Abraham Lincoln

16th President, 1861-1865

Early Life and Pre-presidency

Abraham Lincoln Portrait by George Story, ca. 1915

Abraham Lincoln Portrait by George Story, ca. 1915

  • Born on February 12, 1809 in Hardin County, Kentucky.
  • Parents: Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. Siblings: Sarah and Thomas.
  • The family moved to the frontier in Perry (now Spencer) County, Indiana when Lincoln was 7 years old.
  • His mother died when he was 9 years old and his father married the widow Sarah Bush Johnston with whom Lincoln became close.
  • His education was irregular, as schools were rare in the frontier, and amounted to a total of about one year. Still, it was enough for him to be able to “read, write, and cipher.” He was self-educated and a voracious reader, teaching himself law.
  • His family relocated to Coles County, Illinois in 1831. Lincoln helped his father build a log cabin. At the age of 22 he left the family to strike out on his own.
  • Settled in New Salem, Illinois where he worked in a general store that he partly owned. While operating the store, Lincoln continued his self-education by borrowing books from the locals.
  • In 1832, six months after arriving, he ran for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. He was unable to campaign because he volunteered with the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War in 1832. His regiment saw no action so he returned to New Salem. With little time left to campaign, he lost the election. He then decided to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1835. Afterward, he moved to Springfield, Illinois.
  • Ran again for a seat in the Illinois legislature in 1834 as a member of the Whig Pary and won. He served from 1835 to 1840.
  • In the Illinois state legislature, he expressed his strong opposition to slavery, although at the time he did not believe in granting citizenship and voting rights to blacks.
  • Retired from the Illionois state legislature in 1841 and continued his law practice.
  • Married Mary Todd (1818–1882) on November 4, 1842. Children: Robert Todd (1843–1926), Edward Baker (1846–1850), William Wallace (1850–1862), and Thomas “Tad” (1853–1871).
  • Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846 as a Whig candidate and pledged to serve only one term. In the House, he voiced opposition to the Mexican–American War.
  • Returned to practicing law until 1854, then ran for the U.S. Senate but lost. After his loss, he left the Whig Party to join the newly formed Republican Party that was opposed to slavery and the expansion of slavery in the new territories.
  • He ran again for the U.S. Senate in 1858. His opponent was the powerful incumbent Democrat Stephen Douglas. The Lincoln–Douglas debates became nationally famous and earned Lincoln the Republican Party nomination for President in the 1860 election. He went on to win the Presidency.


Lincoln at age 54 Daguerrotype by Alexander Gardner

Lincoln at age 54
Daguerrotype by Alexander Gardner

  • Took his oath of office on March 4, 1861 at the East Portico, U.S. Capitol.
  • By the time Lincoln took office, 7 states had declared secession and formed the Confederate States of America with their own constitution, President, and Vice President. In his inaugural address, his message to the South was, “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it.”
  • When confederates fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, where a federal installation was being maintained,they forced its commander, Major Robert Anderson, to surrender in April 1861, officially beginning the Civil War.
  • Signed into law two Acts that were unrelated to the Civil War. The Homestead Act of 1862 granted public lands to small farmers that they could later purchase. The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 transferred federal lands to states to be used for the establishment of higher education institutions. These would later form the state university system.
  • Suspended the writ of habeas corpus and decreed that disloyal acts by people would be subjected to punishment. Secessionist mobs and politicians were arrested and imprisoned without a trial.
  • Issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, to be put into effect on January 1, 1863. The Proclamation declared that all slaves in Confederate territory “shall be…forever free.”
  • The Emancipation Proclamation freed thousands of slaves, who then enlisted in the Union Army together with free blacks from northern states. More than 180,000 black soldiers enlisted with about 150,000 of them being former slaves who had rushed to the Union lines.
  • Lincoln signed a conscription law in 1863 that required men to serve in the military, but two-thirds of the new soldiers were actually volunteers. Soldiers served for either ninety days and could re-enlist or served for the entire duration of the war.
  • To fund the war effort, Lincon appointed Salmon P. Chase his Secretary of Treasury (1861–1864). Chase insituted the first income tax in the United States, issued the first legal tender notes (then called “greenbacks”), and worked with Congress to bring back the central banking system. He also worked with bankers, industrialists, and merchants to sell bonds to the public. His efforts resulted in $2.6 billion dollars’ worth of bonds sold.
  • Delivered his Gettysburg Address during the dedication for the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg had the largest number of casualties during the entire Civil War.
  • Lincoln was re-elected in 1864 with a landslide of electoral votes and 55% of the popular vote.
  • To ensure that the Emancipation Proclamation would not be seen as merely a war proclamation then nullified when it ended, he pushed for a constitutional amendment that would ban slavery everywhere in the United States. On January 31, 1865, the House adopts the Thirteenth Amendment that would be ratified in December 1865.
  • Appointed Ulysses S. Grant commander of the Union armies and Major General William Sherman commander of the western armies. They planned an advance to the Confederacy capital Richmond, Virginia.
  • The Union armies successfully captured Richmond, Virginia and Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, who surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865 in Appomattox Court House, three miles from Appomattox, Virginia. His surrender effectively ended the Civil War.
  • Lincoln was sitting in the state box at Ford’s Theater seeing the play Our American Cousinon April 14, 1865 when John Wilkes Booth, a Southern sympathizer, crept from behind and shot the President in the back of the head. Lincoln died on the morning of April 15, 1865 from his injury.


Lincoln two months before his death Image by Alexander Gardner, Feb. 1865

Lincoln two months before his death
Image by Alexander Gardner, Feb. 1865

  • Lincoln’s body was carried back to the White House where he lay in repose in the East Room.
  • From April 19 to 21, his body lay in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. His final journey was a three-week train ride on the Lincoln Special funeral train from the Capital to Springfield, Illinois. The train stopped at many cities along the way for memorials that where attended by hundreds of thousands.
  • After Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater, he was carried to the Petersen House across the street where he was attended to but eventually died. The House and Ford’s Theater are part of the Ford’s Theater National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service. The room where Lincoln died was recreated to resemble the night he was brought there. The original blood-stained pillow and pillowcases are on display.
  • Booth fled the scene and was found 10 days later hiding in a barn in rural Virginia. The barn was set ablaze and Booth either shot himself or died in the shootout.
  • Four other people were convicted for aiding or for having known about the plot to assassinate Lincoln. They were hanged.
  • He is interred at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. He was initially interred in a temporary vault while work began on his tomb and memorial. His body and the body of his 3 sons were moved to the crypt of the unfinished memorial in 1871. The memorial was completed in 1874.
  • The Lincoln Tomb was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
  • In February 1914, construction began on what would become the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was completed in May, 1922. Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincon, then 79 years old, attended the dedication ceremony led by President William G. Harding.
  • Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. was designated a National Historic Site in 1932. The Museum beneath the theater contains artifacts from the night of Lincoln’s assassination, including the pistol that was used to shoot him.
  • The bed where Lincoln was laid at Petersen House is on display at Chicago History Museum along with other items from the bedroom.
  • Lincoln’s face is one of the four faces carved on Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. His face was dedicated on September 17, 1937.
  • The home that Lincoln bought in Springfield, Illinois, where he lived from 1844 to 1861 before moving to the White House, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The house was donated by Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, to the State of Illinois in 1887. The area surrounding the home, encompassing four blocks, has been preserved and forms the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
  • A memorial building sits on the site of Lincoln’s birthplace in Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky. The building was dedicated in 1911. Another site 10 miles away near Knob Creek, where the family moved when Lincoln was two, features a log cabin in the 19th-century style that sits on the approximate site of LIncoln’s original home. The two sites in Kentucky were redesignated as the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in 1859.
  • The farm in Indiana, where Lincoln’s family moved to when he was 7 years old and where he lived until he was 21, is now the Lincon Boyhood National Memorial. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
  • The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois opened in 2004 and 2005, respectively. They house many artifacts belonging to Lincoln and the American Civil War. The originial handwritten copy of his Gettysburg Address and a signed Emancipation Proclamation are on display here.