Abraham Lincoln

Second Term and Post-Presidency

(For Lincoln’s early life and first term, see Biography of Abraham Lincoln and the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.)

Having narrowly survived an assassination attempt by actor John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln resumed his office after consultation with his doctors and family with a renewed determination to see his post-war policies successfully carried out. In May of 1865, the remaining forces in the Confederacy surrendered following the capture of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Despite resistance from Radical Republicans, Lincoln was able to get his 10% Reconstruction plan passed. In June of that year, Lincoln and Congress agreed in principle on what would become the 14th and 15th Amendments. Provision was made to enforce black voting rights during election times with Federal troops if necessary. In a speech later in the month Lincoln defended the legislation by reminding Americans of the sacrifice made by African-American soldiers in the war and the benefits of free labor and of meritocracy in American life. Many Southern whites and more than a few in the North were none too pleased by the speech, but it was well received by black Americans and many Northern whites.

Disposition of Jefferson Davis and Mexican Intervention.

In July 1865, Jefferson Davis was given the choice of a treason trial or exile. He chose the latter and quietly traveled to England with his family. Lincoln then dispatched General Philip Sheridan with 50,000 U.S troops to the Mexican border in support of the Juarez Government.

Trial of John Wilkes Booth

In August, the Conspirators Trial saw Booth given a life sentence, while his compatriots Harold, Azerodt, Mary Surratt, and Lewis Paine were given prison sentences ranging from five years for Mrs. Surratt to 25 years for Paine and Azerodt. Mary Surratt was later pardoned by President Lincoln, while Booth spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum where he died in 1878.


In October of 1865, the 14th Amendment was passed, granting citizenship to blacks. In April 1866, the 15th Amendment passed, granting blacks the right to vote. In July The Ku Klux Klan was formed in response, and would commit many acts of violence and intimidation against blacks and white Republicans throughout the South. In September, Lincoln ordered that the Klan be suppressed by force. General U.S Grant was sent South with 40,000 Union Infantry and Cavalry. The Union effort was aided by an editorial circulated in papers throughout the country signed by Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, Joseph Johnston and many other prominent Southern Leaders condemning the Klan violence and imploring citizens to adhere to law in order so that the South could rebuild. Vigorous prosecution of the Klan by the U.S. Attorney General’s office soon followed, so that by Election Day in November the Klan was effectively crushed. In response to Southern support, Grant, with Lincoln’s approval, allowed any former Confederate Officers that signed the loyalty oath and wished to rejoin the United States Army to be reinstated at the rank in which they held on April 12th 1861. This act did much to foster political goodwill for Lincoln and the Republicans. As a result, Republicans maintained and increased their majority in both houses by several seats due largely to black Republican voters in the South, while the Democratic Party gathered in disaffected whites, both North and South, along with many Northern and Midwestern urban voters, who supported minimal revision in race relations and a segregation amendment, which failed to gain passage in the House due to opposition from newly elected African-American representatives and white Radical Republicans.

American Indians and the 1868 Presidential Election

In October 1867, a delegation of American Indians met with President Lincoln to protest inefficiency and corruption in the Indian Affairs Bureau. Lincoln appointed former General Joshua L. Chamberlain, hero of the Battle of Little Round Top, to head the bureau with instructions to ensure the Indians got "a fair deal" despite a great deal of resistance from whites, especially settlers and their advocates, namely the railroads which wanted to expand into the West. Indian reservation lands are protected by Chamberlain and enforced by the Federal Army. In April 1868, Congress passed Oklahoma Act which Lincoln signed. The Indian Territory was organized as a federally protected area for Indians in perpetuity; Plains Indians that were still in resistance to Federal authority were to be forcibly settled onto reservations in Oklahoma. Despite his personal efforts Lincoln could ultimately not prevent the Indian Wars in the West as the Sioux were forcibly removed from the Black Hills.

The 1868 Presidential election saw Republicans nominate Ulysses S. Grant for president and former Confederate general James Longstreet for Vice President. Democrats nominated Horatio Seymour for President and Daniel Sickles for Vice President. The House of Representatives had 14 new black representatives elected to its rank and one senator, Hiram Revels. The Grant/Longstreet ticket won by a landslide, with the Democrats carrying only Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and New York. Lincoln announced that he would return to his law practice at the end of his term in March 1869, a job that he kept until he was appointed Ambassador to the Court of Saint James later that year. During this time, he dictated his memoirs to his former secretary, John Nicolay. He also embarked on a tour of the country, which included driving in the Golden Spike of the newly completed Trans-Continental Railroad, before going on to San Francisco, Hawaii, and touring the Caribbean. It was in his capacity as an ambassador that he offered his services as a mediator during the Franco-Prussian War. Following his retirement in 1880, he moved to Springfield, Illinois with his family, where he continued to live in relative obscurity. In the 1890s Lincoln became a vocal critic of colonialism, including the Scramble for Africa, and spoke out against the Spanish-American War, although he supported annexation of Hawaii and the Philippines. It was also during this period that he joined Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) on a highly successful lecturing tour. Lincoln died in his sleep in 1905. A train carried his body from Springfield to Washington, where he lay in state for three days in the Capitol Building. His funeral procession was the first of a former president’s to be recorded on film.