Biography of Abraham Lincoln


ABRAHAM LINCOLN, sixteenth president of the United States, was born in Hardin Co., Ky., Feb. 12th, 1809, his father being Thomas Lincoln, who married Nancy Hawks. Thomas Lincoln was a man of restless habits and little thrift, and at the time Abraham was born the family lived in a miserable cabin on a sterile piece of land, poorly cultivated and yielding a scanty support. In 1816 he removed to Perry County, Indiana, where he built a cabin in the then almost unbroken wilderness. Here his wife Nancy died, in Oct, 1818, and a little more than a year later he married a widow Johnston. The stepmother was a capable, warm-hearted woman and gave to Abraham better care than he had ever known. She encouraged him in his studies, and kindled his ambition. Lincoln had but little chance for schooling, his last attendance being in 1826, when he was seventeen years old. At this age he had already reached his maximum height of 6 ft. 4 in. He was wiry and strong, with large hands and feet, long arms, and a rather small head; an awkward overgrown boy, always in good humor and always in good health. He eagerly read everything within his reach, but in the back-woods books were scarce, and his reading was limited to a few volumes. The first law-book which he read was a copy of the statutes of Indiana which he borrowed from a constable. In 1825 he worked for several months on a ferry over the Ohio river, at a salary of six dollars per month. In 1828 he helped to run a flat-boat down the Ohio and the Mississippi to New Orleans. In 1830 Lincoln's father removed with his family to Illinois, Lincoln soon after became of age, and left home to make his own way in the world. On the outbreak of the Black Hawk War in 1832, he enlisted in a company at Sangamon, and was chosen captain, but the campaign was not marked by any event of importance. In the same year he made his first appearance in politics as a candidate for the legislature on the Whig ticket, but was defeated. He next became a partner in a grocery store at New Salem, but the concern soon failed, and Lincoln, deserted by his partner, was left to pay the debts, which it took him several years to accomplish.He now began the study of law in earnest and made rapid progress.

In 1834 Lincoln was elected to the legislature and two years later was re-elected to the same office. When the State capital was removed to Springfield in 1839 he opened a law-office there, taking into partnership John T. Stuart, a prominent Whig. In 1840 Lincoln was an elector on the Harrison ticket, and took an active part in the campaign, speaking in all parts of the state. In 1842 he married Miss Mary Todd, daughter of Hon. Robert S. Todd, of Lexington, Ky. In 1846 he was elected to Congress, carrying his district by a large majority, he was the only Whig member of that house from Illinois. For two years after the close of his term he was not active in politics. In 1850 he declined a nomination for Congress. In the anti-slavery agitation which followed the introduction of the Kansas Nebraska bill by Douglas in 1854, Lincoln took strong ground against the extension of slavery in a speech of great power, delivered at the State fair at Springfield. Douglas, who was present, became so excited by the skill of his great opponent that he was unable to reply.

The Republican Party in Illinois was formed at the State Convention at Bloomington, in 1856, and there Lincoln made one of the most famous of all his speeches in opposition to slavery. One who was present said of it: "It was fresh, new, odd, original, filled with fervor and enthusiasm; it was full of fire, energy and force, of great truths and the sense of right; it was justice and equity set ablaze by the force Of the soul; it was hard, heavy, knotted, gnarled and heated." In 1858 occured his great contest with Douglas for the senatorship. Both canvassed the State thoroughly; the Democrats carried the legislature, and Douglas won the prize. The result was a bitter disappointment to Lincoln, who, when questioned; said, he felt "like the boy who stubbed his toe; it hurt too hard to laugh and he was too big to cry.

"On the 16th of May 1860, the Republican national convention met in Chicago, Seward was the leading candidate and his nomination seemed certain, but Lincoln was nominated on the third ballot. The Democratic party divided on the slavery question. Douglas was nominated on the platform of "squatter sovereignty," while the extreme southern wing nominated John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky. After a most exciting campaign, the election resulted in favor of Lincoln, who received 180 electoral votes out of a total of 294. The southern leaders had already announced their purpose to secede from the Union in the event of the triumph of the Republican party. The first State to attempt to carry out this threat was South Carolina, which passed an ordinance of secession on Dec. 20th 1860. In less than six weeks a similar ordinance had been passed by each of the States of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. A convention of delegates from these states met at Montgomery, Alabama, Feb. 4th, 1861, and proceeded to organize a new government with the title of The Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis was chosen President and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, Vice-President. The Federal property within their limits was at once seized by the seceded States.

Such was the state of affairs when President Lincoln took the executive chair March 4th, 1861. In his inaugural address while declaring his purpose to "take care that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States," he took pains to express the utmost good will toward the South, and to disavow any desire or intention to interfere with slavery in the States. He said: "There need be no blood-shed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere." In response to this temperate appeal, the South hastened forward their preparations for war. On the 12th of April the Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, and thus hostilities began. On the 14th, Maj, Anderson, who was in command of the Federal garrison surrendered the fort. The next day President Lincoln issued a call for seventy-five thousand volunteers, and called for a special session of Congress to meet on the 4th of July. Two days later Virginia seceded and joined the Confederacy; Arkansas followed May 6th, North Carolina on the 20th of the same month, and Tennessee on the 6th of June. Both the North and the South now rushed to arms. When Congress assembled, the President in a brief message rehearsed the acts of rebellion and said: "This issue embraces more than the fate of the United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic or democracy - a government of the people by the same people - can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes."

The first great battle, on the field of Bull Run, resulted disastrously to the Union army, which was driven back upon Washington. It was now clear that the struggle would be long and bloody. President Lincoln promptly issued a call for five hundred thousand troops. The North responded eagerly, and the quota was soon full. General Scott, enfeebled by age, was retired at his own request, and General George B. McClellan was placed in command of the Army of the Potomac. The year 1862 was marked by desperate fighting, and while in the West Union victories were won, in the East there was only the negative victory at Antietam to offset the disastrous peninsular campaign of McClellan the crushing defeat of Pope at the second battle of Bull Run, and of Burnside at Fredericksburg. It was a period of great depression for the friends of the Union, but none suffered so keenly as the worn out anxious President. The emancipation of the slaves of the South was now urged upon Lincoln as a legitimate and necessary war measure. He was profoundly impressed with the gravity of the issues involved in this step, and of the responsibility which it thrust upon him. After careful deliberation Lincoln decided to act, and on Monday Sept. 22, 1862, he issued his proclamition, declaring that on and after Jan. l, 1863, all slaves in States or parts of States then in rebellion should be free. Two years later, Lincoln said of this proclamation: "As affairs have turned it is the central act of my administration, and the great event of the nineteenth century. The Summer of 1863 witnessed the capture of Vicksburg by General Grant, and the defeat of Lee at Gettysburg, events which proved to be the turning point of the war. The end was delayed, General Grant was placed in command of all the armies of the United States, and the long and bloody campaigns of Atlanta, the Wilderness and the seige of Richmond were fought with desperate bravery and enormous loss on both sides. But the fate of the Confederacy was sealed. The final stroke was given on the 9th of April, 1865, when Lee surrendered his whole army to Grant at Appomattox. The war was over, and in the public rejoicings all hearts turned to the man whose courage had never faltered, and who, "with charity for all and malice toward none," had guided the nation through her deadly peril. The patient man who had suffered the pain of a thousand deaths during the war; who had been misunderstood, maligned, and condemned by friends as well as enemies, now shone conspicuous in popular affection. He had liberated a race; he had saved his country. But the joy of the nation was soon change to mourning. On the evening of April 14th, Lincoln, attended with his wife, occupied a box in Ford's theatre. While he was absorbed in the play, an actor named John Wilkes Booth suddenly entered the box, held a pistol at the back of Lincoln's head and fired; then leaped upon the stage and escaped. The ball pierced the brain; Lincoln sank unconscious and died the next morning. The assassin was pursued, found concealed in a barn in Carolina County, Virginia, and refusing to surrender was shot dead.

Rarely was a man so fitted to the event. The name of Lincoln will remain one of the greatest that history has inscribed on its annals.