Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was born the son of a poor farmer. He went on to become a self-taught lawyer, Congressman and eventually one of the most influential presidents in history. He was born on February 12, 1809, in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky. As a young man, he was partially educated in a log schoolhouse, learning the rudiments of reading. When he was seven years old he and his family moved to Indiana, where his mother died two short years later. The following year his father re-married, providing his children with a step-mother with whom young Abraham became quite close.
For the next several years Abraham attended school rather sporadically, supplementing his education by borrowing books from neighbors. In 1827, he began working on the Ohio River, ferrying passengers back and forth. Three years later he and his family moved to Illinois and Abraham settled in New Salem and eventually joined the Illinois militia for about three months during the Black Hawk War. Later that same year he ran for the Illinois State Legislature and was defeated. Following this defeat, he opened a general store in New Salem and became the first Postmaster of New Salem a few months later. Unfortunately, the store he operated with his partner failed; however, before the end of the year, he was appointed to the position of Assistant Surveyor.
The next year he once again ran for the Illinois State Legislature, with success this time. He began to study law during the summer while waiting to officially take his seat in state government. His fascination with the law continued after the legislature adjourned and in 1836 he was re-elected to the House of Representatives. That fall he became licensed to practice law and was admitted to the Illinois Bar within a few months, opening a law practice in Springfield in the spring of 1837. By 1840, he was re-elected to the House twice more, meeting his future wife during this time as well. Two years later he and Mary Todd were married and their first son was born the following summer.
Eventually the young family purchased a home in Springfield, while Abraham continued to practice law. In 1846 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives, earning a quick reputation for his strong opinions, namely his opposition to the Mexican War and slavery.
In 1849 he worked to become appointed commissioner of the General Land Office; however, he failed in this pursuit and instead returned to practicing law full time in Springfield after his term in the U.S. House of Representatives ended. The next two years proved to be somewhat difficult year for the Lincolns. Their son Eddie died in early 1850 however, their third son, Willie, was born in mid-December. Within just a few weeks Abraham’s father died.
In 1854 Abraham Lincoln was elected to the Illinois legislature; however, he declined and opted instead to run for the U.S. Senate. He was defeated in his run, largely it was believed by his opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the growing division regarding slavery and anti-slavery issues.
In 1856 the new Republican party was just beginning to be formed and Lincoln was among the founders, working to support the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee John C. Fremont. Within two years he was nominated by the new party to run for the U.S. Senate against Stephen Douglas; who would later win the election. Once again defeated in an election campaign, Lincoln did not allow his failure to disappoint him. Instead he increased the number of political speeches he gave around the country, alluding for the first time that he might make a run for the Presidency in 1860. Within a few months he was nominated by the Republican party and was elected in November. The Lincolns settled into the White House in March, 1861, with the Civil War beginning in April at Ft. Sumter.
Lincoln’s first term in office was fraught with both tragedy and triumph. In the first months of the war the Union Army discovered their Confederate enemy to be a formidable foe. In early 1862, the Lincoln’s third son Willie died of typhoid fever. About the same time Lincoln issued his proposed plan for the emancipation of slaves in states that were loyal to the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, freeing even slaves living in states that had rebelled. By mid-1863 the tide of the war had begun to turn and the Union won two major battles at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, although at a substantial loss of life. That fall he created the first official Thanksgiving Day. In November, he was re-elected for his second term in office, defeating Democrat George B. McClellan. In the same month Sherman began his march through Atlanta, setting it on fire in the process.
By April of 1865 Richmond had been abandoned by the Confederates and Lincoln was able to visit the city. Five days later Robert E. Lee surrendered and the war was ended. What would be Lincoln’s last public speech was given two days later, in which he stated that he hoped the seceded states would be returned soon to the Union. By April 14, Lincoln was back in Washington and looking forward to an enjoyable evening at Ford’s Theatre, where Our American Cousin was playing. At approximately 10:15 that night John Wilkes Booth entered the Lincoln’s private box and shot the president. He died early the next morning at the age of 56. His body was transported by train back to Springfield, where he was buried.