Pre-Presidential Political Career 1830-1860

Lincoln spent 6 important years in New Salem. Defeated for office, he turned to storekeeping, then was appointed postmaster, became a surveyor, and plunged into law studies. In 1834 he was elected to the legislature as a Whig, where he denounced slavery as "founded on both injustice and bad policy" but opposed the spread of abolition societies. Three Years later Lincoln moved to Springfield, the new State capital. Licensed an attorney the year before, he formed a partnership with the able John T. Stuart and soon dipped into local politics. After marrying Mary Todd, a Kentucky belle, in 1842, he settled down in earnest to the law.

From 1847-49 Lincoln served in Congress. He worked hard in office, but his opposition to the Mexican War proved notably unpopular back home, and he was passed over for renomination. Sadly he returned to Springfield, and resumed his law practice. Honest, shrewd, and effective before juries, he soon rose to the first rank of the Illinois bar.

Over the next 5 years Lincoln devoted much time to studying the issue of slavery. Roused by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, he emerged from political retirement to grapple with Stephen A. Douglas, who advocated in Congress doctrines that would allow the introduction of slavery into the western territories. Their first skirmish came in 1854. Arguing that slavery should be restrained to its present domain, Lincoln marshaled history and logic to counter Douglas' theory of "popular sovereignty." It was the first great speech of his career. Two years later, another address, this time to a State Convention of the new Republican party, again brought him wide attention. He was now enough of a national figure to be seriously considered for the Republican vice-presidential nomination In 1858 Lincoln challenged Douglas for his Senate seat. For 3 months they ranged Illinois debating the issue of freedom in the territories. Lincoln exposed the inconsistencies in Douglas' arguments, while disavowing abolitionism himself. Douglas won the election, but the contest lifted the tall prairie lawyer once more

Early in 1860 Lincoln journeyed east to lecture in New York City. He called for the exclusion of slavery from the territories, deplored efforts to destroy the Union, and urged friendship toward the South. The speech was a triumph, and the number of his supporters grew. When his rivals proved weak in the national convention, Lincoln was nominated for the Presidency on the third ballot.

From his doorstep in Springfield Lincoln ran a quiet campaign, receiving delegations and political leaders while avoiding speeches and stumping. In November 1860 the Nation voted. Lincoln won a large electoral majority (180 votes to 123 for his three opponents), but he polled less than half of the popular vote. The South voted almost solidly against him.

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Last updated: April 10, 2015

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