President Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was a lawyer, politician, and the sixteenth president of the United States. He led the country through the turmoil of the Civil War, worked to restore some unity, and formally abolished slavery, which has made him one of the most popular presidents in history, but earned him some serious enemies during his own time.
Abraham Lincoln was the second child and first son of Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, who lived in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky. In the modern U.S., Abraham Lincoln birthday celebrations are often combined with those of George Washington for Presidents’ Day in February. Lincoln had an older sister, Sarah, and a brother who died in infancy. Nancy Lincoln died when Abraham was only nine years old, and his father remarried a year later to Sarah Johnston. Lincoln disliked the manual labor of farm life, preferring to read, write, and study (although he was largely self-taught.
Eventually, the family moved to Illinois. Lincoln moved out and moved to New Salem in 1831, where he lived for the next six years. In 1840, he became engaged to Mary Todd, and they married in 1842. For Abraham Lincoln children were somewhat complicated: he loved his four children, but he was often absent. Only one of their four children, Robert, survived to adulthood.
Lincoln’s early career included small political posts in New Salem. Ever the voracious reader, he decided to teach himself law. In 1834, he won his first election and eventually served four consecutive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives. His time there, during which he supported abolition but criticized some abolitionist tactics, foreshadowed his later career. Lincoln also was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1836 and began his legal career in Springfield.
From 1847 to 1849, Lincoln served in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig from Illinois. He co-sponsored a failed bill to abolish slavery in Washington, D.C., and spoke against the Mexican-American War. Ultimately, he returned to Illinois to practice law, where he developed a reputation as a formidable and talented lawyer.
In 1854, Lincoln began formally speaking out against slavery, which was dividing the nation and reaching a boiling point. At this point, the Abraham Lincoln political party affiliations were with the Whig Party, but it collapsed over internal divisions. After resisting initial efforts to recruit him, Lincoln eventually joined the new Republican Party, then a northern anti-slavery party. In 1858, he ran against incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas and made a name for himself on the debate stage, despite ultimately losing the election. His charisma and oratorical skills made him a contender in the 1860 presidential election; ironically, he gave no speeches on the campaign but relied on party enthusiasm and image. That Abraham Lincoln election, was the first win for the Republican party. The Abraham Lincoln presidency thus began in January 1861.
Abraham Lincoln quotes and facts
Looking for a famous Abraham Lincoln quote? There’s plenty to choose from! If you’re looking to find out what did Abraham Lincoln do or say, we’ve got you covered with some famous quotes and fast Abraham Lincoln facts.
Abraham Lincoln quotes
There’s no single Abraham Lincoln speech that’s superior to the rest, but there are a handful of his addresses that have enduring notoriety. The Gettysburg Address, for instance, is one of the most famous and most quoted speeches in history. Delivered in 1863 at the consecration of a cemetery, it came on the heels of the turning point of the Civil War.
“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.”
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
“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.”
His other speeches contain some important Abraham Lincoln quotes, as do his surviving letters. Lincoln spoke and wrote on many topics, leaving behind a legacy of often-quoted texts that support his reputation for wisdom.
“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.” – 1856 speech in Kalamazoo, Michigan
“Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much.” – 1856 speech in Chicago
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing.” – 1855, letter to Ishram Reavis
“Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere.” – 1858 speech in Edwardsville, Illinois
“Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling.” 1860 speech in Springfield, Illinois
One of Lincoln’s most enduring legacies isn’t a speech at all – it’s a physical document that formally ended slavery. This is, of course, the Emancipation Proclamation from 1863, and it contains one of the most iconic Abraham Lincoln quotes and historical declarations:
“I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.”
Abraham Lincoln facts
There are a handful of facts about Abraham Lincoln that everyone should know. Ahead, find some fast facts from the biography of Abraham Lincoln.
Who is Abraham Lincoln and why do we study him? Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States, president during the Civil War and the end of slavery.
Where was Abraham Lincoln born? He was born at Sinking Spring Farm, just south of Hodgenville, Kentucky. The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park preserves the site.
When was Abraham Lincoln born? Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809.
How tall was Abraham Lincoln? As an adult, Lincoln was 6’4”.
What president was Abraham Lincoln? Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States.
Was Abraham Lincoln Republican? Yes, but it’s important to note that the platforms of parties in the nineteenth century do not correspond to party platforms in modern politics. The early Republican party formed after Lincoln’s first party, the Whigs, split over slavery.
When did Abraham Lincoln die? He died on April 15, 1865.
How did Abraham Lincoln die? The night before his death, Lincoln was shot in an assassination attempt; he died of his wounds the following day.
Who killed Abraham Lincoln? The actor John Wilkes Booth fired the shots that killed Abraham Lincoln.
How old was Abraham Lincoln when he died? Lincoln was 56 years old when he died.
Abraham Lincoln facts and biography
Abraham Lincoln Civil War
One of the most common answers to the question “who was Abraham Lincoln?” is “the president who led the U.S. through the Civil War.” Ironically, his election was the final straw for secessionists, and six states made plans to leave the Union before his inauguration. Attempts at compromise failed, despite Lincoln’s assurances that he had no intention of abolishing slavery in the South, and on April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War.
When it comes to Abraham Lincoln kids typically learn about his politics, not his war strategy, but he was deeply involved in the military strategy from the start. Lincoln immediately took executive control of the war, expanding his war powers and bypassing Congress to disburse war funds and arrest Confederate sympathizers quickly. His priority was maintaining bipartisan support in the Union and stopping the Confederacy from getting international support, and he mostly succeeded.
At the beginning, Lincoln’s war strategy prioritized quick, decisive victory and the defense of Washington, which frustrated generals who thought troops would be better utilized in actual battles. After a series of failed campaigns, the Union finally caught a break with the Battle of Antietam. Union victory at Antietam came at a heavy cost: the single bloodiest day in American history, with over 22,000 dead, wounded, or missing in action. With this victory, though, Lincoln was able to move forward with his next big plan: emancipation.
At first, Lincoln opposed outright emancipation, preferring to leave it to the states as in the original Constitution and to stop the spread of slavery and slowly make it obsolete. He openly stated that abolition was not his priority – preserving (or reuniting) the Union was. All that being said, he eventually came to believe that salvaging the country would require the abolition of slavery. On September 22, 1862, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which proclaimed to free all the slaves in the Confederate states and turned abolition into a military cause. As a side benefit, the Union Army was able to begin recruiting freed slaves.
On November 19, 1863, Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, a short speech that came to be the source of some of the most famous Abraham Lincoln quotes. In it, he spoke of the principles of liberty and expressed hope for the continuation of the country as a beacon of democracy.
Lincoln came to trust General Grant after successful battles at Shiloh and Vicksburg, and he promoted Grant to the rank of Lieutenant General and gave him command of the entire Union army. Grant’s Overland campaign of 1864 resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, but continued to advance the Union cause. Lincoln continued supporting Grant’s strategy, emphasizing the destruction of Southern infrastructure, but only insofar as it would assist in defeating the Confederate army, not razing the Confederate states, as the goal was still reunification.
Lincoln’s term was up in 1864, and he ran for re-election. The continuing stalemate and heavy losses of the war put his re-election prospects in jeopardy, but he was able to assemble a coalition of support and won re-election by a landslide for a new term beginning in 1865.
As Grant’s army advanced and the Confederates continued suffering losses, peace talks began. Lincoln refused any negotiations that recognized the Confederacy as a peer, only willing to discuss a surrender. On April 9, 1865, General Lee formally surrendered at Appomattox.
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Other political achievements
Almost immediately after the war, Reconstruction efforts began, and this is when many Abraham Lincoln accomplishments were achieved. Lincoln insisted on focusing on how to rebuild and keep the nation together, rather than continuing to lay blame at the feet of the newly-returned southern states. However, he did help to push through the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery and achieved ratification on December 6, 1865.
During his presidency, Abraham Lincoln was largely occupied with the Civil War, but did work towards other goals as well. At the Abraham Lincoln height of power, he expanded the nation’s economic system with the enactment of the National Banking Act. When they study Abraham Lincoln high school students might not learn this bit of trivia either: he’s the president who formalized Thanksgiving as a federal holiday! Click here for further info, or check out the White House website for more.
Unfortunately, for Abraham Lincoln death came sooner than expected. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln occurred on April 14, 1865 – Good Friday in the Christian calendar, the Friday before Easter. Five days after General Lee’s formal surrender, Lincoln attended a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate spy who was angered by a recent speech in which Lincoln advocated voting rights for black Americans, plotted to assassinate Lincoln at the theatre. He was able to sneak up on the president and shoot him before escaping.
Lincoln was taken out of the theatre alive, but barely. He spent the rest of the evening and the next morning in a coma before dying on the morning of April 15, 1865. Booth was tracked down to a farm in Virginia where he was hiding out, and he was shot to death on April 26, almost two weeks after the Abraham Lincoln assassination.
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More topic guides
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- Abraham Lincoln
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Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power, 2003.
Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Oates, Stephen B. With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1994.