper hand.

Later that year, Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous American speeches of all time:

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.

Less than a week after this speech, Ulysses S. Grant took command of the Union army and began to force all rebel forces to the Deep South. In the meantime, General William Tecumseh Sherman was marching toward Atlanta in his famous "march to the sea."With things going well for the Union, Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election of 1864. When he took his oath of office at the beginning of his second term, he urged that instead of taking vengeance against the South, there should be "malice toward none and charity for all."

On April 14, 1865, five days after the surrender of Confederate forces, Lincoln attended a theater performance with his wife. A man named John Wilkes Booth crept up behind Lincoln and shot him in the head. President Lincoln died the next day.


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