Born: February 12, 1809
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
A frontier child, Abraham Lincoln became one of the most revered people in United States history. Born on February 12, 1809 to Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abraham had an older sister, Sarah, and a younger brother, Thomas, who died in infancy. In 1817, Abraham Lincoln's family moved from Kentucky to Indiana, initially squatting on public land. Over time, Thomas Lincoln was able to purchase the land. Nancy Hanks Lincoln died at the age of 34 when Abraham was just 9 years old. Thomas soon remarried, bringing Sarah Bush Johnston and her three children into the home. It is thought that Sarah was instrumental in encouraging Abraham to read and become educated.
The Lincoln family moved to Illinois in March 1830, and Abraham worked as a manual laborer. Although he was a lanky 6' 4", he was also strong, practiced in wielding an ax. Abraham struck out on his own at the age of 22, eventually moving to New Salem, Illinois where he worked as a shopkeeper and postmaster, allowing him to develop his story-telling talent and social skills. By 1834, Abraham Lincoln had already made political contacts from the Black Hawk War. He was elected to the Illinois state legislature in 1834 as a Whig, supporting government-sponsored infrastructure and protective tariffs. He remained in the state legislature eight years.
Lincoln began studying the law on his own, reading Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, and was admitted to the bar in 1837. He practiced law with the John T. Stuart law firm in Springfield, Illinois. In 1844, Lincoln joined with William Herndon as law partners. To supplement his pactice, Lincoln followed the court on its circuit through Illinois county seats. During this same period, Lincoln courted and married Mary Todd. They were first engaged in 1840, but the engagement was broken in 1841. They reunited and became married on November 4, 1842. Of the four children born of the marriage, only Robert survived to adulthood.
Lincoln served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847-1849. Not long after, Illinois became a burgeoning hub as the railroads moved west, and Lincoln found himself lobbying for the Illinois Central Railroad as their company attorney. His success with the railroad led to other business clients.
Political events spurred Lincoln back into the political foray. With the Missouri Compromise repealed under the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, states and territories decided whether to permit slavery. The Republican Party was formed; Lincoln joined in 1856. Critical of legal treatment of African Americans, Lincoln challenged U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas for his seat. The seven debates held throughout Illinois during the 1858 Senate campaign were intensely covered, providing Lincoln with national exposure despite his loss to Douglas in the election.
Abraham Lincoln ran for president in 1860, overcoming Stephen Douglas, John C. Breckenridge, and John Bell to win the election with 40% of the popular vote and 180 of 303 available Electoral votes. Lincoln formed a strong cabinet that included his rivals. As president, Lincoln built the Republican Party into a strong national organization. Before Lincoln's inauguration in March of 1861, seven states seceded from the Union. Lincoln declared, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
Lincoln's response to the siege at Fort Sumter was decisive and unprecedented. His decisions were contentious. Still, Lincoln won a second term as president handily with 55% of the popular vote and 212 of 243 available Electoral votes. By the time General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant on March 28, 1965, reconstruction was well underway. Lincoln's desire for quick reunification with minimal retribution was again met with contention. These words from his Second Inaugural Address have been inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds.... "
Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was moved from the theater across the street to the Peterson House where he lay in a coma for nine hours before dying. After lying in state at the Capitol, a funeral train returned Lincoln's body to Springfield, Illinois.
Lincoln remains one of the most beloved and celebrated United States presidents. In dedicating the National Cemetery at Gettysburg in November 19, 1863, following the decisive battle in Gettysburg from July 1-3 of that year, Lincoln said, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." He was wrong, of course, in that his simple but profound words have carried on through two centuries now.
And, so, we remember his courage, his moral fortitude, and his dedication to his task and our country, "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."