Реферат: Abraham Lincoln
Examined: Akhmedova Z.G.
2. Early Life
5. Young Manhood
6. Politics and Law
7. Illinois Legislator
10. Disillusionment with Politics
11. Return to Politics
12. Campaigns of 1856 and 1858
13. Election of 1860
15. Sumter Crisis
16. Military Policy
18. Foreign Relations
19. Wartime Politics
20. Life in the White House
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Lincoln
entered office at a critical period in U. S. history, just before the Civil
War, and died from an assassin's bullet at the war's end, but before the
greater implications of the conflict could be resolved. He brought to the
office personal integrity, intelligence, and humanity, plus the wholesome
characteristics of his frontier upbringing. He also had the liabilities of
his upbringing--he was self-educated, culturally unsophisticated, and lacking
in administrative and diplomatic skills. Sharp-witted, he was not especially
sharp-tongued, but was noted for his warm good humor. Although relatively
unknown and inexperienced politically when elected president, he proved to be
a consummate politician. He was above all firm in his convictions and
dedicated to the preservation of the Union.
Lincoln was perhaps the most esteemed and maligned of the American
presidents. Generally admired and loved by the public, he was attacked on a
partisan basis as the man responsible for and in the middle of every major
issue facing the nation during his administration. Although his reputation
has fluctuated with changing times, he was clearly a great man and a great
president. He firmly and fairly guided the nation through its most perilous
period and made a lasting impact in shaping the office of chief
executive.Once regarded as the "Great Emancipator" for his forward strides in
freeing the slaves, he was criticized a century later, when the Civil Rights
Movement gained momentum, for his caution in moving toward equal rights. If
he is judged in the historical context, however, it can be seen that he was
far in advance of most liberal opinion. His claim to greatness endures.
The future president was born in the most modest of circumstances in a log
cabin near Hodgenville, Ky., on Feb. 12, 1809. His entire childhood and young
manhood were spent on the brink of poverty as his pioneering family made
repeated fresh starts in the West. Opportunities for education, cultural
activities, and even socializing were meager.
Lincoln's paternal ancestry has been traced, in an unbroken line, to Samuel
Lincoln, a weaver's apprentice from Hingham, England, who settled in Hingham,
Mass., in 1637. From him the line of descent came down through Mordecai
Lincoln of Hingham and of Scituate, Mass.; Mordecai of Berks county, Pa.;
John of Berks county and of Rockingham county, Va.; and Abraham, the
grandfather of the president, who moved from Virginia to Kentucky about 1782,
settled near Hughes Station, east of Louisville, and was killed in an Indian
ambush in 1786.
Abraham's youngest son, Thomas, who became the father of the president, was
born in Rockingham county, Va., on Jan. 6, 1778. After the death of his
father, he roamed about, settling eventually in Hardin county, Ky., where he
worked at carpentry, farming, and odd jobs. He was not the shiftless ne'er-
do-well sometimes depicted, but an honest, conscientious man of modest means,
well regarded by his neighbors. He had practically no education, however, and
could barely scrawl his name.
Nancy Hanks, whom Thomas Lincoln married on June 12, 1806, and who became the
mother of the president, remains a shadowy figure. Her birth date is
uncertain, and descriptions of her are contradictory. Scholars despair of
penetrating the tangled Hanks genealogy, and the legitimacy of Nancy's birth
is a subject of argument. Lincoln, himself, apparently believed that his
mother was born out of wedlock. In either case, Nancy came of lowly people.
Reared by her aunt, Betsy Hanks, who married Thomas Sparrow, she was utterly
Thomas and Nancy Lincoln set up housekeeping in Elizabethtown, Ky., where
their first child, Sarah, was born on Feb. 10, 1807. In December 1808, Thomas
bought a hard-scrabble farm on the South Fork of Nolin Creek, where Abraham
was born. Soon after Abe's second birthday the family moved to a more
productive farm along Knob Creek, a branch of the Rolling Fork, in a region
of fertile bottomland surrounded by crags and bluffs. The old Cumberland
Trail from Louisville to Nashville passed close by, and the boy could see a
vigorous civilization on the march--settlers, peddlers, circuit-riding
preachers, now and then a coffle of slaves. This was probably his first view
of human bondage, for the small landholdings of the region were not suited to
slaveowning, and local sentiment, especially among the Baptists, with whom
the Lincolns had affiliated, was hostile to slavery.
Like most frontier children, Abraham performed chores at an early age, but
occasionally he and his sister Sarah attended classes in a log schoolhouse
some two miles (3 km) from home. Nancy bore a third child, Thomas, but he
died in infancy.
Faulty land titles, which were a constant problem to Kentucky settlers, were
especially troublesome to Thomas Lincoln. Because of a flaw in title, he lost
part of a farm he had bought before his marriage, and both his other Kentucky
farms became involved in litigation. For this reason, and because of his
roving disposition, he resolved to move to Indiana, where land could be
bought directly from the government.
Abraham was seven years old when, in December 1816, the Lincolns struck out
northwestward. They crossed the Ohio River on a ferry near the village of
Troy, made their way 16 miles (26 km) farther north through thick woods and
tangled underbrush, and settled near Pigeon Creek, in present Spencer county,
Ind. Thomas hastily threw up a half-faced camp, a rude shelter of logs and
boughs, closed on three sides and warmed only by a fire at the open front.
Here the family lived while Thomas built a cabin. The region was gloomy, with
few settlers, and wild animals prowled in the forest.
By spring Thomas had cleared a few acres for a crop. In an autobiography that
Abraham Lincoln composed in 1860, he said of himself: "Abraham, though very
young, was large of his age, and had an axe put into his hands at once; and
from that till within his twenty-third year, he was almost constantly
handling that most useful instrument--less, of course, in plowing and
harvesting seasons." So, year by year the clearing grew, and the family's
diet became more varied as farm products supplemented game and fowl. At
first, Thomas was a mere squatter on the land, but on Oct. 15, 1817, he
applied for 160 acres (65 hectares) at the government land office in
Vincennes. Unable to complete payment on so large a tract, he later gave up
half, but paid for the rest.
The Lincolns had not been long in Indiana when they were joined by Thomas and
Elizabeth Sparrow, the relatives by whom Nancy had been reared. They arrived
from Kentucky with Dennis Hanks, the illegitimate son of another of Nancy's
aunts. An energetic youth of 19, he became Abraham's companion. Within a
year, however, the Sparrows became victims of the "milk-sick" (milk
sickness), a disease dreaded by Indiana settlers, and soon afterward, on Oct.
5, 1818, Nancy Lincoln, too, died of this malady. Without a woman to keep the
household functioning, the Lincolns lived almost in squalor.
To remedy this intolerable condition, Thomas Lincoln returned to
Elizabethtown, where, on Dec. 2, 1819, he married Sarah Bush Johnston, a
widow with three children. A kindly, hard-working woman, she brought order to
the Lincolns' Indiana homestead. She also saw to it that at intervals over
the next two years Abraham received enough additional schooling to be able,
as he said later, "to read, write and cipher to the Rule of Three." All told,
however, he attended school less than a year.
During the 14 years the Lincolns lived in Indiana, the region became more
thickly settled, mostly by people from the South. But conditions remained
primitive, and farming was backbreaking work. Superstitions were prevalent;
social functions consisted of such utilitarian amusements as corn shuckings,
house raisings, and hog killings; and religion was dogmatic and emotional.
Abe, growing tall and strong, won a reputation as the best local athlete and
a rollicking storyteller. But his father kept him busy at hard labor, hiring
him out to neighbors when work at home slackened.
Abe's meager education had aroused his desire to learn, and he traveled over the
countryside to borrow books. Among those he read were Robinson Crusoe,
Pilgrim's Progress, Aesop's Fables, William Grimshaw's History
of the United States, and Mason Weems' Life of Washington. The
Bible was probably the only book his family owned, and his abundant use of
scriptural quotations in his later writings shows how earnestly he must have
Young Lincoln worked for a while as a ferryman on the Ohio River, and at 19
helped take a flatboat cargo to New Orleans. There he encountered a manner of
living wholly unknown to him. Soon after he returned, his father decided to
move to Illinois, where a relative, John Hanks, had preceded him. On March 1,
1830, the family set out with all their possessions loaded on three wagons.
Their new home was located on the north bank of the Sangamon River, west of
Decatur. When a cabin had been built and a crop had been planted and fenced,
young Lincoln hired out to split fence rails for neighbors.
In the autumn all the Lincoln family came down with fever and ague. That
winter the pioneers experienced the deepest snow they had ever known,
accompanied by subzero temperatures. In the spring the family backtracked
eastward to Coles county, Ill. But this time Abraham did not accompany them,
for during the winter he, his stepbrother John D. Johnston, and his cousin
John Hanks had agreed to take another cargo to New Orleans for a trader,
Denton Offutt. A new life was opening for young Lincoln. Henceforth he could
make his own way.Supposedly it was on this second trip to New Orleans that
young Lincoln, watching a slave auction, declared: "If I ever get a chance to
hit that thing, I'll hit it hard." But the story is almost certainly untrue.
Lincoln at this period of his life could scarcely have believed himself to be
a man of destiny, and John Hanks, who originated the story, was not with
Lincoln, having left his fellow crewmen at St. Louis.
Near the outset of this voyage, at the little village of New Salem on the
Sangamon River, Lincoln had impressed Offutt by his ingenuity in moving the
flatboat over a milldam. Offutt, impressed likewise by the prospects of the
village, arranged to open a store and rent the mill. On Lincoln's return from
New Orleans, Offutt engaged him as clerk and handyman.
By late July 1831, when Lincoln came back, New Salem was enjoying what proved
to be a short-lived boom based on a local conviction that the Sangamon River
would be made navigable for steamboats. For a time the village served as a
trading center for the surrounding area and numbered among its enterprises
three stores, a tavern, a carding machine for wool, a saloon, and a ferry.
Among its residents were two physicians, a blacksmith, a cooper, a shoemaker,
and other craftsmen common to a pioneer settlement. The people were mostly
from the South, though a number of Yankees had also drifted in. Community
pastimes were similar to those Lincoln had previously known, and life in
general differed only in being somewhat more advanced.
Lincoln gained the admiration of the rougher element of the community, who
were known as the Clary's Grove boys, when he threw their champion in a
wrestling match. But his kindness, honesty, and efforts at self-betterment so
impressed the more reputable people of the community that they, too, soon
came to respect him. He became a member of the debating society, studied
grammar with the aid of a local schoolmaster, and acquired a lasting fondness
for the writings of Shakespeare and Robert Burns from the village philosopher
Offutt paid little attention to business, and his store was about to fail,
when an Indian disturbance, known as the Black Hawk War, broke out in April
1832, in Illinois. Lincoln enlisted and was elected captain of his volunteer
company. When his term expired, he reenlisted, serving about 80 days in all.
He experienced some hardships, but no fighting.
Politics and Law
Returning to New Salem, Lincoln sought election to the state legislature. He
won almost all the votes in his own community, but lost the election because
he was not known throughout the county. In partnership with William F. Berry,
he bought a store on credit, but it soon failed, leaving him deeply in debt.
He then got a job as deputy surveyor, was appointed postmaster, and pieced
out his income with odd jobs. The story of his romance with Ann Rutledge is
rejected as a legend by most authorities, but he did have a short-lived love
affair with Mary Owens.
In 1834, Lincoln was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and he
was reelected in 1836, 1838, and 1840. Political alignments were in a state
of flux during his first two candidacies, but as the WHIG and DEMOCRATIC
parties began to take form, he followed his political idol, Henry Clay, and
John T. Stuart, a Springfield lawyer and friend, into the Whig ranks. Twice
Lincoln was his party's candidate for speaker, and when defeated, he served
as its floor leader.
His greatest achievement in the legislature, where he was a consistent
supporter of conservative business interests, was to bring about the removal
of the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield, by means of adroit
logrolling. When certain resolutions denouncing antislavery agitation were
passed by the house, Lincoln and a colleague, Dan Stone, defined their
position by a written declaration that slavery was "founded on both injustice
and bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather
to increase than abate its evils." An internal improvement project that
Lincoln promoted in the legislature turned out to be impractical and almost
bankrupted the state. On national issues Lincoln favored the United States
Bank and opposed the presidential policies of Andrew JACKSON and Martin VAN
His friend Stuart had encouraged him to study law, and he obtained a license
on Sept. 9, 1836. By this time New Salem was in decline and would soon be a
ghost town. It has since been restored as a state park. On April 15, 1837,
Lincoln moved to Springfield to become Stuart's partner. His conscientious
efforts to pay off his debts had earned him the nickname "Honest Abe," but he
was so poor that he arrived in Springfield on a borrowed horse with all his
personal property in his saddlebags.
With the courts in Springfield in session only a few weeks during the year,
lawyers were obliged to travel the circuit in order to make a living. Every
year, in spring and autumn, Lincoln followed the judge from county to county
over the 12,000 square miles (31,000 sq km) of the Eighth Circuit. In 1841 he
and Stuart disolved their firm, and Lincoln formed a new partnership with
Stephen T. Logan, who taught him the value of careful preparation and clear,
succinct reasoning as opposed to mere cleverness and oratory. This
partnership was in turn dissolved in 1844, when Lincoln took young William H.
Herndon, later to be his biographer, as a partner.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 4, 1842, after a somewhat tumultuous courtship, Lincoln
had married Mary Todd. Brought up in Lexington, Ky., she was a high-spirited,
quick-tempered girl of excellent education and cultural background.
Notwithstanding her vanity, ambition, and unstable temperament and Lincoln's
careless ways and alternating moods of hilarity and dejection, the marriage
turned out to be generally happy. Of their four children, only Robert Todd
Lincoln, born on Aug. 1, 1843, lived to maturity. Edward Baker, who was born
on March 10, 1846, died on Feb. 1, 1850; William Wallace, born Dec. 21, 1850,
died on Feb. 20, 1862; and Thomas ("Tad"), born April 4, 1853, died on July
Though Mrs. Lincoln was by no means such a shrew as has been asserted, she
was difficult to live with. Lincoln responded to her impulsive and imprudent
behavior with tireless patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. Borne down by
grief and illness after her husband's death, Mrs. Lincoln became so
unbalanced at one time that her son Robert had her committed to an
Having attained a position of leadership in state politics and worked
strenuously for the Whig ticket in the presidential election of 1840, Lincoln
aspired to go to CONGRESS. But two other prominent young Whigs of his
district, Edward D. Baker of Springfield and John J. Hardin of Jacksonville,
also coveted this distinction. So Lincoln stepped aside temporarily, first
for Hardin, then for Baker, under a sort of understanding that they would
"take a turn about." When Lincoln's turn came in 1846, however, Hardin wished
to serve again, and Lincoln was obliged to maneuver skillfully to obtain the
nomination. His district was so predominantly Whig that this amounted to
election, and he won handily over his Democratic opponent.
Lincoln worked conscientiously as a freshman congressman, but was unable to
gain distinction. Both from conviction and party expediency, he went along
with the Whig leaders in blaming the Polk administration for bringing on war
with Mexico, though he always voted for appropriations to sustain it. His
opposition to the war was unpopular in his district, however. When the
annexations of territory from Mexico brought up the question of the status of
slavery in the new lands, Lincoln voted for the Wilmot Proviso and other
measures designed to confine the institution to the states where it already
Disillusionment with Politics
In the campaign of 1848, Lincoln labored strenuously for the nomination and
election of Gen. Zachary TAYLOR. He served on the Whig National Committee,
attended the national convention at Philadelphia, and made campaign speeches.
With the Whig national ticket victorious, he hoped to share with Baker the
control of federal patronage in his home state. The juiciest plum that had
been promised to Illinois was the position of commissioner of the General
Land Office in Washington. After trying vainly to reconcile two rival
candidates for this office, Lincoln tried to obtain it for himself. But he
had little influence with the new administration. The most that it would
offer him was the governorship or secretaryship of the Oregon Territory.
Neither job appealed to him, and he returned to Springfield thoroughly
Never one to repine, however, Lincoln now devoted himself to becoming a
better lawyer and a more enlightened man. Pitching into his law books with
greater zest, he also resumed his study of Shakespeare and mastered the first
six books of Euclid as a mental discipline. At the same time, he renewed
acquaintances and won new friends around the circuit. Law practice was
changing as the country developed, especially with the advent of railroads
and the growth of corporations. Lincoln, conscientiously keeping pace, became
one of the state's outstanding lawyers, with a steadily increasing practice,
not only on the circuit but also in the state supreme court and the federal
courts. Regular travel to Chicago to attend court sessions became part of his
routine when Illinois was divided into two federal districts.
Outwardly, however, Lincoln remained unchanged in his simple, somewhat rustic
ways. Six feet four inches (1.9 meters) tall, weighing about 180 pounds (82
kg), ungainly, slightly stooped, with a seamed and rugged countenance and
unruly hair, he wore a shabby old top hat, an ill-fitting frock coat and
pantaloons, and unblacked boots. His genial manner and fund of stories won
him a host of friends. Yet, notwithstanding his friendly ways, he had a
certain natural dignity that discouraged familiarity and commanded respect.
Return to Politics
Lincoln took only a perfunctory part in the presidential campaign of 1852, and
was rapidly losing interest in politics. Two years later, however, an event
occurred that roused him, he declared, as never before. The status of slavery
in the national territories, which had been virtually settled by the Missouri
Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, now came to the fore. In 1854,
Stephen A. Douglas, whom Lincoln had known as a young lawyer and legislator and
who was now a Democratic leader in the U. S. SENATE, brought about the repeal
of a crucial section of the Missouri Compromise that had prohibited slavery in
the Louisiana Purchase north of the line of 36degrees 30&;. Douglas
substituted for it a provision that the people in the territories of Kansas and
Nebraska could admit or exclude slavery as they chose.
The congressional campaign of 1854 found Lincoln back onthe stump in behalf
of the antislavery cause, speaking with a new authority gained from self-
imposed intellectual discipline. Henceforth, he was a different Lincoln--
ambitious, as before, but purged of partisan pettiness and moved instead by
The Kansas-Nebraska Act so disrupted old party lines that when the Illinois
legislature met to elect a U.S. senator to succeed Douglas' colleague, James
Shields, it was evident that the Anti-Nebraska group drawn from both parties
had the votes to win, if the antislavery Whigs and antislavery Democrats
could united on a candidate. However, the Whigs backed Lincoln, and the
Democrats supported Lyman Trumbull. though Lincoln commanded far more
strength than Trumbull, the latter's supporters were resolved never to desert
him for a Whig. As their stubbornness threatened to result in the election of
a proslavery Democrat, Lincoln instructed his own backers to vote for
Trumbull, thus assuring the latter's election.
Campaigns of 1856 and 1858
With old party lines sundered, the antislavery factions in the North gradually
coalesced to form a new party, which took the name REPUBLICAN. Lincoln stayed
aloof at the beginning, fearing that it would be dominated by the radical
rather than the moderate antislavery element. Also, he hoped for a resurgence
of the Whig party, in which he had attained a position of state leadership. But
as the presidential campaign of 1856 approached, he cast his lot with the new
party. In the national convention, which nominated John C. Frémont for
president, Lincoln received 110 ballots for the VICE-PRESIDENTIAL nomination,
which went eventually to William L. Dayton of New Jersey. Though Lincoln had
favored Justice John McLean, he worked faithfully for Frémont, who
showed surprising strength, notwithstanding his defeat by the Democratic
candidate, James BUCHANAN.
With Senator Douglas running for reelection in 1858, Lincoln was recognized in
Illinois as the strongest man to oppose him. Endorsed by Republican meetings
all over the state and by the Republican State Convention, he opened his
campaign with the famous declaration: "`A house divided against itself cannot
stand.' I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave
and half free." Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of seven joint
debates, and these became the most spectacular feature of the campaign. Douglas
refused to take a position on the rightfulness or wrongfulness of slavery, and
offered his "popular sovereignty" doctrine as the solution of the problem.
Lincoln, on the other hand, insisted that slavery was primarily a moral issue
and offered as his solution a return to the principles of the Founding Fathers,
which tolerated slavery where it existed but looked to its ultimate extinction
by preventing its spread. The Republicans polled the larger number of votes in
the election, but an outdated apportionment of seats in the legislature
permitted Douglas to win the senatorship.
Election of 1860
Friends began to urge Lincoln to run for president. He held back, but did
extend his range of speechmaking beyond Illinois. on Feb. 27, 1860, at Cooper
Union, in New York City, he delivered an address on the need for restricting
slavery that put him in the forefront of Republican leadership. The
enthusiasm evoked by this speech and others overcame Lincoln's reluctance. On
May 9 and 10, the Illinois Republican convention, meeting in Decatur,
instructed the state's delegates to the national convention to vote as a unit
When that convention met in Chicago on May 16, Lincoln's chances were better
than was generally supposed. William H. Seward, the acknowledged party
leader, and other aspirants all had political liabilities of some sort. As
Lincoln's managers maneuvered behind the scenes, more and more delegates
lined up behind the "Illinois Rail Splitter." Seward led on the first ballot,
but on the third ballot Lincoln obtained the required majority.
A split in the Democratic party, which resulted in the nomination of Douglas
by one faction and of John C. Breckinridge by the other, made Lincoln's
ELECTION a certainty. Lincoln polled 1,865,593 votes to Douglas' 1,382,713,
and Breckinridge's 848,356. John Bell, candidate of the Constitutional Union
party, polled 592,906. The ELECTORAL vote was Lincoln, 180; Breckinridge, 72;
Bell, 39; and Douglas, 12.
On Feb. 11, 1861, Lincoln left Springfield to take up his duties as
president. Before him lay, as he recognized, "a task ... greater than that
which rested upon [George] Washington." The seven states of the lower South
had seceded from the Union, and Southern delegates meeting in Montgomery,
Ala., had formed a new, separate government. Before Lincoln reached the
national capital, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President of the
Confederate States of America. The four states of the upper South teetered on
the brink of secession, and disunion sentiment was rampant in the border
states of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri.
When Lincoln reached Washington on February 23, he found the national
government incapable of meeting the crisis. President James Buchanan deplored
secession but could not check it, and Congress fruitlessly debated
compromise. The national treasury was near bankruptcy; the civil service was
riddled with secessionists; and the miniscule armed forces were being
weakened by defection of officers to the South.
It was not immediately evident that Lincoln could avert the dissolution of
the United States. Few American presidents have assumed office under greater
handicaps. Warned of an attempt on his life being planned in Baltimore,
Lincoln had to enter the national capital surreptitiously, arriving after a
secret midnight journey from Harrisburg, Pa. Widely publicized, the episode
did little to inspire public confidence in the government or to create an
image of Lincoln as a dynamic leader. That so many citizens could believe
their new president a coward was evidence of a more serious handicap under
which Lincoln labored: he was virtually unknown to the American people.
Lincoln's record as an Illinois state legislator, as a one-term member of the
House of Representatives in the 1840's, and as an unsuccessful senatorial
candidate against Douglas was not one to inspire confidence in his abilities.
Even the leaders of the Republican party had little acquaintance with the new
Almost at the outset, Lincoln demonstrated that he was a poor administrator.
Accustomed, as his law partner William H. Herndon said, to filing legal
papers in his top hat, Lincoln conducted the administration of the national
govern ment in the same fashion. Selecting for his cabinet spokesmen of the
diverse elements that constituted the Republican party, he surrounded himself
with men of such conflicting views that he could not rely on them to work
together. Cabinet sessions rarely dealt with serious issues. Usually, Lincoln
permitted cabinet officers free rein in running their departments.
Nor was Lincoln an effective leader of his party in the Congress, where after
secession the Republicans had overwhelming majorities. Long a Whig, vigilant
against executive "usurpation," he earnestly felt that as president he ought
not to exert even "indirect influence to affect the action of congress." In
consequence there was poor rapport between Capitol Hill and the WHITE HOUSE.
Even those measures that the President earnestly advocated were weakened or
defeated by members of his own party. But on important issues relating to the
conduct of the war and the restoration of the Union, Lincoln followed his own
counsel, ignoring the opinions of Congress.
More than counterbalancing these deficiencies, however, were Lincoln's
strengths. Foremost was his unflinching dedication to the preservation of the
Union. Convinced that the United States was more than an ordinary nation,
that it was a proving ground for the idea of democratic government, Lincoln
felt that he was leading a struggle to preserve "the last, best hope of
earth." Despite war-weariness and repeated defeats, he never wavered in his
"paramount object." To restore national unity he would do what was necessary,
without regard to legalistic construction of the CONSTITUTION, political
objections in Congress, or personal popularity.
Partly because of that single-minded dedication, the American people, in
time, gave to Lincoln a loyalty that proved to be another of his great
assets. Making himself accessible to all who went to the White House, Lincoln
learned what ordinary citizens felt about their government. In turn, his
availability helped create in the popular mind the stereotype of "Honest
Abe," the people's president, straightforward, and sympathetic.
Lincoln's mastery of rhetoric further endeared him to the public. In an age
of pretentious orators, he wrote clearly and succinctly. Purists might object
when he said that the Confederates in one engagement "turned tail and ran,"
but the man in the street approved. Lincoln's 268-word address at the
dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg meant more than the
preceding two-hour oration by Edward Everett.
Another of Lincoln's assets was the fact that he was a genius at the game of
politics. He astutely managed the patronage at his disposal, distributing
favors so as to bind local politicians to his administration and to undermine
potential rivals for the presidency. He understood the value of silence and
secrecy in politics and refrained from creating divisive issues or causing
needless confrontations. He was extraordinarily flexible and pragmatic in the
means he employed to restore the Union. "My policy," he frequently said, "is
to have no policy." That did not mean that his was a course of drift.
Instead, it reflected his understanding that, as president, he could only
handle problems as they arose, confident that popular support for his
solutions would be forthcoming.
Lincoln believed that the ultimate decision in the Civil War was beyond his,
or any other man's, control. "Now, at the end of three years struggle," he
wrote, as the war reached its climax, "the nation's condition is not what
either party, or any man, devised or expected. God alone can claim it."
In 1861, Lincoln's weaknesses were more evident than his strengths.
Immediately after his inauguration he faced a crisis over Fort Sumter in the
Charleston (S. C.) harbor, one of the few remaining U.S. forts in the seceded
states still under federal control. Informed that the troops would have to be
supplied or withdrawn, the inexperienced President anxiously explored
solutions. Withdrawal would appear a cowardly backdown, but reinforcing the
fort might precipitate hostilities. Lincoln painfully concluded that he would
send supplies to Sumter and let the Confederates decide whether to fire on
the flag of the Union. Historians differ as to whether Lincoln anticipated
that hostilities would follow his decision, but they agree that Lincoln was
determined that he would not order the first shot fired. Informed of the
approach of the federal supply fleet, Confederate authorities at Charleston
during the early hours of April 12 decided to bombard the fort. Thus, the
Civil War began.
Because Congress was not in session, Lincoln moved swiftly to mobilize the
Union by executive order. His requisition to the states for 75,000 volunteers
precipitated the secession of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and
Arkansas. Kentucky tried to adopt an official policy of "neutrality," while
secession sentiment in Maryland was so strong that for a time Washington,
D.C., was cut off from communication with the North. In order to restore
order, Lincoln directed that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus be
suspended, at first along the line between Washington and Philadelphia and
later throughout most of the North, so that known secessionists and persons
suspected of disloyalty could be held without trial. At the same time the
President, without congressional authorization--and thus in direct violation
of the Constitution--ordered an increase in the size of the regular Army and
Navy. Doubting the loyalty of certain government officials, he also entrusted
public funds to private agents in New York to purchase arms and supplies.
When the 37th Congress assembled in special session on July 4, 1861, it was thus
confronted with a fait accompli. The President, acting in his capacity
as commander in chief, had put himself at the head of the whole Union war
effort, arrogating to himself greater powers than those claimed by any previous
American president. His enemies termed him a dictator and a tyrant. In fact,
his power was limited, partly by his own instincts, partly by the knowledge
that his actions would be judged in four years at the polls, and chiefly by the
inadequacy of the federal bureaucracy.
Nevertheless, the role of Congress was sharply defined: it could appropriate
money to support the war, it could initiate legislation on issues not related
to the war, it could debate questions relating to the conflict. But direction
of the Union war effort was to remain firmly in Lincoln's hands.
The first responsibility of the President was the successful prosecution of
the war against the Confederate States. In this duty he was hampered by the
lack of a strong military tradition in America and by the shortage of trained
officers. During the early months of the conflict the War Department was
headed by Simon Cameron, and corruption and inefficiency were rife. Not until
January, 1862, when Lincoln replaced Cameron with the imperious but efficient
Edwin M. Stanton, was some semblance of order brought to the procurement of
supplies for the federal armies. Navy secretary Gideon Welles was above
suspicion, but he was inexperienced in nautical affairs and cautious in
accepting innovations, such as the ironclad monitors.
Even more difficult was the task of finding capable general officers. At
first the President gave supreme command of the Union forces to the elderly
Gen. Winfield Scott. After the Confederate victory at the first battle of
Bull Run (July 21, 1861), Lincoln increasingly entrusted power to George B.
McClellan, a brilliant organizer and administrator. But McClellan's caution,
his secretiveness, and his willingness to strip the defenses of Washington
the better to attack Richmond led Lincoln to look elsewhere for military
advice. Borrowing "a large number of strategical works" from the Library of
Congress, he attempted to direct the overall conduct of the war himself by
issuing a series of presidential general war orders. Gen. Henry W. Halleck,
whom Lincoln brought to Washington as a strategic planner, served more as a
glorified clerk, and the President repeatedly exercised personal supervision
over the commanders in the field.
Not until the emergence of Ulysses S. GRANT, hero of Vicksburg and
Chattanooga, did Lincoln find a general to whom he could entrust overall
direction of the war. Even then, the President kept a close eye on military
operations, advising and even occasionally overruling the general, but mostly
supporting and encouraging him.
Strongly opposed to slavery, Lincoln made a sharp distinction between his
personal views and his public responsibilities. He had been elected on a
platform that pledged not to interfere with the "peculiar institution" in
states where it already existed and had sworn to uphold a Constitution that
protected Southern rights. From the first day of the war, however, he was
under pressure from the more extreme antislavery men in his own party to
strike at slavery as the mainspring of the rebellion. Counterbalancing this
pressure was the need to conciliate opinion in the border states, which still
recognized slavery but were loyal to the Union. Any move against slavery,
Lincoln feared, would cause their secession.
Wartime pressure inescapably forced the president toward emancipation.
Foreign powers could not be expected to sympathize with the North, when both
the Union and the Confederate governments were pledged to uphold slavery. As
the war dragged on, more and more northerners saw the absurdity of continuing
to protect the "peculiar institution," which, by keeping a subservient labor
force on the farms, permitted the Confederates to put proportionately more of
their able-bodied white men into their armies. When Union casualties mounted,
even racist northerners began to favor enlisting blacks in the Union armies.
As sentiment for emancipation mounted, Lincoln was careful to keep complete
control of the problem in his own hands. He sharply overruled premature efforts
by two of his military commanders, Frémont in Missouri and David Hunter
in the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina, to declare slaves in their
military theaters free. At the same time, the President urged the border states
to accept a program of gradual emancipation, with federal compensation.
By midsummer of 1862, however, it was evident that these efforts would not be
successful. Still troubled by divided Union sentiment and still uncertain of
his constitutional powers to act, Lincoln prepared to issue an emancipation
proclamation. Secretary of State William H. Seward, however, persuaded him
that such an order, issued at the low point of Union military fortunes, would
be taken as evidence of weakness. The President postponed his move until
after the Battle of Antietam. Then, on Sept. 22, 1862, he issued his
preliminary proclamation, announcing that after 100 days all slaves in states
still in rebellion would be forever free. This was followed, in due course,
by the definitive Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863.
Because the proclamation exempted slavery in the border states and in all
Confederate territory already under the control of Union armies and because
Lincoln was not certain that his action would be sustained by the Supreme
Court, he strongly urged Congress to adopt the 13th Amendment, forever
abolishing slavery throughout the country. Congressional action on this
measure was completed in January 1865. Lincoln considered the amendment "the
complete consummation of his own work, the emancipation proclamation."
Never having traveled abroad and having few acquaintances in the courts of
Europe, Lincoln, for the most part, left the conduct of foreign policy to
Seward. Yet, at critical times he made his influence felt. Early in his
administration, when Seward recklessly proposed to divert attention from
domestic difficulties by threatening a war against Spain and perhaps other
powers, the President quietly squelched the project. Again, in 1861, Lincoln
intervened to tone down a dispatch Seward wrote to Charles Francis Adams, the
U.S. minister in London, which probably would have led to a break in diplomatic
relations with Britain. In the Trent affair, that same year, when Union
Capt. Charles Wilkes endangered the peace by removing two Confederate
emissaries from a British ship and taking them into custody, Lincoln took a
courageous but unpopular stand by insisting that the prisoners be released.
Throughout the war Lincoln was the subject of frequent, and often vitriolic,
attacks, both from the Democrats who thought he was proceeding too
drastically against slavery and from the Radicals in his own party--men like
Charles Sumner, Benjamin F. Wade, and Zachariah Chandler--who considered him
slow and ineffective. Partisan newspapers abused the President as "a
slangwhanging stump speaker," a "half-witted usurper," a "mole-eyed" monster
with "soul ... of leather,""the present turtle at the head of the
government." Men of his own party openly charged that he was "unfit," a
"political coward," a "dictator,""timid and ignorant,""shattered, dazed,
A minority president in 1861, Lincoln lost further support in the
congressional elections of 1862, when Democrats took control of the crucial
states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. As the 1864
election approached, it was clear that Lincoln would face formidable
opposition for reelection, not merely from a Democratic candidate but from
rivals within his own party. Republican anti-Lincoln sentiment centered on
treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase, who was working with the Radical critics
of Lincoln in Congress. The Chase boom failed, however, chiefly because
Lincoln insisted upon keeping the ambitious secretary in his cabinet. At the
same time, Lincoln's own agents were working quietly to sew up the state
delegations to the Republican national convention. Even Chase's own state of
Ohio pledged to vote for Lincoln. Facing certain defeat, Chase withdrew from
the race, but Lincoln kept him in the cabinet until after the Republican
national convention, which met in Baltimore in June 1864.
Lacking a prominent standard bearer, some disgruntled Republicans gathered in
Cleveland in May 1864 to nominate Frémont, but the movement never made
much headway. Radical pressure was powerful enough, however, to persuade
Lincoln to drop the most outspokenly conservative member of his cabinet,
Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, and Frémont withdrew from the race.
Lincoln's Republican critics continued to hope they could summon a new national
convention, which would replace the President with a more Radical candidate,
but this scheme died with news of Union military victories.
For a time Democratic opposition in 1864 to Lincoln's reelection also
appeared to be formidable, for people were tired of the endless war and
disinclined to fight for the liberty of black men. But the Democrats found it
impossible to bring together the two major groups of Lincoln's critics--those
who wanted the President to end the war, and those who wanted him to
prosecute it more vigorously. Meeting at Chicago in August, the Democratic
national convention nominated a candidate, Gen. George B. McClellan, pledged
to the successful conclusion of the war on a platform that called the war a
failure. McClellan's repudiation of this peace plank showed how fundamentally
split were the Democrats.
Whatever chance the Democrats had in 1864 was lost when the war at last began
to favor the Union cause. By the late summer of 1864, Grant had forced Lee
back into the defenses of Richmond and Petersburg. In the West, Sherman's
advancing army captured Atlanta on September 2. At the same time, Admiral
Farragut's naval forces closed the key Confederate port of Mobile.
When the ballots were cast in November, the results reflected both these
Union triumphs and the rift among the opposition. Lincoln carried every state
except Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey. He polled 2,206,938 popular votes
to McClellan's 1,803,787 and won an electoral vote victory of 212 to 21. It
must be remembered, however, that voters in the seceded states, the
strongholds of the Democratic party, did not participate in the election.
Life in the White House
Beset by military, diplomatic, and political problems, the President tried to
keep his family life as normal as possible. The two youngest Lincoln boys,
Thomas (Tad) and William Wallace (Willie), were high spirited lads. Their
older brother, the sober Robert Todd Lincoln, was less frequently in
Washington, because he was first a student at Harvard and later an aide to
General Grant. Despite the snobbishness of Washington society and criticisms
from those who wanted all social affairs suspended because of the war, the
Lincolns continued to hold receptions in the White House. But the President
found these affairs costly and tiring. He would slip away late at night after
a White House party to visit the telegraph room of the War Department to read
the latest dispatches from the front. He never took a vacation, but in summer
he moved his family to the cooler and more secluded Soldier's Home in
Lincoln visibly aged during the war years, and by 1865 he appeared almost
haggard. His life was made harder by personal trials. Early in 1862, Willie
died of typhoid. His mother, always high-strung and hysterical, suffered a
nervous breakdown, and Lincoln had to watch over her with careful solicitude.
But Lincoln emerged from his public and private agonies with a new serenity
of soul. Any trace of vanity or egotism was burned out by the fires of war.
In his second inaugural address, his language reached a new level of
eloquence. Urging his countrymen to act "with malice toward none; with
charity for all," he looked beyond the end of the war toward binding up the
nation's wounds, so as to "achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace."
From the start of the Civil War, Lincoln was deeply concerned about the terms
under which the Southern states, once subdued, should be restored to the
Union. He had no fixed plan for reconstruction. At the outset, he would have
welcomed a simple decision on the part of any Southern state government to
rescind its ordinance of secession and return its delegation to Congress. By
1863, however, to this war aim of union he added that of liberty, for he now
insisted that emancipation of the slaves was a necessary condition for
restoration. By the end of the war he was beginning to add a third condition,
equality, for he realized that minimal guarantees of civil rights for blacks
were essential. Privately, he let it be known that he favored extending the
franchise in the Southern states to some of the blacks--"as, for instance,
the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our
As to means by which to achieve these goals, Lincoln was also flexible. When
Union armies advanced into the South, he appointed military governors for the
states that were conquered. Most notable of these was the military governor
of Tennessee, Andrew JOHNSON, who became Lincoln's running mate in 1864. In
December 1863, Lincoln enunciated a comprehensive reconstruc tion program,
pledging pardon and amnesty to Confederates who were prepared to swear
loyalty to the Union and promising to turn back control of local governments
to the civil authorities in the South when as few as 10% of the 1860 voting
population participated in the elections. Governments operating under this
10% plan were set up in Louisiana and Arkansas and soon were petitioning for
readmission to Congress.
Inevitably Lincoln's program ran into opposition, both because it represented
a gigantic expansion of presidential powers and because it appeared not to
give adequate guarantees to the freedmen. Defeating an attempt to seat the
senators from the new government in Arkansas, Radical Republicans in Congress
in July 1864 set forth their own terms for restoration in the far harsher
Wade-Davis Bill. When Lincoln pocket-vetoed this measure, declaring that he
was "unprepared to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of
reconstruction," Radicals accused him of "dictatorial usurpation."
The stage was set for further conflict over reconstruction when Congress
reassembled in December 1864, just after Lincoln's reelection. Assisted by
the Democrats, the Radicals forced Lincoln's supporters to drop the bill to
readmit Louisiana. Lincoln was deeply saddened by the defeat. "Concede that
the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to
the fowl," he said, "shall we sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than
by smashing it?" On April 11, 1865, in his last public address, the President
defended his reconstruction policy.
Three days later, the President was shot by the actor John Wilkes Booth while
attending a performance at Ford's Theater in Washington. He died at 7:22 the
following morning, April 15, 1865. After lying in state in the Capitol, his
body was taken to Springfield, Ill., where he was buried in Oak Ridge
Benjamin P. Thomas,
Author of "Abraham Lincoln: A Biography" and
David Herbert Donald
Harry C. Black Professor of History and Director of the Institute of Southern
History, The Johns Hopkins University