Born and raised in a poor background, Abraham Lincoln rose to be one of the greatest American presidents. His rise from obscurity to lead America through one of its trying moments in history has endeared him to many even 200 years after his assassination. Lincoln is remembered for his unique personality which was friendly, his fight for the abolition of slavery and rescuing the union from disintegration.
He was born to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln in a wooden cottage in Hardin County in the state of Kentucky. He had two siblings Sarah and Thomas who succumbed to infant mortality. The Lincolns were forced to migrate from Kentucky to Perry County in Indiana in the year 1817 due to a land dispute. Before his father was able to buy the land, they struggled for a living by tilling a small piece of land and hunting wild animals. Eventually they were able to acquire the land.
Thomas married a widow called Sarah Bush Johnson with three children of her own after Abraham’s mother died from milk disease at the tender age of 34 years (charnwood 23).The demise of his mother took a toll on young Lincoln, and he became more alienated from his father and hated the child labor he had to endure from a very young age. Though all his parents were illiterate, his step mother encouraged him to study. In the backwoods of Indiana, it was cumbersome to access study materials but neighbors remembered how he travelled widely just to borrow books. It was during his transition into manhood that he acquired formal education in a record nine months. By then, he had probably read the family bible and other interesting literature of the moment like Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrimage progress and Aesop’s fables.
Career in law
The family relocated again to Macon County in Illinois in March 1830, but on the second move to Coles County, 22 year old Lincoln ventured on his own surviving as a manual laborer. With a tall and strong physique, speaking with a countryside accent, Lincoln was an expert in splitting wood for fuel and fencing the rail using the ax. Migrating to rural Salem in Illinois he became a storekeeper, postmaster and finally a store owner. It was these opportunities that gave him skills of public relations and he perfected his art of narrating tales that endeared him to the public.
The Black Hawk war of 1832 between American Indians and the United States gave him a chance to further his leadership skills as he was elected captain by volunteers. When the war was concluded in1834, he was elected to the state parliament under the Whigs party which favored the development of infrastructure by the state and defensive levies. This political covenant formed his early perception on slavery, which he viewed not as an injustice, but as an impediment to economic growth.
At this point he tutored himself law by studying Blackstone’s opinions on the laws of England. After joining the bar in 1837 he moved to Springfield Illinois where he practiced in John T. Stuart law firm. Immediately after this, it is rumored that he met and fell in love with Anne Rutledge but she perished from yellow fever when an outbreak occurred in Salem. Her death is purported to have saddened Lincoln, but this has been a bone of contention by historians as no one was certain of the depth of their relationship.
William Herndon partnered with him in 1844 to practice law. Both approached law differently but they had a close professional and personal relationship. Despite making a good livelihood, he found Springfield unsatisfactory to offer sufficient work so to supplement his earnings he toured with the courts in its rounds in the state.
Entry into politics
His entry into politics was short, he found himself the only Whig member from Illinois hence serving only one term in the state legislature. His anti war sentiments when America fought Mexico made him few friends and reduced drastically his popularity in Illinois. He decided against contesting and resumed law practice in Springfield. As the railroad construction advanced to the west, Illinois was becoming a major centre for many companies. He worked as an activist for the Illinois central railroad by being their lawyer. A series of successes won him many clients in the manufacturing, insurance and banking industries.
As he prospered professionally, his social life was not rosy because he befriended Mary Owens and there was a possibility of a marriage but after a few months Lincoln terminated the union (McPherson 59). In 1840 he met Marry Todd who was a flamboyant, well educated and from a family of high standing. Unfortunately the engagement was cancelled promptly. Meeting at a social event later, they finally tied the knot in 1842 and proceeded to sire four children but only Robert survived to maturity.
Individual states were given the right to determine the fate of slavery in their territories when the Nebraska act of 1844 superseded the special consideration of Missouri. In Kansas and Illinois, it elicited damaging resistance giving birth to the Republican Party. Lincoln joined the new party as they both shared the same opinions about slavery. The Scott v. Sanford decision of the Supreme Court denying African Americans citizenship and their inborn rights was very contentious.
According to Lincoln, blacks may not have been equal to whites but they were born with special undeniable liberties. Contesting Stephen Douglas for senatorial seat of which slavery was a hot campaign item, Lincoln did not succeed but the debates catapulted him to the national limelight. A campaign was hatched by political machinations in Illinois to have Lincoln run for the presidency. The republican national convention of 1860 rose up to the occasion and elected Lincoln against seasoned candidates like Salmon Chase of Ohio and William Seward of New York. Lincoln went on to win the general election by beating his friend Stephen Douglas in a contest that included John C. Breckinridge of the Northern Democrats and John Bell of the Constitution Party. Even though he did not garner 40 percent of the popular vote, he took 180 out of the 330 votes of the Electoral College. Lincoln formed a formidable cabinet by including his political opponents hence the saying, “hold your friends close and your enemies closer”.
The civil war
Before Lincoln was sworn into office in March 1861, seven southern states had broken from the union. This marked the start of America’s most expensive and dangerous war. The president countered the secessionist by mustering state resources. He overlapped congress in appropriating $2 million and requested recruitment of 75000 volunteers devoid of declaring a war. Due to the partisan political sentiments that preceded the war, it was hard for the unionists to crush the confederates. The war began to favor the north not by military prowess but by wearing away as the rebels resorted to guerilla tactics.
In the election of 1884 Lincoln was the outright winner against his foe, George B. McClellan. The war came to an end when General Robert E Lee, commander of the army of Virginia gave up his force to General Ulysses S. Grant of the union forces.
John Wilkes booth, a prominent actor and a confederate supporter assassinated the president at ford’s theater in Washington; D.C. On April 14 1865 the great savior of the union was finally laid to rest in Springfield Illinois (Sandburg 81).
Lincoln has influenced me in the following ways; that one can succeed in life irrespective of social background. He rose from a manual laborer, to a lawyer then finally to the presidency. He was also a believer in political bipartisanship; he included his opponents in his cabinet so as to strengthen the government. After the war he was against retribution but wanted the rebel states to be admitted back to the union with minimum conditions. Our current crop of leaders can learn very vital lessons from this statesman who is still part of the American believes and way of life. Other aspects of Lincoln’s life are his trademark quotes which are still being referred to by people from many walks of life. Examples are; “government by the people, of the people and for the people” and “I walk slowly but never backwards”.