Abraham Lincoln

Mary Stone | November 4, 2022


Abraham Lincoln, also known in Italian as Abramo Lincoln, also known by the pseudonym OJ (Hodgenville, February 12, 1809 – Washington, April 15, 1865), was an American politician and lawyer.

He was the 16th president of the United States of America, from March 4, 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He led the Union to victory in the American War of Secession, the bloodiest war to date as well as the most serious moral, constitutional and political crisis in the entire history of the United States of America. Through his war victory, he succeeded in keeping the Federated States united; strengthened the federal government; and modernized the country”s economy.

Born in a log cabin in the middle of the woods near Hodgenville, Kentucky, he grew up in what was then called the West, initially in Indiana (part of the former Northwest Territory). Largely self-taught, he managed to become a lawyer in Illinois and one of the leaders of the Whig Party, eventually being elected to the state legislature where he served for eight years. He was elected a member of the House of Representatives in 1846. He was in favor of rapid economic modernization and opposed the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). After one term he returned home to resume his legal practice. Returning to active politics in 1854, he soon became one of the leaders of the newly formed Republican Party, which quickly won a majority in the state of Illinois. He participated in the campaign for the 1858 midterm elections by running for senator; he took part in a series of highly publicized debates with his opponent, Democratic Party leader and incumbent senator Stephen A. Douglas, speaking out against the expansion of slavery into the western territories. He was narrowly defeated, and Douglas was re-elected.

After being unsuccessfully proposed as vice-president at the Republican convention for the 1856 presidential election, in the 1860 presidential election he proved capable of securing the nomination for president as a moderate, even though most delegates had voted for other candidates in the first ballots. Although he gained no support in the slaveholding states of the Deep South, he was able to win favor in the North and was thus elected president of the United States of America. Although there had been attempts to bridge the differences between North and South, Lincoln”s victory prompted seven Southern slaveholding states to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America, even before his inauguration. The Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and the immediately following battle united the entire North behind the Union flag. As the leader of the moderate political current, Lincoln found support among pro-war, so-called War Democrats, but he had to contend on the one hand with Radical Republicans, who demanded harsher treatment of the rebels, and on the other hand with war-hostile Democrats, called Copperheads, who despised him. Pro-secessionist elements repeatedly plotted against him. Lincoln responded by pitting his opponents against each other with a carefully planned political strategy and by appealing to the people of the United States with his skills as an orator.

His Gettysburg Address, the most significant and famous of his speeches, is considered one of the cornerstones of American unity and national values; an icon of patriotism, republicanism, equal rights, the ideal of freedom and democracy. He suspended habeas corpus, which could protect Maryland officers who were obstructing the Union war, leading to the controversial Ex parte Merryman ruling of the federal court of justice. He avoided potential British intervention by defusing the diplomatic incident known as the “Trent Affair.” He closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of generals, including his most successful man, Ulysses S. Grant. He made important decisions on Union war strategy, including a strict naval blockade that completely crippled Southern commerce. As the war progressed, his moves in the direction of abolitionism culminated in his first executive order, the Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862, which decreed the liberation of all slaves from the territories of the Confederate States of America as of January 1, 1863; used the Union Army to protect runaway slaves, encouraged the buffer states to outlaw slavery, and pushed Congress to enact the 13th Constitutional Amendment, which permanently banned slavery throughout the country in 1865.

A skilled statesman and deeply involved in matters of power in every state, Lincoln won the decisive support of pro-war Democrats and managed his re-election campaign in the 1864 presidential election. Anticipating the conclusion of the war, he was in favor of a moderate vision of the Reconstruction Era, seeking to quickly reunite the nation through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of persistent and bitter divisions. On the evening of Good Friday, April 14, 1865, five days after the surrender of Confederate General Robert Edward Lee, Lincoln was the victim of an assassination attempt by Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, who shot him while he was at the theater; Lincoln died at dawn the next day.

He is to this day considered by both historiography and the general public to be one of the most important presidents at the same time. The work of Abraham Lincoln”s presidency had a lasting influence on the political and social institutions of the United States of America.

Origins and youth

Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809, the second son of Thomas Lincoln I (1778-1851) and Nancy Hanks (1784-1818), in a log cabin consisting of a single room on the “Sinking Spring Farm” near Hodgenville, Kentucky (today”s Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park).

He was named after his paternal grandfather. His father, a skilled blacksmith and carpenter, was descended from Samuel Lincoln (1622-90), an English emigrant originally from Hingham, Norfolk, who went to settle in his namesake Hingham, Massachusetts, when he was just 16 years old. Samuel”s grandchildren began the family migration westward through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The future president”s paternal grandfather, Captain Abraham Lincoln, moved to Jefferson County, Kentucky, most likely in the early 1780s; here six years later he was killed during a raid carried out by Native Americans during the Northwest Indian War. His sons, including eight-and-a-half-year-old Thomas, watched the attack helplessly. After his father”s murder, young Thomas began his own great adventure to the frontier West, working occasionally in Tennessee before moving with his entire family to Hardin County, also in Kentucky, in the early 19th century.

Her mother, who grew up with the wealthy Berry family, is generally regarded as Lucy Hanks” daughter, although no record of Nancy”s birth has ever been found. According to William Ensign, author of The Ancestry of Abraham Lincoln, she would have been the daughter of Joseph Hanks; however, debate is bound to continue over whether or not she was born within a legitimate marriage bond. Another researcher, Adin Baber, argues instead that Nancy was allegedly the daughter of Abraham Hanks and Sarah Harper of Virginia.

Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks were married on June 12, 1806, in Washington County, Kentucky, and then moved almost immediately to Elizabethtown, in the same state; they became the parents of three children: Sarah, born on February 10, 1807; Abraham, on February 12, 1809; and Thomas, who died in early childhood. In the course of time Thomas happened to lease several farms, including “Sinking Spring,” within which Abraham was born; however, a dispute that arose over the actual land rights and titles relating to the lease forced the Lincolns to move again.

In 1811 the family moved 13 miles north to “Knob Creek Farm,” where Thomas managed to acquire titles to 93 acres of land. After four years a competitor, in yet another land dispute, tried to have the family ejected from the farm; of the 330 acres Thomas initially held in Kentucky, he lost more than 81 acres in title disputes.

Frustrated with the lack of security provided by the local court system, he sold his remaining land and began planning a gradual move that would take him all the way to Indiana, where the courts seemed to be more reliable and therefore the ability to hold land more certain.

In 1816 the Lincolns crossed north across the Ohio River toward Indiana, a free territory where slavery was not practiced like its predecessors; they stopped in the forest of “Hurricane Township” in Perry County, Indiana (their land would become part of Spencer County when it was created in 1818).

To this day the farm is preserved as part of the “Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.” During the 1860 presidential election campaign, Abraham recounted that the family migration was mainly due to the difficulties he encountered in retaining ownership of the land.

During his years between Kentucky and Indiana, Thomas worked as a farmer, joiner and carpenter. He came to own farms, real estate and livestock. He paid taxes, served on popular juries, appraised real estate for purchase, served on patrols to find runaway slaves who had taken refuge in the surrounding countryside, and guarded them as prisoners. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were also members and active participants in a separate church of Baptism which had restrictive moral standards and opposed the use of alcoholic beverages, dancing and slavery.

Within a year of the family”s arrival in Indiana, Thomas declared an estate equal to 65 acres of land. After some financial difficulties, he succeeded in obtaining the 32-acre property in what later became known as the “Little Pigeon Creek Community.” Prior to the family”s departure for Illinois in 1830, Thomas had acquired another 20 acres adjacent to his property.

Several significant family events occurred during Lincoln”s youth in Indiana. On October 5, 1818, Nancy Lincoln died of poisoning from contaminated milk, leaving her husband Thomas with their two children, 11-year-old Sarah and 9-year-old Abraham in addition to Dennis Hanks, a 19-year-old orphaned cousin. On December 2, 1819, Thomas Lincoln remarried to Sarah “Sally” Bush Johnston, a widow from Elizabethtown, who already had three children.

Abraham became very attached to his stepmother and always had a very good relationship with her, going so far as to call her “mother.” Those who knew Lincoln as a teenager later recalled that he was very distraught over the untimely death of his sister Sarah, recently married to one Aaron Grigby, on January 20, 1828, while she was trying to give birth to a child who was later stillborn. She had not yet turned 21.

Throughout his youth Lincoln never particularly liked the hard work associated with frontier life. Some of his neighbors and family members thought for a time that he was lazy, always intent on “reading, scribbling, writing poetry and making up riddles”; they believed he did this solely to avoid the heavier manual labor. Even his new stepmother was led to acknowledge that he was unfit for physical labor, much preferring his studies and reading.

Lincoln was largely self-taught. His formal education by various itinerant teachers was intermittent and remained very incomplete, partly because its total duration might have corresponded to yes and no to that of a single regular school year; nevertheless he always remained an avid reader and maintained a lifelong interest in learning.

Family, neighbors, and schoolmates of early youth recalled that Abraham read and reread, among others, the King James Bible, Aesop”s Fables, the works of John Bunyan (first and foremost The Christian”s Pilgrimage), Daniel Defoe”s Robinson Crusoe, Weems” Life of Washington, and Benjamin Franklin”s autobiography.

As he grew up, however, he began to assume the responsibilities expected of him in his capacity as the “boy of the house.” He also complied with the customary filial obligation to always turn over to his father any earnings from work done occasionally outside the home, until he turned 21. Over time Abraham became very skilled in the use of the axe. Decidedly tall for his age, he also found himself to be strong and athletic; he gained a reputation for strength and daring following a wrestling challenge fought with the acknowledged leader of a group of local thugs known as “Clary”s Grove boys.”

In early March 1830, partly out of fear of an epidemic of infected milk spreading along the Ohio River, several members of the family moved westward and thus arrived in Illinois, a state free of slavery; they would stop in Macon County, 10 miles west of Decatur. Historians disagree on who initiated this umpteenth move; Thomas would have had no obvious reason for suddenly leaving Indiana, while one possibility is that other family members, including Dennis Hanks, could not have achieved Thomas”s stability and steady income.

After this last move, Abraham began to become increasingly estranged from his father, in part because of his father”s lack of education; he also occasionally happened to have to lend him money. By the time Thomas and other family members were preparing to settle on a new farm (now the “Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site”) in Coles County in 1831, Abraham was adult enough to make his own decisions.

Therefore becoming independent, he traveled down the Sangamon River and ended up in the village of New Salem (today “Lincoln”s New Salem”) in Sangamon County (today Menard County). Later, in late spring, merchant Denton Offutt hired him along with some of his other friends to transport goods by boat to New Orleans via the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi rivers. After arriving there and witnessing the slave practice firsthand, he went back and stayed for the next six years.

Marriage and children

According to some sources, Abraham”s first interest (or romantic love) was for Ann Rutledge, whom he first met after he moved to New Salem; these same sources would indicate that the two were already in a relationship by 1835, although not yet formally engaged. The girl died at age 22 on August 25, 1835, most likely of typhoid fever.

In the early 1830s Abraham had met Mary Owens when she visited her sister from her native Kentucky. Toward the end of 1836 he agreed to meet the young woman as soon as she returned to New Salem; in November he courted her for a short time; both of them in any case had doubts. On August 16 of the following year Abraham wrote her a letter suggesting that he would not blame her if she decided to break off the relationship; he never received a reply and the courtship ended abruptly.

In 1840 he became engaged to the future Mary Todd Lincoln, who came from a well-to-do slave-owning family in Lexington (they had met in Springfield, Illinois) the previous December. They became engaged exactly 12 months later. However, the wedding, set for January 1, 1841, was abruptly cancelled after the two broke off the relationship at Abraham”s initiative. Later they met again at a party: finally they were married on November 4, 1842 at the mansion of her sister, who was already married.

As he was preparing for the wedding Abraham felt anxious again, so much so that when asked where he was going he was heard to reply with, “To hell, I suppose!” In 1844 the couple purchased a home (today”s historic site) in the vicinity of his law office. Mary took care of the house, often enlisting the help of a relative or a young maid by the hour.

Abraham proved to be a loving husband and father, although often absent; he had four children:

Robert was the only one to reach maturity and have children of his own; he died at almost 83. The president”s last descendant, great-grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died in 1985. Lincoln in the present day has no living heirs.

Abraham appears to have been “remarkably affectionate with the children,” and the Lincolns were never considered overly strict toward them. The untimely deaths of three of their children caused profound effects on both parents; many years later Mary suffered greatly as a result of her husband”s tragic end, to such an extent that Robert had to have her temporarily committed to an asylum in 1875. Abraham suffered throughout his life from chronic “melancholia,” a condition that in our days is referred to as depressive disorder.

Abraham”s father-in-law and others in the Todd family were either slave owners or merchants; however, Lincoln remained on good terms with his wife”s relatives and continued to make occasional visits to their estate. During her presidential tenure, Mary was credited with special culinary skills; these skills satisfied the tastes of Abraham, an avid taster of imported oysters.

In 1832, he and a partner purchased a small general store in New Salem on credit. Although the economy in the region was booming, business struggled to get going and Abraham eventually found himself forced to sell his share. In March of that year he kicked off his political career by first campaigning for the Illinois General Assembly, advocating for the development and improvement of navigation on the Sangamon; he was able to interest his speech audiences through a sense of humor, but he lacked a formal education, powerful friends, and especially money, and failed to be elected.

During the campaign he had to serve as a captain in the state militia during Black Hawk”s war against the Sauk; he later recounted having to defend a Native American from his own subordinates. Upon his return he continued the campaign until August 6. At 6 feet 3 inches tall, he was “imposing enough to intimidate any rival who stood before him”; during his first public debate, he saw one of his supporters attacked in the packed crowd and went to grab the assailant by the neck, throwing him to the ground. He finished eighth out of 13 candidates (of which the first four elected), although he had received 277 preferences out of the total 300 voters in the country.

He was chief of the local post office and later county inspector; meanwhile he spent all his free time reading voraciously. He then decided to become a lawyer and thus began studying law with William Blackstone”s Commentaries on the Laws of England and other legal texts. In regard to his own method of learning he stated, “I studied with no one!” His second election campaign in 1834 was victorious; Whig Party candidate beat another, more prominent Whig member. He was then re-elected three more times, holding office for four successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives, as representative of Sangamon County. He supported the construction of the canal between Illinois and Michigan, of which he would later become commissioner. In the 1835-36 legislative session he voted in favor of extending the right to vote to all white males, whether landowners or not. He was known to hold positions relatively close to those of the Free Soil Party, in opposition to both the proponents of slavery and the more radical abolitionists. In 1837 he declared, “The institution of slavery is founded both on injustice and bad policy, but the promulgation of the doctrines of abolition tends to increase rather than mitigate its evils.” Like Henry Clay, he supported the American Colonization Society, which advocated the abolition of slavery and simultaneous help for freed slaves to settle in Liberia.

He began working as a trial lawyer in 1836 and moved to Springfield (practicing for John Todd Stuart, Mary Todd”s cousin. He became a capable and successful lawyer, with a reputation as a great fighter in trials, cross-examinations and closing arguments. From 1841 to 1844 he also worked with Stephen Trigg Logan; following that he practiced together with William Henry Herndon (who was ten years younger), whom Abraham considered a “young and earnest scholar.”

From the early 1830s he was a militant Whig and told friends in 1861 that he was “a Whig of the old guard, a disciple of Henry Clay.” The party was in favor of the economic modernization of the country especially in the banking sector, but also through the assumption of protectionist customs duties to finance infrastructure, railroads and urbanization.

In 1843 he sought his Whig party”s nomination in the seventh state district of the House of Representatives, but was defeated by John Jay Hardin; however, he obtained that Hardin would not be reappointed when his term expired. This allowed him to be the party”s nominee in 1846 and to be elected for a two-year term. He was the only Whig representative in the Illinois delegation, but he showed his loyalty to the party”s directives by participating in almost every vote and delivering speeches that reiterated the official line. In collaboration with abolitionist Congressman Joshua Reed Giddings he signed a bill that would have abolished slavery in Washington with compensation to former owners, that would have strengthened enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act and that called for a referendum on the issue. He had to abandon the bill, however, when he lacked the support of other Whig congressmen.

On foreign and military policy, he expressed a negative view of the Mexican-U.S. War of 1846-48, which he attributed mainly to President James Knox Polk”s desire for “military glory”-“that attractive rainbow that springs from a rain of blood.” He also supported the “Wilmot Condition” (named after its proponent David Wilmot) which, if adopted, would have banned slavery in any Mexican territory conquered by the Union. The war had begun following the killing of some U.S. soldiers by Mexican soldiers; Polk insisted that Mexican militiamen “invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow citizens on our soil.” Lincoln asked the president to show the exact spot (spot) where it had been spilled and to prove that that spot was indeed U.S. soil: “all solely to better edify the assembly!” These requests became known as spot resolutions. They were never considered by Congress nor were they mentioned in the press, and they caused him to lose political support in his own district. One Illinois newspaper dubbed him “Spotty Lincoln.” He later had occasion to regret some of the statements, particularly the attack on wartime presidential powers.

Realizing that Clay was very unlikely to win the presidency, Lincoln, who had promised to remain in office for a single term, supported General Zachary Taylor for the Whig nomination in the 1848 presidential election; when Taylor turned out to be elected, he hoped to be appointed commissioner of the “General Land Office” (one of the independent agencies of Zachary Taylor”s presidency) but, thanks to cross-references the position went to state rival Justin Butterfield (considered by the new administration to be a very experienced lawyer, while to Abraham he was nothing more than an “old fossil”). As a consolation prize, he was offered the governorship of the far-flung Oregon Territory, a solid Democratic bastion; accepting the position would have meant the end of his legal and political career in Illinois, so he declined the invitation and returned to the legal profession.

He returned to law practice in Springfield, dealing with “every kind of business that could have befallen a prairie lawyer,” and demonstrated his skill as an orator so much so that during his trials people flocked to hear him; he made himself understood by all through his simple language. He succeeded in winning a case inherent in a horse-trading scam: the victory came in ironic blows against the prosecutor, who had put his shirt on backwards, managing to discourage him until he was able to achieve full success.

Twice a year, for 16 years, he appeared for a period of ten consecutive weeks in the county courts; he handled many cases involving transportation conflicts, both river and rail during the westward expansion, particularly those arising from the operations of river barges under the many new railroad bridges. Initially he was the “riverboat man,” but eventually represented anyone who would hire him. He later represented a bridge-building company against a riverboat company (the “Hurd v. Rock Island Bridge Co.”) in a borderline case involving a boat that sank after hitting a bridge.

In 1849 he received a patent for a flotation device for moving boats in shallow water. The idea was never commercialized but he was the only president in history to hold a patent for his own invention.

In 1851 he represented Chicago”s “Alton & Sangamon Railroad” in a dispute against one of its shareholders, James A. Barret, who had refused to pay the balance resulting from his promise to purchase stock in the railroad on the grounds that the company had altered the train”s original route. He successfully argued that the company was not bound by statute to the original route at the time of the promise made; it could in fact very well be altered in the public interest to provide a new, better and, moreover, cheaper route. The company obtained the right to demand the payment due. The decision made by the Illinois Supreme Court was cited by several other courts in the nation.

Lincoln appeared before the state Supreme Court in as many as 175 trials; he was the sole defendant in 51 and won 31 of them.

From 1853 to 1860 another of its major customers was the Illinois Central Railroad. In a case on tax exemption, McLean County argued that the state did not have the authority to grant such an exemption and wanted to tax the company anyway. In January 1856, the court decided to uphold the favorable opinion by agreeing with Lincoln”s arguments. The reputation thus gained with customers gave rise to his nickname “Honest Abe.”

The most notable criminal law trial occurred in 1858 when he took on the defense of William “Duff” Armstrong, tried for the murder of James Preston Metzker. The case is famous for Lincoln”s use of a fact of judicial evidence in order to challenge the credibility of an eyewitness. After the latter testified that he had witnessed the deed because of the moonlight, Lincoln brought a Farmers” Almanac to the courtroom with which he proved irrefutably that the moon was-at the time of the crime-at a low angle, thus drastically reducing visibility. On the basis of this evidence Armstrong was acquitted.

He very rarely raised objections in the courtroom; but in an 1859 case where he defended a cousin, Peachy Quinn Harrison, accused of stabbing a rival to death, Lincoln angrily protested the judge”s decision to exclude some favorable evidence for his client. Instead of charging him with “contempt of court” as should have been expected, the magistrate, a Democrat, changed his decision by admitting the evidence; Lincoln”s client was then acquitted.

Birth of a leader

The bitter debate over whether the practice of slavery was permissible in the western territories exacerbated pre-existing regionalist tensions between the southern and northern states; the “Compromise of 1850″ failed to defuse the problem. In the years immediately following 1850 Lincoln supported efforts at mediation on the issue, and his eulogy for Henry Clay focused on the latter”s support toward progressive emancipation and in opposition to both extremes.

Drawing from the anti-slavery current of the Whigs and gathering former members of the Free Soil Party, the “Liberty Party” and some anti-slavery members of the Democrats, the fledgling Republican Party was formed in 1854 as an essentially Northern and abolitionist political force. Lincoln resisted early attempts made to recruit it, fearing that it might serve as a springboard for extreme abolitionists; for a short time he hoped to succeed in reviving the Whig party, although he did not fail to complain about its growing closeness with the nativist and anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement.

In 1854 he was again chosen to serve in the state legislature, but declined to take office. The elections that year showed strong opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act; at this point Lincoln sought the nomination for senator in Congress. At that time senators were chosen by the state legislature. After coming out on top in the first six votes, without obtaining the necessary qualified majority, he instructed his supporters to opt for Lyman Trumbull. The latter, an anti-slavery Democrat, had received few votes in previous ballots; those who supported him, whether or not they were Democrats, had promised not to vote for any Whig. Lincoln”s decision to withdraw allowed former Whigs and antislavery Democrats to converge, thus being able to defeat the favored Democratic candidate, Illinois Governor Joel Aldrich Matteson.

Continued violent political clashes in Kansas (the “bleeding Kansas”) kept opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act strong in Illinois and throughout the North. As the 1856 presidential election approached, Lincoln abandoned the now-defunct Whig Party and landed in the ranks of the Republicans. He attended the “Bloomington convention” in May of that year, which formally established the Illinois Republican Party. The political program stated that Congress had full rights to regulate slavery in the territories and called for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state. Lincoln delivered the final speech in which he endorsed the party”s program, but also called for everything to be done to preserve the union of the nation.

In the November election Buchanan beat both of his challengers, but Frémont won in several northern states and Republican William Henry Bissell succeeded as governor of Illinois; Lincoln found himself the unchallenged leader of the Illinois Republicans.

Historian Eric Foner (2010) contrasts abolitionists and anti-slavery Radical Republicans in the Northeast, who viewed slavery as a moral sin, with conservative Republicans who thought it was bad because it ended up harming whites themselves and blocking progress and economic development. Foner argues that Lincoln was a moderate centrist, opposing slavery primarily because it violated the principles of republicanism instilled by the Founding Fathers, particularly the equality of all men and democratic self-government as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

In March 1857, just two days after the inauguration of James Buchanan”s presidency, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the “Dred Scott v. Sandford” case; Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney affirmed that blacks could under no circumstances be considered citizens and therefore did not possess any of the rights granted by the U.S. Constitution either. While many Democrats hoped that the Dred Scott case would end the dispute over slavery in the territories, the ruling instead caused a further wave of outrage in the North. Lincoln asserted that this ruling was the product of a conspiracy by Democrats to further the “slave power.”

Lincoln-Douglas debates and Cooper Union speech

Stephen A. Douglas was poised to be reappointed as senator from Illinois in 1858, but Lincoln hoped he could defeat the powerful Democrat from his own state. Many in the Republican Party believed that a former Whig should be nominated in 1858; Lincoln”s advocacy of Trumbull during the 1856 campaign had earned him some credit. Some Eastern Republicans were in favor of Douglas”s reappointment because of his opposition to the “Lecompton Constitution,” written by the Kansas slaveholding legislature; but many Illinois Republicans perceived this as interference. For the first time, Illinois Republicans called a convention to find a common candidate; Lincoln got the party”s nomination, without much opposition. Upon acceptance he delivered the famous “House Divided Speech,” drawing on the words of the Gospel according to Mark 3:25: “A house divided against itself cannot stand, I believe this government cannot stand permanently half slave and half free, I do not expect the Union to dissolve. I do not expect the house to collapse, but I do expect it to cease to be divided: it will become all one thing or all another.” The speech had the power to evoke an image of the danger of disunity caused by the slavery debate and had the ability to recompose all Northern Republicans. The focus was on the state legislature that was to choose Lincoln or Douglas as senator. Once informed of Lincoln”s nomination the opponent declared, “He is the strong man of his Party … and if I defeat him my victory will certainly be stunted.”

The seven Lincoln-Douglas debates, which would remain the most famous political clashes in the entire history of the United States, took place during the campaign. The contenders represented a stark contrast both physically and politically; Lincoln warned that “slave power” was threatening the values of Republicanism and accused Douglas of distorting the values of the Founding Fathers who explicitly asserted that all men were created equal. Douglas for his part emphasized his “Freeport Doctrine” under which local settlers were to remain free to choose whether or not to allow the practice of slavery: he accused Lincoln of siding with the more fanatical abolitionists.

The debates took on an almost pageant-like air and drew crowds of thousands. Lincoln asserted that Douglas”s theory of the principle of popular sovereignty constituted a threat to the very morality of the nation, a genuine conspiracy to extend slavery even into the free states. The latter retorted that the challenger was openly challenging the authority of the Supreme Court and its legitimate ruling in the “Dred Scott v. Sandford” case.

Although Republican candidates for the state legislature garnered a majority of the popular vote, Democrats won more seats, so Douglas was able to be reelected. Despite the defeat, Lincoln”s ability to articulate the issues on the floor gave him the ultimate national political stature.

In May 1859 he purchased the “Illinois Staats-Anzeiger,” a German-language newspaper which played a consistent supporting role; most of the state”s 130,000 German Americans voted Democratic, but a newspaper expressly aimed at their community could trigger a fair amount of mobilization in favor of the Republicans.

In the aftermath of the election, major newspapers often began to point to Lincoln himself as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 1860, with William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Simon Cameron looming as rivals for the Nomination. While he remained very popular in the midwestern United States of America, however, he still lacked decisive support in the northeastern United States of America; he therefore remained in doubt as to whether he should run for president immediately. In January he finally declared to a group of political allies that he would accept the nomination, provided it was offered to him; in the following months several local newspapers openly sided with Lincoln.

On February 27, party leaders in New York invited him to give a speech at the newly opened The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Lincoln argued that the “Founding Fathers” had very little to do with supposed “popular sovereignty” and had instead repeatedly sought to limit slavery; he also insisted that the Republicans” moral foundations required opposition to slavery and rejected any “attempt to seek a compromise between what is right and what is hopelessly wrong.” Despite his inelegant appearance-many in the audience considered him awkward and even ugly-Lincoln demonstrated an intellectual leadership that launched him to the top ranks in influence within the Party and into contention for the presidential nomination. Journalist Noah Brooks reported, “no man ever made such an impression in his first appeal to a New York audience.”

Historian David Herbert Donald described the rally as a “superb political move for an unannounced candidate to appear in the same state as a potential rival (Seward) in an event sponsored by the loyalists of the second rival (Chase), without mentioning either by name throughout the speech.” In response to an inquiry about his presidential intentions Lincoln declared, “the taste is already a little in my mouth.”

Nominations and campaigning in 1860

On May 9-10, 1860, the Republican Convention in Illinois was held in Decatur. Lincoln”s followers organized an election committee led by David Davis, Norman Blue Judd, Leonard Swett, and Jesse Kilgore Dubois; Lincoln received the first public support to run for president. Exploiting the embellished legend of his frontier days with his father (clearing plots and splitting wood to make planks, rail, for fences) his supporters adopted the motto “The Rail Candidate.” He described himself thus, “I am about six feet four inches (193 cm, Ed.) tall, of slender build, with an average weight of one hundred eighty pounds (80 kg, Ed.), dark complexion, with frizzy black hair and gray eyes.”

On May 18, at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, friends succeeded–in part thanks to improper promises–in getting him the nomination as early as the third ballot, beating candidates like Seward and Chase. A former Democrat, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, was joined by him as a balancing vice presidential candidate. Success depended largely on his reputation as a moderate on the slave issue and his strong support for infrastructure investment and tariff programs. Pennsylvania delegates, linked to that state”s iron industry interests and attracted by the prospect of high tariffs, were decisive. Lincoln activists had focused on this delegation, trying to stay true to Lincoln”s call for “no electoral agreements that are a constraint.”

Most Republicans agreed with Lincoln that the North was suffering from the “slave power” that increasingly influenced the national government and the presidency of James Buchanan. Throughout the 1850s Lincoln doubted that there was any possibility of civil war, and his supporters rejected the suggestion that his election would incite secession.

Douglas was chosen as the candidate of the Northern Democrats. Delegates from eleven slaveholding states abandoned the Democratic Convention, disagreeing with its position on popular sovereignty, and eventually selected incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge as their candidate. Finally a group of former Whigs and Know Nothing formed the Constitutional Union Party and nominated John Bell of Tennessee. Lincoln and Douglas would compete for votes in the North, while Bell and Breckinridge found mainly support in the South.

Even before the Republican Convention, Lincoln”s election committee began to form relationships with a national youth organization, Wide Awakes, and used it to generate popular support across the country for voter registration, assuming that new and younger voters tended to vote for a new party. In addition, many in the North began to support Lincoln, as they believed that the South would surely vote against him.

As Douglas and the other candidates began their campaigns, Lincoln remained the only one who did not give public speeches, relying on the enthusiasm of Party volunteers. The result of their door-to-door work produced consistent majorities throughout the North and an abundance of billboards, leaflets, and newspaper editorials. The Republicans focused on the party program and Lincoln”s life story, emphasizing the poverty he suffered as a child. The goal was to demonstrate the superior power of “free labor,” under which any farm boy could reach the top through his own efforts alone. The amount of pro-Republican newspapers was far greater than all rivals; a Chicago Tribune author published a pamphlet with Lincoln”s detailed life coming in from 100 to 200,000 copies.

Elections of 1860 and secession

On November 6, Lincoln was elected as the 16th president of the United States of America, beating Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell; he was the first Republican Party member to enter office. His victory was due entirely to the strong support he won in the North and West; he was not on the ballot in ten of the fifteen slaveholding states and in the others he came first in only two of the 996 southern counties. He got 1 866 452 votes, compared with 1 376 957 in Douglas, 849 781 in Breckinridge, and 588 789 in Bell. Voter turnout touched 82.2 percent. Lincoln won in the northern free states, California and Oregon. Douglas won only in Missouri, while he picked up some large voters in New Jersey, with the rest going to Lincoln. Bell won in Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky; Breckinridge triumphed in the rest of the South.

Although he collected only a relative majority of popular votes, his victory in the electoral college was clear: Lincoln had 180 large electors, while his opponents combined had only 123. Lincoln”s opponents appeared coalesced in New York State, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, but Lincoln won in the first three and took some large electorates in the fourth. Even if the same coalition had filed in all states, based on the popular votes cast Lincoln would still have won a majority of large electors.

When it became apparent that Lincoln had won, secessionists made clear their intention to leave the Union even before he took office the following March 4. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina took the initiative, adopting an ordinance of secession; Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed on February 1, 1861. Six of these states adopted their own constitutions and declared themselves a sovereign nation, the Confederate States of America.

The upper southern and border states (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Arkansas), which would become the so-called buffer states in the Civil War, initially rejected the appeal. Outgoing President James Buchanan and President-elect Lincoln categorically refused to recognize the new political entity, declaring secession illegal. The Confederacy chose Jefferson Davis as provisional president on Feb. 9. There were attempts at mediation. The “Crittenden Compromise” (named after John Jordan Crittenden, full text on Wikisource.) proposed to extend the line marked by the “Missouri Compromise” by dividing the territories into slave and free, but found opposition from Lincoln and the Republican Party because it conflicted with their electoral program against the extension of slavery. Lincoln said, “I will die before I consent … to any concession or compromise which seems to acquire the privilege of taking control of this government, to which we are entitled under the Constitution.”

However, he seemed to tacitly agree to the proposed “Corwin Amendment” (named after its author Thomas Corwin), which was passed by Congress before he entered his full duties and remained pending ratification by the states. This draft would have protected slavery in states where it already existed as well as ensuring that Congress would not interfere without the explicit consent of the South. Still a few weeks before the war, the president sent a letter to all governors informing them that Congress had passed a resolution to amend the Constitution. He then seemed to remain open to the possibility of a constitutional convention to make changes to it.

In the run-up to the inauguration, he made speeches in public and in parliaments throughout the North; he also avoided a planned assassination attempt in Baltimore, which was discovered by his security chief, Detective Allan Pinkerton. On February 23, he arrived secretly and in disguise in Washington, which was immediately placed under the protection of a sizable military garrison.

Lincoln addressed the South in his inaugural address, proclaiming once again that he had no inclination to abolish slavery in the Southern states:

The president concluded with a heartfelt plea, “We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies…. Although passion may be strong, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, coming from every battlefield and patriotic grave, every living heart and hearthstone — throughout this vast land — will continue to swell the Union choir, when they are still touched, they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature.” The failure of the “Peace Conference” held at the “Willard InterContinental Washington” signaled that the assumption of compromise was impossible. It was March 1861 and no insurgent leader had proposed rejoining the Union in any form. Meanwhile, Lincoln and the Republican leadership agreed that dismantling the Union could not be tolerated. The president returned to these moments in the inaugural address of his second presidency ( full text on Wikisource.), as the war was drawing to a close:

Civil War

The commander of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Major Robert Anderson, sent a request for supplies; the order given by Lincoln to meet this request was seen by secessionists as an act of war. On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Union Army troops barricaded inside the fort, forcing them to surrender: the American War of Secession had begun.

Historian Allan Nevins argued that the newly elected president made three miscalculations: underestimating the severity of the crisis, overestimating the strength of Unionist sentiment in the South, and failing to realize that Southern Unionists were opposed to invasion by the North.

William Tecumseh Sherman spoke with Lincoln during the week following the inauguration and was “sadly disappointed” that Lincoln did not realize that “the country was sleeping on top of a volcano” and that the South was preparing for war. Historian David Herbert Donald concludes that “his repeated efforts to avoid collision in the months between the inauguration and the commencement of hostilities at the Fort clearly demonstrated that he remained consistent with his promise not to be the first to shed fraternal blood, but he also promised not to abandon the forts. The only solution to these contradictory positions was for the Confederates to fire the first shot: and they did just that.”

On April 15, Lincoln called on all the Union states to send detachments, totaling 75,000 soldiers, to recapture fortifications, protect the federal capital and “preserve the integrity of the country” which, in his view, was still intact despite the actions of the secessionist states. This call to arms forced the states to definitively choose sides. Virginia declared its secession and was rewarded by the Confederacy for doing so, making Richmond the Confederate capital, despite its exposed location so close to the front lines. North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas also voted to secede in the following two months. Separatist sentiment also remained strong in Missouri and Maryland, but failed to prevail; Kentucky remained neutral. The Confederate attack on Fort Sumter pushed all states north of the Mason-Dixon line to the defense of the nation. A. Nevins states: “The bombardment of Fort Sumter produced a surprising crystallization of Northern sentiment…. A collective rage ran through the entire North. From all sides came news of mass meetings, speeches, resolutions, offers of economic support, the formation of companies and regiments, the decisive action of governors and parliaments all siding with Lincoln.”

Union states began marching their regiments south. On April 19, in Baltimore, a group of troublemakers controlling railroad connections attacked Union troops who were changing trains; groups led by local leaders later burned railroad bridges to the capital. The Union Army responded by having Maryland”s top local officials arrested and martial law imposed. Lincoln suspended the validity of habeas corpus in all areas where the Army felt the need, to ensure that troops reached Washington unharmed. John Merryman, a Maryland official engaged in obstructing Northern troop movements, petitioned Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney for a writ of habeas corpus, and in June he, acting as a circuit judge, approved the request, since in his view only Congress could suspend the law. However, Lincoln maintained his position of suspension in circumscribed areas.

Union military strategy

After the Battle of Fort Sumter, Lincoln took executive control of the war and set the Union”s military strategy; he responded to an unprecedented political and military crisis by adopting unprecedented powers as a true commander-in-chief. He extended his war powers, ordered a naval blockade of all Confederate seaports, appropriated funds even before congressional approval, suspended the precept of habeas corpus, and had thousands of suspected Southern sympathizers arrested and imprisoned without trial. For these actions, the president gained the support of Congress and the Northern public; he also had to strengthen Union sympathies in the buffer states in the American War of Secession and prevented the war from becoming international.

From the outset it was clear that having the support of all parties would be essential to ultimate success, and that any compromise caused discontents on one side or the other of the political spectrum, such as the appointment of a Republican or a Democrat to a military command post. “Copperheads” attacked him for refusing to compromise on the slavery issue; conversely, more radical Republicans accused him of moving too slowly for its abolition. On August 6, 1861, he signed the Confiscation Act, which authorized prosecutors to first capture and then free all slaves who were used to support the Confederate war effort. In practice the act had limited impact, but it indicated political support for abolitionism.

At the end of August General John Charles Frémont, the Republican Party”s first candidate in the presidential election, those of 1856, without consulting his superiors issued a proclamation instituting martial law in Missouri; it declared that any private citizen found to be carrying arms could be tried by court-martial and be shot, and that the slaves of persons aiding the rebellion would be freed. Frémont already stood accused of negligence in his command of the Department of the West, compounded by suspicions of fraud and corruption. Lincoln rescinded the proclamation, deeming it eminently political in nature, devoid of military necessity. After this presidential action, enlistments in the Union from Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri increased by more than 40,000.

In foreign policy, Lincoln”s main goal was to stop foreign military aid to the Confederacy. He relied on his Secretary of State William H. Seward and worked closely with Senator Charles Sumner, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The diplomatic incident known as the “Trent Affair,” which broke out in late 1861, threatened to involve the United Kingdom in the war. The Union navy had in fact illegally intercepted a British mail ship, the “Trent,” on the high seas and seized two Confederate envoys; the U.K. vehemently protested as the entire North cheered. Lincoln managed to end the crisis by releasing the two diplomats. Biographer James Garfield Randall has analyzed the techniques of Lincoln”s success:

The president scrupulously monitored telegraphic reports arriving at the War Department; he kept all phases of the military effort under close observation, consulting with governors and personally selecting generals based on their past success (as well as their state and party affiliation).

In January 1862, after many complaints about inefficiency and profiteering within the War Department itself, he replaced Simon Cameron with Edwin McMasters Stanton as Secretary of War. The latter centralized the ministry”s activities, controlling and canceling contracts, saving the federal government more than $17 million; he was a staunchly Unionist, pro-business conservative Democrat who shifted to radical Republicans. He was the senior official who worked most often and most closely with Lincoln: “Stanton and Lincoln virtually ran the war together.”

In terms of war strategy Lincoln articulated two priorities: to ensure that Washington was well defended and to lead an aggressive military effort for a quick and decisive victory; leading Northern newspaper editors in fact expected a decisive victory within ninety days. Twice a week the president met with his cabinet in the afternoon. Sometimes his wife Mary, worried that he was working too hard, would persuade him to take a carriage ride. Lincoln learned much from reading the theoretical book of his chief of staff, General Henry Halleck, a disciple of the European strategist Antoine de Jomini. He began to appreciate the critical need to control strategic points, such as the Mississippi River; he saw the strategic importance of the city of Vicksburg and understood the need to permanently defeat the enemy army, rather than temporarily conquer its territory.

General McClellan

After the Union”s defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major open field battle of the Civil War, and the retirement of the now elderly Winfield Scott in late 1861, the president appointed young General George McClellan as commanding general of the U.S. Army. The latter, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, railroad executive and Pennsylvania Democrat, took several months to plan his Peninsular campaign, much longer than Lincoln desired.

The goal should have been to take Richmond, moving the Army of the Potomac by boat to southeastern Virginia and then by land to the Confederate capital. McClellan”s repeated delays and his argument that no troops were needed to defend Washington succeeded in irritating both Lincoln and Congress. The president insisted on keeping some wards at all times ready to defend the capital; McClellan, who consistently overestimated the strength of Confederate troops, blamed the latter decision for the ultimate failure of the entire campaign. Lincoln removed McClellan in March 1862, after he offered unsolicited political advice to the president in one of his letters, urging caution. The office remained vacant until July, when Henry Halleck was appointed. John Pope was called to head the new Army of Virginia; he complied with Lincoln”s desired strategy of moving toward Richmond from the north, thus protecting the capital from any attack from the south.

However, lacking reinforcements as also requested by McClellan Pope was heavily defeated at the second Battle of Bull Run in the summer of 1862, thus forcing the Army of the Potomac, commanded by McClellan, to defend Washington for the second time. Despite dissatisfaction with McClellan”s inability to be supportive of Pope, Lincoln reappointed him to command all forces encamped around Washington, to the dismay of all members of his cabinet, first and foremost W. H. Seward. Just two days after McClellan”s return to command, Confederate troops under General Robert Edward Lee crossed the Potomac River into Maryland, leading to the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. The ensuing Union victory was among the bloodiest in American history, but it finally gave the president an opportunity to announce that he would issue an “emancipation proclamation” in January; drafted some time before, Lincoln had waited for a military victory to publish it so that it would not be perceived as the product of desperation.

McClellan resisted the president”s request to chase Lee”s retreating army, while his counterpart Don Carlos Buell similarly refused orders to hurl the Army of the Ohio against rebel forces in East Tennessee; as a consequence Lincoln permanently replaced Buell with William Starke Rosecrans and after the 1862 midterm elections chose Ambrose Burnside to replace McClellan. Both nominations were politically neutral and thus better accepted.

Burnside, against the president”s advice, prematurely launched an offensive across the Rappahannock River and was defeated by Lee at the Battle of Fredericksburg held in December. Desertions in 1863 amounted to thousands and increased even more after Fredericksburg. Lincoln then appointed Joseph Hooker, despite the fact that he had made statements about the need for a dictatorship to win the war. The 1862 midterm elections saw the Republicans suffer heavy losses, due to dissatisfaction with the failure to end the war quickly, as well as rising inflation, new tax increases, persistent rumors of corruption, the suspension of habeas corpus, the compulsory conscription bill, and finally also the fear that freed slaves might end up threatening the labor market.

The proclamation announced in September brought votes for Republicans in rural areas of New England and the upper midwestern U.S., but contributed on the other hand to losing votes in cities and the lower Midwest. While the Republicans were discouraged, the Democrats were instead energized and did particularly well in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and New York State. The Republicans still retained their majority in Congress and in the major states except New York. The Cincinnati Gazette argued that voters were “depressed by the interminable nature of this war, as it had hitherto been conducted, as well as by the rapid depletion of national resources without having any appreciable progress in return.”

In the spring of 1863 Lincoln was optimistic about the upcoming military campaigns, believing the end of the war was near if a series of victories could be strung together; these plans included Hooker”s attack on Lee north of Richmond, Rosecrans at Chattanooga, Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg, and a naval assault on Charleston. Hooker was defeated by Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May, but continued to command his troops for several more weeks. He opposed Lincoln”s order to split his army into two sections at Harper”s Ferry, thus permanently weakening his own position; when he controversially offered his resignation, Lincoln accepted it. He was replaced by George G. Meade, who pursued Lee all the way to Pennsylvania for the Gettysburg campaign, which represented a key victory for the Union, although Lee”s army managed to avoid encirclement.

At the same time, after initial setbacks, Grant laid siege to Vicksburg and the Union navy achieved some success in Charleston Harbor. After the Battle of Gettysburg, the president realized that his military decisions would be more effectively executed by relaying orders to generals through the Secretary of War or the general-in-chief, avoiding overt interference in the military line of command. Even with these new arrangements, he often continued to provide detailed directions to his generals.

Emancipation of slaves

The power of the federal government on the issue of slavery was limited by the Constitution, which had delegated the issue to the choices of the individual states. Both before and during the presidential election campaign, Lincoln argued that preventing slavery in the new territories to the West would lead to its gradual elimination. Early in the war he also tried to persuade the states to accept emancipation with cash compensation in exchange for the prohibition of slavery. The president rejected two geographically limited emancipation attempts implemented by Major General John Charles Frémont in August 1861 and Major General David Hunter the following May, on the grounds that this was not within their power and would strain the loyalty of the buffer states.

On June 19, 1862, Congress passed a law outlawing slavery throughout the federal territory; Lincoln countersigned the bill. In July the law known as the Confiscation Act was passed, which established judicial procedures to set free slaves belonging to people convicted of aiding rebels. Although the president believed it to be unconstitutional, he countersigned this law as well. He presented that such an initiative could only be undertaken with the wartime powers of “commander-in-chief,” and therefore planned to assume them. That same month he discussed with his ministers a draft of the “emancipation proclamation.” It declared that “as an appropriate and necessary military measure from January 1, 1863, all persons held as slaves in the Confederate States shall become and continue to be forever free.”

Privately, he conceded that the Confederacy”s slave base would have to be eliminated. Copperheads argued that emancipation would easily become an obstacle to peace and reunification. Republican Horace Greeley, editor of the influential New York Tribune newspaper agreed. Lincoln wrote in a letter dated August 22 that while he personally wished that all men could be free, the primary goal of his actions as president of the United States was to preserve the Union:

In any case, at the time he wrote this letter, Lincoln was already moving toward the “emancipation proclamation.” His letter written to New York Judge James Cook Conkling on August 26, 1863, which included the following excerpt, is revealing:

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on Sept. 22, 1862, and effective the following Jan. 1, declared slaves free in ten states not yet under Union control, with specific exemptions for areas already controlled by the federal government in two states. Lincoln spent the hundred days between the proclamation and its enactment preparing the army and the entire nation for the momentous turning point, while Democrats for their part appealed to their constituents by emphasizing the threat that freed slaves posed to Northern whites; but here the proclamation did not implement radical changes, as the economic-labor system had not been based on slavery for decades. Once the abolition of slavery in the rebel states became a military objective, the Union Army”s advance southward led to the liberation of three million slaves. Lincoln”s comment on signing the proclamation was, “I have never in my whole life felt more certain that I was doing the right thing than when I signed that document.”

For a while, the president continued to think about previous plans to establish colonies for newly freed slaves. He commented favorably on colonization in the same proclamation, but all attempts at such a massive undertaking proved to be unfeasible. A few days after the proclamation, thirteen Republican governors met at the “War Governors Conference” at the Logan House Hotel in Altoona (they supported the choice made by the president, but also suggested the removal of George McClellan as commanding general of the U.S. Army.

Enlisting former slaves became official government policy. In the spring of 1863 Lincoln was ready to recruit the first “black troops” in more than symbolic numbers. In a letter addressed to Andrew Johnson, the then governor of Tennessee under military control, encouraging him to pave the way toward a conspicuous increase in black troops, Lincoln wrote, “the mere sight of 50,000 armed and well-trained black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi River would put an end to the rebellion at a stroke.”

By the end of 1863, under Lincoln”s direction, General Lorenzo Thomas had recruited twenty regiments of blacks from the Mississippi Valley. Frederick Douglass later observed: “in the company of the president my humble origin or the so unpopular color of my skin never occurred to me.”

Despite his decisive action in the fight against slavery, his positions on the problem of diverse populations were far from those of perfect equality, as exemplified by a statement he made in 1858:

Some scholars, including Stacy Pratt McDermott, caution against easy and erroneous interpretations of Lincoln”s views on racial equality, noting that the above phrases are typical manifestations of the psychology of anyone in that period: no one is unscathed by the spirit of the times, so one cannot employ recent cultural acquisitions to judge men of the nineteenth century, McDermott writes. Otherwise, if an antislavery man like Lincoln were equated with a slaver like Stephen A. Douglas, it would be the end of history in a confused and uniform world.

Gettysburg Address

With his great victory at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 and the defeat of the Copperheads in the Ohio election in the fall, Lincoln maintained a solid base of popular support and thus remained in a strong position to redefine the war effort, despite the New York riots of July 13-16, which broke out in protest against conscription. In this situation, on November 19, 1863, he delivered a speech at Gettysburg Cemetery dedicating the cemetery to Union soldiers who died in the battle. Defying his own prediction that “the world will notice little, nor long remember what we say here today,” the speech would become the most quoted speech in the entire political history of the United States. While most of the speakers (such as, for example, Edward Everett) spoke at length, some for whole hours, the president”s few choice words resonated across the country. While very few records remain of the other speeches given that same day, Lincoln”s is believed to be one of the greatest ever.

In 272 words and three minutes Lincoln affirmed that the nation was born not in 1789 but in 1776, “conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”; he defined the war as an effort dedicated to the principles of liberty and equality for all. The emancipation of slaves was now part of the national war effort. He declared that the deaths of so many brave soldiers would not be in vain, that slavery would end because of them, and that the future of democracy in the world would be assured, that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, will never perish in this land.” The president concluded that the Civil War had a profound purpose: a new birth of Liberty in the nation.

Grant arrives

The war was a source of constant frustration for the president and occupied almost all of his time. After repeated disappointments with General George McClellan and other unsuccessful commanding generals, Lincoln finally made the courageous decision to appoint as commander of the army an energetic, resolute and combative military man but one with a turbulent past and a career marked by successes but also some failures: General Ulysses S. Grant.

George G. Meade”s inability to encircle Robert Edward Lee”s army as it retreated from Gettysburg and the continued passivity of the Army of the Potomac persuaded the president that it was necessary to implement a change at the top of command. Grant”s victories at the Battle of Shiloh and the Vicksburg campaign impressed Lincoln and made him a strong candidate to lead the Union Army as commanding general of the U.S. Army.

Responding to criticism of Grant after his heavy losses at Shiloh (in Hardin County), Lincoln declared, “I can”t spare this man, he fights!” With Grant in command, the president felt that the Union Army could carry out a series of coordinated offensives on several fronts, also using black troops.

Lincoln was concerned, however, that the general might be thinking about running in the 1864 presidential election, as McClellan was already doing. Lincoln found an intermediary to investigate Grant”s political ambitions and, having been assured that he had none, presented his promotion to the Senate. He obtained the consent of Congress to appoint Grant to the rank of lieutenant general, which no officer had held since George Washington.

Grant was thus able to embark on the bloody land campaign in 1864, characterized as a “war of attrition” because of high Union casualties in various engagements, such as the Battle of the Wilderness and the Battle of Cold Harbor. Although they had the advantage of fighting defensively, Confederate forces suffered “almost as high a percentage of casualties as Union forces”; however, these figures alarmed the North. The general had lost at least a third of his army, and the president, after asking him what plans he had, was heard to reply, “I propose to fight on this line even if it takes all summer.”

The Confederacy was beginning to lack supplies and reinforcements, so Lee”s army steadily retreated after each battle costing heavy casualties. Grant”s army moved south and crossed the James River, forcing its opponents into siege and trench warfare just outside Petersburg. Lincoln then paid an extended visit to Grant”s headquarters, located at City Point in occupied Virginia.

This allowed the president to confer in person with the commander and William Tecumseh Sherman, who was casually paying a quick visit to Grant from his post in North Carolina. Lincoln and the entire apparatus of the Republican Party mobilized to support the effort of the reconquest project throughout the North so that in a short time it was possible to replace almost all Union losses. The president authorized Grant to strike at Confederate infrastructure-plantations, railroads, and bridges-in hopes of destroying Southern morale and weakening its economic ability to continue fighting. The general”s arrival in Petersburg had enabled the blockade of three rail lines connecting Richmond with the rest of the Confederate States of America. This strategy allowed Generals Sherman and Philip Henry Sheridan to destroy plantations and entire settlements in the Shenandoah Valley.

Sherman”s march to the sea across Georgia in 1864 merely caused damage in a 60-mile (97 km) strip. Neither Lincoln nor his commanders ever saw destruction as a major goal, but rather the defeat of the Confederate armies. Historian Mark E. Neely Jr. has argued that there was never an attempt to engage in “total war” against civilians, as there would have been during World War II, for example, although “scorched earth” tactics were used.

Confederate General Jubal Anderson Early at this point began a series of assaults in the North that threatened the capital city of Washington. During the battle of Fort Stevens that developed in the northwest quadrant of Washington, the president happened to observe the fighting from such an overly exposed position that young Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes had to shout at him, “Get out of the way now, you damned fool, before you get shot!” After repeated requests to Grant to defend the capital, Sheridan arrived with his troops and the threat was thus averted.

As Grant continued to wear down Lee”s remaining forces, attempts to initiate peace talks began. Confederate Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens led a representation to meet with Lincoln, William H. Seward and others at the Hampton Roads conference. However, the president refused to allow any “negotiations among equals”; his only goal was an agreement to end the fighting, and the meetings produced no results.

On April 1, 1865, Grant successfully overcame Lee”s forces at the Battle of Five Forks and came to almost entirely surround Petersburg; the Confederate government evacuated Richmond. A few days later, when that city also fell, Lincoln visited the vanquished capital; he went there to make a public gesture, sitting at Jefferson Davis”s desk and symbolically telling the nation that the president of the United States once again had authority over the entire territory. As he walked through the city the white Southerners stood motionless, but the freedmen greeted, surrounded, and cheered him as a genuine hero; their sentiments were summed up by one admirer”s statement, “I know I am free because I have seen the face of Father Abraham and heard him.” On April 9 Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House; the war was over.

Re-election in 1864

In the 1864 presidential election, the nation faced one of the few election campaigns in its entire history that took place during a war. Lincoln displayed the political skill of both being able to bring together all the major factions of the Republican Party and to draw pro-war Democrats (the “War Democrats”) such as Edwin McMasters Stanton and Andrew Johnson to his side.

The president spent many hours a week talking to politicians across the country and used his funding powers to hold together the various currents in his party and fend off efforts by Radicals to replace him. At the convention, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee was chosen as the vice presidential candidate. To broaden the coalition to include both War Democrats and Republicans, Lincoln presented himself under the label of a new formation called the Union Party.

As Ulysses S. Grant”s campaigns turned to bloody stalemates in the spring and Union casualties soared, the lack of definitive military success seemed for some time to weigh on the president”s re-election prospects, and many commentators feared that Lincoln might even be defeated. Sharing this fear, Lincoln privately expressed a commitment that if he lost the election, he would still do everything in his power to beat the Confederacy before the handover to his successor:

Lincoln did not show the contents of the written pledge to his ministers, but asked them all to sign over the sealed envelope.

The Democrats” political program followed the party”s “peace wing” and defined the war as a complete “failure”; however, their candidate, General George McClellan, instead continued to advocate the continuation of the conflict to its natural end and disassociated himself from the program. Lincoln came to Grant”s aid with more troops and the support of the Republican Party apparatus.

The Atlanta campaign carried out by William Tecumseh Sherman beginning in May, the Battle of Atlanta in July, the subsequent fall of Atlanta in September, and the capture of Mobile by David G. Farragut following the Battle of Mobile Bay succeeded in ending the jitters.

The Democrats turned out to be deeply divided, with some leaders and most soldiers openly pro-Lincoln. In contrast, the “National Union Party” found itself united by the president”s pro-emancipation action. Republicans emphasized the duplicity of the Copperheads.

On November 8, Lincoln was reappointed with an overwhelming majority, winning in all but three states and receiving 78 percent of the vote from soldiers at the front.

On March 4, 1865, Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address to history (in it he expressed his belief that the high losses on both sides were due to God”s will. Historian Mark Noll places the speech in the small handful of quasi-sacred-themed texts through which Americans conceive of their place in the world. Lincoln said:


Reconstruction began already during the war, as Lincoln and his aides anticipated questions about how to reintegrate the reconquered southern United States and how to determine the fate of Confederate leaders and freed slaves. Shortly after Robert Edward Lee”s surrender before Ulysses S. Grant, a general had asked Lincoln how the defeated Confederates should be treated, and Lincoln replied, “by leaving them alone.” In keeping with this sentiment, the president was the reference of the moderates, in contrast to the Radical Republicans led by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and Senators Charles Sumner and Benjamin Wade, moreover his allies on other issues. Determined to find an acceptable way to reunite the nation and not alienate the South, Lincoln urged that elections be held at short notice, in ways that were not too severe. His amnesty proclamation of Dec. 8, 1863, offered pardons to all who had not held public office in the Confederate states, had not mistreated Union prisoners, and who were willing to sign an oath of allegiance to the Union.

As the states of the Deep South were conquered, their new leaders had to be appointed while their administrations were restored; of particular importance were Tennessee and Arkansas, where Lincoln appointed Generals Andrew Johnson and Frederick Steele respectively as military governors. In Louisiana, however, he ordered Nathaniel Banks to promote a plan that would restore statehood when 10 percent of voters agreed that their state would prohibit slavery.

Democratic opponents accused the president of using the army to further his and the Republicans” political aspirations; on the other hand, radical Republicans denounced his move as too lenient and passed the bill known as the Wade-Davis Bill in 1864. When Lincoln vetoed the bill, the promoters retaliated by preventing elected representatives from Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee from taking office in the legislature.

Presidential measures sought to hold moderate Republicans and radicals together; to replace Chief Justice the choice fell on radical Salmon Portland Chase, whom Lincoln hoped would support his measures on emancipation and the printing of paper money.

After implementing the emancipation proclamation, which did not apply to every state in every case, the president pressured Congress to outlaw slavery nationwide with a constitutional amendment. Lincoln declared that it would “settle the whole matter.” In December 1863, the proposal that would have outlawed slavery was brought before Congress; however, it failed to pass the required two-thirds majority during the June 15, 1864 vote in the House of Representatives. Passage of the proposed amendment became part of the Republican political agenda

As the war drew to a close, Presidential Reconstruction for the South was in full swing; Lincoln thought the federal government had limited responsibilities to the millions of freedmen. He countersigned Senator Charles Senner”s bill, which established a temporary federal agency designed to meet the immediate material needs of former slaves: the Freedmen”s Bureau. The bill also made available to freedmen the cultivation of vacant land, upon payment of a three-year lease and with an option to purchase. Lincoln declared that his “10 percent plan” for Louisiana did not automatically apply to all occupied Confederate states; shortly before his assassination he announced that he had a new plan in mind for the Reconstruction of the South. Discussions with his cabinet revealed that Lincoln thought military control over the former rebel states should be short-term, before their readmission under Southern Unionist control. Historians agree that it is impossible to predict exactly what the president would have done had he survived, but they make projections based on his known policy positions and acknowledged acumen. Biographers James Garfield Randall and Richard Nelson Current, according to David Lincove, claim that:

Eric Foner states that:

Redefinition of the Republic and republicanism

The successful reunification between the Southern and Northern states had a consequence for the very name of the nation. Indeed, the term “United States” was previously used, sometimes in the plural (“United States is”) and other times in the singular (“United States is”), without any grammatical consistency. The Civil War represented a significant stimulus to the predominance of the singular from at least the late 19th century onward.

In recent decades, historians such as Harry Victor Jaffa, Herman Belz, John Patrich Diggins, Vernon Burton, and Eric Foner have emphasized the president”s stipulated redefinition of the values that underlie Republicanism. As early as the 1850s, when most political rhetoric focused on the “sanctity” of the U.S. Constitution, Lincoln reversed the idea by instead emphasizing the Declaration of Independence in its capacity as the foundation of U.S. political values (what he called the “fundamental building block” of republicanism).

The emphasis on the concepts of liberty and social equality for all, in clear contrast to the tolerance hitherto expressed by the Constitution itself with regard to slavery, radically shifted the point of approach to the debate. As Diggins states with regard to the Cooper Union speech of the first half of 1860 and which proved highly influential in the continuation of the campaign for the 1860 presidential election, “Lincoln presented Americans with a conception of the history of the United States which will make a valuable contribution to the theory and future of republicanism itself.”

His position gradually gained strength as he emphasized the moral basis inherent in the great ideal of democracy, rather than its legal mechanisms. It was not until a year later, however, that he would justify the conflict properly in terms of legality (the Constitution was a contract, and for one party to get out of it all the others had to agree as well) and national obligation to guarantee the republican form of government in each individual state of the Union. Burton (2008) finally argues that Lincoln”s republicanism was welcomed with open arms by former slaves as they were emancipated and now free.

In March 1861, during his first inaugural address, he explored the nature of democracy; he denounced secession as anarchy and explained that majority rule had to be balanced by constitutional restrictions. He said, “A majority held in check by constitutional checks and balances-and always changing easily as a result of deliberate changes in popular opinion and sentiment-is the only true ruler of a genuinely free people!”

Other provisions

Lincoln adhered to Whig Party theory, which gave Congress primary responsibility for writing laws while the Executive had to implement them; he vetoed only four bills; the only major one was the Wade-Davis Bill with its tough Reconstruction program. He countersigned the bill called the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act in 1862 which provided government subsidies to state agricultural education facilities; the Homestead Act of that same year made millions of acres of government-held land in the West available for purchase at very low cost. The Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864 secured federal support for the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869. The passage of the latter two laws was made possible by the absence of Southern congressmen and senators who had opposed similar measures in the 1850s during first Zachary Taylor”s presidency and then Millard Fillmore”s presidency.

Two important measures affected government revenues: the establishment of tariffs (a measure with a long history) and a new federal income tax. In 1861 he signed the second and third Morrill Tariffs; the first had been enacted during James Buchanan”s presidency. Also in 1861 the president signed the Revenue Act, creating the first U.S. income tax, with a single rate of 3 percent on incomes over $800 ($21,300 in current terms), which was later amended by the Revenue Act of 1862 with progressive rates.

Lincoln was also concerned with the expansion of the federal government”s economic influence in several other areas; the creation of the national banking system with the National Banking Act (in 1862 the Department of Agriculture was created.

In 1862, the president sent General John Pope to suppress a Native American uprising, known as the Little Crow War, in present-day Minnesota; when presented with 303 execution warrants for Sioux (Santee Dakota) accused of killing innocent farmers, Lincoln conducted a personal examination of each one, eventually approving 39 sentences of hanging (one was later revoked). He finally planned to reform the entire federal policy toward Native Americans in the United States of America.

After Grant”s heavy losses in his campaign against Lee, he had considered an executive order for conscription, but it was never issued; in response to numerous rumors about it, the editors of the New York World and Journal of Commerce published a false draft proclamation that caused volatility in the gold market, which benefited the editors and other newspaper employees. The president reacted harshly and ordered a two-day military seizure of the two newspapers.

Lincoln is largely responsible for the establishment of the holiday known as Thanksgiving; before his presidency in fact “Thanksgiving” (for the first harvest obtained on American soil by the Pilgrim Fathers), a local holiday in New England since the 17th century, had been proclaimed by the federal government only sporadically and on irregular dates. The last such announcement had been made during the presidency of James Madison fifty years earlier. In 1863 Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November that year would be a “day dedicated to Thanksgiving.”

The following June he approved the Yosemite appropriation that provided an unprecedented federal endowment for the area to this day known as Yosemite National Park.

Judicial appointments

Lincoln”s stated philosophy on judicial appointments was that we cannot ask a man what he will do, and in case we ask and he answers, we should despise him for it, so we must take a man whose opinions are already known; he appointed five justices to the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

New states admitted to the Union

West Virginia, admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863, included the northwestern counties of Virginia that had seceded when Virginia declared secession. As a precondition, the Constitution of the new federated state was required to provide for the gradual abolition of slavery.

Nevada, which became the third of the Pacific states, was admitted as a free entity on October 31, 1864.

Shortly before the end of the war, Lincoln had met frequently with General Grant. The two men were planning the reconstruction of the country and their mutual esteem was known to all. During their last meeting, on April 14, 1865 (Good Friday), Lincoln had invited General Grant to a social event for that evening, but Grant had declined. Without the general”s company and without his bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln and his family went to Ford”s Theatre, Washington, where Our American Cousin, a musical comedy by British writer Tom Taylor (1817-1880), was being performed. The instant Lincoln took his seat in the presidential box, John Wilkes Booth, an actor from Virginia who was a Southern sympathizer, entered the stage and fired a .44-caliber pistol at the president”s head, shouting “Sic semper tyrannis!” (Latin for “So be it ever for tyrants!” – Virginia state motto and a phrase historically uttered by Brutus in killing Caesar). According to some accounts he then added “The South is avenged,” subsequently jumping off the stage and consequently breaking his leg. The conspirators had planned to assassinate other government officials at the same time, but Lincoln was the only victim. Booth dragged himself to his horse and managed to escape, while the president was taken to a house across the street now called Petersen House, where he lay in a coma for several hours before dying. He was officially pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865. Booth was discovered hiding in a barn and was killed; several other conspirators were later captured and hanged or imprisoned. Four people were tried by a military court and hanged for complicity in the assassination-David Herold, George Atzerodt, Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Payne), and Mary Surratt (the first woman to be executed in the United States). Three people were sentenced to life in prison (Michael O”Laughlin, Samuel Arnold, and Samuel Mudd), while Edman Spangler was sentenced to six years in prison. John Surratt, later tried by a civil court, was acquitted. The fairness of the sentences, particularly that of Mary Surratt, has been questioned and there are doubts about the degree of her involvement in the conspiracy.

In the United States, the “legend about Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences,” concerning the claimed concurrences between the deaths of the two presidents, has entered folklore.

Lincoln”s body was brought back to Illinois by train, with a grand funeral procession that passed through several states. The entire nation mourned the man whom many considered the savior of the United States, protector and defender of what Lincoln himself called “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Lincoln was buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, where construction of a 54-foot-high granite tomb topped by several bronze statues was completed in 1874. His wife and three of his four children are also buried there (Robert is buried in Arlington National Cemetery). In the years following his death there were attempts to steal Lincoln”s body for ransom.

Around 1900 Robert Todd Lincoln decided that in order to prevent theft of the body it was necessary to build a permanent crypt for his father. Lincoln”s coffin was enclosed by thick concrete walls, surrounded by a cage, and buried under a stone slab. On September 26, 1901, Lincoln”s body was exhumed so it could be reburied in the new crypt. Those present (23 people including Robert Lincoln), fearing that the body might have been stolen in the intervening years, decided to open the coffin to check: when they opened it, they were amazed at the state of preservation of the body, which had been embalmed. It was in fact perfectly recognizable, more than 30 years after his death. On his chest were found the remains of the U.S. flag (small red, white and blue shreds) with which he had been buried and which had now crumbled. All the people who saw Lincoln”s remains are long gone: the last of these was Fleetwood Lindley, who died on February 1, 1963. Three days before his death, Lindley was interviewed. He said, “Yes, his face was as white as chalk. His clothes damp. I was allowed to hold one of the leather strips when we caulked the coffin to pour the cement. I was not scared at the time, but I slept with Lincoln for the next six months.”


Claims abound that Lincoln”s health was deteriorating just before the assassination; however, these are often based only on photographs that appear to show weight loss and some muscle atrophy.

It has also been speculated that he suffered from a rare genetic disease, MEN2b (Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2b) which manifests as medullary thyroid carcinoma and mucosal neuromas. Others simply claim that he suffered from Marfan syndrome (elongation of the lower body, very long feet, hands and legs, and a characteristically elongated head) based on his height, slender fingers and association with possible aortic insufficiency; it may cause the rocking of the head-the “Alfred De Musset sign”-based on the alleged evidence given by the clouding of Lincoln”s head present in photographs, which then needed a long time of preparation and exposure. In 2009, the DNA analysis was being rejected by the “Grand Army of the Republic” museum in Philadelphia.

Religious vision

As with Thomas Jefferson”s deism, Lincoln”s religious views have been much debated. Publicly he was a Protestant Christian, but his intimate beliefs are still debated. As a young man, Lincoln was clearly a skeptic, or, in the words of one biographer, even an iconoclast.

Later in life, Lincoln”s frequent use of religious language and imagery in speeches could be seen as a revision of his personal beliefs or a device to appeal to his audience, which was mostly composed of evangelicals. He never joined any church, although he often attended religious services with his wife, yet he frequently quoted the Bible and was deeply familiar with it.

In 1840 Lincoln adhered to the “doctrine of necessity,” a fatalist-type belief that claimed the human mind was controlled by a higher force. In 1850 he recognized the existence of “providence,” in a general way, but rarely used the language or imagery of evangelicals. He regarded the republicanism of the Founding Fathers with an almost religious reverence. When he suffered the death of his son Edward, Lincoln more frequently acknowledged his own need to depend on God.

The death of another son, Willie, in February 1862 may have prompted Lincoln to turn toward religion in search of answers and solace. After Willie”s death, Lincoln questioned the divine necessity of the severity of war. He wrote in those moments that God “could have decided to save or destroy the Union, without human conflict. Since the conflict began, He could give victory to either side in a single day, yet the conflict continues.” It is said that on the day of the assassination at Ford”s Theater, he told his wife Mary that he wanted to visit the Holy Land.


Abraham Lincoln”s sexuality has been a topic of debate among some scholars. The president was married to Mary Todd Lincoln from November 4, 1842 until his death and had four children with her; his bond with his wife was always very strong and intimate. The issue came to public attention, however, because of a posthumous book by psychologist Clarence Arthur Tripp (Alfred Kinsey”s collaborator) published in 2005 and titled The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, which described him as allegedly aloof toward women, in contrast to the extremely close relationships he had with male friends, with whom he would even share a bed.

According to the book Lincoln the Unknown by Dale Carnegie and dated 1932, the president chose to spend several months of the year in his legal practice living separately from his wife. In 1928 one author had already mentioned a close male friend of the young Lincoln as a possible lover, but this was dismissed at the time as absurd.

Comments on Lincoln”s sexuality ran from the early 20th century; attention grew in proportion to the growth of the homosexual liberation movement in the second half of the 1900s. In his 1926 biography, Carl Sandburg alluded to Lincoln”s early relationships with his friend Joshua Fry Speed as having “a lavender stripe, and soft spots like may violets”; “lavender stripe” was a slang term of the period for a man characterized by effeminacy, later associated with homosexuality. Sandburg did not elaborate further on the subject.

In 1999, playwright and activist Larry Kramer claimed to have uncovered documents that had previously remained hidden while conducting research for his “work-in-progress” The American People: A History, including some allegedly found among the floorboards of the store above which Lincoln and Joshua Speed shared a room. The texts reportedly provide explicit details about an affair that occurred between the two and are currently stored in a private collection in Davenport, Iowa. Their authenticity, however, has been questioned by historians such as Gabor S. Boritt who wrote, “it is almost certainly a fabrication.” C. A. Tripp also expressed all his skepticism about Kramer”s alleged discovery stating, “Seeing is believing, if and when that diary appears. When excerpts appeared from it, they had not at all the lyrical afflatus typical of Lincoln.”

Lincoln”s case returned to center stage in 2005 with the posthumous publication of C. A. Tripp”s book; he was a sexology researcher, disciple of Alfred Kinsey and gay man. He began writing the book together with freelance journalist Philip Nobile, but they later had disagreements. Nobile later accused Tripp”s work of being highly fraudulent and distorted. TIME magazine covered the book as part of a cover article by Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln”s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness. Shenk rejected Tripp”s conclusions by stating that the arguments for Lincoln”s homosexuality were “based on a distorted reading of conventional nineteenth-century arrangements which quietly provided that men could even sleep together.” However, historian Michael B. Chesson welcomed the historical significance of Tripp”s work and commented that although not conclusive, “any open-minded reader who has reached this point might have a reasonable doubt about the nature of Lincoln”s sexuality.” In contrast, historian and biographer of the president Michael Burlingame stated that it is “possible but highly unlikely that Abraham Lincoln was predominantly homosexual.”

Lincoln”s stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln commented that he “never had much interest in girls.” However, some contemporary accounts report a strong but controlled passion for women. The young Lincoln was devastated following the 1835 death of 22-year-old Ann Rutledge, his first great love. While some have questioned whether he ever had a romantic relationship with her, historian John Y. Simon reviewed the historiography of the subject and concluded that “the available evidence overwhelmingly indicates that Lincoln so loved Ann that her death plunged him into severe depression. A century and a half after his death, when no significant new evidence can be expected, this simple fact should by now take its rightful place even in presidential biography.”

The major critics of the hypothesis that Lincoln was homosexual or at least bisexual point to the fact that he married and had as many as four children; the thesis is therefore rejected by many historians, especially those in conservative areas. Scholar Douglas Wilson argues that Lincoln, as a young man, exhibited strongly heterosexual behavior, including telling stories to his friends about his interactions with women.

Lincoln also wrote a poem describing a marriage-like relationship between two men, which included the lines, “For Reuben and Charles have married two girls

This poem was included in the first edition of Lincoln”s 1889 biography by his friend and colleague William Herndon; however, it was expurgated from subsequent editions until 1942, when publisher Paul Angle reinstated it. This is an example of what psychoanalyst Mark J. Blechner calls “the closure of history” in which evidence suggesting a degree of homosexuality or bisexuality in a major historical figure is suppressed or hidden.

Lincoln first met young Joshua Fry Speed in Springfield in 1837 when he was a successful lawyer and already a member of the Illinois legislature. They lived together for four years, during which time they occupied the same bed overnight (some sources specify a large double bed) and developed a friendship that would continue until the president”s death. According to some sources, William Herndon and a fourth man would also sleep in the same room. Historians like Donald point out that it was not at all uncommon in that period for two men to share even a small bed because of financial or other circumstances, with nothing sexual implied, for a night or two when no other arrangement was possible. But for a financially self-sufficient man, sharing a single bed with the same man over a long period of time would instead demonstrate a lasting relationship. A list of historical sources shows that Lincoln, during his youth and early adulthood, slept in the same bed with at least eleven boys and men. This was never a secret. There are no known instances in which Lincoln tried to conceal knowledge of the fact or discussion of such occurrences and, in some conversations, raised the subject himself by speaking openly about it. Tripp talks at length about three men and possible lasting relationships-Joshua Speed, William Greene, and Charles Derickson.

However, in 19th-century America, it was not necessarily uncommon for men to take care of other men; for example, lawyers in the Eighth District of Illinois, where Lincoln operated, regularly traveled using the same room for the night, two to each bed and eight to a room. William H. Herndon recalls, for example, “I slept with twenty men in the same room.” But a private, lasting relationship with a single individual would have been quite different. At that time most men were probably not even aware of the erotic significance in bed sharing, since it remained a public affair. Speed”s immediate and casual offer and his subsequent report suggest that publicly proposing male bed-sharing was almost never explicitly interpreted as an invitation to forbidden sexual experiments.

Some correspondence from the period, such as that between Confederate politician Thomas Jefferson Withers and Judge James Henry Hammond, may provide evidence of a sexual dimension to some secret same-sex bed-sharing. The very fact that Lincoln was open about the issue with Speed is seen by some historians as an indication that their relationship was not romantic; none of Lincoln”s enemies ever hinted at any homosexual implications.

Joshua Speed married Fanny Hennings on February 15, 1842. He and Lincoln seemed to consult each other about married life; although they had some political differences over slavery they maintained a close correspondence relationship for the rest of their lives, and Lincoln appointed Joshua”s brother James Speed to his cabinet as attorney general.

Captain David Derickson was Lincoln”s bodyguard and accompanied him on his travels between September 1862 and April 1863. They shared a bed during the absences of the president”s wife until he was promoted in rank. Derickson was married twice and was the father of as many as ten children. Tripp recounts that no matter how intimate the relationship was, it was the subject of gossip.

Elizabeth Woodbury Fox, wife of Lincoln”s naval aide, wrote in her diary on Nov. 16, 1862, “Tish says ”Oh, there is a Bucktail soldier who is very devoted to the president, always stays close to him, and when Mrs. L. is not home he even sleeps with him.” What a thing!” This practice also ended up being observed by a fellow officer in Derickson”s regiment, Thomas Chamberlin, in his book History of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Second Regiment, Bucktail Brigade.

Historian Martin P. Johnson notes that the strong similarity in style and content of Fox”s and Chamberlin”s accounts suggests that rather than being two independent narratives of the same events, both were based on a single source. David Donald and Johnson both dispute Tripp”s interpretation of Fox”s commentary by saying that the exclamation “What a thing!” was in those days an exclamation in the face of absurdity rather than gossip value.

In surveys by U.S. scholars evaluating presidents since the 1940s in the historical ranking of U.S. presidents, Lincoln is consistently ranked in the top three, often as number one overall (in at least 9 out of 17 surveys). A 2004 study showed that scholars in the fields of history and politics ranked him first, while law scholars placed him second just behind George Washington.

In the opinion poll conducted since 1948 Lincoln was rated at the top in the majority of results. In general, the top three presidents are Lincoln; Washington; and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, although sometimes Washington comes in ahead of Lincoln and sometimes behind Roosevelt.

Abraham Lincoln”s assassination helped greatly enhance his status to the point of almost making him a national martyr; he was seen by abolitionist advocates as a “champion of human freedom.” Republicans linked his name to the founding events of their Party”s history. Many, though not all, in the South regarded Lincoln as a man of exceptional ability. Historians said he was “a champion of classical liberalism” in the 19th century sense. Allen C. Guelzo states that Lincoln was a “classical liberal democrat, an enemy of artificial hierarchy, a friend of commerce and business as ennobling and enabling,” and an American counterpart of John Stuart Mill, Richard Cobden and Liberal Party (UK) leader John Bright (whose portrait was hung by Lincoln himself in his office at the White House). He ended up becoming a leading example for liberal intellectuals in many parts of the European continent, Latin America and even Asia.

Schwartz argues that the president”s American reputation grew slowly in the late 19th century until the Progressive Era (1900-1920) when he emerged as one of the most revered heroes in U.S. history, on which even white Southerners agreed. The high point came in 1922 with the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

In the New Deal era, liberals honored Lincoln not so much as the self-made man or the great war president, but as the defender of the common man whom they believed would uphold the welfare state. In the Cold War years, Lincoln”s image changed and the symbol of freedom that brought hope to all oppressed by communist regimes was emphasized.

By the 1970s he had become a hero to U.S. conservatives because of his patriotism, his support for business, his determination to stop the spread of slavery, his action in inspired by the principles of John Locke and Edmund Burke in the name of both freedom and tradition, and his devotion to the principles of the founding fathers of the United States.

As a Whig Party activist Lincoln had been a spokesman for business interests, being in favor of high tariffs, the banking system, domestic infrastructure and railroads in opposition to the eminently agrarian Democrats of Jacksonian democracy. William C. Harris found that Lincoln”s “reverence for the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, the laws placed under it, and his defense of the Republic and its institutions placed him among the foremost leaders of conservatism.”

James G. Randall emphasizes his tolerance and especially his moderation “in his preference for orderly progress, his distrust of dangerous social unrest, and his reluctance to ill-digested reform schemes.” Randall concludes that “he was conservative because of his remoteness from the kind of so-called ”radicalism” that implied Southern oppression, hatred of the slaveholder, thirst for revenge, factionalism, and stern Reconstruction Era demands that Southern institutions would be transformed overnight into foreign bodies of the homeland.”

In the late 1960s, some African American intellectuals led by Lerone Bennett Jr. rejected Lincoln”s role as the “Great Emancipator”; he gained much attention when he even called Lincoln a white supremacist in 1968. He noted that he frequently used slurs and sterotypes about African Americans and told jokes ridiculing the “Negro”; he also argued that Lincoln opposed social equality and proposed with the American Colonization Society to send freed slaves to another country (to Liberia).

In contrast, defenders, such as authors Dirck and Cashin, retorted that he was not all that bad compared to most politicians of his day and indeed represented the figure of a “moral visionary” who skillfully advanced the abolitionist cause, as quickly as possible given the political context. The emphasis then shifted from “Lincoln the emancipator” to an argument that blacks had freed themselves from slavery on their own, or that they were at least responsible in lobbying the government for emancipation.

Historian Barry Schwartz wrote in 2009 that Lincoln”s image in the late 20th century underwent “an erosion, a certain fading of prestige, to the point of being reduced to a man as benevolent as he was ridiculous.” On the other hand, Donald opined in his 1996 biography that Lincoln was markedly endowed with the personality trait characterized as “negative capability” as it was defined by the Romantic poet John Keats and attributed to charismatic and extraordinary leaders who were “content amid uncertainties and doubts and not bound by facts or reason.”

In the 21st century, President Barack Obama called him his favorite president by insisting on using Lincoln”s Bible during the inauguration ceremony both times he took office.

Lincoln has often been a character in Hollywood films, almost always in a very flattering light.

Union patriotism, as envisioned by Lincoln, “helped lead America to the patriotism of Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

Lincoln has been remembered in many ways. Several U.S. cities are named after him, especially Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington has been dedicated to him and he is depicted on the $5 bill, the Lincoln cent, and in the Mount Rushmore monument. Lincoln”s tomb and home in Springfield, New Salem (a reconstruction of the town where he lived in early adulthood), Ford”s Theater, and the Petersen House are all preserved as museums.

In 1892, Lincoln”s February 12 birthday was declared a U.S. federal holiday, although it was later combined with George Washington”s birthday on President”s Day (they are still celebrated separately in Illinois). The submarine Abraham Lincoln (SSBN-602) and the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) were named in his honor.

The great magician Harry Houdini produced with his illusionistic techniques a doctored photograph depicting him together with Lincoln”s “ghost,” this to reveal the tricks of spiritist photographs, which were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of them, later found to be fake, depicted Lincoln himself after his death, together with his still-living wife (the latter had become a follower of spiritualism in the meantime).

Soon after the president”s death, the poet Walt Whitman (author of Leaves of Grass) wrote, in his honor, the very famous poem O Captain! My Captain! (brought to the silver screen scenes by Dead Poets Society”s The Dead Poet”s Moment).

The bard of the American nation would always be particularly fascinated by Lincoln so much so that he also wrote other poems in his honor (When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom”d, Hush”d Be the Camps To-Day and This Dust Was Once the Man). It seems that the president loved his poetry even before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Lincoln himself wrote poems and at least one literary piece, based on one of the murder cases he had handled as a young defense attorney. In April 1846 The Quincy Whig published his story as A Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder. The story was republished in March 1952 by Ellery Queen”s Mystery Magazine and titled The Trailor Murder Mystery. Lincoln refers to his own unnamed character as “the defense” and “the writer of this text.”

Other readings


  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. Abraham Lincoln
  3. ^ a b (EN) James Lindgren, Ranking Our Presidents (PDF), in International World History Project, Federalist Society & The Wall Street Journal, 16 novembre 2000. URL consultato il 30 gennaio 2020 (archiviato dall”url originale l”11 agosto 2017).
  4. ^ Raimondo Luraghi, Storia della guerra civile americana, I, Milano, BUR – Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1994, pp. 213-214, ISBN 978-88-17-02870-7.
  5. ^ Donald, 1996,  pp. 20–22.
  6. ^ The Ancestry of Abraham Lincoln, James Henry Lea, Robert Hutchinson, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1909., p. 4.
  7. ^ Louis A. Warren, Lincoln”s Youth: Indiana Years, Seven to Twenty-One, 1816–1830, Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Society, 1991, pp.  3.–4, ISBN 0-87195-063-4.
  8. Douglas – mint mindenki – jól tudta, hogy a Lecompton-alkotmányt szemérmetlen csalás révén fogadták el. Ez annyira összeegyeztethetetlen volt a népszuverenitás elvével, hogy az északi demokraták hozzá csatlakozó csoportja élén megtagadták Kansas felvételének megszavazását és követelték Kansas státuszának új, tisztességes eljárásban való eldöntését. Ennek eredménye az lett, hogy az északi demográfiai túlsúly érvényesülni tudott Kansasben és az új eljárás után már mint szabad állam kérte a felvételét az unióba. Emellett a Douglas esküdt ellenségévé váló Buchanan, a kansasi botrányokat gyors tagfelvétellel elkerülni akaró elnök bukott politikussá vált a világra szóló mértékű kudarc miatt.
  9. Lincoln szavai szerint: „Things had gone from bad to worse, until I felt that we had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations we had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card and must change our tactics our lose the game!” (Ügyünk tovább romlott, mígnem azt éreztem, elértük követett műveleti terveink lehetőségének határára; utolsó lapunkat készülünk kijátszani, s taktikát kell változtatnunk, ha nem akarjuk elveszteni a játékot!)
  10. Prononciation en anglais américain retranscrite phonétiquement selon la norme API.
  11. a b et c Allen C. Guelzo 2003, Ch. 1 « The American System ».
  12. Union List of Artist Names (англ.) — 2015.
  13. ЛИ́НКОЛЬН / Исэров А. А. // Большая российская энциклопедия [Электронный ресурс]. — 2020.
  14. Дейл Карнеги. т. 1, стр. 230, из-во «Новый Мир», М., 1983.
  15. Американцы определили наилучшего президента США (Величайшим президентом за всю историю США их жители считают Авраама Линкольна, который уничтожил рабовладение и победил в Гражданской войне), for-ua.com. Архивировано 27 июля 2018 года. Дата обращения 26 июля 2018.
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