All About President Abraham Lincoln

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This month we celebrate the birth of one of the most important figures in American history: President Abraham Lincoln. He was born on Feb. 12, 1809. Read on to learn more about our 16th president.

Lincoln’s Biography

Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin in rural Kentucky. He didn’t have much growing up, and his family moved often. During his youth, he loved reading, devouring books like Robinson Crusoe, Aesop’s Fables and the Bible. Thanks to that passion or reading, Lincoln took his studies seriously. Even though he rarely attended school (they were hard to find in rural Kentucky) he self-taught himself subjects like math, social studies, and history.

Lincoln as a young man.

Even so, Lincoln’s desire to attend school conflicted with his father’s growing expectations of Lincoln to do more physical labor. He was a big, strong kid. His father began renting him out to perform oddjobs like shucking corn, cutting wood, and plowing. And Lincoln excelled at the work. His strength was obvious, and he had an unusual skill with an axe.

But he wasn’t only known as a workhorse. Lincoln gained a reputation as an avid storyteller, and occasional prankster. He was well-liked and very popular among his peers.

In 1830, when Lincoln’s father moved his family to Illinois, Lincoln decided to set off on his own. His experience doing odd jobs, matched with his exemplary intellect, helped him find his first job quickly. He worked on a flatboat, steering it along the Mississippi River it from Illinois to New Orleans. It was during that time that Lincoln first observed slave auctions in Louisiana, opening his eyes to the horrors of slavery and leading him to his hardline stance on the subject.

In 1834, Lincoln began his political career, being elected to the Illinois State Legislature as a member  the Whig Party. During that time, Lincoln formed his political opinions on the economy, slavery, and the government’s role.

In 1837, Lincoln decided to become a lawyer, and moved to Springfield, Illinois. By 1844, Abraham Lincoln had partnered with William Herndon to form his own law firm, making a good living. But the itch of politics tugged at Lincoln. From 1847-1849 he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. But it was a brief and unremarkable run.

In 1954, the Missouri Compromise was repealed, allowing individual states the right to decide whether to allow slavery. The decision split to the the country and gave rise to the Republican Party. And again, Lincoln’s political aspirations were reinvigorated, and he joined the Republican Party.

In 1858, Lincoln challenged long-time senator Stephen Douglas for his seat in the U.S. Senate. The campaign featured seven debates between the two providing insightful, rehearsed, informative conversation. The debates were very popular with the masses, and often covered by newspapers and other publications. In fact, they’re still considered some of the most influential debates on American history.

Still, Lincoln lost to Douglas in the end. But it wasn’t all bad. Lincoln’s fame an popularity had never been higher.

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Abraham Lincoln giving his second inaugural address on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in 1864.

In 1860, during the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Lincoln became the Republican nomination for president. In the election, he once again faced Douglas. This time the results were different. Lincoln received 40 percent of the popular vote ad 180 of 303 electoral votes, and was named the 16th President of the U.S. And he had to hit the ground running.

Within his first two months in office, seven states has seceded from the Union, and the Civil War had begun in earnest. Thankfully, Lincoln was prepared.

As the Civil War began to exploding in the South, Lincoln distributed $2 million from the Treasury, assigned for 75,000 volunteers into military service, and he allowed the swift arrest and imprisonment of suspected Confederate sympathizers.

Despite his swift, decisive action Lincoln faced opposition at every turn, including his own Presidential Cabinet. Contrary to tradition, Lincoln selected political foes and rivals. Instead of giving him whatever he wanted, they debated and fought on behalf of America’s best  interest. And the country was better for it.

In 1863, after two years of war Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all individuals who were held as slaves “henceforward shall be free.” It was a monumental moment in American history, giving a voice to the equality movement spreading across the nation.

As the war raged on, Lincoln’s confidence was shaken. The North had a slippery edge in the war, but there was no end in sight. He thought he’d be a single-term president. But when the 1864 election came around, Lincoln won dramatically with 55 percent of the vote. By April 1865, the Civil War was over. General Robert E. Lee surrendered his force and the war for all intents and purposes was over.

With the deadly war behind him, Lincoln wanted to reunite the country with quick action, reconstructing the damaged South as quickly as possible. But he never got the opportunity to finish what he had started. Lincoln was assassinated a few days later while attending a play in Washington D.C., cutting short his second presidential term.

Interesting Facts about Lincoln

Lincoln on the battlefield at Sharpsburg.
  •  Abraham Lincoln was a wrestler. As a young man, Lincoln often took part in wrestling matches.
  • He didn’t have a middle name.
  •  Lincoln loved to eat oysters.
  • Lincoln was an animal lover. He had a dog named Fido, and a cat named Tabby.
  •  He was the first president with a beard.
  • According to legend, Lincoln kept important documents hidden in his hat.
  • He was the tallest president, standing 6 feet 4 inches tall.
  • He was the first president to be assassinated.
  • Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

What is the Gettysburg Address?

The Gettysburg Address has been called one of America’s greatest speeches, but why? President Abraham Lincoln delivered a short speech to a crowd of more than 15,000, focusing on America’s principles of human equality. The Gettysburg Address is considered a key moment in American history, due to its shaping of the way Americans viewed themselves and their government.

When did it happen?

It happened during the Civil War, on Nov. 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This was just four and a half months after the vicious Battle of Gettysburg that took place at the same location.

Brief and to the point
Lincoln’s speech was just 271 words and only two minutes long. A sigh of relief when compared to the other speaker of the day, dignitary Edward Everett, who gave a two-hour, 13,000 word speech just before Lincoln.

The transcript:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.

Four Score?
You’ve probably heard of the now famous opening phrase, “Four score and seven years ago,” but maybe you don’t know what it means? A score means 20, so four score is 80. So the phrase, “Four score and seven years ago,” means 87 years ago an refers to the founding of America.

The only known photo of President Abraham Lincoln delivering the speech.

An original draft of the Gettysburg Address, with Lincoln’s handwritten notes.

Lincoln’s Pockets

The contents of Lincoln’s pockets at the time of his death.

 

When Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865, he was carrying two pairs of spectacles and a lens polisher, a pocketknife, a watch fob, a linen handkerchief,  a brown leather wallet containing a five-dollar Confederate note and nine newspaper clippings. Those contents were given to his son Robert Todd who kept them in the Lincoln family for more than seventy years.

Now, they’re in the possession of the Library of Congress. Take a look at this incredibly informative video on a few of Lincoln’s most prized possessions:

 

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