Everyone who knew Abraham Lincoln loved him as a friend. All the children around his home in Springfield, Ill. , and around the White House in Washington felt that Mr. Lincoln understood them and truly liked them. Men and women who knew him admired him and called him honest Abe. (Lee, 47) People throughout the world said he was one of the greatest men of all time. He was an unusual man in many ways. One minute he would wrestle with his sons or tell a joke and slap his bony knees in laughter. The next minute he might be deep in thought and not notice anything around him. He was gentle and patient, but no one was more determined.
He was tallnearly six feet four inchesvery thin, and stooped. He spent less than a year in school, but he never stopped studying. All his life he was a learner. Born in a log cabin on the frontier, he made his own way in life and became the president who kept the United States united. About sunrise on Feb. 12, 1809, the son of Thomas and Nancy Lincoln was born(Bryan, 255). They named him Abraham after his grandfather Lincoln. Abrahams birthplace was a one-room log cabin, 16 feet long and 18 feet wide. The logs were chinked with clay and light came dimly through the single window.
The floor was earth, packed down hard, and the bed was made of poles and cornhusks. A roaring fire on the hearth and rough bearskin blankets kept Nancy and her son Abraham warm on that cold winter morning. In the spring of 1811 Thomas Lincoln moved his family to a farm he had bought on Knob Creek, about ten miles northeast of Sinking Spring(Oates, 154). In later years Abraham Lincoln said that the Knob Creek farm was the first home he remembered and he loved it. Like all farm boys in those busy days young Abe learned to plant, hoe, husk corn, build hearth fires, carry water, and chop wood. There were no close neighbors.
Abe got used to being alone. He did not mind because he loved the hills and the quiet hollows and the treesespecially the trees. He learned so well to tell the many kinds that many years later, on his walks around Washington, he would point out their differences. He smilingly told visitors, I know all about trees in light of being a backwoodsman. In December 1816 Thomas took his family across the Ohio River to the backwoods of Indiana(Stefoff, 14). For the last few miles Thomas, probably helped by Abe, had to cut a trail out of the wilderness of trees and tangle of wild grapevines(Stefoff, 15).
That winter in Indiana was so cold that people remembered it as the year of eighteen hundred and froze to death. The Lincolns settled on Little Pigeon Creek in Spencer County, about 16 miles from the Ohio River. While the family huddled in their lean-to through the freezing winter, Thomas and Abe worked every day building a log cabin. Abe was only eight years old, but very large for his age, and he quickly learned to swing an ax. They cut and hewed logs for a cabin 18 feet by 20, then chinked the logs with clay and grass(Nevins, 136). Once in a while the boy shot a wild turkey, for the family lived mostly on wild game, with a little corn.
He never became much of a hunter, however, as he did not like to shoot to kill. With Sarah he picked berries, nuts, and wild fruits for the family and trudged a mile to a spring for water. All around them was the unbroken wilderness. In the autumn of 1818 Nancy Hanks Lincoln died of the dread frontier disease called milk sickness(Bishop, 145). Sarah, only 11 years old, took over the cooking and cabin chores while Thomas and young Abe cut timber to clear farm land. After a year the little family was in sorry shape. They needed a womans help.
Thomas rode back to Elizabethtown, Ky. nd married a widow, Sarah Bush Johnston, whom he had known since boyhood. He brought her and her three children to the shabby little log cabin in Indiana. Sarah made Thomas send the Abe to school. There was no regular teacher. When some man came along who knew a little about the three Rs, he might teach the boys and girls for a few weeksusually in the winter when farm work was slack. Whenever school kept at Pigeon Creek, Abe hiked four miles each way, his cowhide boots sloshing in the snow(Kane, 33). He did not mind this long, uncomfortable hike to and from school because he was glad to be learning.
All subjects fascinated him. In all his life his schooling did not add up to a year, but he made up for it by reading(Freedman, 197). A cousin, Dennis Hanks, who came to live with the Lincolns, said: I never seen Abe after he was 12 that he didnt have a book somewheres around. By the time Abe was 14 he would often read at night by the light of the log fire. His first books were the Bible, Aesops Fables, and Robinson Crusoe(Sandburg). He could never get enough to read. He said: The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man wholl get me a book I aint read.
Once he tramped nearly 20 miles to Rockport to borrow one. Always he kept teaching himself new things. He became interested in law. Borrowing a book on the laws of Indiana, he studied it long into the night. He strode miles to the nearest courthouse to hear lawyers try cases. He even crossed into Kentucky to listen in court. Every visit taught him more about the ways of lawyers and furnished him with new stories. Throughout his later life as a lawyer, politician, and statesman he shrewdly drew on this rich fund of stories to make a legal point or to win audiences.
When Abe was 19 he got his first chance to see something of the outside world. James Gentry, the owner of the country store, hired him to take a flatboat of cargo to New Orleans, then a wealthy city of some 40,000 people(Sloate, 56). With Gentrys son, Allen, Abe cut timber, hewed great planks, and built a flatboat called a broadhorn(Simon, 38). In New Orleans Abe saw his first auction of slaves. At that time slavery was lawful in all the United States south of the Ohio River. The tall, thoughtful young man winced at the sight of slave gangs in chains being marched off to plantations.
Later he said, Slavery is a continual torment to me. (Nevins, 201) Back from New Orleans, Abe clerked part time at Gentrys country store and helped his father get ready to move to Illinois. The Indiana farm had not been a success. Through the winter the men built wagons and chests and made yokes and harness. In March 1830 they started their 200-mile trek. The family settled on the Sangamon River, some ten miles southwest of Decatur, Ill. Once more Abe helped to clear a farm. With a cousin, John Hanks, he then split 3,000 rails to fence some neighbors land(Freedman, 274). He was truly right handy with an ax.
His feats with an ax on the Illinois prairie led his political supporters to call him, later in life, the rail splitter. Even in his last years, as president, he could hold an ax straight out at arms lengthsomething very few young men could do. Tales sprang up fast about Lincoln in the New Salem days. People spoke about his strict honesty and his giant strength. Some told how he once walked six miles to give back a few pennies to a woman who had overpaid for dry goods(Lee, 56). Whenever a settler bought furs, or an oxen yoke, gun, tea, or salt knew he would get his moneys worth from honest Abe.
He would also enjoy a laugh at one of Abes stories. When the Black Hawk War broke out in April 1832 Lincoln and the Clarys Grove men enlisted(Bryan, 189). The war was a series of border raids by Sauk and Fox Indians led by chief Black Hawk. They crossed from Iowa into Illinois and attacked and scalped settlers. The Clarys Grove men elected Lincoln captain of their rifle company. The honor pleased him, but he knew nothing about military life. Once he could not think of the order he should give to march his company through a gate in formation.
Scratching his head, he finally commanded: Halt! is company will break ranks for two minutes and form again on the other side of the gate. When Lincolns term of enlistment ended in 30 days he re-enlisted as a private. In all, he served three months. He never fought in a battle, but he twice saw the horror of bodies scalped by the Indians. His army experience, learned on long marches and in rough camps, taught him sympathy for soldiers hardships in the field. In later life, when he was commander in chief in the Civil War, he treated soldiers failings with great understanding. Just before the outbreak of the Black Hawk War, Lincoln had decided to run for the Illinois legislature.
After his war service he again started his campaign. He was 23 years old, lanky and so tall that his cheap linen pants never reached his ankles. His coarse black hair was always mussed and his dark-skinned face was already deeply lined. In the autumn of 1833 Lincoln gladly took an appointment as deputy county surveyor(Simon, 303). To learn the work, he plunged into books on surveying and mathematics. By studying all day, and sometimes all night, he learned surveying in six weeks. As he rode about the county, laying out roads and towns, he lived with different families and made new friends.
In 1834 Lincolns old friends in New Salem and his new friends throughout Sangamon County elected him to the Illinois General Assembly. They reelected him in 1836, 1838, and 1840(Bishop,99). Before his first term began in November 1834 he borrowed 200 dollars to pay the most pressing of his debts and to buy a suit for his new work(Bishop, 104). Encouraged by friends in the legislature, he determined to become a lawyer. Between terms he borrowed law books and returned them in New Salem in order to study. Often he walked the 20 mile round trip between Springfield and New Salem just to return one law book and to get another.
In 1847 Lincoln went to Washington, D. C. , as a representative from Illinois. The Mexican War was on. Lincoln opposed it. His antiwar speeches displeased his political supporters. He knew they would not reelect him. At the end of his term in 1849 he returned to Springfield. He sought an appointment as commissioner in the General Land Office in Washington, but failed to get it. Later that year he was offered the governorship of the Oregon Territory. He refused, convinced that he was now a failure in politics. Returning to the law, he again rode the circuit, which kept him away from home nearly six months of each year.
He missed his family but loved the easy comradeship of fellow lawyers staying in country inns and delighted in the sharp give-and-take in court. Wherever he went he could make the jury and courtroom weep or split their sides with laughter. Even more important to his success was his reputation for honesty. Honest Abe would not take a case unless he believed in his clients innocence or rights(Kane, 296). He became an outstanding lawyer. The threat of slavery being extended brought Lincoln back into politics in 1854(Nevins, 203). He did not suggest interfering with slavery in states where it was already lawful.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, however, enabled the people of each new territory to vote on whether the territory would be slave or free, thus threatening to extend slavery. Lincoln began a series of speeches protesting the act. His huge hands tensely gripping the speakers stand, he declared slowly and firmly: A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolvedI do not expect the house to fallbut I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing, or all the other. (Freedman, 256). Lincolns opponent in the senatorial election was Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat and Lincolns old-time acquaintance in Springfield. Douglas was running for reelection and had supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln challenged him to a series of debates on the slavery issue Although he overwhelmed Douglas in the debates, Lincoln lost the election. The debates, however, enlarged the public interest in Lincoln and began earning him a national reputation. The Democratic party was split, with the North nominating Stephen A. Douglas, and Southern Democrats naming John C. Breckinridge.
Throughout the furious campaign Lincoln stayed quietly in Springfield, directing party leaders from a makeshift little office in the Capitol. He even carried his own mail back and forth from the post office. To avoid stirring up controversy and perhaps splitting the Republicans, he did not make a single political speech. His strategy won. Lincoln was elected 16th president of the United States. He had 1,865,593 votes. Douglas had 1,382,713, and Breckinridge, 848,356. (Sloate, 163) Honest Abe was the first Republican to become president.
In his inaugural address Lincoln assured the South that he would respect its rights, that there was no need of war. He said: I have no purpose … to interfere with the institution of slavery in states where it exists…. In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war…. We must not be enemies. (Sandburg, 157) Less than six weeks later, on April 12, 1861, the Civil War began . Abraham Lincoln shouldered the giant task of bringing the rebel states back into the national family and preserving the Union.
He wrote: My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it…. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free. (Nevins, 201)Lincoln was a strong president. At first his deliberate thinking and extraordinary patience deceived his Cabinet into thinking him uncertain.
Several Cabinet members had strong political ambitions and feuded with each other. However, they all could serve the nation well, and so Lincoln patiently smoothed their differences and held them together with his great tact. He wanted their help, not their praise. For months he had trouble finding capable generals to lead the Union forces. As with his Cabinet, he gave Gen. George B. McClellan and others every chance to prove themselves . When McClellan continued to delay attacking the Confederate forces, Lincoln said wryly, Hes got the slows. (Bishop, 245)
When he found a capable general, such as Ulysses S. Grant, he supported him steadfastly despite great criticism . For the greater part of the war most of the newspapers and people bitterly criticized Lincolns policies. He never took the time to defend himself, convinced that he was doing what was right for the Union. No one felt the tragedy of the war more than he. When Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Toms Cabin, met him, he said tiredly, Whichever way the conflict ends, I have the impression that I shant last long after its over. (Lee, 247) What little relaxation he got came from his sense of humor, occasional walks and horseback rides, and his companionship with Tad.
Frequently he startled his Cabinet with humorous stories, explaining, I have to get away from myself and this tiredness in me. (Oates, 253) His beloved Tad, the impish youngster with a lisp, could always make his father smile. Nearly every night he stayed in his fathers office until he fell asleep. Lincoln then carried him up to bed. During 1862 Lincoln struggled with the problem of freeing the slaves. He knew that the slavery question must be settled if the United States, founded on the principles of liberty and equal rights for all, were to survive as a nation.
He realized that the Union must be preserved, as a free nationif democratic government was to succeed in the world. With all the foresight he could muster, he worked out a plan to free the slaves(Sandburg, 289). His Cabinet approved issuing the proclamation after the next Union victory. The summer passed with no victory. Then on Sept. 17, 1862, the Unions forces stopped the advancing Confederate armies at Antietam. On Sept. 22, 1862, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the most important messages in the history of the world and signed it Jan. 1, 1863(Bishop, 291).
When he gave his inaugural address March 4, 1865, the end of the war was in sight. He looked forward to welcoming the Southern states back into the Union and to making their readjustment as easy as possible. He expressed that thought in these words, With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nations wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Little more than a month later, on April 9, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate army to Gen. U. S. Grant. On April 11 the Stars and Stripes of the United States were raised over Fort Sumter, where the war had begun(Sloate, 212). To celebrate the end of the war, Lincoln took Mary and two guests to Fords Theatre on the night of April 14. During the third act of the play, Our American Cousin, John Wilkes Booth, a young actor who was proslavery, crept into the presidential box and shot Lincoln in the head.
Booth then leapt onto the stage, and, brandishing a dagger, he escaped. He was shot and killed on April 26 in a Virginia tobacco barn when soldiers and detectives surrounded and set fire to it. Soldiers carried the unconscious president across the street to the nearest residence, a boardinghouse. There, stretched diagonally on a bed too small for his long body, he died without regaining consciousness at 7:22 in the morning. It was April 15, 1865–28 years to the day since he had left New Salem(Nevins, 225).
As the Great Emancipator died, Secretary of War Stanton said softly, Now he belongs to the ages. A funeral train carried the presidents body back home to Springfield, Ill. , where he lies buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery. Only after his death did the world come to realize Lincolns greatness. He was a superb statesman, a firm idealist who would not be swayed from the right course of action, a man of kindly and brave patience, and a believer in what he called the family of man.