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1809 - 1865

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was an American lawyer, politician, and statesman who served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Lincoln led the Union through the American Civil War to defend the nation as a constitutional union and succeeded in abolishing slavery, bolstering the federal government, and modernizing the U.S. economy.

Lincoln was born into poverty in a log cabin in Kentucky and was raised on the frontier, primarily in Indiana. He was self-educated and became a lawyer, Whig Party leader, Illinois state legislator, and U.S. Congressman from Illinois. In 1849, he returned to his successful law practice in central Illinois. In 1854, he was angered by the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which opened the territories to slavery, and he re-entered politics. He soon became a leader of the new Republican Party. He reached a national audience in the 1858 Senate campaign debates against Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln ran for president in 1860, sweeping the North to gain victory. Pro-slavery elements in the South viewed his election as a threat to slavery, and Southern states began seceding from the nation. During this time, the newly formed Confederate States of America began seizing federal military bases in the south. Just over one month after Lincoln assumed the presidency, the Confederate States attacked Fort Sumter, a U.S. fort in South Carolina. Following the bombardment, Lincoln mobilized forces to suppress the rebellion and restore the union.

Lincoln, a moderate Republican, had to navigate a contentious array of factions with friends and opponents from both the Democratic and Republican parties. His allies, the War Democrats and the Radical Republicans, demanded harsh treatment of the Southern Confederates. Anti-war Democrats (called "Copperheads") despised Lincoln, and irreconcilable pro-Confederate elements plotted his assassination. He managed the factions by exploiting their mutual enmity, carefully distributing political patronage, and by appealing to the American people. His Gettysburg Address came to be seen as one of the greatest and most influential statements of American national purpose. Lincoln closely supervised the strategy and tactics in the war effort, including the selection of generals, and implemented a naval blockade of the South's trade. He suspended habeas corpus in Maryland and elsewhere, and averted British intervention by defusing the Trent Affair. In 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared the slaves in the states "in rebellion" to be free. It also directed the Army and Navy to "recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons" and to receive them "into the armed service of the United States." Lincoln also pressured border states to outlaw slavery, and he promoted the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which upon its ratification abolished slavery.

Lincoln managed his own successful re-election campaign. He sought to heal the war-torn nation through reconciliation. On April 14, 1865, just five days after the war's end at Appomattox, he was attending a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Mary, when he was fatally shot by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln is remembered as a martyr and a national hero for his wartime leadership and for his efforts to preserve the Union and abolish slavery. Lincoln is often ranked in both popular and scholarly polls as the greatest president in American history.

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1809 - 1831
Early Life and Formative Years
Early life
Early home of Abraham Lincoln. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1809 Feb 12

Early life

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Nat

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, the second child of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, in a log cabin on Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky. He was a descendant of Samuel Lincoln, an Englishman who migrated from Hingham, Norfolk, to its namesake, Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1638.

Indiana Years
Young Abraham Lincoln ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1816 Dec 1 - 1830

Indiana Years

Perry County, Indiana, USA

Lincoln spent 14 of his formative years, or roughly one-quarter of his life, from the age of 7 to 21 in Indiana. In December 1816, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, their 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, and 7-year-old Abraham moved to Indiana. They settled on land in an "unbroken forest" in Hurricane Township, Perry County, Indiana. The Lincoln property lay on land ceded to the United States government as part of treaties with the Piankeshaw and Delaware people in 1804. In 1818 the Indiana General Assembly created Spencer County, Indiana, from portions of Warrick and Perry counties, which included the Lincoln farm.

The move to Indiana had been planned for at least several months. Thomas visited Indiana Territory in mid-1816 to select a site and mark his claim, then returned to Kentucky and brought his family to Indiana sometime between November 11 and December 20, 1816, about the same time that Indiana became a state. However, Thomas Lincoln did not begin the formal process to purchase 160 acres of land until October 15, 1817, when he filed a claim at the land office in Vincennes, Indiana, for property identified as "the southwest quarter of Section 32, Township 4 South, Range 5 West".

Lincoln, who became skilled with an axe, helped his father clear their Indiana land. Recalling his boyhood in Indiana, Lincoln remarked that from the time of his arrival in 1816, he "was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument." Once the land had been cleared, the family raised hogs and corn on their farm, which was typical for Indiana settlers at that time. Thomas Lincoln also continued to work as a cabinetmaker and carpenter. Within a year of the family's arrival in Indiana, Thomas had claimed title to 160 acres of Indiana land and paid $80, a quarter of its total purchase price of $320. The Lincolns and others, many of whom came from Kentucky, settled in what became known the Little Pigeon Creek Community, about one hundred miles from the Lincoln farm at Knob Creek in Kentucky. By the time Lincoln reached age thirteen, nine families with forty-nine children under the age of seventeen were living within a mile of the Lincoln homestead.

Mother's Death
Nancy Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's mother died of milk sickness ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1818 Oct 5

Mother's Death

Indianapolis, IN, USA

Tragedy struck the family on October 5, 1818, when Nancy Lincoln died of milk sickness, an illness caused by drinking contaminated milk from cows who fed on Ageratina altissima (white snakeroot). Abraham was nine years old; his sister, Sarah, was eleven. After Nancy's death the household consisted of Thomas, aged 40; Sarah, Abraham, and Dennis Friend Hanks, an orphaned nineteen-year-old cousin of Nancy Lincoln.

Sally encourages Abraham Lincoln to read
Lincoln as a boy reading at night ©Eastman Johnson
1819 Dec 2

Sally encourages Abraham Lincoln to read

Perry County, Indiana, USA

On December 2, 1819, Lincoln's father married Sarah "Sally" Bush Johnston, a widow with three children from Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Ten-year-old Abe quickly bonded with his new stepmother, who raised her two young stepchildren as her own. Describing her in 1860, Lincoln remarked that she was "a good and kind mother" to him. Sally encouraged Lincoln's eagerness to learn and desire to read, and shared her own collection of books with him.

Family, neighbors and schoolmates of Lincoln's youth recalled that he was an avid reader. Lincoln read Aesop's Fables, the Bible, The Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and Parson Weems's The Life of Washington, as well as newspapers, hymnals, songbooks, math and spelling books, among others. Later studies included Shakespeare's works, poetry, and British and American history. Although Lincoln was unusually tall and strong, he spent so much time reading that some neighbors thought he was lazy for all his "reading, scribbling, writing, ciphering, writing Poetry, etc." and must have done it to avoid strenuous manual labor. His stepmother also acknowledged he did not enjoy "physical labor", but loved to read. "He (Lincoln) read so much—was so studious—too so little physical exercise—was so laborious in his studies," that years later, when Lincoln lived in Illinois, Henry McHenry remembered, "that he became emaciated and his best friends were afraid that he would craze himself."

First trip to New Orleans
An Alfred Waud engraving showing persons traveling down a river by flatboat in the late 1800s. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1828 Apr 1

First trip to New Orleans

New Orleans, LA, USA

Possibly looking for a diversion from the sorrow of his sister's death, 19-year-old Lincoln made a flatboat trip to New Orleans in the spring of 1828. Lincoln and Allen Gentry, the son of James Gentry, owner of a local store near the Lincoln family's homestead, began their trip along the Ohio River at Gentry's Landing, near Rockport, Indiana. En route to Louisiana, Lincoln and Gentry were attacked by several African American men who attempted to take their cargo, but the two successfully defended their boat and repelled their attackers. Upon their arrival in New Orleans, they sold their cargo, which was owned by Gentry's father, and then explored the city. With its considerable slave presence and active slave market, it is probable that Lincoln witnessed a slave auction, and it may have left an indelible impression on him. (Congress outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808, but the slave trade continued to flourish within the United States.) How much of New Orleans Lincoln saw or experienced is open to speculation. Whether he actually witnessed a slave auction at that time, or on a later trip to New Orleans, his first visit to the Deep South exposed him to new experiences, including the cultural diversity of New Orleans and a return trip to Indiana aboard a steamboat.

1831 - 1842
Early Career and Marriage
Lincoln settles in New Salem
Abraham Lincoln excellend in wrestling. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1831 Jul 1

Lincoln settles in New Salem

New Salem, Illinois, USA

In July 1831, as Thomas and other family prepared to move to a new homestead in Coles County, Illinois, Abraham struck out on his own. He made his home in New Salem, Illinois, for six years, where he found a promising community, but it probably never had a population that exceeded a hundred residents. New Salem was a small commercial settlement that served several local communities. The village had a sawmill, grist mill, blacksmith shop, cooper's shop, wool carding shop, a hat maker, general store, and a tavern spread out over more than a dozen buildings. Offutt did not open his store until September, so Lincoln found temporary work in the interim and was quickly accepted by the townspeople as a hardworking and cooperative young man. Once Lincoln began working in the store, he met a rougher crowd of settlers and workers from the surrounding communities, who came into New Salem to purchase supplies or have their corn ground. Lincoln's humor, storytelling abilities, and physical strength fit the young, raucous element that included the so-called Clary's Grove boys, and his place among them was cemented after a wrestling match with a local champion, Jack Armstrong. Although Lincoln lost the fight with Armstrong, he earned the respect of the locals.

During his first winter in New Salem, Lincoln attended a meeting of the New Salem debating club. His performance in the club, along with his efficiency in managing the store, sawmill, and gristmill, in addition to his other efforts at self-improvement soon gained the attention of the town's leaders, such as Dr. John Allen, Mentor Graham, and James Rutledge. The men encouraged Lincoln to enter politics, feeling that he was capable of supporting the interests of their community. In March 1832 Lincoln announced his candidacy in a written article that appeared in the Sangamo Journal, which was published in Springfield. While Lincoln admired Henry Clay and his American System, the national political climate was undergoing a change and local Illinois issues were the primary political concerns of the election. Lincoln opposed the development of a local railroad project, but supported improvements in the Sangamon River that would increase its navigability. Although the two-party political system that pitted Democrats against Whigs had not yet formed, Lincoln would become one of the leading Whigs in the state legislature within the next few years.

Captain Lincoln
Lincoln depicted protecting a Native American from his own men in a scene often related about Lincoln's war-time service ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1832 Apr 21 - 1829 Jul 10

Captain Lincoln

Illinois, USA

Abraham Lincoln served as a volunteer in the Illinois Militia April 21, 1832 – July 10, 1832, during the Black Hawk War. Lincoln never saw combat during his tour but was elected captain of his first company. He was also present in the aftermath of two of the war's battles, where he helped to bury the militia dead. He was mustered in and out of service during the war, going from captain to private and finishing his service in an independent spy company commanded by Captain Jacob Early. Lincoln's service had a lasting impression on him, and he related tales about it later in life with modesty and a bit of humor. Through his service he was able to forge lifelong political connections. In addition, he received a land grant from the U.S. government for his military service during the war. Though Lincoln had no military experience when he assumed command of his company, he is generally characterized as an able and competent leader.

Postmaster and Surveyor
Postmaster Lincoln ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1833 May 1

Postmaster and Surveyor

New Salem, IL, USA

In May 1833, with the assistance of friends interested in keeping him in New Salem, Lincoln secured an appointment from President Andrew Jackson as the postmaster of New Salem, a position he kept for three years. During this time, Lincoln earned between $150 and $175 as postmaster, hardly enough to be considered a full-time source of income. Another friend helped Lincoln obtain an appointment as an assistant to county surveyor John Calhoun, a Democratic political appointee. Lincoln had no experience at surveying, but he relied on borrowed copies of two works and was able to teach himself the practical application of surveying techniques as well as the trigonometric basis of the process. His income proved sufficient to meet his day-to-day expenses, but the notes from his partnership with Berry were coming due.

Illinois State Legislature
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1834 Jan 1 - 1842

Illinois State Legislature

Illinois State Capitol, Spring

In 1834 Lincoln's decision to run for the state legislature for a second time was strongly influenced by his need to satisfy his debts, what he jokingly referred to as his "national debt", and the additional income that would come from a legislative salary. By this time Lincoln was a member of the Whig party. His campaign strategy excluded a discussion of the national issues and concentrated on traveling throughout the district and greeting voters. The district's leading Whig candidate was Springfield attorney John Todd Stuart, whom Lincoln knew from his militia service during the Black Hawk War. Local Democrats, who feared Stuart more than Lincoln, offered to withdraw two of their candidates from the field of thirteen, where only the top four vote-getters would be elected, to support Lincoln. Stuart, who was confident of his own victory, told Lincoln to go ahead and accept the Democrats' endorsement. On August 4 Lincoln polled 1,376 votes, the second highest number of votes in the race, and won one of the four seats in the election, as did Stuart. Lincoln was reelected to the state legislature in 1836, 1838, and 1840.

When Lincoln announced his bid for reelection in June 1836, he addressed the controversial issue of expanded suffrage. Democrats advocated universal suffrage for white males residing in the state for at least six months. They hoped to bring Irish immigrants, who were attracted to the state because of its canal projects, onto the voting rolls as Democrats. Lincoln supported the traditional Whig position that voting should be limited to property owners.

Lincoln was reelected on August 1, 1836, as the top vote getter in the Sangamon delegation. This delegation of two senators and seven representatives was nicknamed the "Long Nine" because all of them were above average height. Despite being the second youngest of the group, Lincoln was viewed as the group's leader and the floor leader of the Whig minority. The Long Nine's primary agenda was the relocation of the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield and a vigorous program of internal improvements for the state. Lincoln's influence within the legislature and within his party continued to grow with his reelection for two subsequent terms in 1838 and 1840. By the 1838–1839 legislative session, Lincoln served on at least fourteen committees and worked behind the scenes to manage the program of the Whig minority.

Lincoln studies law
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1835 Jan 1 - 1836 Sep 9

Lincoln studies law

Springfield, IL, USA

Stuart, a cousin of Lincoln's future wife, Mary Todd, was impressed with Lincoln and encouraged him to study law. Lincoln was probably familiar with courtrooms from an early age. While the family was still in Kentucky, his father was frequently involved with filing land deeds, serving on juries, and attending sheriff's sales, and later, Lincoln may have been aware of his father's legal issues. When the family moved to Indiana, Lincoln lived within 15 miles (24 km) of three county courthouses. Attracted by the opportunity of hearing a good oral presentation, Lincoln, as did many others on the frontier, attended court sessions as a spectator. The practice continued when he moved to New Salem. Noticing how often lawyers referred to them, Lincoln made a point of reading and studying the Revised Statutes of Indiana, the Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution.

Using books borrowed from the law firm of Stuart and Judge Thomas Drummond, Lincoln began to study law in earnest during the first half of 1835. Lincoln did not attend law school, and stated: "I studied with nobody."As part of his training, he read copies of Blackstone's Commentaries, Chitty's Pleadings, Greenleaf's Evidence, and Joseph Story's Equity Jurisprudence. In February 1836 Lincoln stopped working as a surveyor, and in March 1836, took the first step to becoming a practicing attorney when he applied to the clerk of the Sangamon County Court to register as a man of good and moral character. After passing an oral examination by a panel of practicing attorneys, Lincoln received his law license on September 9, 1836. In April 1837 he was enrolled to practice before the Supreme Court of Illinois, and moved to Springfield, where he went into partnership with Stuart.

Marriage and Children
Marriage to Mary Todd ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1842 Nov 4

Marriage and Children

Springfield, IL, USA

In 1839, Lincoln met Mary Todd in Springfield, Illinois, and the following year they became engaged. She was the daughter of Robert Smith Todd, a wealthy lawyer and businessman in Lexington, Kentucky. A wedding set for January 1, 1841, was canceled at Lincoln's request, but they reconciled and married on November 4, 1842, in the Springfield mansion of Mary's sister. While anxiously preparing for the nuptials, he was asked where he was going and replied, "To hell, I suppose." In 1844, the couple bought a house in Springfield near his law office. Mary kept house with the help of a hired servant and a relative.

Lincoln was an affectionate husband and father of four sons, though his work regularly kept him away from home. The oldest, Robert Todd Lincoln, was born in 1843 and was the only child to live to maturity. Edward Baker Lincoln (Eddie), born in 1846, died February 1, 1850, probably of tuberculosis. Lincoln's third son, "Willie" Lincoln was born on December 21, 1850, and died of a fever at the White House on February 20, 1862. The youngest, Thomas "Tad" Lincoln, was born on April 4, 1853, and survived his father but died of heart failure at age 18 on July 16, 1871.Lincoln "was remarkably fond of children" and the Lincolns were not considered to be strict with their own. In fact, Lincoln's law partner William H. Herndon would grow irritated when Lincoln brought his children to the law office. Their father, it seemed, was often too absorbed in his work to notice his children's behavior. Herndon recounted, "I have felt many and many a time that I wanted to wring their little necks, and yet out of respect for Lincoln I kept my mouth shut. Lincoln did not note what his children were doing or had done." The deaths of their sons, Eddie and Willie, had profound effects on both parents. Lincoln suffered from "melancholy", a condition now thought to be clinical depression.

1843 - 1851
Lawyer and Congressman
Prairie Lawyer
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1843 Jan 1 00:01 - 1859

Prairie Lawyer

Springfield, IL, USA

In his Springfield practice, Lincoln handled "every kind of business that could come before a prairie lawyer". Twice a year he appeared for 10 consecutive weeks in county seats in the Midstate county courts; this continued for 16 years. Lincoln handled transportation cases in the midst of the nation's western expansion, particularly river barge conflicts under the many new railroad bridges. As a riverboat man, Lincoln initially favored those interests, but ultimately represented whoever hired him. He later represented a bridge company against a riverboat company in Hurd v. Rock Island Bridge Company, a landmark case involving a canal boat that sank after hitting a bridge.

Lincoln appeared before the Illinois Supreme Court in 175 cases; he was sole counsel in 51 cases, of which 31 were decided in his favor. From 1853 to 1860, one of his largest clients was the Illinois Central Railroad. His legal reputation gave rise to the nickname "Honest Abe".

Lincoln argued in an 1858 criminal trial, defending William "Duff" Armstrong, who was on trial for the murder of James Preston Metzker. The case is famous for Lincoln's use of a fact established by judicial notice to challenge the credibility of an eyewitness. After an opposing witness testified to seeing the crime in the moonlight, Lincoln produced a Farmers' Almanac showing the moon was at a low angle, drastically reducing visibility. Armstrong was acquitted.

Leading up to his presidential campaign, Lincoln elevated his profile in an 1859 murder case, with his defense of Simeon Quinn "Peachy" Harrison who was a third cousin;Harrison was also the grandson of Lincoln's political opponent, Rev. Peter Cartwright. Harrison was charged with the murder of Greek Crafton who, as he lay dying of his wounds, confessed to Cartwright that he had provoked Harrison. Lincoln angrily protested the judge's initial decision to exclude Cartwright's testimony about the confession as inadmissible hearsay. Lincoln argued that the testimony involved a dying declaration and was not subject to the hearsay rule. Instead of holding Lincoln in contempt of court as expected, the judge, a Democrat, reversed his ruling and admitted the testimony into evidence, resulting in Harrison's acquittal.

US. House of Representatives
Lincoln in his late 30s as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Photo taken by one of Lincoln's law students around 1846. ©Nicholas H. Shepherd
1847 Jan 1 - 1849

US. House of Representatives

Illinois, USA

In 1843, Lincoln sought the Whig nomination for Illinois' 7th district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; he was defeated by John J. Hardin though he prevailed with the party in limiting Hardin to one term. Lincoln not only pulled off his strategy of gaining the nomination in 1846 but also won the election. He was the only Whig in the Illinois delegation, but as dutiful as any participated in almost all votes and made speeches that toed the party line. He was assigned to the Committee on Post Office and Post Roads and the Committee on Expenditures in the War Department. Lincoln teamed with Joshua R. Giddings on a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia with compensation for the owners, enforcement to capture fugitive slaves, and a popular vote on the matter. He dropped the bill when it eluded Whig support.

Campaigning for Zachary Taylor
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1848 Jan 1

Campaigning for Zachary Taylor

Washington D.C., DC, USA

In the 1848 presidential election, Lincoln supported war hero Zachary Taylor for the Whig nomination and for president in the general election. In abandoning Clay, Lincoln argued that Taylor was the only Whig that was electable. Lincoln attended the Whig National Convention in Philadelphia as a Taylor delegate. Following Taylor's successful nomination, Lincoln urged Taylor to run a campaign emphasizing his personal traits, while leaving the controversial issues to be resolved by Congress. While Congress was in session Lincoln spoke in favor of Taylor on the House floor, and when it adjourned in August, he remained in Washington to assist Whig Executive Committee of Congress in the campaign. In September Lincoln made campaign speeches in Boston and other New England locations. Remembering the election of 1844, Lincoln addressed potential Free Soil voters by saying that the Whigs were equally opposed to slavery and the only issue was how they could most effectively vote against the expansion of slavery. Lincoln argued that a vote for the Free Soil candidate, former President Martin Van Buren, would divide the antislavery vote and give the election to the Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass.

With Taylor's victory, the incoming administration, perhaps remembering Lincoln's criticism of Taylor during the Mexican–American War, offered Lincoln only the governorship of remote Oregon Territory. Acceptance would end his career in the fast-growing state of Illinois, so he declined, and returned to Springfield, Illinois, where he turned most of his energies to his law practice.

1854 - 1860
Return to Politics and the Road to Presidency
Return to Politics
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1854 Oct 1

Return to Politics

Illinois, USA

The debate over the status of slavery in the territories failed to alleviate tensions between the slave-holding South and the free North, with the failure of the Compromise of 1850, a legislative package designed to address the issue. In his 1852 eulogy for Clay, Lincoln highlighted the latter's support for gradual emancipation and opposition to "both extremes" on the slavery issue. As the slavery debate in the Nebraska and Kansas territories became particularly acrimonious, Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas proposed popular sovereignty as a compromise; the measure would allow the electorate of each territory to decide the status of slavery. The legislation alarmed many Northerners, who sought to prevent the spread of slavery that could result, but Douglas's Kansas–Nebraska Act narrowly passed Congress in May 1854.

Lincoln did not comment on the act until months later in his "Peoria Speech" of October 1854. Lincoln then declared his opposition to slavery, which he repeated en route to the presidency. He said the Kansas Act had a "declared indifference, but as I must think, a covert real zeal for the spread of slavery. I cannot but hate it. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world...." Lincoln's attacks on the Kansas–Nebraska Act marked his return to political life.

Lincoln-Douglas debates
A painting of the Lincoln Douglas Debates. Stephen Douglas was 5'2'' and a Christian who thought that African slaves were a lower level of humanity. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1858 Aug 1 - Oct

Lincoln-Douglas debates

Illinois, USA

The Lincoln–Douglas debates were a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party candidate for the United States Senate from Illinois, and incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas, the Democratic Party candidate. The debates focused on slavery, specifically whether it would be allowed in the new states to be formed from the territory acquired through the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican Cession. Douglas, as the Democratic candidate, held that the decision should be made by the residents of the new states themselves rather than by the federal government (popular sovereignty). Lincoln argued against the expansion of slavery, yet stressed that he was not advocating its abolition where it already existed.

Douglas was re-elected by the Illinois General Assembly, 54–46. But the publicity made Lincoln a national figure and laid the groundwork for his 1860 presidential campaign. As part of that endeavor, Lincoln edited the texts of all the debates and had them published in a book. It sold well and helped him receive the Republican Party's nomination for president at the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Cooper Union speech
Photo of Abraham Lincoln taken February 27, 1860 in New York City by Mathew Brady, the day of his famous Cooper Union speech ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1860 Feb 27

Cooper Union speech

Cooper Union for the Advanceme

The Cooper Union speech or address, known at the time as the Cooper Institute speech, was delivered by Abraham Lincoln on February 27, 1860, at Cooper Union, in New York City. Lincoln was not yet the Republican nominee for the presidency, as the convention was scheduled for May. It is considered one of his most important speeches. Some historians have argued that the speech was responsible for his victory in the presidential election later that year.

In the speech, Lincoln elaborated his views on slavery by affirming that he did not wish it to be expanded into the western territories and claiming that the Founding Fathers would agree with this position. The journalist Robert J. McNamara wrote, "Lincoln's Cooper Union speech was one of his longest, at more than 7,000 words. And it is not one of his speeches with passages that are often quoted. Yet, due to the careful research and Lincoln's forceful argument, it was stunningly effective."

President Lincoln
Lincoln's first inaugural at the United States Capitol, March 4, 1861. The Capitol dome above the rotunda was still under construction ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1860 Nov 6

President Lincoln

Washington D.C., DC, USA

On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected the 16th president. He was the first Republican president and his victory was entirely due to his support in the North and West. No ballots were cast for him in 10 of the 15 Southern slave states, and he won only two of 996 counties in all the Southern states, an omen of the impending Civil War. Lincoln received 1,866,452 votes, or 39.8% of the total in a four-way race, carrying the free Northern states, as well as California and Oregon. His victory in the Electoral College was decisive: Lincoln had 180 votes to 123 for his opponents.

As Douglas and the other candidates campaigned, Lincoln gave no speeches, relying on the enthusiasm of the Republican Party. The party did the leg work that produced majorities across the North and produced an abundance of campaign posters, leaflets, and newspaper editorials. Republican speakers focused first on the party platform, and second on Lincoln's life story, emphasizing his childhood poverty. The goal was to demonstrate the power of "free labor", which allowed a common farm boy to work his way to the top by his own efforts. The Republican Party's production of campaign literature dwarfed the combined opposition; a Chicago Tribune writer produced a pamphlet that detailed Lincoln's life and sold 100,000–200,000 copies. Though he did not give public appearances, many sought to visit him and write him. In the runup to the election, he took an office in the Illinois state capitol to deal with the influx of attention.

1861 - 1865
Presidency and the Civil War
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1861 Apr 12 - 1865 May 26

American Civil War

United States

After Lincoln won, many Southern leaders felt that disunion was their only option, fearing that the loss of representation would hamper their ability to enact pro-slavery laws and policies. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln said that "slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. An initial seven southern slave states responded to Lincoln's victory by seceding from the United States and, in February 1861, forming the Confederacy. The Confederacy seized U.S. forts and other federal assets within their borders. Led by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy asserted control over about a third of the U.S. population in eleven of the 34 U.S. states that then existed. Four years of intense combat, mostly in the South, ensued.

The American Civil War was fought between the Union("the North") and the Confederacy ("the South"), the latter formed by states that had seceded. The central cause of the war was the dispute over whether slavery would be permitted to expand into the western territories, leading to more slave states, or be prevented from doing so, which was widely believed would place slavery on a course of ultimate extinction.

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1863 Jan 1

Emancipation Proclamation

Washington D.C., DC, USA

On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which announced that, in states still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, the slaves would be freed. He kept his word and, on January 1, 1863, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in 10 states not then under Union control, with exemptions specified for areas under such control. Lincoln's comment on signing the Proclamation was: "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper." He spent the next 100 days preparing the army and the nation for emancipation, while Democrats rallied their voters by warning of the threat that freed slaves posed to northern whites.

With the abolition of slavery in the rebel states now a military objective, Union armies advancing south liberated all three million slaves in the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation having stated that freedmen would be "received into the armed service of the United States," enlisting these freedmen became official policy. By the spring of 1863, Lincoln was ready to recruit black troops in more than token numbers. In a letter to Tennessee military governor Andrew Johnson encouraging him to lead the way in raising black troops, Lincoln wrote, "The bare sight of 50,000 armed and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once". By the end of 1863, at Lincoln's direction, General Lorenzo Thomas had recruited 20 regiments of blacks from the Mississippi Valley.

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1863 Nov 19

Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg, PA, USA

Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield cemetery on November 19, 1863. In 272 words, and three minutes, Lincoln asserted that the nation was born not in 1789, but in 1776, "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". He defined the war as dedicated to the principles of liberty and equality for all. He declared that the deaths of so many brave soldiers would not be in vain, that slavery would end, and the future of democracy would be assured, that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth". Defying his prediction that "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here", the Address became the most quoted speech in American history.

Lincoln's second inaugural address at the almost completed Capitol building, March 4, 1865. ©Alexander Gardner
1864 Nov 8


Washington D.C., DC, USA

Lincoln ran for reelection in 1864, while uniting the main Republican factions, along with War Democrats Edwin M. Stanton and Andrew Johnson. Lincoln used conversation and his patronage powers—greatly expanded from peacetime—to build support and fend off the Radicals' efforts to replace him. At its convention, the Republicans selected Johnson as his running mate. To broaden his coalition to include War Democrats as well as Republicans, Lincoln ran under the label of the new Union Party.

The Democratic platform followed the "Peace wing" of the party and called the war a "failure"; but their candidate, McClellan, supported the war and repudiated the platform. Meanwhile, Lincoln emboldened Grant with more troops and Republican party support. Sherman's capture of Atlanta in September and David Farragut's capture of Mobile ended defeatism. The Democratic Party was deeply split, with some leaders and most soldiers openly for Lincoln. The National Union Party was united by Lincoln's support for emancipation. State Republican parties stressed the perfidy of the Copperheads. On November 8, Lincoln carried all but three states, including 78 percent of Union soldiers.

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1865 Apr 14

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Ford's Theatre, 10th Street No

John Wilkes Booth was a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland; though he never joined the Confederate army, he had contacts with the Confederate secret service. After attending an April 11, 1865 speech in which Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks, Booth hatched a plot to assassinate the President. When Booth learned of the Lincolns' intent to attend a play with General Grant, he planned to assassinate Lincoln and Grant at Ford's Theatre. Lincoln and his wife attended the play Our American Cousin on the evening of April 14, just five days after the Union victory at the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse. At the last minute, Grant decided to go to New Jersey to visit his children instead of attending the play.

On April 14, 1865, hours before he was assassinated, Lincoln signed legislation establishing the United States Secret Service, and, at 10:15 in the evening, Booth entered the back of Lincoln's theater box, crept up from behind, and fired at the back of Lincoln's head, mortally wounding him. Lincoln's guest, Major Henry Rathbone, momentarily grappled with Booth, but Booth stabbed him and escaped. After being attended by Doctor Charles Leale and two other doctors, Lincoln was taken across the street to Petersen House. After remaining in a coma for eight hours, Lincoln died at 7:22 in the morning on April 15.tanton saluted and said, "Now he belongs to the ages."incoln's body was placed in a flag-wrapped coffin, which was loaded into a hearse and escorted to the White House by Union soldiers. President Johnson was sworn in later that same day.

Two weeks later, Booth, refusing to surrender, was tracked to a farm in Virginia, and was mortally shot by Sergeant Boston Corbett and died on April 26. Secretary of War Stanton had issued orders that Booth be taken alive, so Corbett was initially arrested to be court martialed. After a brief interview, Stanton declared him a patriot and dismissed the charge.

Funeral and Burial
Military units marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. during the state funeral for Abraham Lincoln on April 19, 1865 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1865 May 4

Funeral and Burial

Oak Ridge Cemetery, Monument A

After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, a three-week series of events was held to mourn the death and memorialize the life of the 16th president of the United States. Funeral services, a procession, and a lying in state were first held in Washington, D.C., then a funeral train transported Lincoln's remains 1,654 miles through seven states for burial in Springfield, Illinois. Never exceeding 20 mph, the train made several stops in principal cities and state capitals for processions, orations, and additional lyings in state. Millions of Americans viewed the train along the route and participated in associated ceremonies.

The train left Washington, on April 21 at 12:30 pm. It bore Lincoln's eldest son Robert Todd and the remains of Lincoln's younger son, William Wallace Lincoln (1850–1862), but not Lincoln's wife Mary Todd Lincoln, who was too distraught to make the trip. The train largely retraced the route Lincoln had traveled to Washington as the president-elect on his way to his first inauguration, more than four years earlier. The train arrived at Springfield on May 3. Lincoln was interred on May 4, at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. Every town the train passed or stopped in there was always a crowd to pay their respects to one of the greatest men in history.

1866 Jan 1


United States

Abraham Lincoln is widely regarded as one of the greatest presidents in American history. His legacy has been remembered and honored for centuries, and he remains one of the most influential figures in the nation. His lasting impact on the nation was due to his perseverance and dedication to the ideals of freedom, democracy, and equality for all. He is remembered for the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, both of which abolished slavery in the United States. In addition, he is credited for preserving the Union during the Civil War and for his unwavering commitment to the Union's cause. He is also remembered for his famous Gettysburg Address, which was a call for a new birth of freedom and equality for all Americans. These accomplishments solidified Lincoln's legacy as an advocate for democracy and equality. His legacy is one of courage, determination, and perseverance in the face of immense adversity. He is a symbol of hope and perseverance that continues to inspire generations today.


John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth

American Stage Actor

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

Union Army General

Stephen A. Douglas

Stephen A. Douglas

United States Senator

Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln

First Lady of the United States


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