Abraham Lincoln: The American President
It was cold and dark the morning of March 4, 1865. The weather did not match the joy of the occasion. After 5
years of fighting, the end of the Civil War was in sight. President Abraham Lincoln had been reelected and the nation
seemed to be moving closer to the day when the north and south would be reunited. Today was Lincoln’s Second
Inauguration and Washington D.C. was abuzz with the anticipation of what the next 4 years might bring, and not even the
weather could keep the crowd away. They braved the cold and the rain to hear Lincoln’s speech. And as he stepped to the
podium, as if through divine intervention, the sun broke through the clouds and bathed the scene in its warm light (many in
the crowd saw this as a sign of America’s bright future under the president). Lincoln spoke briefly but powerfully (a power
that he possessed more than any other). “…With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God
gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who
shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting
peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” Even though victory was in sight, Lincoln would do no gloating. Nor would
he punish the Confederacy for their traitorous ways. Instead, Lincoln was going to welcome them back with open arms,
there would be no retribution under his watch. In many ways, Abraham Lincoln (the sworn enemy of the south) was going
to be the south’s best friend for the next 4 years.
Thousands of people heard the president speak that morning, and the applause was thunderous. Despite the large
crowd one person managed to stand out from the masses. Standing on the balcony of the Capitol, just over the stage, was
the dashing and famous actor John Wilkes Booth. As he stood over the president and listened to Lincoln speak, he swore
aloud that this would be the last speech Lincoln ever gave, for he would avenge the south, by assassinating the president.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in Nolin Creek, Kentucky. The second child of Thomas and
Nancy Lincoln, a pair of illiterate farmers living on the outskirts of American society. Abraham Lincoln’s father, however, did
come from a fairly wealthy family, but his dad (Abraham’s grandfather for whom Abe was named) was killed by Indians and
all of his wealth and land (over 5,500 acres) went to his eldest son, Mordecai, not Abraham’s father. So, verifying the old
American myth, Abraham was really born in a modest one-room log cabin. Just how modest was his cabin? Built with a dirt
floor, no heat and no windows, it was modest even for a log-cabin. Abraham Lincoln spent the early years of his life in dire
poverty and it would not get much better for a long time.
In 1816, the Lincoln clan moved to Ohio, where the eight-year-old Abe was given a hand axe and the task of
clearing the trees on the property. Once Lincoln had chopped down enough trees for the new (even worse) log cabin, he
now had the job of helping his father build the cabin and when that task was finished, he had the pleasure of plowing the
fields to plant corn and other vegetables. The first two years in Ohio was constant back-breaking labor for the pre-teen
future president (and you were complaining that your social studies made you read this biography of him).
Added to his miserable childhood, was the mysterious illness of Nancy Lincoln. Abe’s mother developed an illness
known as “milk sickness” (it seems the cows were eating contaminated food) and she died a week later. This devastated
the young Lincoln, as his mother was the only person that Abe ever felt close to. His father was his boss and made him
work all day long, but his mother (while not particularly loving) was the one who would take care of him. Alone, cold and
tired from working in the fields all day, the child Lincoln was no child at all, but a hardened adult in a child’s body.
Things began to change next year, though, as Thomas Lincoln remarried Sara Bush Lincoln, a widow from
Kentucky. A woman with some money, she brought luxury items, for the first time, into the Lincoln log-cabin. “Luxury” items
that Abraham had never seen before (a table, chairs, forks, spoons, etc.) and, most importantly, a fondness for the young
Abraham. It was his step-mother who would give him the love that he so desperately craved. In addition, she saw in him
tremendous wit and natural intelligence and forced Thomas to enroll his son in school. Because of distance and work
requirements at home, however, Abraham was only able to finish one year of schooling by the age of 15. It was enough,
however, to give him the tools to teach himself and every night by the light of the fire, Abraham could be found reading
The heavy workload, however, began to take its toll on him. As his father grew older, so did Abraham’s load of the
chores. In addition, to make ends meet his father would hire his son out to other farms and keep all of his pay (Abraham
was essentially a slave to his father until he was 21). He grew less fond of his father by the day, until they had absolutely no
relationship at all. In fact, in his entire life, Abraham never had a fond word for his father and did not even attend his father’s
funeral. Soon enough, though, it was time to leave home (especially after his beloved step-mother passed away) and at the
age of 21, Lincoln hopped on a riverboat on the Mississippi River to make his fortune.
The next few years of his life were a struggle as the future president was searching for an identity. Holding more
than 6 jobs (and failing at most of them) over the next 10 years (including a stint as a soldier in Black Hawk’s War) he was
just trying to find his way. During these years, however, he began to display the wit, intelligence and determination that
would carry him to the highest office of the United States. While working as a store clerk in New Salem, Illinois he
developed a reputation for being the most intelligent man in town and when his boss claimed that he was also the strongest,
a local gang challenged him to prove it against their strongest member. At 6’4” Lincoln towered over the average man of
the 19th century, but his string-bean appearance did not do justice to the strength of a man who had spent his entire
childhood chopping down trees with a hand axe. So Lincoln accepted their challenge and thoroughly whipped his
competition. It seems that the smartest man in town really was the strongest.
It was during the spring of 1835 that Lincoln realized he needed a new occupation (as being a store clerk was not
paying bills) and he began to study law. He didn’t simply study the law, however, he immersed himself in it. He studied
while at work, while at home, even while walking. It is also during this time that he developed his first romantic relationship
(is it any wonder that at the same time he falls in love, he realizes that he needs to make more money) as he fell in love with
the young Ann Rutledge.
Not much is known of her today, as Lincoln never left any written records of her and never spoke of her later in life.
So how their courtship began remains a mystery, but not how it ended. The summer of 1835 was extremely hot and rainy
and, as a result, Ann came down with typhoid fever. The idea of losing another woman in his life must have been
excruciating for the young Abraham, but despite the best efforts of her doctors, Ann died within the week and Abraham sunk
into a deep depression. In fact, depression is an infliction that would plague him on and off for the rest of his life. When
Lincoln finally came out his depression, he never spoke her name again and destroyed all of the letters that the two of them
This seemed to be the perfect opportunity for Lincoln to move again. In the spring of 1837, while still in anguish
over the death of his beloved Ann, and nearly penniless, he borrowed enough money to move to Springfield, Illinois and
opened a law practice. The Lincoln law practice was a successful one, even though he occasionally lost important papers
(not surprising, for much like the American myth says, he really did keep his most important papers in his stovepipe hat).
Despite the occasional lost paper, his law practice did well and he developed many friends that would become political allies
later in his life and, more importantly, he met a young socialite named, Mary Todd.
Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were married in November 1842 and had 4 sons. Their marriage, however, was
not an ideal one. Abraham was known for long bouts of depression and even silence (meaning he would go weeks
without speaking a word to anybody). Mary Todd, on the other hand, was famous for her explosive temper, which would
reveal itself when anyone dared to cross her. She was afflicted by headaches and was deathly afraid of lightning and dogs.
One thing the Lincolns did have common, however, was complete lack of discipline for their children. Reflecting on his
childhood, Abraham swore that his children would be children. The Lincoln boys were never scolded, nor spanked, no
matter what they did and lived a free and very rambunctious lifestyle.
For the next few years, Lincoln led a very quiet professional life. He worked as a lawyer and dabbled in politics. An
ardent Whig, he served two terms in the state assembly, but he mostly kept to his law practice from 1849-1854. Some
major events did rock his personal life though. In early 1849, Thomas Lincoln (Abe’s father) passed away. Not close while
alive, Abraham refused to attend the funeral as he was tending to his ailing son. Edward, the second Lincoln son, who was
always sick, became seriously ill in 1849 and died on February 1, 1850 from tuberculosis. The death sent Abraham into a
massive depression, which was only alleviated by the birth of his son Willie. Soon after the birth of Willie, Mary was
pregnant again with another son, Thomas Lincoln (named after Abraham’s deceased father). Their fourth son, however, is
known to the world as Tad, as Abraham noted that Thomas’ unusually large head and his tiny body made him look like a
The Lincoln family was growing, but Abraham was working a great deal of the time (and most of it in other towns)
and this caused a great deal of stress on Mary Todd and their marriage:
“…his wife’s behavior was unpredictable. Weeks of quiet family life could go by, with pleasant meals
and long evenings of reading together by the fire…When she was feeling well, there would be parties
and games for the Lincoln children…Then something would trigger her temper. Perhaps she was
simply bored by being cooped up in a tiny house much too small for her growing family. Perhaps she
was affected by the mental instability that was evident in…her family…(for she was known to fly) off
the handle (at a moment’s notice) at her husband. On one occasion she chased him out of the
house and down the street with a butcher knife…in her hand.” (Donald, 158)
Lincoln for his part ignored these outbursts. He would simply round up the children and go for walk. He never
scolded her for her behavior and never embarrassed her for her spells.
During these years, Abraham became very close to Tad and Willie. He missed out on Robert’s
childhood, as he was always working and was upset by his lack of a relationship with his eldest son. This
was a mistake that he would not make with his youngest boys. Lincoln could be seen all over Springfield,
toting his young boys in a cart or on his shoulders. He would often bring them to his law practice and they
would take all of his papers, pens, files, books, even the ash trays and empty them all on the floor and dance
on top of the pile. Lincoln would never yell at sons, nor stop them (to the anger of the other people who
worked in his office). He would just sit back and smile and enjoy their company. It is this ability to interact
with his sons, and enjoy their company, that would serve him very well later in life as he needed to find a
distraction from his day-to-day business of dealing with the Civil War as president of the United States.
So how did he become the Republican president of the United States in 1860, when in 1854, he was
a moderately successful lawyer and a low-ranking member of the Whig party, living on the outskirts of
America in Illinois? The answer is, it wasn’t so much that Lincoln found the presidency, but the presidency
found him. The last 6 years of the 1850s were a whirlwind and Abraham Lincoln got sucked right up it into
and emerged as the leader of the newly formed Republican Party.
1854 was a monumental year in America and Illinois, as the Illinois senator Stephen Douglas
introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act to Congress. Hoping to secure a railroad through Chicago, Douglas
needed southern support to get the required federal money. In order to receive the south’s vote for his
railroad money, he proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. After the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the
Compromise of 1850, slavery was outlawed in states north of 36 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude (which
included the territories of Kansas and Nebraska). Southerners hated this principle as it blocked the
expansion of slavery. To appease them, Douglas proposed the idea of popular sovereignty. Popular
means the people and sovereignty means rule. It literally means, the people rule. When popular sovereignty
is applied to slavery in the Kansas-Nebraska it means, that if the people of Kansas and Nebraska want
slaves, then they should be allowed to vote for on the issue (popular-sovereignty, the people rule). This Act
made the south very happy, but infuriated the Whig Party.
The Whigs (Lincoln’s party) were fervently opposed to the spread of slavery. In fact, it was really
their one defining believe. They believed that it was impossible to stop slavery where it already existed, but it
should not be allowed to spread into the territories. Lincoln, as an Illinois Whig, now had the ability to debate
with Douglas, an Illinois Democrat, and a well-respected national figure. As Douglas would travel Illinois
trying to develop support for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln would stand outside the hall and listen to his
speeches. As the crowd would leave Lincoln would yell that he would refute all of Douglas’ points tomorrow
night. With time to plan his speeches and first hand knowledge of what Douglas had said, Lincoln put on a
marvelous show. His speeches were a resounding success, and while the Kansas-Nebraska Act did pass,
and Douglas got his railroad, Lincoln was now the leading Whig candidate in Illinois. When Lincoln took on a
national figure, he developed a national name for himself.
If the Kansas-Nebraska Act made Lincoln the leading Whig in Illinois, the Dred Scott decision made
him a leading, national political candidate. The Dred Scott case was decided by the Supreme Court of the
United States on March 6, 1857 and the ramifications of it were tremendous. In this case, Dred, a slave was
brought into a free state by his master, and sued for his freedom on the belief that once he was brought into a
free territory he became a free man. The decision, however, did not go Dred’s way. Chief Justice Roger B.
Taney wrote the majority opinion in which he stated that slaves are not people. They are property and as
property they can never be set free. Furthermore, it is not the slaves that have rights, but the slave owners,
as they own the property. And owning property is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution and, as
such, Congress cannot outlaw slavery anywhere. Slaves are property and property is legal everywhere.
Essentially, slavery is now legal everywhere in the United States. The reason this case is so important
in the story of Abraham Lincoln is he was a Whig and the Whig Party was formed to stop the spread of
slavery. And now that slavery is legal everywhere, the party is obsolete. As the Whig Party ended with Dred
Scott decision, the new Republican Party was formed and Lincoln was one of the founding members of it. As
a founding member of the only real rival to the Democrat Party, Lincoln was now at the fore-front of national
politics. From an unknown, Illinois lawyer in 1853, to the leader of a national political in only 4 years, not bad.
In 1858, the Illinois Republicans nominated him to run against Stephen Douglas for a seat in the
United States Senate. In 1858 Douglas and Lincoln took part in several debates (The Lincoln/Douglas
Debates), and these became the hottest ticket in town. For over 3 hours (that’s right 3 hours, this was before
the days of Jersey Shore or Hillbilly Handfishing, but is there really a difference between those two shows?)
crowds of 10,000 people would listen to them discuss the issues of the day. And Lincoln more than held his
own against the “Little Giant” (Douglas was only 5’4” to Lincoln’s 6’4”) and while Douglas won the Senatorial
seat, Lincoln was now a real force in American politics began campaigning for the presidency in the election
of 1860. In fact, losing to Douglas gave him the time he needed to put together his campaign. In 1860
Lincoln received the Republican nomination for the presidency and a gift from the Democrats.
The Democratic Party was a national party of both the north and south, while the Republican Party
was only made up of northerners. As the Republicans unanimously nominated Lincoln, the Democrats split
their votes and nominated 3 different people for the presidency. Therefore, the Democrats votes would be
split three different ways, while every Republican was now going to vote for Lincoln. So despite the fact that
Lincoln did not receive a single vote in 10 of the southern states (and was left off the ballot in 5 of them), he
was elected president of the United States in 1860. Abraham Lincoln, a man of truly humble beginnings, with
only one year of formal education, had reached the highest office in the United States, but his real trouble
was just beginning.
Abraham Lincoln was in Springfield when he was informed that he been elected president of the
United States in the election of 1860. He was also there when he was informed that because he was
elected South Carolina had voted to secede from the Union and six other states were following in her
footsteps. As America wondered what the president-elect would do in the face of this adversary, Lincoln did
and said nothing. He would make no comment until his inauguration day in March 1861. In fact the only
major change that Lincoln made during this time was the growth of his beard. It seems that one little girl
thought that Lincoln would look better if he would just grow “some whiskers” so Grace Bedell wrote the
“Hon A B Lincoln...
My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin's. I am a little girl only 11 years
old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you won’t think me very bold to
write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell
her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brother's and part of them will vote for you any way
and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you would look a great deal better for
your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband's to vote for you and then you
would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to but I will try to get
every one to vote for you that I can I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty I have got a
little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace
Bedell Westfield Chatauque County New York
I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye
Lincoln, of course, could not ignore this very important letter, so he responded:
Miss Grace Bedell
My dear little Miss
Your very agreeable letter of the 15th is received - I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters - I have
three sons - one seventeen, one nine, and one seven years of age - They, with their mother, constitute my whole
family - As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I
were to begin it now?
Your very sincere well wisher
Lincoln did grow his whiskers and he actually met Grace Bedell one day. On the train ride from Springfield to Washington
DC, the president’s car stopped at several cities so the American people could see their new president and while in Grace’s
hometown, he called her up to the stage and planted a kiss on her and thanked her for the advice.
The southern states for their part were not very interested in Lincoln’s facial hair. They were interested in his
politics, but they were not going to wait to his inauguration ceremony to hear it from him. They knew that he was a
Republican, and a former Whig, who was opposed to the expansion of slavery and would be a threat to their way of life. So
in February of 1861 (a month before Lincoln would be sworn into the presidency), South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi,
Alabama, Georgia and Texas met in Montgomery, Alabama to officially secede from the Union and form the Confederate
States of America. With secession came the seizing of federal forts that were located within their borders. Now when
Lincoln assumed command of America, he would do so facing the biggest crisis any US president ever faced (destruction of
the Union), with the least amount of training (in both education and political experience). Lincoln, however, towered above
the vast majority of his predecessors in several areas, with one of them being his sheer genius. While Americans might not
have realized it in the beginning of his presidency, they would know by the end that he was the right man for the job.
The first question that Lincoln had to answer was: “Was secession legal?” There was tremendous debate in
America as to whether a state had the right to secede. If Lincoln believed that secession was legal, then he could do
nothing about the crisis. But if Lincoln believed that secession was illegal, then he could crush the newly formed
Confederate States as traitors to the Union. America awaited his answer.
So does a state have a right to break away from the federal government and form its own government? According
to the Constitution, it does. Certainly the Constitution was not even the first government of the United States, the Articles
of Confederation was, and they ended after only 9 years. Legally, according to the Constitution, a state has a right to
secede. If secession is legal then Lincoln must allow the southern states to secede. In fact, Lincoln’s presidential
predecessor (James Buchanan) stated in a public address that secession was legal and there was nothing that a president
could do about it. Lincoln, however, told America in his inaugural address that secession was illegal.
How is it possible that Lincoln could state that secession is illegal, when the Constitution clearly states that it’s
legal? The answer, according to Lincoln, is found in the document that founded America. He pointed to the fact, that the
United States did not begin with the Constitution, but with the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration said
nothing about a state having a right to secede. According to the Declaration of Independence it is the people that have a
right to form a government, not the states, and Lincoln refused to recognize these states as the voice of the people.
Kind of complicated, but what it means is, the people formed the government of the United States (with the signing
of the Declaration of Independence) and not the states (with the signing of the Constitution). Therefore, secession is illegal
and Lincoln would fight the Civil War if that is what it took to preserve the Union (preserving the Union being Lincoln’s goal
for the Civil War). This is what Lincoln explained in his First Inaugural Address. So the Civil War was bound to happen, but
who would fire the first shot?
Lincoln knew that he could not fire the first shot. If the north fired upon the south first, than he would be the
aggressor and they would simply be defending their home turf. No, Lincoln had to coax the south into firing the first shot,
but how and where. Wouldn’t you know it, that “how” and “where” would land on his desk the day of his inauguration.
When he sat down to his desk for the first time he was given a telegram from Major Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter in
South Carolina. In his telegram, Major Anderson reported that he was running low on supplies and would need to be
restocked soon, but the Confederates warned that if any Union ships entered the harbor, they would consider it an act of
war and would fire on the fort. This was a real dilemma for Lincoln, if he did nothing Fort Sumter would be forced to
surrender to the Confederates and he would look weak to the people of America. If he sent warships to restock the fort (a
fort that by-the-way held no strategic value to the north during the war), it would be considered an act of war, and it would
look like he was starting the war. Both options were out of the question for the new president.
Lincoln, therefore, chose neither. Displaying the deft political skill that would mark most of his presidency, he forced
the south into firing the first shot of the war and still looked strong to the people of America. Instead of sending a naval ship
to re-supply with military supplies, Abraham Lincoln sent a merchant ship to restock Ft. Sumter with supplies (meaning food
and water). He knew that South Carolina was going to fire on any northern ships that entered the harbor (which it did), so
he sent a non-military ship and thereby, the Confederacy was the aggressor by firing on a peaceful merchant ship, during a
time of peace (war had yet to be declared). The Confederacy fired the first shots of the war and while the south won the
battle for Ft. Sumter (Anderson surrendered the fort after one day of fighting), Lincoln won the political battle, as he could
now fight the war and the traitors from the south, without looking like the aggressor. All of this on his first day on the job.
The tests that Lincoln faced during the first day of his presidency, should have served as warning as what lied
ahead. During the Civil War, Lincoln was constantly tested. With no military background he felt dependent upon his
generals. But most of his generals proved to be incompetent (faced with incompetence, Lincoln was forced to teach himself
how to be a military commander). In the early years of the war, in fact, he was constantly looking for a general who would at
least fight (retreating seemed to be the one thing that his generals were capable of doing). In fact, in one famous
conversation he asked General George McClellan, “since he was not planning on using the army, would he mind if I
borrowed it for awhile?”. As the Army of the Potomac continued to lose to the Army of Northern Virginia, the people’s
confidence in their president began to diminish. As the casualties continued to pile up, the morale of the northern soldier
It was during these early years of the war, that Lincoln found solace in his young boys, Tad and Willie.
Undisciplined in their small house in Springfield, Illinois, they now had the run of the Executive Mansion. The boys would
round up the local neighborhood children and play in the White House. With their friends, they would sneak onto the roof
and build forts. In addition, they would attach to their pet goat (yes, that’s right, pet goat), a sled and go for rides through
the halls of the White House. When he heard about this, Lincoln would simply laugh, and when he happened to view it
himself, he would join in the festivities. The joy that he received from Tad and Willie was his saving grace during the early
years of the Civil War. It was, however, to be short-lived.
Some time in early 1862, Tad and Willie developed typhoid fever. The prognosis for the boys was not good, and
Lincoln was overcome with grief. With his days spent dealing with the end of the American union, Lincoln spent his nights
reading to his boys in their sickbeds. Despite the care of the best doctors in the country, Willie succumbed to his sickness
on February 20, the second child of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln to pass away. Lincoln could not deal with the death of
his beloved Willie and in the years following his death was known to lock himself in a dark room so he could shed tears for
his departed son. In addition, Tad was still sick and devastated by the death of his brother and best friend. While Tad did
get his health back, he never recovered emotionally to loss of Willie.
Mary Todd’s grief was the worst of them. For three weeks she laid in her bed (she did not even leave bed to attend
Willie’s funeral) and refused to see anyone. The mere mention of his name would bring about hysterics and never again
would she enter Willie’s bedroom. All social activities stopped at the White House as she was in mourning and would have
no visitors. The only activities that she would endorse, in fact, were séances so she could speak to both of her deceased
sons. Séances were a fairly normal occasion in the White House after Willie died, with even Abraham attending one of
them after his wife begged him to.
Abraham did not receive the same relief that his wife received from these contacts. Mary Todd believed that Willie
would come to her bed every night and they would hold conversations in her sleep. Lincoln, instead found comfort in his
other son, Tad (Robert was off at school and besides the father and son were never that close). Unruly and with a speech
impediment so severe that made him impossible for the vast majority of people to understand him (Abe always could
understand), he and the president shared a special bond and Lincoln would stop whatever he was doing when his son
beckoned (even during Tad’s frequent interruptions of Cabinet meetings). After the death of Willie, Abraham and Tad were
inseparable, with Tad falling asleep most nights in Lincoln’s office and the president carrying the sleeping nine-year-old off
to bed when he finished his work.
Despite the agony of Lincoln’s personal life, the Civil War was raging and America needed the leadership of its
president. During this time, Lincoln immersed himself in his work, even though the news of the war was still not good. The
Confederacy kept winning and by the summer of 1862, Lincoln’s popularity and the morale of the Union troops were at all
time lows. Lincoln had a plan, however, to change all of that.
As Lincoln’s goal to “preserve the Union” was valid, it did not inspire and it did not attack the root cause of the Civil
War. As Lincoln so eloquently stated in a letter to The New York Herald: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save
the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it;
and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I
would also do that. I have here stated my purpose according to my views of official duty and I intend no modification of my
oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.” Lincoln’s goal was to preserve the Union, but he knew
that slavery was the root cause of the Civil War. How could he fight an entire war about slavery, and then not free the
slaves? In addition, the idea of “preserving the Union”, did not exactly inspire his troops, or the people of America. There
was a problem with freeing the slaves, though. The Border States (the slave holding states that did not join the
Confederacy). How could he free the slaves and not lose the Border States to the Confederacy? If the Border States lost
their slaves, they would leave the Union and then Washington DC (which is located between Maryland and Virginia) would
be located in the heart of the Confederacy. Once again, Lincoln’s political resolve was going to be tested.
Could he find some way to change the course of the war, free the slaves, raise the morale of his men, give his men
a reason to continue the fight, keep the Border States from leaving the Union and keep Britain from helping the Confederacy
(which might happen, but would not if the war was fought to free the slaves, as Britain freed their slaves in the 1840s and
would not fight a war to preserve slavery)? Quite a tall order, but once again Lincoln proved why he was the perfect man for
On January 1, 1863 Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated: “That on the first day of
January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or
designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then,
thenceforward, and forever free…” So Lincoln freed the slaves, right? It says right there that: “all persons held as slaves
within any State or designated part of a State,…in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward,
and forever free.:” All the slaves are free, right? Not exactly; if Lincoln freed the slaves then the Border States would leave
and join the Confederacy. So how many slaves did the Emancipation Proclamation actually free then? Zero, nada, zip,
zilch. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in any state that was in a state of rebellion against the United
States (the Confederacy), and those states no longer followed the laws of the United States government. So what did it
accomplish then, if it freed no slaves? It accomplished everything that Lincoln had hoped it would.
While no slaves were immediately freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, it changed the course of the war. Now
when the Union takes over an area that is part of the Confederacy, it will free their slaves. In addition, the Union troops now
have a reason to fight (the emancipation of the slaves) and Britain will never join the war now. Finally the outcome of the
Civil War will now answer the question of slavery in the United States forever, and as the slaves in the Border States were
not freed, they had no reason to join the Confederacy (and risk losing their slaves). In addition, it allowed the Union to
follow the advice of Fredrick Douglass (whom became a confidant of Lincoln’s during the war) and allow African Americans
to fight for the Union cause. Lincoln accomplished all of his goals with one stroke of the pen and the history of the United
States would never be the same.
As the Emancipation Proclamation turned the tide of public opinion and his soldier’s morale, events in the summer
of 1863, helped to turn the tide of the war. For three days, the Army of Northern Virginia, under the leadership of Robert E.
Lee, and the Army of the Potomac fought at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (a city with no strategic, but apparently very good
shoes). It seems that Lee was hoping to attack some major northern cities and hopefully end the war. As he was marched
his army towards Philadelphia, he was shadowed by the Army of the Potomac. Near Gettysburg, several Confederate
soldiers wandered around hoping to find some shoes, what they found were a few Union soldiers also wandering the
streets. A skirmish broke out between the two sides and soon both armies descended upon the quiet Pennsylvania town.
For three days the two sides were involved in some of the most intense fighting of the war, with the Lee and the
Confederates retreating on July 4th, 1863. When Lincoln received the joyous news of the Battle of Gettysburg, he also
received a telegram from General Ulysses S. Grant that the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River,
Vicksburg, had fallen to the Union army. July 4th, 1863 was a joyous day for the north (not so much for the people of
Vicksburg, Mississippi who refused to celebrate the 4th of July for the next 100 years!).
Of course, as with anything else in Lincoln’s life, it could not all be good news. On July 2 nd, as the armies were
fighting it away in Gettysburg and Vicksburg, someone snuck into the stables at the White House and unscrewed the bolts
of the president’s carriage in an apparent assassination attempt, but Lincoln was not the next to use the carriage, Mary
Todd was. She was thrown from the carriage and had to recuperate for over three weeks. After this incident her
headaches became more frequent and severe.
After the news of the summer of 1863, Lincoln’s popularity began to grow, but not everyone agreed with his
Emancipation Proclamation. Some thought that it was a violation of the Constitution, some felt that it did not go far enough
and others thought that by freeing the slaves they would be forced to compete for jobs with them. Lincoln was looking for
the opportunity to more fully express his thoughts to a national audience, and an invitation to speak at the November 19 th,
1863 dedication for a new cemetery at Gettysburg offered that exact opportunity.
After the Battle of Gettysburg, the tiny town in western Pennsylvania was overcome with decaying bodies, both
humans and horses. In the intense July heat, the 5,000 dead horses were burned in a massive gas fire (a lovely smell
during a particularly hot and humid and summer). The bodies, however, needed to be buried and there was no time to ship
the decomposing corpses home, so both the Confederate and the Union soldiers, over 9,000 bodies, would have to be
buried together in a brand new cemetery right in Gettysburg, a town of only 2,500 people. Lincoln was asked to give a few
words to help consecrate the new grounds. He would use this opportunity to further the Union’s cause.
At the dedication for the new site, Edward Everett, a Harvard professor, was asked to give the main oration
(speech) during the ceremony. He proceeded to speak for over two and half hours (completely from memory). He
discussed the battle and all of the people involved. Lincoln for his part only spoke for about two and half minutes. He made
no mention of specific events of the battle, nor of the people who took part in it. In fact, not once does he utter the word
Gettysburg. It is Lincoln’s speech, however, that history remembers as the Gettysburg Address. For Lincoln was not
speaking about one battle, or one cemetery, but the entire war and the future of America. Lincoln delivered the speech in
his high Kentucky twang of a voice (not the deep voice favored by actors playing the president). His voice, in fact, served
him very well. In an age before microphones and when large outdoor audiences were very common, his twang always
carried all the way to the back of the masses.
“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.”
Abraham Lincoln- November 19, 1863- “The Gettysburg Address”
Despite popular myth, Lincoln did not write the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope on the train to Gettysburg.
Lincoln never enjoyed speaking off the cuff, and would plan out his speeches with painstaking accuracy. He knew the
importance of this day and he knew what he was trying to accomplish and he would never leave that up to chance. In
addition, contrary to stories of the opposite, the crowd at Gettysburg interrupted his speech several times with applause and
followed his speech with a thunderous ovation. Besides the stories and myths about the Gettysburg Address, what is it
about the speech that is so important? Why is it still studied and dissected over 140 years later? Let’s examine it.
“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.”
First off, while some might have started a speech with “87 years ago”, Lincoln uses the very poetic, “Four score and seven
years ago”, which works out to 87 years. 1863 minus 87 is 1776, the date of the signing of The Declaration of
Independence. According to Lincoln, the country did not begin with the Constitution, but with the Declaration of
Independence and its principles of all men being created equally and the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
for all. In the first sentence Lincoln is reminding America about the very principles that guided the founding of our country
and these principles were not enjoyed by all Americans.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated,
can long endure.”
This Civil War is not only testing our will as a country, but all countries. If we fail in our mission it will not only mean doom
for us, but for every other country that tries to ensure equality for all.
“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
These sentences explain why everyone is here, and set up the rest of his speech.
“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 doesn’t matter what we say here. It doesn’t matter what we do here, for the men who fought and died have already
dedicated these grounds. It is the struggle that they went through, for us, that is so important. In addition, he never says
the “Union” men who fought and died here. According to Lincoln, everyone who fought here was an American and he never
distinguishes between a northerner and a southerner in any of his speeches.
“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…”
The “great task remaining before us”. This is Lincoln giving his best Bill Parcells’ halftime speech to his team. He doesn’t
want to hear that you’re tired, or you want to go home. These men fought and died so that you can live, so continue the
fight. Honor the dead here, not by dedicating their graves, but by going and finishing their unfinished work. By continuing
the fight until victory we will ensure that they did not die 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.”
“A new birth of freedom”, meaning freedom for all. This cemetery dedication is not only about the dead, but about the “new
birth of freedom”, freedom for all Americans. By ensuring the freedom of slaves and continuing the fight until victory, the
“government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The man had a power over the
English language that few have every possessed. How else could one person say so much with so few words? In fact, the
only part of his speech that was not accurate was when he said: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say
here…” Almost 150 years later and no American speech has ever even come close to saying so much. Lincoln had
succeeded in his goals for Gettysburg. He explained his war aims and the American public responded with the gusto that is
required to continue the fight.
As 1863 turned to 1864, it became more obvious that the Union was going to win the war. General US Grant, now
a legitimate war hero, was put in charge of the military and he was certainly not afraid of a fight (the Union armies would no
longer retreat under his command). In addition, General Sherman had introduced total war to the south, as he swept
through Georgia destroying everything in his path. As the backs of the Confederates were being broken, their only hope
was that Lincoln would not be reelected in 1864 and a peace president would be elected instead (who would end the war).
No such luck, however, as Lincoln was reelected, carrying all states but three.
Lincoln was reelected and received his validation for the work he done so far but now it was time to look to the
future. The war would be over soon, and Lincoln had a plan for Reconstruction (the rebuilding of the south). During his
inauguration on March 4, 1865, he unveiled it in his Second Inaugural Address. “…With malice toward none; with charity
for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the
nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may
achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” There would be no punishment, no
military occupation of a defeated enemy. He would welcome his brothers home once again.
After his inauguration, there was not much for Lincoln to do but wait for the end of the war. He frequented the
theater quite often and answered correspondence. One letter that he wrote during this time is particularly powerful,
because of its nature and the eloquence in which Lincoln crafts it:
To Mrs. Bixby,
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, that
you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss
so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the
Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished
memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the
altar of Freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
Lincoln knew what it was like to lose a child and felt compelled to personally write to this grieving mother, during her time of
need. Throughout most of March, though, Lincoln waited for the news that April of 1865 would bring.
On April 3, 1865, the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia surrendered to Union forces. It was only a
matter of time now before the war was over and Washington DC wanted to celebrate. For the next week the capital was
one big party, with huge crowds walking right up the White House to serenade the president. The Lincoln family would
come out and listen to revelers and bid them goodnight. Then on April 11, 1865 (two days after the surrender of Lee to
Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, signaling the end of the war) a crowd of several thousand walked right up to the White
House to demand a speech from their president on this the end of the Civil War. Lincoln did not disappoint. He appeared
on the balcony with Tad and gave a speech to the enthusiastic crowd. Not everyone in the crowd, however, was as
enthusiastic about the present situation. After the speech, the actor John Wilkes Booth turned to his friend and said: “That
is the last speech he will ever give.”
The week of April 9th, was a raucous event in Washington DC and on Friday, April 14 th, 1865 (Good Friday), John
Wilkes Booth had decided he had seen enough and it was time to go through with his plan to assassinate the president.
That morning Booth went over to Ford’s Theatre to pick up his mail (which was customary for an actor of the time) and
while there, sitting on the steps of the theatre, he saw the president’s messenger arrive. As the owner of the theatre and the
messenger spoke, Booth couldn’t believe his ears, the Lincolns were attending a play, Our American Cousin, at the
theatre tonight, with Ulysses S. Grant and his wife. This was perfect. Booth, as an actor, had first-hand knowledge of the
layout of the Ford’s Theatre and knew the play Our American Cousin, so well he knew the exact time to do the deed. All he
needed now was to round up his crew of conspirators and wait for the perfect opportunity. For tonight at 10:00, he would kill
the president and US Grant (the two men most responsible for his beloved country losing the war) and his crew would kill
Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward (who was recovering in his bed from injuries
suffered from a carriage accident). He would do this all tonight, but he only had 8 hours to put it all together.
At 4:00 pm, he hit the first snag in his plan. As he was speaking to a friend he noticed General Grant and his wife
riding towards the train station with their bags (it seems Mrs. Grant could not stand Mary Todd Lincoln and convinced her
husband to get out of their plans that evening). Upon seeing this, Booth rode up to their carriage and thrust his head into
the carriage and gave out a most unusual grunt. He wanted to kill Grant, but if he shot the general now, he would not be
able to kill the president. Besides he had work to do back at Ford’s Theatre. A Ford’s Theatre, Booth notched a hole into
the president’s booth and fixed the door with bar to prevent anyone from entering it after him. His plan was in place, his
coconspirators were ready to do their part and all he had to do now, was wait.
Back at the White House, Abraham Lincoln was in great spirits. It was by far one of the happiest days of his life.
His son Robert was home and Mary was in a good mood. There was no war to worry about, no mothers who no longer
have to lose their sons, no reports to go over. It was calm and relaxing and the weather was perfect for a carriage ride
through the city with his wife. His advisers had warned him about riding alone through the city after he returned one night
about 2 months earlier and found a bullet hole in his stovepipe hat (one of the many attempted assassination attempts on
his life). But Abraham was determined. He wanted to go on a ride in broad daylight alone with his wife and discuss their
future. The past few years had not been fun for either one of them and on this ride he promised that he would be more
involved in her life from now on. After his term was over they would travel to the Pacific Ocean, move back to Springfield
and grow old together. In the past decade the two of them of had to endure the death of two of their children, and the Civil
War, but they made it through it all together, and together they would embrace a much happier future, with this carriage ride
marking the first day of the rest of their lives.
The Lincolns and their guests, Major Rathborne and his fiancé, arrived at the theatre at 8:30 with no security and no
announcement of their arrival. The play had already begun, but when Lincoln entered the presidential box (dressed with an
American flag and painting of George Washington to mark the occasion), the actors stopped performing, the band broke
into “Hail to the Chief” and the crowd gave him a thunderous, standing ovation. Lincoln acknowledged the crowd by bowing
and waving to his animated admirers. He had done what he promised; he saved the Union and even freed the slaves for
good measure. It surely must have been a proud moment for both Lincolns. Tad was not present to hear the applause as
he was the invited guest at a rival theatre, but he also received a standing ovation from the crowd.
At 9:00 John Wilkes Booth stepped through the door at Ford’s Theatre. He listened for the dialogue and knew he
still had another hour before he could accomplish his mission. He knew the play, Our American Cousin, so well that he was
going to wait until the loudest burst of laughter from the audience to muzzle the noise from the gunshot. He left the theatre
and headed to a bar to have some whiskey. When he returned an hour later he used the backdoor, opened a trapdoor on
the stage floor and crawled on the floor under the stage without anyone seeing him enter the building. When he reached
the back hallway, by the stairs leading to the presidential box, he saw no one there. When he approached the door leading
to the box, he found nobody. He couldn’t believe it, no one. Not one bodyguard or policeman stood in his way. The only
thing between him and the president was the door that he had rigged this afternoon.
When he stepped into the presidential box, he peered through the peep hole that he had drilled earlier in the day.
Through the hole he saw Abraham. In a move that is very odd for his very stoic personality, Lincoln grabbed his wife’s hand
and held it close to his body in a very affectionate manner. The two then spoke the last words they would ever say to each
other. Reacting to the president’s affectionate behavior, Mary said: “What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you
so?” Abraham responded: “She won’t think anything about it.” As they spoke, Booth watched and listened for the dialogue.
The time had come to fulfill his mission.
He turned around and locked the door that he had rigged, so no one could enter the box to capture him, or give
assistance to the president. Booth removed his single-shot Derringer pistol from his pocket and took out his knife. He crept
closer to the president, who was now only 5 feet away. Five feet away and still undetected. As he waited for the perfect
time he unfurled his arm and held the gun less than two feet from the president. Once the audience began to laugh, there
was no way he could miss. They laughed, when he knew they would. At that exact moment, he squeezed the trigger
and…BANG! Booth unleashed a bullet to the back of Lincoln’s head, he slumped over motionless. The bullet ripped
through his head and ricocheted around until it stopped behind his right eye (it never made it all the way through Lincoln’s
brain). The Major jumped to his feet, but Booth lodged the knife in his shoulder and he fell to the ground. As Booth
wrestled with the Major he yelled only one word: “Freedom!”
John Wilkes Booth then jumped on top of the balcony, that was decorated with the flag and the painting of George
Washington and gave his last performance in an American theatre. Atop the balcony, he turned to the crowd and yelled:
“Sic semper tyrannis!” Latin for: “Thus always to tyrants”, the official motto for Virginia. But when he jumped to the stage,
he caught the spur of his boot on the painting of Washington that was hung there for the president’s appearance. Because
of this, he landed awkwardly and broke his left foot on the fall. On adrenaline alone, however, he was able to run off the
stage and shout to the audience: “The south is avenged!” As he ran off, Clara Harris, the fiancée of Major Rathbone,
shouted: “Stop that man! He has shot the president!”
At that point, Joseph B. Stewart, a man sitting in the front row, jumped over the orchestra box and chased Booth
through the back door of Ford’s Theatre. Booth was already on his horse when Stewart arrived, and though Stewart
grabbed the reins from Booth, the assassin was able to recover control of the horse, by kicking the pursuer with his boot
spur on Stewart’s hand. Booth rode hard out of Washington DC and made it across the bridge within 10 minutes, past the
soldiers guarding the bridge into Maryland. No one except him and the people inside Ford’s Theatre knew what he had
done by the time he made it out of the capital city.
Back in Ford’s Theatre, the presidential box was covered in blood. Mary was tending to Abraham and becoming
more and more frantic by the second. He was not responding to her and his eyes had rolled back into his head. Chaos
began to ensue in the theatre and as a doctor, who was in attendance, raced up the stairs he found the door locked. After a
few minutes the Major un-jammed the door and Dr. Leale did an initial prognosis of the president. Upon inspecting the
president, he only found one bullet hole. That meant that the bullet was lodged in the president’s head and he would surely
die. In fact, the president already looked dead. The doctor revived him, though, and the president’s heart began to pump
blood to his vital organs. No matter what the doctor did, though, the president would not make it through the night and he
had to be moved. The president of the United States, the hero of the Civil War, could not die on the floor of Ford’s Theatre.
So Lincoln’s lifeless body was picked up by four soldiers, who had made it to the scene, and brought him across the street
to William Petersen’s house. When the soldiers made it the street, however, a crowd had gathered with news of the
assassination and rushed the president’s body. The soldiers just did make it into the door before they were engulfed by the
News spread through the city like wildfire and when the manager of the rival Grover’s Theatre announced that the
president had been shot, Tad Lincoln screamed from the balcony. Speculation also began to swirl about a Confederate
uprising in the city, as Secretary of State William Seward was also attacked in his home. He survived the attack, but his
home is a bloody mess. Andrew Johnson, by the way, was never attacked. His assailant backed out of the plan at the last
Back in the Petersen House, the prognosis was not good. Lincoln had not regained consciousness since the
gunshot and Mary Lincoln was a quivering mess. She was hysterical and had to be removed from the room. She sat in
parlor and only returned to the bedside when the doctors would allow her to return. That is it how went throughout the night.
The doctors, Lincoln’s advisors, and Robert and Mary Lincoln attending to his dying body. Finally, at 7:22 am, on the
morning of April 15th, Abraham Lincoln breathed his last breath and passed away. Robert left the room and told his mother
her husband had died. She never went back into the bedroom where Abraham had died, and she left quietly shortly after.
After everyone had left, four soldiers entered the house, wrapped Lincoln in an American flag and brought him back to the
White House. When the soldiers made it to the White House, they found young Tad, standing in doorway waiting for his
When John Wilkes Booth executed the plan to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, he hoped to incite a southern
insurrection and he believed that history would prove him right for his actions. No such insurrection ever happened, and
history looks upon for what he is, a coward who shot a man in the back (a man by the way who have tossed Booth a beating
in a fair fight). For his part, Booth spent the next 12 days sleeping outside and running from the entire army of the United
States. The manhunt finally caught up to him in a farmhouse in Virginia, where he was shot to death by the cavalry. Eight
of his coconspirators were found guilty for their crimes and hanged. A little side note, it seems that Major General Lewis
Wallace, who was a member of the 1865 military commission which tried Lincoln’s conspirators, was an ancestor to the
Abraham Lincoln’s body was to be buried in Springfield, Illinois. The funeral train that brought him back to his home
state, also included the interred body of his deceased son Willie. They traveled back home to buried. Passing hundreds of
thousands or mourners along the way, who came out to pay their last respects.
Mary Todd Lincoln suffered from great depression and health problems after the death of her husband. In 12 years,
she had buried two children and witnessed her husband shot dead, right in front of her eyes. Her eldest son, Robert,
actually had her sent to an insane asylum, after the death of her third child Tad, in 1871 (three children and one husband in
16 years). She was released, however, after three months. She then moved to Europe, but health issues forced her back
to America and she died at her sister’s house on July 16, 1882. She was buried next to her husband and her three
deceased sons. Robert Lincoln (who had no children of his own) survived until 1926, but the last direct descendent of
Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln died in 1985.
Abraham Lincoln was born in a log-cabin to two illiterate parents. He never received more than one year of formal
schooling, but became a well-respected lawyer. He was a deeply devoted husband and father, but buried two of his
children. He became president in 1860, and the Civil War began the next day. The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865 and he
was assassinated 6 days later. Lincoln’s life was a life of failure, depression, and tragedy. But it was also a life of
overcoming failure, depression and tragedy. Abraham Lincoln, a man who answered the call when his country needed him
and gave America a new birth of freedom.