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President Abraham Lincoln

Updated on January 6, 2017

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the 16th President of the US, was born in a log cabin in the backwoods of Kentucky. His father. a farmer, moved about restlessly and for a time the family lived in the forests of Indiana, where young Abraham became an expert woodsman. He had no regular schooling, worked on the river-boats and tried his hand as a storekeeper, postman and mill-manager before a friend encouraged him to study law. This was the turning-point in his career; it roused all his energies and latent ability, so that he rapidly became an attorney and built up a successful legal practice in Illinois. In 1834 he was elected to the Illinois legislative assembly and in 1846 to Congress, but he only served one term, being more interested in law, it seemed, than in politics. In 1842 he married Mary Todd, but the marriage did not prove to be a happy one; of their four sons only one survived childhood.

It was the question of extending slavery into the new Western territories that brought Lincoln back into politics. In 1858 he stood as Republican candidate for the Senate in opposition to Stephen Douglas, who had introduced a Bill allowing the new states to introduce slavery. Lincoln lost the election, but he so distinguished himself in a series of public debates with Douglas that he was now a national figure, and in 1860 the Republicans chose him as their Presidential candidate. He was elected by a decisive majority .

The new President was exceptionally tall, nearly 6 foot 4 inches, with long ungainly limbs, a dark complexion and coarse black hair. He possessed remarkable strength and patience; he was gentle, humorous and so fair-minded that he was known as 'Honest Abe'. Although he disliked slavery, he made it clear that he had no intention of interfering with it in those states where it was already legal, yet on his election seven Southern states left the Union and formed the Confederacy; others followed and it was this that led to the outbreak of the Civil War. Lincoln stated bluntly that no state had the right to leave the Union and he was prepared to use force to maintain this view. Thus, when the Confederates captured Fort Sumter in April186l, Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand volunteers to take up arms to save the Union.

During the first two years of the war the North suffered several defeats and Lincoln was much criticized for his conduct of affairs. But he stuck to his task with great patience and calmness, taking whatever powers he deemed necessary, especially as Commander-in-Chief, leaving Congress to approve his actions afterwards.

In 1862, on his own authority, he declared free all the slaves in the rebellious states. When he found in Ulysses Grant a general who could win victories, he gave him complete support, and as the war turned in favor of the North and he himself was re-elected President he felt strong enough to refuse any solution to the war except a restored union and total abolition of slavery. Yet he never called for vengeance or uttered one vindictive word against the Southerners; he spoke of 'binding up the nation's wounds' and of treating former enemies 'with malice towards none, with charity for all' .

On 9 April 1865 the Southern general Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant. The war was practically over and on 14 April Abraham Lincoln had taken his seat in Ford's Theater in Washington when a fanatical Southerner, John Wilkes Booth, entered his box and shot him at point-blank range . Lincoln, the one man great enough to have found solutions for his country's post-war problems, died the next day.

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