History Podcasts

Abraham Lincoln - Facts, Birthday and Assassination

Abraham Lincoln - Facts, Birthday and Assassination

Abraham Lincoln, a self-taught lawyer, legislator and vocal opponent of slavery, was elected 16th president of the United States in November 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. Lincoln proved to be a shrewd military strategist and a savvy leader: His Emancipation Proclamation paved the way for slavery’s abolition, while his Gettysburg Address stands as one of the most famous pieces of oratory in American history. In April 1865, with the Union on the brink of victory, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln’s assassination made him a martyr to the cause of liberty, and he is widely regarded as one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history.

Abraham Lincoln's Early Life

Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 to Nancy and Thomas Lincoln in a one-room log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. His family moved to southern Indiana in 1816. Lincoln’s formal schooling was limited to three brief periods in local schools, as he had to work constantly to support his family.

In 1830, his family moved to Macon County in southern Illinois, and Lincoln got a job working on a river flatboat hauling freight down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. After settling in the town of New Salem, Illinois, where he worked as a shopkeeper and a postmaster, Lincoln became involved in local politics as a supporter of the Whig Party, winning election to the Illinois state legislature in 1834.

Like his Whig heroes Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, Lincoln opposed the spread of slavery to the territories, and had a grand vision of the expanding United States, with a focus on commerce and cities rather than agriculture.

Lincoln taught himself law, passing the bar examination in 1836. The following year, he moved to the newly named state capital of Springfield. For the next few years, he worked there as a lawyer and serving clients ranging from individual residents of small towns to national railroad lines.

He met Mary Todd, a well-to-do Kentucky belle with many suitors (including Lincoln’s future political rival, Stephen Douglas), and they married in 1842. The Lincolns went on to have four children together, though only one would live into adulthood: Robert Todd Lincoln (1843–1926), Edward Baker Lincoln (1846–1850), William Wallace Lincoln (1850–1862) and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln (1853-1871).

READ MORE: The Grisly Murder Trial That Helped Raise Abraham Lincoln's National Profile

Abraham Lincoln Enter Politics

Lincoln won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846 and began serving his term the following year. As a congressman, Lincoln was unpopular with many Illinois voters for his strong stance against the Mexican-American War. Promising not to seek reelection, he returned to Springfield in 1849.

Events conspired to push him back into national politics, however: Douglas, a leading Democrat in Congress, had pushed through the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), which declared that the voters of each territory, rather than the federal government, had the right to decide whether the territory should be slave or free.

On October 16, 1854, Lincoln went before a large crowd in Peoria to debate the merits of the Kansas-Nebraska Act with Douglas, denouncing slavery and its extension and calling the institution a violation of the most basic tenets of the Declaration of Independence.

With the Whig Party in ruins, Lincoln joined the new Republican Party–formed largely in opposition to slavery’s extension into the territories–in 1856 and ran for the Senate again that year (he had campaigned unsuccessfully for the seat in 1855 as well). In June, Lincoln delivered his now-famous “house divided” speech, in which he quoted from the Gospels to illustrate his belief that “this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.”

Lincoln then squared off against Douglas in a series of famous debates; though he lost the Senate election, Lincoln’s performance made his reputation nationally.

Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 Presidential Campaign

Lincoln’s profile rose even higher in early 1860, after he delivered another rousing speech at New York City’s Cooper Union. That May, Republicans chose Lincoln as their candidate for president, passing over Senator William H. Seward of New York and other powerful contenders in favor of the rangy Illinois lawyer with only one undistinguished congressional term under his belt.

In the general election, Lincoln again faced Douglas, who represented the northern Democrats; southern Democrats had nominated John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky, while John Bell ran for the brand new Constitutional Union Party. With Breckenridge and Bell splitting the vote in the South, Lincoln won most of the North and carried the Electoral College to win the White House.

He built an exceptionally strong cabinet composed of many of his political rivals, including Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates and Edwin M. Stanton.

Lincoln and the Civil War

After years of sectional tensions, the election of an antislavery northerner as the 16th president of the United States drove many southerners over the brink. By the time Lincoln was inaugurated as 16th U.S. president in March 1861, seven southern states had seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.

Lincoln ordered a fleet of Union ships to supply the federal Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April. The Confederates fired on both the fort and the Union fleet, beginning the Civil War. Hopes for a quick Union victory were dashed by defeat in the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), and Lincoln called for 500,000 more troops as both sides prepared for a long conflict.

While the Confederate leader Jefferson Davis was a West Point graduate, Mexican War hero and former secretary of war, Lincoln had only a brief and undistinguished period of service in the Black Hawk War (1832) to his credit. He surprised many when he proved to be a capable wartime leader, learning quickly about strategy and tactics in the early years of the Civil War, and about choosing the ablest commanders.

General George McClellan, though beloved by his troops, continually frustrated Lincoln with his reluctance to advance, and when McClellan failed to pursue Robert E. Lee’s retreating Confederate Army in the aftermath of the Union victory at Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln removed him from command.

During the war, Lincoln drew criticism for suspending some civil liberties, including the right of habeas corpus, but he considered such measures necessary to win the war.

Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address

Shortly after the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, and freed all of the enslaved people in the rebellious states not under federal control, but left those in the border states (loyal to the Union) in bondage.

Though Lincoln once maintained that his “paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery,” he nonetheless came to regard emancipation as one of his greatest achievements, and would argue for the passage of a constitutional amendment outlawing slavery (eventually passed as the 13th Amendment after his death in 1865).

Two important Union victories in July 1863–at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania–finally turned the tide of the war. General George Meade missed the opportunity to deliver a final blow against Lee’s army at Gettysburg, and Lincoln would turn by early 1864 to the victor at Vicksburg, Ulysses S. Grant, as supreme commander of the Union forces.

READ MORE: 5 Things You May Not Know About Abraham Lincoln, Slavery and Emancipation

In November 1863, Lincoln delivered a brief speech (just 272 words) at the dedication ceremony for the new national cemetery at Gettysburg. Published widely, the Gettysburg Address eloquently expressed the war’s purpose, harking back to the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence and the pursuit of human equality. It became the most famous speech of Lincoln’s presidency, and one of the most widely quoted speeches in history.

Abraham Lincoln Wins 1864 Presidential Election

In 1864, Lincoln faced a tough reelection battle against the Democratic nominee, the former Union General George McClellan, but Union victories in battle (especially General William T. Sherman’s capture of Atlanta in September) swung many votes the president’s way. In his second inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1865, Lincoln addressed the need to reconstruct the South and rebuild the Union: “With malice toward none; with charity for all.”

As Sherman marched triumphantly northward through the Carolinas after staging his March to the Sea from Atlanta, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9. Union victory was near, and Lincoln gave a speech on the White House lawn on April 11, urging his audience to welcome the southern states back into the fold. Tragically, Lincoln would not live to help carry out his vision of Reconstruction.

Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination

On the night of April 14, 1865 the actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth slipped into the president’s box at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and shot him point-blank in the back of the head. Lincoln was carried to a boardinghouse across the street from the theater, but he never regained consciousness, and died in the early morning hours of April 15, 1865.

Lincoln’s assassination made him a national martyr. On April 21, 1865, a train carrying his coffin left Washington, D.C. on its way to Springfield, Illinois, where he would be buried on May 4. Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train traveled through 180 cities and seven states so mourners could pay homage to the fallen president.

Today, Lincoln’s birthday—alongside the birthday of George Washington—is honored on President’s Day, which falls on the third Monday of February.

Abraham Lincoln Quotes

“Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time.”

“I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”

“I am rather inclined to silence, and whether that be wise or not, it is at least more unusual nowadays to find a man who can hold his tongue than to find one who cannot.”

“I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.”

“This is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men -- to lift artificial weights from all shoulders -- to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all -- to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

“This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


Lincoln–Kennedy coincidences urban legend

Claimed coincidences connecting U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy are a piece of American folklore of unknown origin. The list of coincidences appeared in the mainstream American press in 1964, a year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, having appeared prior to that in the GOP Congressional Committee Newsletter. [1] [2] Martin Gardner examined the list in an article in Scientific American, later reprinted in his book, The Magic Numbers of Dr. Matrix. [3] Gardner's version of the list contained 16 items many subsequent versions have circulated much longer lists. The list is still in circulation today, having endured in the popular imagination for over 50 years. In 1992, the Skeptical Inquirer ran a "Spooky Presidential Coincidences Contest." One winner found a series of sixteen similar coincidences between Kennedy and former Mexican President Álvaro Obregón, while the other came up with similar lists for twenty-one pairs of U.S. presidents. [4]

American Civil War

President Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth. He was the first president of the United States to be assassinated.

Where was Lincoln killed?

President Lincoln was attending a play called Our American Cousin at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C. He was sitting in the Presidential Box with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and their guests Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris.

Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre which was not
too far from the White House.
Photo by Ducksters

When the play reached a point where there was a big joke and the audience laughed loudly, John Wilkes Booth entered President Lincoln's box and shot him in the back of the head. Major Rathbone tried to stop him, but Booth stabbed Rathbone. Then Booth jumped from the box and fled. He was able to get outside the theatre and onto his horse to escape.

President Lincoln was carried to William Petersen's boarding house across the street. There were several doctors with him, but they could not help him. He died on April 15, 1865.

Booth used this small pistol to
shoot Lincoln at close range.
Photo by Ducksters

John Wilkes Booth was a Confederate sympathizer. He felt that the war was ending and that the South was going to lose unless they did something drastic. He gathered some partners together and first made a plan to kidnap President Lincoln. When his kidnapping plan failed he turned to assassination.

The plan was that Booth would kill the president while Lewis Powell would assassinate the Secretary of State William H. Seward and George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson. Although Booth was successful, fortunately Powell was unable to kill Seward and Atzerodt lost his nerve and never attempted to assassinate Andrew Johnson.

Booth was cornered in a barn south of Washington where he was shot by soldiers after he refused to surrender. The other conspirators were caught and several were hanged for their crimes.

Wanted poster for the conspirators.
Photo by Ducksters

The Petersen House
is located directly across
the street from the Ford's Theater

Photo by Ducksters

The assassination of Lincoln

At Ford’s Theatre Booth made his way to the private box in which Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, were watching the play with their guests, Clara Harris and her fiancé, Union officer Maj. Henry Rathbone (there because a number of more prominent people had declined the Lincolns’ invitation). Finding the president’s box essentially unguarded, Booth entered it and barred the outside door from inside. Then, at a moment in the play that he knew would elicit a big laugh, Booth burst in through the box’s inner door. He shot Lincoln in the back of the head once with a .44 calibre derringer, slashed Rathbone in the shoulder with a knife, and leapt from the box to the stage below, breaking his left leg in the fall (though some believe that injury did not occur until later). What Booth said while committing the attack and when he said it are a matter of some dispute. Audience members variously reported that he exclaimed, “Sic semper tyrannis” (“Thus always to tyrants,” the state motto of Virginia) or “The South is avenged!” or both, before disappearing through a door at the side of the stage where his horse was being held for him. On the other hand, in a note written a few days after the assassination, Booth claimed that he had shouted “Sic semper” before he fired (though it seems likely that this was Booth’s attempt at dramatizing history). In any case, Booth rode off into the night and out of Washington, meeting up in Maryland with Herold, who had fled the scene of the Seward attack without Powell.

Lincoln was attended to immediately by several doctors who were in the audience. It was felt that the president should not be moved far, so he was taken across the street to the house of William Petersen, who rented extra rooms to lodgers. In one of those rooms Lincoln was laid diagonally across a bed, for which he was otherwise too tall. Doctors had little hope that the unconscious Lincoln would recover, and throughout the night various cabinet members, officials, and physicians kept vigil in the small room. Mary grieved hysterically. When Lincoln was pronounced dead at 7:22 am on April 15, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton famously pronounced, “Now he belongs to the ages” (or “to the angels” witnesses disagree).

Childhood and youth

In December 1816, faced with a lawsuit challenging the title to his Kentucky farm, Thomas Lincoln moved with his family to southwestern Indiana. There, as a squatter on public land, he hastily put up a “half-faced camp”—a crude structure of logs and boughs with one side open to the weather—in which the family took shelter behind a blazing fire. Soon he built a permanent cabin, and later he bought the land on which it stood. Abraham helped to clear the fields and to take care of the crops but early acquired a dislike for hunting and fishing. In afteryears he recalled the “panther’s scream,” the bears that “preyed on the swine,” and the poverty of Indiana frontier life, which was “pretty pinching at times.” The unhappiest period of his boyhood followed the death of his mother in the autumn of 1818. As a ragged nine-year-old, he saw her buried in the forest, then faced a winter without the warmth of a mother’s love. Fortunately, before the onset of a second winter, Thomas Lincoln brought home from Kentucky a new wife for himself, a new mother for the children. Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, a widow with two girls and a boy of her own, had energy and affection to spare. She ran the household with an even hand, treating both sets of children as if she had borne them all but she became especially fond of Abraham, and he of her. He afterward referred to her as his “angel mother.”

His stepmother doubtless encouraged Lincoln’s taste for reading, yet the original source of his desire to learn remains something of a mystery. Both his parents were almost completely illiterate, and he himself received little formal education. He once said that, as a boy, he had gone to school “by littles”—a little now and a little then—and his entire schooling amounted to no more than one year’s attendance. His neighbours later recalled how he used to trudge for miles to borrow a book. According to his own statement, however, his early surroundings provided “absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education. Of course, when I came of age I did not know much. Still, somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the rule of three but that was all.” Apparently the young Lincoln did not read a large number of books but thoroughly absorbed the few that he did read. These included Parson Weems’s Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington (with its story of the little hatchet and the cherry tree), Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Aesop’s Fables. From his earliest days he must have had some familiarity with the Bible, for it doubtless was the only book his family owned.

In March 1830 the Lincoln family undertook a second migration, this time to Illinois, with Lincoln himself driving the team of oxen. Having just reached the age of 21, he was about to begin life on his own. Six feet four inches tall, he was rawboned and lanky but muscular and physically powerful. He was especially noted for the skill and strength with which he could wield an ax. He spoke with a backwoods twang and walked in the long-striding, flat-footed, cautious manner of a plowman. Good-natured though somewhat moody, talented as a mimic and storyteller, he readily attracted friends. But he was yet to demonstrate whatever other abilities he possessed.

After his arrival in Illinois, having no desire to be a farmer, Lincoln tried his hand at a variety of occupations. As a rail-splitter, he helped to clear and fence his father’s new farm. As a flatboatman, he made a voyage down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, Louisiana. (This was his second visit to that city, his first having been made in 1828, while he still lived in Indiana.) Upon his return to Illinois he settled in New Salem, a village of about 25 families on the Sangamon River. There he worked from time to time as storekeeper, postmaster, and surveyor. With the coming of the Black Hawk War (1832), he enlisted as a volunteer and was elected captain of his company. Afterward he joked that he had seen no “live, fighting Indians” during the war but had had “a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes.” Meanwhile, aspiring to be a legislator, he was defeated in his first try and then repeatedly reelected to the state assembly. He considered blacksmithing as a trade but finally decided in favour of the law. Already having taught himself grammar and mathematics, he began to study law books. In 1836, having passed the bar examination, he began to practice law.

Five facts about… the assassination of Abraham Lincoln

On the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, History Revealed brings you five facts about the president's death.

This competition is now closed

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, legally freeing the slaves, and ended the brutally violent Civil War. But on 14 April 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln while he sat in Ford’s Theatre watching the comedy, Our American Cousin, making him the first American president to be assassinated.

Here are five fascinating facts about the death of Lincoln.

Break a leg

After shooting Lincoln in his private box, John Wilkes Booth leapt on to the stage, breaking his leg. He shouted to the audience, ‘Sic semper tyrannis’, which means, ‘Thus always to tyrants’, the Virginia state motto. He escaped Ford’s Theatre but after ten days was tracked down to a farm in Virginia. After a brief standoff, he was shot in the neck and died of his wounds three hours later.

Where was the bodyguard?

Abraham Lincoln only had one bodyguard, a policeman called John Parker who was not at his post when the President was shot. At the intermission, he had left the theatre to go to a nearby saloon with Lincoln’s coachman.

Secret service

Parker’s fatal neglect is made worse by the fact that Lincoln had created the Secret Service on the same day he was killed. It was originally formed to tackle counterfeiting, not its role today of protecting the President, but the Secret Service did save Lincoln in a way. In 1876, it foiled an attempt to steal Lincoln’s body.

Time of death

Although he was shot in the head at point blank range, Lincoln did not die immediately. He was taken across the street to Petersen House and died nine hours later. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was by Lincoln’s side when he died remarking, “Now he belongs to the ages”.

Strange coincidences

In a bizarre twist, the brother of John Wilkes Booth saved the life of Lincoln’s son months before the assassination. Robert Lincoln had fallen on to a train track in Jersey City, New Jersey, as the train was leaving the station when Edwin Booth pulled him to safety.

10 facts about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination

It was on this day in 1865 that President Abraham Lincoln was shot while watching a play at Ford&rsquos Theater. Lincoln died the next morning, and in the aftermath, some odd facts seemed to pop up.

Why wasn&rsquot General Ulysses S. Grant in the theater box with Lincoln, as scheduled? Where was the President&rsquos bodyguard? How many people were targeted in the plot? And how did all the assassins escape, at least temporarily?

Many of the questions were eventually answered, but some still linger today. And some people have doubts about one of the alleged plotters and her involvement in Lincoln&rsquos murder.

1. Where was General Grant?

He wanted to be in New Jersey! Grant was advertised to be at the event, according to the New York Times, but he declined the invitation so he could travel with his wife to New Jersey to visit relatives.

2. Lincoln almost didn&rsquot go to Ford&rsquos Theater

In that first report of the assassination from the Times, the newspaper said Lincoln was reluctant to go to the play. However, since General Grant canceled, he felt obliged to attend, even though his wife didn&rsquot feel well. Lincoln tried to get House Speaker Schuyler Colfax to go with him, but Colfax declined.

&ldquoHe went with apparent reluctance and urged Mr. Colfax to go with him, but that gentleman had made other engagements,&rdquo the Times reported.

3. If Colfax had been in the booth with Lincoln, two persons in line to succeed Lincoln would have been in danger.

Vice President Andrew Johnson was also an assassination target, but his assailant lost his nerve and didn&rsquot attack. Colfax was third in line to succeed Lincoln, after Johnson, and Senate Pro Tempore Lafayette Sabine Foster. Secretary of State William Seward wasn&rsquot in the line of succession in 1865.

4. Why wasn&rsquot Vice President Johnson attacked?

John Wilkes Booth had convinced George Atzerodt, an acquaintance, to kill Johnson by setting a trap at the Kirkwood House hotel where the Vice President lived. However, Atzerodt lost his nerve and didn&rsquot attempt to kill Johnson, even though he had a rented room above Johnson&rsquos, and a loaded gun was found in the room.

5. How did Secretary of State Seward survive despite having his throat stabbed two or three times?

Assassin Lewis Powell gained entry to Seward&rsquos home, where the secretary was bedridden after a carriage accident. Frederick W. Seward, his son, was seriously injured defending his father during Powell&rsquos assassination attempt. The secretary was wounded, but the metal surgical collar he was wearing protected him.

6. Where was Lincoln&rsquos bodyguard?

The Smithsonian Magazine did a story on this a few years ago. John Parker, the bodyguard, initially left his position to watch the play, and then he went to the saloon next door for intermission. It was the same saloon where Booth was drinking. No one knows where Parker was during the assassination, but he wasn&rsquot at his position at the door to the booth.

7. Where was the Secret Service?

It didn&rsquot exist yet. The Secret Service was originally created in July 1865 to combat counterfeiters and its job of protecting the president became full-time after President William McKinley's assassination in 1901.

8. How did Booth stay in hiding for so long?

Booth was able to escape Ford&rsquos Theater alive, and he was on the run for 12 days, accompanied by another conspirator, David Herold. The pair went to the Surratt Tavern in Maryland, gathered supplies, went to see Dr. Mudd to have Booth&rsquos broken leg set, and then headed through forest lands and swamps to Virginia. They were also aided by a former Confederate spy operative and by other Confederate sympathizers. Military forces were hot on their trail, and they found a person who directed them to a Virginia farm. At the Garrett Farm, Booth was fatally wounded, and Herold surrendered.

9. The original plan was to kidnap Lincoln, not kill him

Booth met with his conspirators in March 1865 and came up with a plan to kidnap Lincoln as he returned from a play at the Campbell Hospital on March 17. But Lincoln changed his plans at the last minute and went to a military ceremony. Booth then thought about kidnapping Lincoln after he left an event at Ford&rsquos Theater. But the actor changed his mind after Lee's surrender.

10. Was Mary Surratt part of the conspiracy?

That&rsquos a topic still being debated today. Surratt was a Southern sympathizer who had owned land with her late husband in Maryland. She also owned a home in Washington that was also used as a boarding house, and she was friends with Booth. She also rented a tavern she owned in Maryland to an innkeeper.

Surratt was with Booth on the day of the assassination, and she allegedly had told the innkeeper to get a pair of guns ready that night for visitors. The innkeeper&rsquos testimony doomed Surratt to the gallows. What was controversial was the decision to hang Surratt &ndash a decision personally approved by President Andrew Johnson.

Turn the pages of America&rsquos political history and you are sure to find one man who outshines others and attracts the attention of all &ndash Abraham Lincoln! Nicknamed Honest Abe or Father Abraham, Lincoln was, by far, one of the most powerful and greatest presidents that America has ever witnessed. Rising from a modest and humble beginning, it was his sheer determination and honest effort that led him to the nation&rsquos highest office. An astute politician and proficient lawyer, he played a vital role in the unification of the states. Leading from the front, he played a prominent role in abolishing slavery from the country, eventually giving people equal rights, irrespective of caste, color, or creed. He not only envisioned but actually brought to the forefront a truly democratic government which was led by the concept &lsquoby the people, of the people and for the people.&rsquo What&rsquos more, Lincoln led the country when it faced its greatest constitutional, military, and moral crises. He not only emerged victorious but was also effective in strengthening the national government and modernizing the economy. He was a savior of the Union and an emancipator of the slaves. Just like his astonishing rise to the top-notch position and his eventual governance, his death was equally astounding as he became the first US president ever to be assassinated. Since awards and honors did not exist at the time, Abraham Lincoln was never felicitated with awards and honors. However, he is considered one of the top three presidents of the United States. As per the presidential ranking polls conducted since 1948, Lincoln has been rated at the top in the majority of polls.

Why is Abraham Lincoln considered as one of the greatest Presidents of the United States of America?

Abraham Lincoln led the country when it faced its greatest constitutional, military, and moral crises. America was faced with Civil War and secession of the southern states from the union. Abraham Lincoln successfully tackled these multiple challenges. He preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the U.S. economy.

Leading from the front, Abraham Lincoln played a prominent role in abolishing slavery from the country, eventually giving people equal rights, irrespective of caste, color or creed. He not only envisioned but actually brought to the forefront a truly democratic government which was led by the concept - &lsquoby the people, of the people and for the people.&rsquo

Abraham Lincoln was member of which political party?

Abraham Lincoln started his political career as Whig Party member and later on became a Republican. He entered the Illinois House of Representatives for Sangamon County on Whig Party ticket in 1834 and was the member of the state legislature till 1842. From 1847 to 1849, he represented Whig Party from Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1849, he left politics and returned to his law practice.

Abraham Lincoln re-entered politics in 1854, becoming a leader in the new Republican Party. He ran for the office of the President in 1860 and was elected on Republican Party's ticket. He was re-elected for a second term in 1864.

Why was Abraham Lincoln assassinated?

Abraham Lincoln&rsquos assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was a Confederate sympathiser. Just five days before Lincoln&rsquos assassination Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his massive army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, thus leading to the end of the American Civil War. With Lincoln&rsquos assassination John Wilkes Booth wanted to revive the Confederate cause. Booth was a supporter of slavery and believed that Lincoln was determined to overthrow the Constitution.

Lincoln’s Contested Legacy

From the time of his death in 1865 to the 200th anniversary of his birth, February 12, 2009, there has never been a decade in which Abraham Lincoln's influence has not been felt. Yet it has not been a smooth, unfolding history, but a jagged narrative filled with contention and revisionism. Lincoln's legacy has shifted again and again as different groups have interpreted him. Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites, East Coast elites and prairie Westerners, liberals and conservatives, the religious and secular, scholars and popularizers—all have recalled a sometimes startlingly different Lincoln. He has been lifted up by both sides of the Temperance Movement invoked for and against federal intervention in the economy heralded by anti-communists, such as Senator Joseph McCarthy, and by American communists, such as those who joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the fight against the fascist Spanish government in the 1930s. Lincoln has been used to justify support for and against incursions on civil liberties, and has been proclaimed both a true and a false friend to African-Americans. Was he at heart a "progressive man" whose death was an "unspeakable calamity" for African-Americans, as Frederick Douglass insisted in 1865? Or was he "the embodiment. of the American Tradition of racism," as African-American writer Lerone Bennett Jr. sought to document in a 2000 book?

It is often argued that Lincoln's abiding reputation is the result of his martyrdom. And certainly the assassination, occurring as it did on Good Friday, propelled him into reverential heights. Speaking at a commemoration at the Athenaeum Club in New York City on April 18, 1865, three days after Lincoln died, Parke Godwin, editor of the Evening Post, summed up the prevailing mood. "No loss has been comparable to his," Godwin said. "Never in human history has there been so universal, so spontaneous, so profound an expression of a nation's bereavement." He was the first American president to be assassinated, and waves of grief touched every type of neighborhood and every class—at least in the North. But the shock at the murder explains only part of the tidal wave of mourning. It is hard to imagine that the assassination of James Buchanan or Franklin Pierce would have had the same impact on the national psyche. The level of grief reflected who Lincoln was and what he had come to represent. "Through all his public function," Godwin said, "there shone the fact that he was a wise and good man. [He was] our supremest leader—our safest counsellor—our wisest friend—our dear father."

Not everyone agreed. Northern Democrats had been deeply opposed to Lincoln's wartime suspension of habeas corpus, which led to the imprisonment without trial of thousands of suspected traitors and war protesters. Though Lincoln had taken care to proceed constitutionally and with restraint, his opponents decried his "tyrannical" rule. But in the wake of the assassination even his critics were silent.

Across much of the South, of course, Lincoln was hated, even in death. Though Robert E. Lee and many Southerners expressed regret over the murder, others saw it as an act of Providence, and cast John Wilkes Booth as the bold slayer of an American tyrant. "All honor to J. Wilkes Booth," wrote Southern diarist Kate Stone (referring as well to the simultaneous, though not fatal, attack on Secretary of State William Seward): "What torrents of blood Lincoln has caused to flow, and how Seward has aided him in his bloody work. I cannot be sorry for their fate. They deserve it. They have reaped their just reward."

Four years after Lincoln's death, Massachusetts journalist Russell Conwell found widespread, lingering bitterness toward Lincoln in the ten former Confederate states that Conwell visited. "Portraits of Jeff Davis and Lee hang in all their parlors, decorated with Confederate flags," he wrote. "Photographs of Wilkes Booth, with the last words of great martyrs printed upon its borders effigies of Abraham Lincoln hanging by the neck. adorn their drawing rooms." The Rebellion here "seems not to be dead yet," Conwell concluded.

For their part, African-Americans' pangs of loss were tinged with fear for their future. Few promoted Lincoln's legacy more passionately than critic-turned-admirer Frederick Douglass, whose frustration at the presidency of Andrew Johnson kept growing. Lincoln was "a progressive man, a human man, an honorable man, and at heart an antislavery man," Douglass wrote in December 1865. "I assume. had Abraham Lincoln been spared to see this day, the negro of the South would have had more hope of enfranchisement." Ten years later, at the dedication of the Freedmen's Memorial in Washington, D.C., Douglass seemed to recant these words, calling Lincoln "preeminently the white man's President" and American blacks "at best only his step-children." But Douglass' purpose that day was to puncture the sentimentality of the occasion and to criticize the government's abandonment of Reconstruction. And in the final decades of his long life Douglass repeatedly invoked Lincoln as having embodied the spirit of racial progress.

Douglass' worries about America proved prophetic. By the 1890s, with the failure of Reconstruction and the advent of Jim Crow, Lincoln's legacy of emancipation lay in ruins. Regional reconciliation—the healing of the rift between North and South—had supplanted the nation's commitment to civil rights. In 1895, at a gathering of Union and Confederate soldiers in Chicago, the topics of slavery and race were set aside in favor of a focus on North-South reconciliation. As the 1909 centennial of Lincoln's birth approached, race relations in the country were reaching a nadir.

In August 1908, riots broke out in Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois, after a white woman, Mabel Hallam, claimed she had been raped by a local black man, George Richardson. (She later admitted to making up the story.) On Friday, August 14, two thousand white men and boys began to attack African-Americans and set fire to black businesses. "Lincoln freed you," rioters were heard to yell. "We'll show you where you belong." The next night, the mob approached the shop of William Donnegan, a 79-year-old African-American shoemaker who had made boots for Lincoln and at whose brother's barbershop Lincoln used to mingle with African-Americans. Setting fire to Donnegan's shop, the mob dragged the old man outside and pelted him with bricks, then slashed his throat. Still alive, he was dragged across the street into a school courtyard. There, not far from a statue of Abraham Lincoln, he was hoisted up a tree and left to die.

Horrified by the reports of such ugly violence, a group of New York City activists formed the National Negro Committee, soon to be renamed the NAACP, with a young scholar named W.E.B. Du Bois to serve as director of publicity and research. From its beginning, the organization's mission was intertwined with Lincoln's, as one of its early statements made clear: "Abraham Lincoln began the emancipation of the Negro American. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People proposes to complete it."

The centennial of Lincoln's birth marked the largest commemoration of any person in American history. The Lincoln penny was minted, the first coin bearing the image of an American president, and talks took place in Washington about a grand Lincoln monument to be erected in the nation's capital. All across the country, and in many nations around the world, America's 16th president was extolled. An editorial in the London Times declared, "Together with Washington, Lincoln occupies a pinnacle to which no third person is likely to attain." The commander of the Brazilian Navy ordered a 21-gun salute "in homage to the memory of that noble martyr of moral and of neighborly love." The former states of the Confederacy, which less than 50 years earlier had rejoiced at Lincoln's death, now paid tribute to the leader who had reunified the nation. W. C. Calland, a state official in Missouri—which, during the Civil War, had been a border state that contributed 40,000 troops to the Confederate cause—barely contained his astonishment in a memorandum reporting on the festivities: "Perhaps no event could have gathered around it so much of patriotic sentiment in the South as the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Confederate veterans held public services and gave public expression to the sentiment, that had ‘Lincoln lived' the days of reconstruction might have been softened and the era of good feeling ushered in earlier."

In most of America the celebrations were thoroughly segregated, including in Springfield, where blacks (with the exception of a declined invitation to Booker T. Washington) were excluded from a dazzling gala dinner. As the Chicago Tribune reported, it "is to be a lily white affair from start to finish." Across town, inside one of Springfield's most prominent black churches, African-Americans met for their own celebration. "We colored people love and revere the memory of Lincoln," said the Rev. L. H. Magee. "His name is a synonym for the freedom of wife, husband and children, and a chance to live in a free country, fearless of the slave-catcher and his bloodhounds." Referring to the "sacred dust of the great emancipator" lying in Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery, Magee called upon black people across America to make pilgrimages to Lincoln's tomb. And he cast his gaze forward a hundred years—to the bicentennial of 2009—and envisioned a Lincoln celebration "by the great-grandchildren of those who celebrate this centenary." In that far-off year, Magee predicted, "prejudice shall have been banished as a myth and relegated to the dark days of ‘Salem witchcraft.' "

A notable exception to the rule of segregated commemorations took place in Kentucky, where President Theodore Roosevelt, a longtime Lincoln admirer, presided over a dramatic ceremony at the old Lincoln homestead. Lincoln's birth cabin, of dubious provenance, had been purchased from promoters who had been displaying it around the country. Now the state, with Congressional support, planned to rebuild it on its original site, on a knoll above the Sinking Spring that had originally attracted Thomas Lincoln, the president's father, to the property. The 110-acre farmstead would become the "nation's commons," it was declared—a crossroads linking the entire country.

Seven thousand people showed up for the dedication, including a number of African-Americans, who mixed in among the others with no thought of separation. When Roosevelt began his speech he hopped onto a chair and was greeted by cheers. "As the years [roll] by," he said in his crisp, excitable voice, ". this whole Nation will grow to feel a peculiar sense of pride in the mightiest of the mighty men who mastered the mighty days the lover of his country and of all mankind the man whose blood was shed for the union of his people and for the freedom of a race: Abraham Lincoln." The ceremony in Kentucky heralded the possibility of national reconciliation and racial justice proceeding hand in hand. But that was not to be, as the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. 13 years later would make all too clear.

Members of the Lincoln Memorial commission—created by Congress in 1911—saw the monument not only as a tribute to the 16th president but also as a symbol of a reunified nation. With Northerners and Southerners having fought side by side in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and again in World War I, it was time, they felt, to put aside sectional differences once and for all. This meant that the Lincoln honored on the National Mall must not be the man who had broken the South militarily or had crushed the institution of slavery but the preserver of the Union. "By emphasizing his saving the Union you appeal to both sections," wrote Royal Cortissoz, author of the inscription that would be etched inside the finished building behind Daniel Chester French's nearly 20-foot-tall sculpture of the seated Lincoln. "By saying nothing about slavery you avoid the rubbing of old sores."

Two American presidents—Warren G. Harding and William Howard Taft—took part in the dedication ceremonies held on May 30, 1922, and loudspeakers on the memorial's rooftop carried the festivities across the Mall. Black guests were seated in a "colored section" off to the side. The commissioners had included a black speaker in the program not wanting an activist who might challenge the mostly white audience, they had chosen Robert Russa Moton, the mild-mannered president of Tuskegee Institute, and required him to submit his text in advance for revision. But in what turned out to be the most powerful speech of the day, Moton highlighted Lincoln's emancipationist legacy and challenged Americans to live up to their calling to be a people of "equal justice and equal opportunity."

In the days that followed, Moton's speech went almost entirely unreported. Even his name was dropped from the record—in most accounts Moton was referred to simply as "a representative of the race." African-Americans across the country were outraged. The Chicago Defender, an African-American weekly, urged a boycott of the Lincoln Memorial until it was properly dedicated to the real Lincoln. Not long afterward, at a large gathering in front of the monument, Bishop E.D.W. Jones, an African-American religious leader, insisted that "the immortality of the great emancipator lay not in his preservation of the Union, but in his giving freedom to the negroes of America."

In the decades since, the Lincoln Memorial has been the scene of many dramatic moments in history. A photograph of President Franklin D. Roosevelt taken at the memorial on February 12, 1938, shows him leaning against a military attaché, his hand on his heart. "I do not know which party Lincoln would belong to if he were alive," Roosevelt said two years later. "His sympathies and his motives of championship of humanity itself have made him for all centuries to come the legitimate property of all parties—of every man and woman and child in every part of our land." On April 9, 1939, after being denied the use of Constitution Hall in Washington because of her race, the great contralto Marian Anderson was invited to sing at the Lincoln Memorial. Seventy-five thousand people, black and white, gathered at the monument for an emotional concert that further linked Lincoln's memory to racial progress. Three years later, during the bleak days of World War II, when it seemed that the Allies might lose the war, Lincoln's memory served as a potent force of national encouragement. In July 1942, on an outdoor stage within view of the Lincoln Memorial, a powerful performance of Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" took place, with Carl Sandburg reading Lincoln's words, including "we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."

In 1957, a 28-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. came to the Lincoln Memorial to help lead a protest for black voting rights. "The spirit of Lincoln still lives," he had proclaimed before the protest. Six years later, in 1963, he returned for the March on Washington. The August day was bright and sunny, and more than 200,000 people, black and white, converged on the Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial. King's speech called Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation "a beacon of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been scarred in the flame of withering injustice." But it was not enough, he went on, simply to glorify the past. "One hundred years later we must face the tragic fact the Negro is still not free. is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chain of discrimination." And then he told the enraptured crowd, "I have a dream." Author and New York Times book critic Richard Bernstein later called King's words "the single most important piece of American oratory since Lincoln's Gettysburg Address."

Just three months after the speech, President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated, ushering in a period of national grief not unlike that after Lincoln's murder. Also echoing the previous century, Kennedy's efforts to advance civil rights had prompted some to mourn him as the "second emancipator." A. Philip Randolph, who had organized the March on Washington, declared that the time had come to complete "this unfinished business of American democracy for which two presidents have died."

To address a profound need for national healing and unity, JFK's widow, Jacqueline Kennedy—in consultation with other family members and official planners—decided to model her slain husband's funeral upon Lincoln's. The president's casket was laid in state inside the White House East Room, and was later taken to the Great Rotunda of the Capitol and rested upon the catafalque used at Lincoln's funeral. On their final procession to Arlington National Cemetery, the funeral cars passed reverently by the Lincoln Memorial. One of the most poignant images from that era was a political cartoon drawn by Bill Mauldin, depicting the statue of Lincoln bent over in grief.

In the nearly half century since, Lincoln's reputation has been under assault from various quarters. Malcolm X broke with the long tradition of African-American admiration for Lincoln, saying in 1964 that he had done "more to trick Negroes than any other man in history." In 1968, pointing to clear examples of Lincoln's racial prejudice, Lerone Bennett Jr. asked in Ebony magazine, "Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?" (His answer: yes.) The 1960s and '70s were a period in which icons of all kinds—especially great leaders of the past—were being smashed, and Lincoln was no exception. Old arguments surfaced that he had never really cared about emancipation, that he was at heart a political opportunist. States' rights libertarians criticized his aggressive handling of the Civil War, his assaults on civil liberties and his aggrandizing of federal government.

In particular, the Nixon administration's perceived abuse of executive power during the Vietnam War prompted unflattering comparisons with Lincoln's wartime measures. Some scholars, however, rejected such comparisons, noting that Lincoln reluctantly did what he thought necessary to preserve the Constitution and the nation. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., for one, wrote in 1973 that since the Vietnam War didn't rise to the same level of national crisis, Nixon "has sought to establish as a normal Presidential power what previous Presidents had regarded as power justified only by extreme emergencies. . . . He does not, like Lincoln, confess to doubt about the legality of his course."

Decades later, another war would again bring Lincoln's legacy to the fore. Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush addressed Congress with words evocative of Lincoln's comments at the outset of the Civil War: "The course of this conflict is not known," Bush said, "yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them." As in the Vietnam era, subsequent controversies over the White House's conduct of the war on terror—such as the use of secret wiretapping and the detention of "enemy combatants" without trial—provoked another round of debates over presidential powers and the precedents created by Lincoln.

Despite such lingering controversies, Lincoln has consistently polled as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt. And though many African-Americans lost their veneration for him over the decades, recent statements by President Barack Obama and others suggest renewed appreciation. It was black Americans, after all, who refused to give up on Lincoln's emancipationist legacy even when American whites wanted to forget it. And if Lincoln shared in the racial prejudice of his day, it is also true that his outlook grew significantly over the years of his presidency. He was "the first great man that I talked with in the United States freely," Frederick Douglass wrote, "who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the difference of color."

And yet, as Bennett and others have rightly insisted, the Lincoln of earlier generations of blacks was also in part a mythic figure—his own racial prejudices passed over too lightly, even as African-Americans' roles in emancipation were underemphasized. In a series of 1922 editorials for the NAACP journal the Crisis, W.E.B. Du Bois stressed the importance of taking Lincoln off his pedestal in order to place attention on the need for ongoing progress. But Du Bois refused to reject Lincoln in the process. "The scars and foibles and contradictions of the Great do not diminish but enhance the worth and meaning of their upward struggle," he wrote. Of all the great figures of the 19th century, "Lincoln is to me the most human and lovable. And I love him not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet triumphed." In a 2005 essay in Time magazine, Obama said much the same thing: "I am fully aware of his limited views on race. But. [in] the midst of slavery's dark storm and the complexities of governing a house divided, he somehow kept his moral compass pointed firm and true."

Lincoln will always remain the president who helped destroy slavery and preserved the Union. With stubbornness, caution and an exquisite sense of timing, he engaged almost physically with unfolding history. Derided by some as an opportunist, he was in fact an artist, responding to events as he himself changed over time, allowing himself to grow into a true reformer. Misjudged as a mere jokester, incompetent, unserious, he was in fact the most serious actor on the political stage. He was politically shrewd, and he took a long view of history. And he knew when to strike to obtain his ends. Just for his work on behalf of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, he has earned a permanent place in the history of human freedom.

In addition, he was a man of patience who refused to demonize others a person of the middle who could build bridges across chasms. Herein may lie one of his most important legacies—his unwavering desire to reunite the American people. In Chicago's Grant Park, the night he was declared the winner of the 2008 election, Obama sought to capture that sentiment, quoting from Lincoln's first inaugural address: "We are not enemies, but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."

And with the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president, we remember that, in 1864, with the Union war effort going badly, the national government might have been tempted to suspend the upcoming elections. Not only did Lincoln insist they take place, he staked his campaign on a controversial platform calling for the 13th Amendment, willing to risk everything on its behalf. When he went on to an overwhelming victory in November, he obtained a mandate to carry through his program. "[I]f the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election," he spoke to a gathered crowd from a White House window, "it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. [The election] has demonstrated that a people's government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war."

Around the world, governments routinely suspend elections, citing the justification of a "national emergency." Yet Lincoln set a precedent that would guarantee the voting rights of the American people through subsequent wars and economic depressions. Though our understanding of him is more nuanced than it once was, and we are more able to recognize his limitations as well as his strengths, Abraham Lincoln remains the great example of democratic leadership—by most criteria, truly our greatest president.

Philip B. Kunhardt III is co-author of the 2008 book Looking for Lincoln and a Bard Center Fellow.

Watch the video: ΑΒΡΑΑΜ ΛΙΝΚΟΛΝ (December 2021).