Abraham Lincoln

Photo of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Library of Congress

Quick Facts

Significance:
16th President of the United States
Place of Birth:
Hodgenville, KY
Date of Birth
February 12, 1809
Place of Death:
Washington, DC
Date of Death
April 15, 1865
Place of Burial:
Springfield, IL
Cemetery Name
Oak Grove Cemetery

Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 on small farm in the wilderness near Hodgenville, Ky. Due to the remoteness of his upbringing and lack of available public education, Lincoln was mostly self-educated. In 1836, after years of study, he qualified as a lawyer and went to work in a law practice in Springfield, Ill. He sat in the Illinois state legislature from 1834 to 1842, and in 1846 was elected to Congress, representing the Whig Party for a two-year term. In 1856, he joined the new Republican Party and in 1858 he ran as their candidate for the U.S. Senate. Though he lost the election, his series of debates with Stephen A. Douglas thrust him into the national spotlight and in 1860 he was nominated as the Republican candidate for president.

In the presidential campaign, Lincoln made his opposition to slavery very clear. His victory provoked a crisis for the southern states, with many fearing that he would attempt to abolish slavery. Seven southern states left the Union to form the Confederate States of America even before Lincoln was inaugurated. After the firing on and surrender of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteer to put down the rebellion and four more states joined the Confederacy. Lincoln vowed to preserve the Union even if it meant war.

In the early months of the war, Lincoln maintained that the war was a struggle only to save the Union. In January of 1863, however, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in areas still under Confederate control, an important symbolic gesture that identified changed the Union's war aims to include the abolition of slavery.

In the effort to win the war, Lincoln assumed more power than any president before him, declaring martial law and suspending legal rights. He had difficulty finding effective generals to lead the Union armies until the appointment of Ulysses S Grant as overall commander in 1864.

By the beginning of his second term in March 1865, the war was clearly in its final days and in his inaugural address Lincoln summed up the policy he would follow in rebuilding the Union: "With malice towards none, with charity for all..." Soon thereafter, on April 9, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate armies in Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War. Less than a week later, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a pro-Confederate sympathizer, while attending a performance at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., and died the next morning, April 15, 1865.