Today let’s celebrate the birthday of our sixteenth president of the United States and president during the Civil War (1861–1865) Abraham Lincoln. Hope you enjoy reading about his life. History seems more interesting now than it did when we were studying it in high school. Having a coach for a teacher didn’t help my retention of history’s lessons. Now, it’s catch-up time.
“He will forever be remembered for his inspirational rise to fame, his efforts to rid the country of slavery, and his ability to hold together a divided nation. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address, and two outstanding inaugural addresses are widely regarded as some of the greatest speeches ever delivered by an American politician.
Abraham Lincoln was born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin on a farm in Kentucky. Two years later the family moved to a farm on Knob Creek. There, when there was no immediate work to be done, Abraham walked two miles to the schoolhouse, where he learned the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
When Abraham was seven, his father sold his lands and moved the family into the rugged wilderness of Indiana across the Ohio River. After spending a winter in a crude shack, the Lincolns began building a better home and clearing the land for planting. They were making progress when, in the summer of 1818, a terrible disease known as milk sickness struck the region. First it took the lives of his great uncle and aunt, and then his mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Without Mrs. Lincoln the household began to fall apart, and much of the workload fell to Abraham and his sister.
The next winter Abraham’s father returned to Kentucky and brought back a second wife, Sarah Bush Johnson, a widow with three children. As time passed, the region where the Lincolns lived grew in population. Lincoln himself grew tall and strong, and his father often hired him out to work for neighbors. Meanwhile, Lincoln’s father had again moved his family to a new home in Illinois. At the end of the first summer in Illinois, disease swept through the region and put the Lincolns on the move once again. This time it was to Coles County.
Abraham, who was now a grown man, did not go along. Instead he moved to the growing town of New Salem, where he was placed in charge of a mill and store. Life in New Salem was a turning point for Lincoln. To the store came people of all kinds to talk and trade and to enjoy the stories told by this unique and popular man. The members of the New Salem Debating Society welcomed him, and Lincoln began to develop his skills as a passionate and persuasive speaker. When the Black Hawk War (1832) erupted between the United States and hostile Native Americans, the volunteers of the region quickly elected Lincoln to be their captain.
After the war he announced himself as a candidate for the Illinois legislature. He was not elected, but he did receive 277 of the 300 votes cast in the New Salem precinct. In 1834, after another attempt, Lincoln was finally elected to the state legislature.
Lincoln served four straight terms in the legislature and soon emerged as a party leader. Meanwhile, he mastered the law books he could buy or borrow. In September 1836 Lincoln began practicing law. In 1837 Lincoln himself moved to Springfield, but he did not forget politics. In 1846 Lincoln was elected to the U.S. Congress. During these years Lincoln had become engaged to Mary Todd (1818–1882), a cultured and well-educated Kentucky woman. They were married on November 2, 1842.
When Congress met in December 1847, Lincoln expressed his disapproval with the Mexican War (1846–48), in which American and Mexican forces clashed over land in the Southwest. These views, together with his wish to abolish, or end, slavery in the District of Columbia, brought sharp criticism from the people back in Illinois. They believed Lincoln was “not a patriot” and had not correctly represented his state in Congress.
Although the Whigs won the presidency in 1848, Lincoln could not even control the support in his own district. His political career seemed to be coming to a close just as it was beginning. His only reward for party service was an offer of the governorship of far-off Oregon, which he refused. Lincoln then returned to Illinois and resumed practicing law.
During the next twelve years, while Lincoln rebuilt his legal career, the nation was becoming divided. While victory in the Mexican War added vast western territory to the United States, then came the issue of slavery in those new territories. To Southerners, the issue involved the security and rights of slavery everywhere. To Northerners, it was a matter of morals and justice. A national crisis soon developed. Only the efforts of Senators Henry Clay (1777–1852) and Daniel Webster (1782–1852) brought about the Compromise of 1850. With the compromise, a temporary truce was reached between the states favoring slavery and those opposed to it. The basic issues, however, were not eliminated. Four years later the struggle was reopened.
Lincoln’s passionate opposition to slavery was enough to draw him back into the world of politics. He had always viewed slavery as a “moral, social and political wrong” and looked forward to its eventual abolition. Although willing to let it alone for the present in the states where it existed, he would not see it extended one inch.
At the same time, Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) drafted the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would leave the decision of slavery up to the new territories. Lincoln thought the bill ignored the growing Northern determination to rid the nation of slavery. Soon, in opposition to the expansion of slavery, the Republican party was born. When Douglas returned to Illinois to defend his position, Lincoln seized every opportunity to point out the weakness in it.”