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Abraham Lincoln (Two Americas)

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Abraham Lincoln
Timeline: Two Americas

Abraham Lincoln head on shoulders photo portrait
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

16th President of the United States
March 4, 1861 - March 4, 1869

Predecessor: James Buchanan
Successor: Ulysses S. Grant
Vice President: Hannibal Hamlin (1861-1865)
Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
Born: February 12, 1809
Hardin County, Kentucky
Died: June 19, 1881
New York City, New York
Political Party: Republican
Profession: Lawyer

Abraham Lincoln was born in the Hardin County, Kentucky (then USA), on February 12, 1809. When he was ten, his family would move to Illinois where he become a self-taught lawyer while serving as a state representative. He served elected to the US House of Representatives However, when he ran for US Senate, he failed twice. However, in the process of the campaigns, he had proven a formidable opponent to the expansion of slavery in the United States. When the Republican party was created to combat slavery, Lincoln was a delegate to the first statewide convention (in neighboring Illinois)in 1854. In 1856, the party nominated John C. Frémont for president. Though Frémont lost, the party became a movement to be reckoned with. In 1860, Lincoln was selected as nominee for president, and was elected to be the last president of an undivided United States.

Family Life

Early Life

Lincoln was born on the family farm in Hardin County, Kentucky on February 12, 1809, to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln. Soon after moving to Indiana, Nancy Lincoln became ill, dying in 1818. The next year, Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnston, whom Abraham called "Mother" for the rest of his life. In 1830, Thomas moved the family to Macon County, Illinois.

Marriage and children

Abraham married Mary Todd, daughter of wealthy Kentucky slave owners, in 1842, after having been engaged and breaking up in 1840. The couple would have four sons, with only the first, Robert Todd Lincoln, living to full adulthood. Two of them would die before their father, contributing to mental health difficulties of both parents.

Private Practice

While in the state legislature (a part-time job), Lincoln taught himself law, and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1837. He became a successful criminal lawyer, practicing law for twenty-one of the next 23 years, interrupted by two years representing Illinois in the US House of Representatives.

Political Career

State Legislature

In 1832, at the age of 23, Lincoln ran for political office for the first time. He had worked on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers and had served in the Black Hawk War as a captain (though not seeing combat), and it was on that experience that he ran his campaign. It was not enough to be elected, but he received 277 votes of the 300 cast in his home district. In 1834, he was elected and continued to serve for four consecutive terms. In 1837 he and another legislator spoken out against slavery, though Lincoln had voted to restrict voting rights to whites only in previous legislative sessions.

National Politics

In 1846, Lincoln turned to national politics, being elected to the US House of Representatives during the presidency of James Polk (D-TN). During his two years there, he spoke out against the Mexican-American War. This lost him support back home, but not before he won the confidence of the next president of the United States. Lincoln had been a supporter of Zachary Taylor (W-VA). When Taylor took office, he had offered Lincoln the governorship of the Oregon Territory. He had refused, noting that the populace there leaned Democrat, and would not likely support him come statehood.

In 1854, Lincoln returned to national politics when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was introduced by his former colleague in the House, and now Senator, Stephen Douglas. In much spirited debates, Lincoln tore apart Douglas' arguments for "popular sovereignty" as he called the concept of pure democracy. To Lincoln, some things, like slavery, were too serious for the federal government to ignore. Finally, in 1858, Lincoln challenged Douglas in the race for Senate. Lincoln was running in the newly created Republican party (founded in 1854 in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act) instead of the still powerful Whig party. Though he lost that election, Lincoln was established as a national figure and was to be the Republican's candidate in 1860. The Democrats would finally run Douglas after passing him by in 1852 and 1856.

First Term

Election of 1860

After losing to William Seward in the first two ballots, Lincoln secured the Republican nomination for president in May of 1860. This was out of a field of thirteen candidates. He would go on to win 39.8% of the popular vote, securing 18 of 22 states where he was on the ballot. Ten of the original eleven Confederate states did not have Lincoln on the ballot, and Virginians only gave him 1.1% of their votes. Lincoln's fellow Illinoisan Douglas was the first candidate to attempt a speaking tour, while the future president made not one speech during the campaign. Douglas won only Missouri and 3 of 7 electoral votes in Delaware (though second in popular vote).

A Rival Nation arises

The election of 1860 split the nation into "two Americas," as seven of the fourteen slave states declared themselves a separate nation, the Confederate States of America, in 1861. By the time Lincoln took office, the CSA was a fact. President Buchanan was of a mind to let the states secede, but his cabinet did not go along. And so it was, five weeks after being sworn in (under heavy security), and federal troops of the USA that refused to leave a fort they maintained in South Carolina were fired upon by Confederate gunboats. Lincoln held this to be an act of war. On April 15, 1961, he called on the militias of all the states to muster 75,000 troops to recapture forts, and "preserve the union." This forced other southern and border states to make choices. Many chose to secede. The next four years would prove to the world that Lincoln's war, with his dream of a perpetual union would prove to be both a desperate hope and a nightmare.

The Second American Revolution

Lincoln had set the stage for the death of the nation as he knew it. His whole first term in office was defined by a war between equal forces, battles fought in the southern states tended to go to the self-proclaimed Confederate States of America. The CSA had grown from the seven original states were joined by five others, leaving only Maryland and Delaware to remain neutral "border states." Battles fought in the northern states were overwhelmingly won by the home forces. In the north, also, the nation was rift with anti-war demonstrations.

Though he loved liberty, Lincoln found himself running the nation in a perpetual state of martial law. The jails were full of what detractors called "political prisoners" as the Lincoln administration attempted to keep the unrest to a minimum. The Supreme Court was hampered by the "War Powers Act" which re-enforced the President's power in time of war. The legislature, with loyalists from all but the southern states but Mississippi and Texas, was largely on Lincoln's side. When a debate would begin to go against the president, the majority leaders were able to stop debate by various procedural moves.

Early in the war, the Union forces had occupied territory in central Tennessee. This occupation, though had been defeated in the very bloody battle for Murphreesboro. On December 31, 1862, Col. Phillip Sheridan and all three of his brigade commanders were killed as the Confederates began to retake Tennessee.

By mid 1864 the war looked like it was going in the union's favor. But then General U.S. Grant's campaign to conquer Virginia went from bad to worse in June of 1864. Having lost the battle of New Market on May 15th, Grant had replaced Gen. Fanz Sigel with Gen. David Hunter. On June 5th, Hunter would be killed in an attempt to take Staunton, Virginia. Their new leader dead, the slightly larger union forces were turned back by those under the command of Gen. William E. Jones of the Confederacy.

The campaign lead by Confederate Gen. Jubal Early had been largely a success, defending the Virginian border from the Union's advances. The union forces under Gen. George Cook had been soundly defeated as they attempted to take Kernstown, Virginia. Early had pursued the fleeing only as far as the Pennsylvania border, not wishing to be ambushed in enemy territory. Realizing the failure on this front, General Grant sent re-enforcements down the Mississippi River on the far western front. The re-election of Abraham Lincoln, which Grant had hoped would be secured through a "scorched earth" destruction of support structure in the south, seemed in jeopardy.

The Election of 1864

When the Democrats of the north selected a popular general, George B. McClellan of New Jersey, as their candidate, Lincoln formed his own party to shore up the vote. He made agreements across party lines to form the National Union Party, supporting his military governor of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as his Vice President. A close ballot in a crowded field that included sitting vice president Hannibal Hamlin, successfully put the Tennessean on the ballot.

Unknown to McClellan, Lincoln had sealed instructions to Congress to not seat any other man as president until the war had ended. This communique, though, was not delivered because the election overwhelmingly returned Lincoln to office with his new vice president. Facing inauguration with uncertainty, Lincoln was glad he had not had to violate the will of the people.

Second Term and legacy.

Though he had won the election, the war in the east had come to a standstill. The Union forces were largely successful in occupying Confederate lands west of the Mississippi, though. Texas, though, had resisted invasion from the north and wast, and had succeeded in defending lands to its west from attacks coming from California. On March 4, 1865, Lincoln took the oath of office under heavy guard within the chambers of the Supreme Court building, for rumors of assassination plots were being taken very seriously.

On March 15, 1865, Lincoln had sent word to Gen. William T. Sherman, his commander of the Western army, ordering him to "take Atlanta," deep in the heart of the Confederacy. A plan to amass forces in an assault of major southern population centers was to begin within weeks. Such a threat, aimed at the people of the south and not just the troops along the border, was too much for the Davis administration in Richmond. A direct order from his office authorized the assassination of his rival president. Subsequent investigation would show, however, that Jefferson Davis had not given the order himself.

The services of John Wilkes Booth were procured and the rebel spy network in Washington began to look for opportunities to remove the "threat" to peace, that Lincoln had become. The opportunity appeared to have come when Lincoln took his wife to in a night at the theater. It was a trap, for the Confederate spy ring had double agents embedded deep in its operations.

On the evening of April 14, 1865, Booth at successfully made his way to Ford's Theater and past a surprisingly lax security, into Lincoln's balcony seat. As Booth raised his derringer to take what looked like a sure shot, another shot rang out, striking the would-be assassin in the left temple and lodging behind his left eye. The next day, the body of John Wilkes Booth was hanged publicly as a warning to all other conspirators. Lincoln's anger burned toward the rebel forces as he dispatched new orders to Sherman.

more to come ...

Retirement and Death

Abraham Lincoln would retire a broken man. His latter campaign to abolish the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was not popular. A bitter battle with war hero Ulysses S. Grant brought a healing nation close to another rebellion. The election of 1868 saw Lincoln's choice fail to make it to the general election, and Grant became the 17th president of the United States without his support.

As Grant and his successor saw increased tension with American Indians in the plains and strained relations with France and Britain, Lincoln retired to New York City, living off of a small military pension and advances on his autobiography. He would die without seeing the publication of his book - later to be edited by poet Carl Sandburg -- in New York City after battling debilitating cancer for over a decade. On June 19, 1881, he would die in his sleep. President James Garfield, who ironically would be assassinated a few months later, would personally accompany the former president to his burial in Springfield, Illinois.

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