The name of one of America’s greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln isn’t a name Americans just shove in their shoebox of receipts. Abraham Lincoln’s accomplishments of re-unifying the North and South definitely put him as one of America’s greatest presidents. Not only his accomplishments made him successful, but his honesty and personality also made him popular while he was alive, not just after his assassination. This essay will dive into Lincoln’s life, from childhood to assassination, covering many important events in his life, and much more.
Born in a log cabin located in Harbin County, Illinois, on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln experienced a rough childhood. Lincoln’s father, Thomas, had Lincoln work the farm for long days at an early age. Lincoln resented his father for having him work on the farm and not get an education, which Lincoln sought. Lincoln thought of his father as lazy and anti-intellectual for his whole life, and did not have a relationship with him, and despite being forced to leave their home in Illinois to relocate in Perry County, Indiana (Lincoln was eight when this happened), Lincoln would still have to work hard. His mother, Nancy, however, was caring and affectionate towards Lincoln, and when she died from drinking infected milk when he was ten, Lincoln was devastated because his mother was all the love he had. Lincoln’s father soon re-married, and Lincoln’s stepmother, Mary, a widow with three children, developed a close relationship with Lincoln. She even preferred young Abraham to her own children, saying that Lincoln was honest and put responsibility first. Mary also encouraged Lincoln to become literate, and Lincoln would walk miles to borrow a book. Lincoln taught himself how to become literate, most likely because it was the only way to learn, and Lincoln got less than a year’s worth of formal education. When Lincoln was 21, the earliest age when a son could legally go out on his own, Lincoln departed to the small town of New Salem, Illinois.
While there, Lincoln fell in love with Anne Rutledge, the daughter of an inn-keeper, and the two became engaged, but a wave of typhoid fever struck and Anne Rutledge died of the illness. Lincoln became very depressed after her death, although some historians doubt this account. While in New Salem Lincoln became the owner of a general store. Lincoln was liked by the townsfolk because of his honesty and seemingly endless collection of funny stories. Storytelling in particular helped Lincoln feel secure about himself. His insecurity came from not going to school as a child. During the Black Hawk War against Native Americans, Lincoln was elected as captain, he didn’t run for the position, but his peers simply chose him. This made Lincoln feel happy despite not seeing any combat. Lincoln also taught himself law and passed the bar examination while in his twenties, a young age for a lawyer. Lincoln was very successful as a lawyer, not only because of his stature, but because of his logical arguments that he made sure the jury, which were common townsfolk, could understand. Lincoln said once that if you were a layer but yet not honest to go find another profession, for Lincoln thought a lawyer must always be honest on every account. Lincoln did mostly civil cases as a lawyer, but also did some criminal cases too. In one case, a witness said he could identify the murderer because of the light shone on a full moon. Lincoln referred to a trusty almanac and stated that the night was too dark to see anything clearly. His client was acquitted.
Lincoln also served a single term in the House of Representatives. Lincoln was unpopular though because of his opinions against the Mexican-American War and support for Zachary Taylor’s bid for president. In 1858, Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech. An excerpt from the speech states, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to dissolve. I do not expect the House to fall. What I do expect, it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it in the public mind, that it will rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction. Or its advocates will push it forward, until it shall become lawful in all the states, old as well as new, north, as well as south.” Lincoln did not have a strong opinion for or against slavery, but he did say that one side would have to come out on top. This put him at a distance from Stephen Douglas, the current Illinois senator. Stephen Douglas was a huge supporter of popular sovereignty in the new territories. Popular sovereignty is basically where the people vote whether they want slavery in the new territories or not. Lincoln disagreed with Douglas, and the two organized a series of seven debates with the main topic being slavery. Lincoln lost the debates, but he did gain recognition nationwide. Two years later, Lincoln ran as the new candidate from the Republican Party, the Whig’s replacement party, for president. Lincoln also received a tip from an 11 year-old girl saying that Lincoln should grow a beard, that all the ladies liked whiskers. Sure enough, Lincoln grew himself a beard, and it may have convinced a few or a lot to vote for him. Lincoln won the election, but before then South Carolina, sure that Lincoln would win, seceded from the Union.
By this time Lincoln had a wife named Mary Todd. The two were planning to get married in 1841 but Lincoln called off the engagement thinking it would be a disaster. A year later they met and married on a day’s notice. The two had their first son, Robert, nine months after marriage. Lincoln did not spend as much time with Robert in his early years, but he soon would after an unfortunate event that shook Lincoln as much or even more than his mother’s death during childhood. Their second child, Edward, nicknamed Eddie, died of tuberculosis just shy of his fourth birthday. From then onward, Lincoln would spend lots of time with his children. Before Eddie’s death, Lincoln’s father, Thomas, had asked Lincoln to see him one last time. Lincoln declined, saying it would be best if we were separated, and Lincoln never attended his funeral either. The married couple soon had a third son named William. Robert went with Lincoln on the train to D.C. and was trusted to hold on to Lincoln’s inauguration speech, but was more interested in the train’s engine and lost the speech, which took forever for Lincoln to find. During the American Civil War, in 1862, William caught Typhoid Fever from contaminated drinking water. While William was ill, Lincoln cancelled his entire schedule and spent all his time with William. After two or so weeks Lincoln walked into his office saying “My boy is gone…” to his secretary and burst into tears. Their fourth son, Tad, perished from tuberculosis or pleurisy ten years after Lincoln’s assassination in 1871, at age 18. Mary Todd Lincoln lived to be 63, long enough to hate her sole surviving son, Robert, for trying to institutionalize her.
Lincoln’s presidency was a near-impossible task. While stopping in Philadelphia, Lincoln heard of an assassination plot and donned a disguise, went on a different route, and was snuck into the White House at night. Lincoln said that he wouldn’t do that again that of someone wanted to kill him, no amount of security would stop him. When Confederate ships ordered Union soldiers to evacuate Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Lincoln would not bring a fleet in and fire the first shot. The Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Lincoln wielded power like no other president before him. Lincoln spent $2 million ($51,125,419.65 today) for the war effort without appropriation from congress, called for 75,000 volunteers into active service without a declaration of war, and arrested suspected or rumored confederate sympathizers without a warrant. This was a major step in creating the American police state it is becoming today. Lincoln also became a military strategist himself and read as many books he could find on military strategy. Defeat after defeat for the Union put morale at a low, until a hopeful victory at Antietam on September 22, 1862 inspired Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which inspired slaves in Confederate lands to flee north, and later pushed for the end of slavery via the thirteenth amendment. Lincoln also delivered the Gettysburg address on November 19, 1863, which compared to the other long speeches, Lincoln’s ten sentence speech was all that was needed to state his view on the war and tell the union to persist and not to give up. The next election in 1864 was a landslide victory for Lincoln, winning 212 of the 233 electoral votes. The war ended on May 9, 1865, and resulted in a Union victory.
Lincoln’s death was near. Merely five days after the war’s end, on Good Friday, or May 14, was the day of Lincoln’s Assassination. While in Ford’s Theater, a popular actor and secret Confederate sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth walked up behind Lincoln and shot him in the back of the head. Lincoln was carried to a nearby inn and died the next morning at 7:22 AM. Booth was found hiding in a tobacco barn in Virginia and was killed. Mary Todd Lincoln spent forty days in the White House Bed, traumatized. Northerners and blacks mourned his death while white southerners felt a sense of justice. Lincoln’s body was carried by train to Springfield, Illinois, where it rests today.
Lincoln’s legacy was a huge one. Often considered the #1 best president of all time, Lincoln’s legacy can be seen in books and documentary films. Lincoln’s face appears on the penny and $5 bill, along with Mt. Rushmore. There is also the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Lincoln’s reputation helped America through the Great Depression, where Franklin D. Roosevelt often asked “What would Lincoln do?”. Lincoln’s legacy isn’t just great, it is spectacular, and without a doubt Lincoln is one of the best presidents America has ever had.