Abraham Lincoln: Presidency, Accomplishments & Assassination

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  • 0:07 A Long Road
  • 2:18 National Politics
  • 4:03 Wartime President
  • 6:44 Post-War Tragedy
  • 7:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will meet Abraham Lincoln, the Illinois rail-splitter and general store owner who eventually became the sixteenth president of the United States.

A Long Road

Let's let Abraham Lincoln tell us about his early life in his own words. 'I was born February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families-second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks....My father...removed from Kentucky to...Indiana, in my eighth year. ...It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up... Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher...but that was all.'

Lincoln worked various jobs as a young man. He split wood for fence rails, worked at and later owned a general store, served as postmaster, and even did a stint as a captain in the militia during the 1832 Black Hawk War, during which he experienced 'a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes.'

Finally, Lincoln decided that he wanted to become a lawyer. In those days, law students didn't attend college; they merely studied law under the guidance of an established lawyer. This is what Lincoln did before passing the bar exam in 1837.

By this time, Lincoln was already interested and active in politics. He was elected to the Illinois legislature in 1834 and served four terms for a total of eight years. During these years, he moved to the Illinois capital of Springfield, easily packing everything he owned into two saddlebags. He rode the law court circuit for several years, earning the nickname 'Honest Abe.' In 1842, he married Mary Todd, with whom he would eventually have four sons. All the while, Lincoln's interest in politics continued to grow, and he was soon ready to move to a new level.

National Politics

In 1846, Lincoln won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Illinois for the Whig party. He served only one term, from 1847 to 1849. Then he moved back to Springfield to continue his law career. He did, however, continue to make political speeches from time to time, taking any opportunity he could to speak out against the spread of slavery into the western territories.

After joining the newly formed Republican Party in 1856, Lincoln decided to run for Senate on the Republican ticket in 1858. His opponent was the 'Little Giant' Stephen Douglas. Lincoln and Douglas faced off in seven famous debates between August 21 and October 15. The debates drew huge audiences and loads of publicity as the candidates presented their positions on western expansion, states' rights, and especially slavery. Lincoln lost the election, but his name was becoming a household word.

In fact, Lincoln was just the man the Republicans were looking for as they pondered whom to nominate for the 1860 presidential election. He was the epitome of the hardworking self-made man, which was exactly the image the party wanted to portray. Lincoln received the nomination on May 18, 1860 and won the November election by a large majority of electoral votes. Abe Lincoln had come a long way from his Kentucky home, and he was now the president of the United States.

The Challenges of a Wartime President

Lincoln, however, faced a crisis almost immediately. Many Southerners could not tolerate a Republican president, and they made good on their threat to secede if Lincoln was elected. South Carolina went first in December of 1860, with ten other states following closely behind. The Confederate States of America was born in February of 1861, even before Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4.

The Civil War began shortly after, and Lincoln stepped into the role of wartime president, calling for troops, distributing funds, and making difficult political decisions like suspending the writ of habeas corpus so that Confederate sympathizers could be arrested without a warrant. Opposition arose on every side. Democrats criticized Lincoln's decisions. Generals balked at strategies. Northern public opinion wavered as battles were won or lost.

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