Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln





Examined: Akhmedova Z.G.

Makhachkala 2001


1. Introduction

page 3

2. Early Life

page 3

3. Ancestry

page 4

4. Childhood

page 6

5. Young Manhood

page 6

6. Politics and Law

page 6

7. Illinois Legislator


8. Marriage page6

9. Congressman page 7

10. Disillusionment with Politics


11. Return to Politics

page 8

12. Campaigns of 1856 and 1858 page 8

13. Election of 1860 page 9

14. Presidency page 9

15. Sumter Crisis page10

16. Military Policy page11

17. Emancipation page


18. Foreign Relations page


19. Wartime Politics page13

20. Life in the White House page


21. Reconstruction page


22. Death page


23. Source page


Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Lincoln

entered office at a critical period in U. S. history, just before the Civil

War, and died from an assassin's bullet at the war's end, but before the

greater implications of the conflict could be resolved. He brought to the

office personal integrity, intelligence, and humanity, plus the wholesome

characteristics of his frontier upbringing. He also had the liabilities of

his upbringing--he was self-educated, culturally unsophisticated, and

lacking in administrative and diplomatic skills. Sharp-witted, he was not

especially sharp-tongued, but was noted for his warm good humor. Although

relatively unknown and inexperienced politically when elected president, he

proved to be a consummate politician. He was above all firm in his

convictions and dedicated to the preservation of the Union.

Lincoln was perhaps the most esteemed and maligned of the American

presidents. Generally admired and loved by the public, he was attacked on a

partisan basis as the man responsible for and in the middle of every major

issue facing the nation during his administration. Although his reputation

has fluctuated with changing times, he was clearly a great man and a great

president. He firmly and fairly guided the nation through its most perilous

period and made a lasting impact in shaping the office of chief

executive.Once regarded as the "Great Emancipator" for his forward strides

in freeing the slaves, he was criticized a century later, when the Civil

Rights Movement gained momentum, for his caution in moving toward equal

rights. If he is judged in the historical context, however, it can be seen

that he was far in advance of most liberal opinion. His claim to greatness


Early Life

The future president was born in the most modest of circumstances in a

log cabin near Hodgenville, Ky., on Feb. 12, 1809. His entire childhood and

young manhood were spent on the brink of poverty as his pioneering family

made repeated fresh starts in the West. Opportunities for education,

cultural activities, and even socializing were meager.


Lincoln's paternal ancestry has been traced, in an unbroken line, to

Samuel Lincoln, a weaver's apprentice from Hingham, England, who settled in

Hingham, Mass., in 1637. From him the line of descent came down through

Mordecai Lincoln of Hingham and of Scituate, Mass.; Mordecai of Berks

county, Pa.; John of Berks county and of Rockingham county, Va.; and

Abraham, the grandfather of the president, who moved from Virginia to

Kentucky about 1782, settled near Hughes Station, east of Louisville, and

was killed in an Indian ambush in 1786.

Abraham's youngest son, Thomas, who became the father of the president, was

born in Rockingham county, Va., on Jan. 6, 1778. After the death of his

father, he roamed about, settling eventually in Hardin county, Ky., where

he worked at carpentry, farming, and odd jobs. He was not the shiftless

ne'er-do-well sometimes depicted, but an honest, conscientious man of

modest means, well regarded by his neighbors. He had practically no

education, however, and could barely scrawl his name.

Nancy Hanks, whom Thomas Lincoln married on June 12, 1806, and who became

the mother of the president, remains a shadowy figure. Her birth date is

uncertain, and descriptions of her are contradictory. Scholars despair of

penetrating the tangled Hanks genealogy, and the legitimacy of Nancy's

birth is a subject of argument. Lincoln, himself, apparently believed that

his mother was born out of wedlock. In either case, Nancy came of lowly

people. Reared by her aunt, Betsy Hanks, who married Thomas Sparrow, she

was utterly uneducated.


Thomas and Nancy Lincoln set up housekeeping in Elizabethtown, Ky.,

where their first child, Sarah, was born on Feb. 10, 1807. In December

1808, Thomas bought a hard-scrabble farm on the South Fork of Nolin Creek,

where Abraham was born. Soon after Abe's second birthday the family moved

to a more productive farm along Knob Creek, a branch of the Rolling Fork,

in a region of fertile bottomland surrounded by crags and bluffs. The old

Cumberland Trail from Louisville to Nashville passed close by, and the boy

could see a vigorous civilization on the march--settlers, peddlers, circuit-

riding preachers, now and then a coffle of slaves. This was probably his

first view of human bondage, for the small landholdings of the region were

not suited to slaveowning, and local sentiment, especially among the

Baptists, with whom the Lincolns had affiliated, was hostile to slavery.

Like most frontier children, Abraham performed chores at an early age, but

occasionally he and his sister Sarah attended classes in a log schoolhouse

some two miles (3 km) from home. Nancy bore a third child, Thomas, but he

died in infancy.

Faulty land titles, which were a constant problem to Kentucky settlers,

were especially troublesome to Thomas Lincoln. Because of a flaw in title,

he lost part of a farm he had bought before his marriage, and both his

other Kentucky farms became involved in litigation. For this reason, and

because of his roving disposition, he resolved to move to Indiana, where

land could be bought directly from the government.

Abraham was seven years old when, in December 1816, the Lincolns struck out

northwestward. They crossed the Ohio River on a ferry near the village of

Troy, made their way 16 miles (26 km) farther north through thick woods and

tangled underbrush, and settled near Pigeon Creek, in present Spencer

county, Ind. Thomas hastily threw up a half-faced camp, a rude shelter of

logs and boughs, closed on three sides and warmed only by a fire at the

open front. Here the family lived while Thomas built a cabin. The region

was gloomy, with few settlers, and wild animals prowled in the forest.

By spring Thomas had cleared a few acres for a crop. In an autobiography

that Abraham Lincoln composed in 1860, he said of himself: "Abraham, though

very young, was large of his age, and had an axe put into his hands at

once; and from that till within his twenty-third year, he was almost

constantly handling that most useful instrument--less, of course, in

plowing and harvesting seasons." So, year by year the clearing grew, and

the family's diet became more varied as farm products supplemented game and

fowl. At first, Thomas was a mere squatter on the land, but on Oct. 15,

1817, he applied for 160 acres (65 hectares) at the government land office

in Vincennes. Unable to complete payment on so large a tract, he later gave

up half, but paid for the rest.

The Lincolns had not been long in Indiana when they were joined by Thomas

and Elizabeth Sparrow, the relatives by whom Nancy had been reared. They

arrived from Kentucky with Dennis Hanks, the illegitimate son of another of

Nancy's aunts. An energetic youth of 19, he became Abraham's companion.

Within a year, however, the Sparrows became victims of the "milk-sick"

(milk sickness), a disease dreaded by Indiana settlers, and soon afterward,

on Oct. 5, 1818, Nancy Lincoln, too, died of this malady. Without a woman

to keep the household functioning, the Lincolns lived almost in squalor.

To remedy this intolerable condition, Thomas Lincoln returned to

Elizabethtown, where, on Dec. 2, 1819, he married Sarah Bush Johnston, a

widow with three children. A kindly, hard-working woman, she brought order

to the Lincolns' Indiana homestead. She also saw to it that at intervals

over the next two years Abraham received enough additional schooling to be

able, as he said later, "to read, write and cipher to the Rule of Three."

All told, however, he attended school less than a year.

Young Manhood

During the 14 years the Lincolns lived in Indiana, the region became

more thickly settled, mostly by people from the South. But conditions

remained primitive, and farming was backbreaking work. Superstitions were

prevalent; social functions consisted of such utilitarian amusements as

corn shuckings, house raisings, and hog killings; and religion was dogmatic

and emotional. Abe, growing tall and strong, won a reputation as the best

local athlete and a rollicking storyteller. But his father kept him busy at

hard labor, hiring him out to neighbors when work at home slackened.

Abe's meager education had aroused his desire to learn, and he traveled

over the countryside to borrow books. Among those he read were Robinson

Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress, Aesop's Fables, William Grimshaw's History of

the United States, and Mason Weems' Life of Washington. The Bible was

probably the only book his family owned, and his abundant use of scriptural

quotations in his later writings shows how earnestly he must have studied


Young Lincoln worked for a while as a ferryman on the Ohio River, and at 19

helped take a flatboat cargo to New Orleans. There he encountered a manner

of living wholly unknown to him. Soon after he returned, his father decided

to move to Illinois, where a relative, John Hanks, had preceded him. On

March 1, 1830, the family set out with all their possessions loaded on

three wagons. Their new home was located on the north bank of the Sangamon

River, west of Decatur. When a cabin had been built and a crop had been

planted and fenced, young Lincoln hired out to split fence rails for


In the autumn all the Lincoln family came down with fever and ague. That

winter the pioneers experienced the deepest snow they had ever known,

accompanied by subzero temperatures. In the spring the family backtracked

eastward to Coles county, Ill. But this time Abraham did not accompany

them, for during the winter he, his stepbrother John D. Johnston, and his

cousin John Hanks had agreed to take another cargo to New Orleans for a

trader, Denton Offutt. A new life was opening for young Lincoln. Henceforth

he could make his own way.Supposedly it was on this second trip to New

Orleans that young Lincoln, watching a slave auction, declared: "If I ever

get a chance to hit that thing, I'll hit it hard." But the story is almost

certainly untrue. Lincoln at this period of his life could scarcely have

believed himself to be a man of destiny, and John Hanks, who originated the

story, was not with Lincoln, having left his fellow crewmen at St. Louis.

Near the outset of this voyage, at the little village of New Salem on the

Sangamon River, Lincoln had impressed Offutt by his ingenuity in moving the

flatboat over a milldam. Offutt, impressed likewise by the prospects of the

village, arranged to open a store and rent the mill. On Lincoln's return

from New Orleans, Offutt engaged him as clerk and handyman.

By late July 1831, when Lincoln came back, New Salem was enjoying what

proved to be a short-lived boom based on a local conviction that the

Sangamon River would be made navigable for steamboats. For a time the

village served as a trading center for the surrounding area and numbered

among its enterprises three stores, a tavern, a carding machine for wool, a

saloon, and a ferry. Among its residents were two physicians, a blacksmith,

a cooper, a shoemaker, and other craftsmen common to a pioneer settlement.

The people were mostly from the South, though a number of Yankees had also

drifted in. Community pastimes were similar to those Lincoln had previously

known, and life in general differed only in being somewhat more advanced.

Lincoln gained the admiration of the rougher element of the community, who

were known as the Clary's Grove boys, when he threw their champion in a

wrestling match. But his kindness, honesty, and efforts at self-betterment

so impressed the more reputable people of the community that they, too,

soon came to respect him. He became a member of the debating society,

studied grammar with the aid of a local schoolmaster, and acquired a

lasting fondness for the writings of Shakespeare and Robert Burns from the

village philosopher and fisherman.

Offutt paid little attention to business, and his store was about to fail,

when an Indian disturbance, known as the Black Hawk War, broke out in April

1832, in Illinois. Lincoln enlisted and was elected captain of his

volunteer company. When his term expired, he reenlisted, serving about 80

days in all. He experienced some hardships, but no fighting.

Politics and Law

Returning to New Salem, Lincoln sought election to the state

legislature. He won almost all the votes in his own community, but lost the

election because he was not known throughout the county. In partnership

with William F. Berry, he bought a store on credit, but it soon failed,

leaving him deeply in debt. He then got a job as deputy surveyor, was

appointed postmaster, and pieced out his income with odd jobs. The story of

his romance with Ann Rutledge is rejected as a legend by most authorities,

but he did have a short-lived love affair with Mary Owens.

Illinois Legislator

In 1834, Lincoln was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives,

and he was reelected in 1836, 1838, and 1840. Political alignments were in

a state of flux during his first two candidacies, but as the WHIG and

DEMOCRATIC parties began to take form, he followed his political idol,

Henry Clay, and John T. Stuart, a Springfield lawyer and friend, into the

Whig ranks. Twice Lincoln was his party's candidate for speaker, and when

defeated, he served as its floor leader.

His greatest achievement in the legislature, where he was a consistent

supporter of conservative business interests, was to bring about the

removal of the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield, by means of

adroit logrolling. When certain resolutions denouncing antislavery

agitation were passed by the house, Lincoln and a colleague, Dan Stone,

defined their position by a written declaration that slavery was "founded

on both injustice and bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition

doctrines tends rather to increase than abate its evils." An internal

improvement project that Lincoln promoted in the legislature turned out to

be impractical and almost bankrupted the state. On national issues Lincoln

favored the United States Bank and opposed the presidential policies of

Andrew JACKSON and Martin VAN BUREN.

Law Practice

His friend Stuart had encouraged him to study law, and he obtained a

license on Sept. 9, 1836. By this time New Salem was in decline and would

soon be a ghost town. It has since been restored as a state park. On April

15, 1837, Lincoln moved to Springfield to become Stuart's partner. His

conscientious efforts to pay off his debts had earned him the nickname

"Honest Abe," but he was so poor that he arrived in Springfield on a

borrowed horse with all his personal property in his saddlebags.

With the courts in Springfield in session only a few weeks during the year,

lawyers were obliged to travel the circuit in order to make a living. Every

year, in spring and autumn, Lincoln followed the judge from county to

county over the 12,000 square miles (31,000 sq km) of the Eighth Circuit.

In 1841 he and Stuart disolved their firm, and Lincoln formed a new

partnership with Stephen T. Logan, who taught him the value of careful

preparation and clear, succinct reasoning as opposed to mere cleverness and

oratory. This partnership was in turn dissolved in 1844, when Lincoln took

young William H. Herndon, later to be his biographer, as a partner.


Meanwhile, on Nov. 4, 1842, after a somewhat tumultuous courtship,

Lincoln had married Mary Todd. Brought up in Lexington, Ky., she was a high-

spirited, quick-tempered girl of excellent education and cultural

background. Notwithstanding her vanity, ambition, and unstable temperament

and Lincoln's careless ways and alternating moods of hilarity and

dejection, the marriage turned out to be generally happy. Of their four

children, only Robert Todd Lincoln, born on Aug. 1, 1843, lived to

maturity. Edward Baker, who was born on March 10, 1846, died on Feb. 1,

1850; William Wallace, born Dec. 21, 1850, died on Feb. 20, 1862; and

Thomas ("Tad"), born April 4, 1853, died on July 15, 1871.

Though Mrs. Lincoln was by no means such a shrew as has been asserted, she

was difficult to live with. Lincoln responded to her impulsive and

imprudent behavior with tireless patience, forbearance, and forgiveness.

Borne down by grief and illness after her husband's death, Mrs. Lincoln

became so unbalanced at one time that her son Robert had her committed to

an institution.


Having attained a position of leadership in state politics and worked

strenuously for the Whig ticket in the presidential election of 1840,

Lincoln aspired to go to CONGRESS. But two other prominent young Whigs of

his district, Edward D. Baker of Springfield and John J. Hardin of

Jacksonville, also coveted this distinction. So Lincoln stepped aside

temporarily, first for Hardin, then for Baker, under a sort of

understanding that they would "take a turn about." When Lincoln's turn came

in 1846, however, Hardin wished to serve again, and Lincoln was obliged to

maneuver skillfully to obtain the nomination. His district was so

predominantly Whig that this amounted to election, and he won handily over

his Democratic opponent.

Lincoln worked conscientiously as a freshman congressman, but was unable to

gain distinction. Both from conviction and party expediency, he went along

with the Whig leaders in blaming the Polk administration for bringing on

war with Mexico, though he always voted for appropriations to sustain it.

His opposition to the war was unpopular in his district, however. When the

annexations of territory from Mexico brought up the question of the status

of slavery in the new lands, Lincoln voted for the Wilmot Proviso and other

measures designed to confine the institution to the states where it already


Disillusionment with Politics

In the campaign of 1848, Lincoln labored strenuously for the

nomination and election of Gen. Zachary TAYLOR. He served on the Whig

National Committee, attended the national convention at Philadelphia, and

made campaign speeches. With the Whig national ticket victorious, he hoped

to share with Baker the control of federal patronage in his home state. The

juiciest plum that had been promised to Illinois was the position of

commissioner of the General Land Office in Washington. After trying vainly

to reconcile two rival candidates for this office, Lincoln tried to obtain

it for himself. But he had little influence with the new administration.

The most that it would offer him was the governorship or secretaryship of

the Oregon Territory. Neither job appealed to him, and he returned to

Springfield thoroughly disheartened.

Never one to repine, however, Lincoln now devoted himself to becoming a

better lawyer and a more enlightened man. Pitching into his law books with

greater zest, he also resumed his study of Shakespeare and mastered the

first six books of Euclid as a mental discipline. At the same time, he

renewed acquaintances and won new friends around the circuit. Law practice

was changing as the country developed, especially with the advent of

railroads and the growth of corporations. Lincoln, conscientiously keeping

pace, became one of the state's outstanding lawyers, with a steadily

increasing practice, not only on the circuit but also in the state supreme

court and the federal courts. Regular travel to Chicago to attend court

sessions became part of his routine when Illinois was divided into two

federal districts.

Outwardly, however, Lincoln remained unchanged in his simple, somewhat

rustic ways. Six feet four inches (1.9 meters) tall, weighing about 180

pounds (82 kg), ungainly, slightly stooped, with a seamed and rugged

countenance and unruly hair, he wore a shabby old top hat, an ill-fitting

frock coat and pantaloons, and unblacked boots. His genial manner and fund

of stories won him a host of friends. Yet, notwithstanding his friendly

ways, he had a certain natural dignity that discouraged familiarity and

commanded respect.

Return to Politics

Lincoln took only a perfunctory part in the presidential campaign of

1852, and was rapidly losing interest in politics. Two years later,

however, an event occurred that roused him, he declared, as never before.

The status of slavery in the national territories, which had been virtually

settled by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, now

came to the fore. In 1854, Stephen A. Douglas, whom Lincoln had known as a

young lawyer and legislator and who was now a Democratic leader in the U.

S. SENATE, brought about the repeal of a crucial section of the Missouri

Compromise that had prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Purchase north of

the line of 36degrees 30&;. Douglas substituted for it a provision that the

people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska could admit or exclude

slavery as they chose.

The congressional campaign of 1854 found Lincoln back onthe stump in behalf

of the antislavery cause, speaking with a new authority gained from self-

imposed intellectual discipline. Henceforth, he was a different Lincoln--

ambitious, as before, but purged of partisan pettiness and moved instead by

moral earnestness.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act so disrupted old party lines that when the Illinois

legislature met to elect a U.S. senator to succeed Douglas' colleague,

James Shields, it was evident that the Anti-Nebraska group drawn from both

parties had the votes to win, if the antislavery Whigs and antislavery

Democrats could united on a candidate. However, the Whigs backed Lincoln,

and the Democrats supported Lyman Trumbull. though Lincoln commanded far

more strength than Trumbull, the latter's supporters were resolved never to

desert him for a Whig. As their stubbornness threatened to result in the

election of a proslavery Democrat, Lincoln instructed his own backers to

vote for Trumbull, thus assuring the latter's election.

Campaigns of 1856 and 1858

With old party lines sundered, the antislavery factions in the North

gradually coalesced to form a new party, which took the name REPUBLICAN.

Lincoln stayed aloof at the beginning, fearing that it would be dominated

by the radical rather than the moderate antislavery element. Also, he hoped

for a resurgence of the Whig party, in which he had attained a position of

state leadership. But as the presidential campaign of 1856 approached, he

cast his lot with the new party. In the national convention, which

nominated John C. Frйmont for president, Lincoln received 110 ballots for

the VICE-PRESIDENTIAL nomination, which went eventually to William L.

Dayton of New Jersey. Though Lincoln had favored Justice John McLean, he

worked faithfully for Frйmont, who showed surprising strength,

notwithstanding his defeat by the Democratic candidate, James BUCHANAN.

With Senator Douglas running for reelection in 1858, Lincoln was recognized

in Illinois as the strongest man to oppose him. Endorsed by Republican

meetings all over the state and by the Republican State Convention, he

opened his campaign with the famous declaration: "`A house divided against

itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure permanently

half slave and half free." Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of seven

joint debates, and these became the most spectacular feature of the

campaign. Douglas refused to take a position on the rightfulness or

wrongfulness of slavery, and offered his "popular sovereignty" doctrine as

the solution of the problem. Lincoln, on the other hand, insisted that

slavery was primarily a moral issue and offered as his solution a return to

the principles of the Founding Fathers, which tolerated slavery where it

existed but looked to its ultimate extinction by preventing its spread. The

Republicans polled the larger number of votes in the election, but an

outdated apportionment of seats in the legislature permitted Douglas to win

the senatorship.

Election of 1860

Friends began to urge Lincoln to run for president. He held back, but

did extend his range of speechmaking beyond Illinois. on Feb. 27, 1860, at

Cooper Union, in New York City, he delivered an address on the need for

restricting slavery that put him in the forefront of Republican leadership.

The enthusiasm evoked by this speech and others overcame Lincoln's

reluctance. On May 9 and 10, the Illinois Republican convention, meeting in

Decatur, instructed the state's delegates to the national convention to

vote as a unit for him.

When that convention met in Chicago on May 16, Lincoln's chances were

better than was generally supposed. William H. Seward, the acknowledged

party leader, and other aspirants all had political liabilities of some

sort. As Lincoln's managers maneuvered behind the scenes, more and more

delegates lined up behind the "Illinois Rail Splitter." Seward led on the

first ballot, but on the third ballot Lincoln obtained the required


A split in the Democratic party, which resulted in the nomination of

Douglas by one faction and of John C. Breckinridge by the other, made

Lincoln's ELECTION a certainty. Lincoln polled 1,865,593 votes to Douglas'

1,382,713, and Breckinridge's 848,356. John Bell, candidate of the

Constitutional Union party, polled 592,906. The ELECTORAL vote was Lincoln,

180; Breckinridge, 72; Bell, 39; and Douglas, 12.


On Feb. 11, 1861, Lincoln left Springfield to take up his duties as

president. Before him lay, as he recognized, "a task ... greater than that

which rested upon [George] Washington." The seven states of the lower South

had seceded from the Union, and Southern delegates meeting in Montgomery,

Ala., had formed a new, separate government. Before Lincoln reached the

national capital, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President of the

Confederate States of America. The four states of the upper South teetered

on the brink of secession, and disunion sentiment was rampant in the border

states of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri.

When Lincoln reached Washington on February 23, he found the national

government incapable of meeting the crisis. President James Buchanan

deplored secession but could not check it, and Congress fruitlessly debated

compromise. The national treasury was near bankruptcy; the civil service

was riddled with secessionists; and the miniscule armed forces were being

weakened by defection of officers to the South.

It was not immediately evident that Lincoln could avert the dissolution of

the United States. Few American presidents have assumed office under

greater handicaps. Warned of an attempt on his life being planned in

Baltimore, Lincoln had to enter the national capital surreptitiously,

arriving after a secret midnight journey from Harrisburg, Pa. Widely

publicized, the episode did little to inspire public confidence in the

government or to create an image of Lincoln as a dynamic leader. That so

many citizens could believe their new president a coward was evidence of a

more serious handicap under which Lincoln labored: he was virtually unknown

to the American people. Lincoln's record as an Illinois state legislator,

as a one-term member of the House of Representatives in the 1840's, and as

an unsuccessful senatorial candidate against Douglas was not one to inspire

confidence in his abilities. Even the leaders of the Republican party had

little acquaintance with the new President.

Almost at the outset, Lincoln demonstrated that he was a poor

administrator. Accustomed, as his law partner William H. Herndon said, to

filing legal papers in his top hat, Lincoln conducted the administration of

the national govern ment in the same fashion. Selecting for his cabinet

spokesmen of the diverse elements that constituted the Republican party, he

surrounded himself with men of such conflicting views that he could not

rely on them to work together. Cabinet sessions rarely dealt with serious

issues. Usually, Lincoln permitted cabinet officers free rein in running

their departments.

Nor was Lincoln an effective leader of his party in the Congress, where

after secession the Republicans had overwhelming majorities. Long a Whig,

vigilant against executive "usurpation," he earnestly felt that as

president he ought not to exert even "indirect influence to affect the

action of congress." In consequence there was poor rapport between Capitol

Hill and the WHITE HOUSE. Even those measures that the President earnestly

advocated were weakened or defeated by members of his own party. But on

important issues relating to the conduct of the war and the restoration of

the Union, Lincoln followed his own counsel, ignoring the opinions of


More than counterbalancing these deficiencies, however, were Lincoln's

strengths. Foremost was his unflinching dedication to the preservation of

the Union. Convinced that the United States was more than an ordinary

nation, that it was a proving ground for the idea of democratic government,

Lincoln felt that he was leading a struggle to preserve "the last, best

hope of earth." Despite war-weariness and repeated defeats, he never

wavered in his "paramount object." To restore national unity he would do

what was necessary, without regard to legalistic construction of the

CONSTITUTION, political objections in Congress, or personal popularity.

Partly because of that single-minded dedication, the American people, in

time, gave to Lincoln a loyalty that proved to be another of his great

assets. Making himself accessible to all who went to the White House,

Lincoln learned what ordinary citizens felt about their government. In

turn, his availability helped create in the popular mind the stereotype of

"Honest Abe," the people's president, straightforward, and sympathetic.

Lincoln's mastery of rhetoric further endeared him to the public. In an age

of pretentious orators, he wrote clearly and succinctly. Purists might

object when he said that the Confederates in one engagement "turned tail

and ran," but the man in the street approved. Lincoln's 268-word address at

the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg meant more than the

preceding two-hour oration by Edward Everett.

Another of Lincoln's assets was the fact that he was a genius at the game

of politics. He astutely managed the patronage at his disposal,

distributing favors so as to bind local politicians to his administration

and to undermine potential rivals for the presidency. He understood the

value of silence and secrecy in politics and refrained from creating

divisive issues or causing needless confrontations. He was extraordinarily

flexible and pragmatic in the means he employed to restore the Union. "My

policy," he frequently said, "is to have no policy." That did not mean that

his was a course of drift. Instead, it reflected his understanding that, as

president, he could only handle problems as they arose, confident that

popular support for his solutions would be forthcoming.

Lincoln believed that the ultimate decision in the Civil War was beyond

his, or any other man's, control. "Now, at the end of three years

struggle," he wrote, as the war reached its climax, "the nation's condition

is not what either party, or any man, devised or expected. God alone can

claim it."

Sumter Crisis

In 1861, Lincoln's weaknesses were more evident than his strengths.

Immediately after his inauguration he faced a crisis over Fort Sumter in

the Charleston (S. C.) harbor, one of the few remaining U.S. forts in the

seceded states still under federal control. Informed that the troops would

have to be supplied or withdrawn, the inexperienced President anxiously

explored solutions. Withdrawal would appear a cowardly backdown, but

reinforcing the fort might precipitate hostilities. Lincoln painfully

concluded that he would send supplies to Sumter and let the Confederates

decide whether to fire on the flag of the Union. Historians differ as to

whether Lincoln anticipated that hostilities would follow his decision, but

they agree that Lincoln was determined that he would not order the first

shot fired. Informed of the approach of the federal supply fleet,

Confederate authorities at Charleston during the early hours of April 12

decided to bombard the fort. Thus, the Civil War began.

Because Congress was not in session, Lincoln moved swiftly to mobilize the

Union by executive order. His requisition to the states for 75,000

volunteers precipitated the secession of Virginia, North Carolina,

Tennessee, and Arkansas. Kentucky tried to adopt an official policy of

"neutrality," while secession sentiment in Maryland was so strong that for

a time Washington, D.C., was cut off from communication with the North. In

order to restore order, Lincoln directed that the privilege of the writ of

habeas corpus be suspended, at first along the line between Washington and

Philadelphia and later throughout most of the North, so that known

secessionists and persons suspected of disloyalty could be held without

trial. At the same time the President, without congressional authorization--

and thus in direct violation of the Constitution--ordered an increase in

the size of the regular Army and Navy. Doubting the loyalty of certain

government officials, he also entrusted public funds to private agents in

New York to purchase arms and supplies.

When the 37th Congress assembled in special session on July 4, 1861, it was

thus confronted with a fait accompli. The President, acting in his capacity

as commander in chief, had put himself at the head of the whole Union war

effort, arrogating to himself greater powers than those claimed by any

previous American president. His enemies termed him a dictator and a

tyrant. In fact, his power was limited, partly by his own instincts, partly

by the knowledge that his actions would be judged in four years at the

polls, and chiefly by the inadequacy of the federal bureaucracy.

Nevertheless, the role of Congress was sharply defined: it could

appropriate money to support the war, it could initiate legislation on

issues not related to the war, it could debate questions relating to the

conflict. But direction of the Union war effort was to remain firmly in

Lincoln's hands.

Military Policy

The first responsibility of the President was the successful

prosecution of the war against the Confederate States. In this duty he was

hampered by the lack of a strong military tradition in America and by the

shortage of trained officers. During the early months of the conflict the

War Department was headed by Simon Cameron, and corruption and inefficiency

were rife. Not until January, 1862, when Lincoln replaced Cameron with the

imperious but efficient Edwin M. Stanton, was some semblance of order

brought to the procurement of supplies for the federal armies. Navy

secretary Gideon Welles was above suspicion, but he was inexperienced in

nautical affairs and cautious in accepting innovations, such as the

ironclad monitors.

Even more difficult was the task of finding capable general officers. At

first the President gave supreme command of the Union forces to the elderly

Gen. Winfield Scott. After the Confederate victory at the first battle of

Bull Run (July 21, 1861), Lincoln increasingly entrusted power to George B.

McClellan, a brilliant organizer and administrator. But McClellan's

caution, his secretiveness, and his willingness to strip the defenses of

Washington the better to attack Richmond led Lincoln to look elsewhere for

military advice. Borrowing "a large number of strategical works" from the

Library of Congress, he attempted to direct the overall conduct of the war

himself by issuing a series of presidential general war orders. Gen. Henry

W. Halleck, whom Lincoln brought to Washington as a strategic planner,

served more as a glorified clerk, and the President repeatedly exercised

personal supervision over the commanders in the field.

Not until the emergence of Ulysses S. GRANT, hero of Vicksburg and

Chattanooga, did Lincoln find a general to whom he could entrust overall

direction of the war. Even then, the President kept a close eye on military

operations, advising and even occasionally overruling the general, but

mostly supporting and encouraging him.


Strongly opposed to slavery, Lincoln made a sharp distinction between

his personal views and his public responsibilities. He had been elected on

a platform that pledged not to interfere with the "peculiar institution" in

states where it already existed and had sworn to uphold a Constitution that

protected Southern rights. From the first day of the war, however, he was

under pressure from the more extreme antislavery men in his own party to

strike at slavery as the mainspring of the rebellion. Counterbalancing this

pressure was the need to conciliate opinion in the border states, which

still recognized slavery but were loyal to the Union. Any move against

slavery, Lincoln feared, would cause their secession.

Wartime pressure inescapably forced the president toward emancipation.

Foreign powers could not be expected to sympathize with the North, when

both the Union and the Confederate governments were pledged to uphold

slavery. As the war dragged on, more and more northerners saw the absurdity

of continuing to protect the "peculiar institution," which, by keeping a

subservient labor force on the farms, permitted the Confederates to put

proportionately more of their able-bodied white men into their armies. When

Union casualties mounted, even racist northerners began to favor enlisting

blacks in the Union armies.

As sentiment for emancipation mounted, Lincoln was careful to keep complete

control of the problem in his own hands. He sharply overruled premature

efforts by two of his military commanders, Frйmont in Missouri and David

Hunter in the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina, to declare

slaves in their military theaters free. At the same time, the President

urged the border states to accept a program of gradual emancipation, with

federal compensation.

By midsummer of 1862, however, it was evident that these efforts would not

be successful. Still troubled by divided Union sentiment and still

uncertain of his constitutional powers to act, Lincoln prepared to issue an

emancipation proclamation. Secretary of State William H. Seward, however,

persuaded him that such an order, issued at the low point of Union military

fortunes, would be taken as evidence of weakness. The President postponed

his move until after the Battle of Antietam. Then, on Sept. 22, 1862, he

issued his preliminary proclamation, announcing that after 100 days all

slaves in states still in rebellion would be forever free. This was

followed, in due course, by the definitive Emancipation Proclamation of

Jan. 1, 1863.

Because the proclamation exempted slavery in the border states and in all

Confederate territory already under the control of Union armies and because

Lincoln was not certain that his action would be sustained by the Supreme

Court, he strongly urged Congress to adopt the 13th Amendment, forever

abolishing slavery throughout the country. Congressional action on this

measure was completed in January 1865. Lincoln considered the amendment

"the complete consummation of his own work, the emancipation proclamation."

Foreign Relations

Never having traveled abroad and having few acquaintances in the

courts of Europe, Lincoln, for the most part, left the conduct of foreign

policy to Seward. Yet, at critical times he made his influence felt. Early

in his administration, when Seward recklessly proposed to divert attention

from domestic difficulties by threatening a war against Spain and perhaps

other powers, the President quietly squelched the project. Again, in 1861,

Lincoln intervened to tone down a dispatch Seward wrote to Charles Francis

Adams, the U.S. minister in London, which probably would have led to a

break in diplomatic relations with Britain. In the Trent affair, that same

year, when Union Capt. Charles Wilkes endangered the peace by removing two

Confederate emissaries from a British ship and taking them into custody,

Lincoln took a courageous but unpopular stand by insisting that the

prisoners be released.

Wartime Politics

Throughout the war Lincoln was the subject of frequent, and often

vitriolic, attacks, both from the Democrats who thought he was proceeding

too drastically against slavery and from the Radicals in his own party--men

like Charles Sumner, Benjamin F. Wade, and Zachariah Chandler--who

considered him slow and ineffective. Partisan newspapers abused the

President as "a slangwhanging stump speaker," a "half-witted usurper," a

"mole-eyed" monster with "soul ... of leather,""the present turtle at the

head of the government." Men of his own party openly charged that he was

"unfit," a "political coward," a "dictator,""timid and

ignorant,""shattered, dazed, utterly foolish."

A minority president in 1861, Lincoln lost further support in the

congressional elections of 1862, when Democrats took control of the crucial

states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. As the 1864

election approached, it was clear that Lincoln would face formidable

opposition for reelection, not merely from a Democratic candidate but from

rivals within his own party. Republican anti-Lincoln sentiment centered on

treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase, who was working with the Radical

critics of Lincoln in Congress. The Chase boom failed, however, chiefly

because Lincoln insisted upon keeping the ambitious secretary in his

cabinet. At the same time, Lincoln's own agents were working quietly to sew

up the state delegations to the Republican national convention. Even

Chase's own state of Ohio pledged to vote for Lincoln. Facing certain

defeat, Chase withdrew from the race, but Lincoln kept him in the cabinet

until after the Republican national convention, which met in Baltimore in

June 1864.

Lacking a prominent standard bearer, some disgruntled Republicans gathered

in Cleveland in May 1864 to nominate Frйmont, but the movement never made

much headway. Radical pressure was powerful enough, however, to persuade

Lincoln to drop the most outspokenly conservative member of his cabinet,

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, and Frйmont withdrew from the race.

Lincoln's Republican critics continued to hope they could summon a new

national convention, which would replace the President with a more Radical

candidate, but this scheme died with news of Union military victories.

For a time Democratic opposition in 1864 to Lincoln's reelection also

appeared to be formidable, for people were tired of the endless war and

disinclined to fight for the liberty of black men. But the Democrats found

it impossible to bring together the two major groups of Lincoln's critics--

those who wanted the President to end the war, and those who wanted him to

prosecute it more vigorously. Meeting at Chicago in August, the Democratic

national convention nominated a candidate, Gen. George B. McClellan,

pledged to the successful conclusion of the war on a platform that called

the war a failure. McClellan's repudiation of this peace plank showed how

fundamentally split were the Democrats.

Whatever chance the Democrats had in 1864 was lost when the war at last

began to favor the Union cause. By the late summer of 1864, Grant had

forced Lee back into the defenses of Richmond and Petersburg. In the West,

Sherman's advancing army captured Atlanta on September 2. At the same time,

Admiral Farragut's naval forces closed the key Confederate port of Mobile.

When the ballots were cast in November, the results reflected both these

Union triumphs and the rift among the opposition. Lincoln carried every

state except Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey. He polled 2,206,938

popular votes to McClellan's 1,803,787 and won an electoral vote victory of

212 to 21. It must be remembered, however, that voters in the seceded

states, the strongholds of the Democratic party, did not participate in the


Life in the White House

Beset by military, diplomatic, and political problems, the President

tried to keep his family life as normal as possible. The two youngest

Lincoln boys, Thomas (Tad) and William Wallace (Willie), were high spirited

lads. Their older brother, the sober Robert Todd Lincoln, was less

frequently in Washington, because he was first a student at Harvard and

later an aide to General Grant. Despite the snobbishness of Washington

society and criticisms from those who wanted all social affairs suspended

because of the war, the Lincolns continued to hold receptions in the White

House. But the President found these affairs costly and tiring. He would

slip away late at night after a White House party to visit the telegraph

room of the War Department to read the latest dispatches from the front. He

never took a vacation, but in summer he moved his family to the cooler and

more secluded Soldier's Home in Washington.

Lincoln visibly aged during the war years, and by 1865 he appeared almost

haggard. His life was made harder by personal trials. Early in 1862, Willie

died of typhoid. His mother, always high-strung and hysterical, suffered a

nervous breakdown, and Lincoln had to watch over her with careful

solicitude. But Lincoln emerged from his public and private agonies with a

new serenity of soul. Any trace of vanity or egotism was burned out by the

fires of war. In his second inaugural address, his language reached a new

level of eloquence. Urging his countrymen to act "with malice toward none;

with charity for all," he looked beyond the end of the war toward binding

up the nation's wounds, so as to "achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting



From the start of the Civil War, Lincoln was deeply concerned about

the terms under which the Southern states, once subdued, should be restored

to the Union. He had no fixed plan for reconstruction. At the outset, he

would have welcomed a simple decision on the part of any Southern state

government to rescind its ordinance of secession and return its delegation

to Congress. By 1863, however, to this war aim of union he added that of

liberty, for he now insisted that emancipation of the slaves was a

necessary condition for restoration. By the end of the war he was beginning

to add a third condition, equality, for he realized that minimal guarantees

of civil rights for blacks were essential. Privately, he let it be known

that he favored extending the franchise in the Southern states to some of

the blacks--"as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those

who have fought gallantly in our ranks."

As to means by which to achieve these goals, Lincoln was also flexible.

When Union armies advanced into the South, he appointed military governors

for the states that were conquered. Most notable of these was the military

governor of Tennessee, Andrew JOHNSON, who became Lincoln's running mate in

1864. In December 1863, Lincoln enunciated a comprehensive reconstruc tion

program, pledging pardon and amnesty to Confederates who were prepared to

swear loyalty to the Union and promising to turn back control of local

governments to the civil authorities in the South when as few as 10% of the

1860 voting population participated in the elections. Governments operating

under this 10% plan were set up in Louisiana and Arkansas and soon were

petitioning for readmission to Congress.

Inevitably Lincoln's program ran into opposition, both because it

represented a gigantic expansion of presidential powers and because it

appeared not to give adequate guarantees to the freedmen. Defeating an

attempt to seat the senators from the new government in Arkansas, Radical

Republicans in Congress in July 1864 set forth their own terms for

restoration in the far harsher Wade-Davis Bill. When Lincoln pocket-vetoed

this measure, declaring that he was "unprepared to be inflexibly committed

to any single plan of reconstruction," Radicals accused him of "dictatorial


The stage was set for further conflict over reconstruction when Congress

reassembled in December 1864, just after Lincoln's reelection. Assisted by

the Democrats, the Radicals forced Lincoln's supporters to drop the bill to

readmit Louisiana. Lincoln was deeply saddened by the defeat. "Concede that

the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is

to the fowl," he said, "shall we sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg

than by smashing it?" On April 11, 1865, in his last public address, the

President defended his reconstruction policy.


Three days later, the President was shot by the actor John Wilkes

Booth while attending a performance at Ford's Theater in Washington. He

died at 7:22 the following morning, April 15, 1865. After lying in state in

the Capitol, his body was taken to Springfield, Ill., where he was buried

in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Benjamin P. Thomas,

Author of "Abraham Lincoln: A Biography" and

David Herbert Donald

Harry C. Black Professor of History and Director of the Institute of

Southern History, The Johns Hopkins University




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