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Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln, Abraham (1809–65), 16th president of the United States. Lincoln led the North during the Civil War, the nation's greatest crisis. He was determined to restore the Union at any cost—and prevailed. Besides his preservation of the Union and the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln is remembered for his eloquent oratory, particularly his Gettysburg Address and inaugural speeches.

Early life

Lincoln was born in a log cabin on the frontier in Kentucky, to a poor carpenter and his wife. Lincoln had less than a year of formal schooling, but taught himself to read. At 22, he left home, working as a storekeeper, rail splitter, farmhand, village postmaster, and surveyor while teaching himself law. In 1837, he was admitted to the bar and moved to Springfield, Ill., to practice law. Soon after moving there, he met Mary Todd, whom he married in 1842. They had 4 children.

Political career

Lincoln, a successful lawyer, was more interested in politics. He lost his first election in 1832, but in 1834 won a seat in the state legislature, where he served 4 2-year terms. He rose quickly within the Whig party, becoming Whig floor leader in the Illinois house by age 28. In 1847, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served only 1 term, because his opposition to the Mexican War made him unpopular with his constituents. He returned to his Springfield law practice in 1849. A national debate over slavery brought Lincoln back into politics—he gave speeches attacking slavery as a “great moral wrong.” He lost the 1854 and 1858 elections for the U.S. Senate, but his public debates with his opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, made him a national figure. In 1860, the Republicans nominated him for the presidency. The Democratic Party was split between a Northern candidate and a Southern one, helping Lincoln and his running mate, Hannibal Hamlin, to win the election.


Before Lincoln even took office, 7 Southern states had seceded. The great question was no longer slavery or freedom in the territories, but the preservation of the Union itself. Lincoln was inaugurated on Mar. 4, 1861; on Apr. 12, 1861, the Civil War broke out when the South attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C. Affairs began badly for Lincoln: 5 more states seceded and the North lost the war's earliest battles. The 1862 midterm elections brought sizable Republican losses, and slavery again became a major political issue. Hoping to settle at least that issue, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862. It freed all slaves in states or parts of states in rebellion against the Union as of Jan. 1, 1863.

The tide of the war slowly turned in 1863, with important Northern victories. Lincoln was gloomy about his prospects of reelection in Nov. 1864, but he and running mate Andrew Johnson did win. Soon after Lincoln's second inauguration, the war ended with Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender on Apr. 9, 1865.


Five days later, Lincoln and his wife went to Ford's Theatre for a performance of Our American Cousin. During the third act, John Wilkes Booth crept into the presidential box and shot Lincoln. Lincoln died the next morning. Booth, who had fled, was eventually found and shot while trying to escape.

See also: Civil War, U.S.; Emancipation Proclamation


Additional topics

21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Liliuokalani, Lydia Kamekeha to Lyon