Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln remains one of the most important figures in American history for his presidential leadership during the crisis of the Civil War.

Born in 1807 in slaveholding Kentucky, Lincoln moved at the age of eight to the free state of Indiana. Extraordinarily talented and ambitious, Lincoln was largely self-educated. He later wrote about his early life, ""I was born Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families--second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks.... My father ... removed from Kentucky to ... Indiana, in my eighth year.... It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up.... Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher ...."

In 1830, Lincoln moved to Illinois and entered state politics. He eventually won a seat in the state legislature, serving as a member of the Whig Party. In 1836, Lincoln became a lawyer and eventually moved to Springfield to pursue his practice. From 1847-49, Lincoln served a single term in the United States Congress, during which time he opposed the American war with Mexico.

Although Lincoln left politics in the late 1840s to pursue his legal practice, he reentered public life in 1854 because of his outrage at the Kansas Nebraska Act, which among other things repealed the anti-slavery provisions of the Missouri Compromise. From 1856 until 1860, Lincoln became an increasingly prominent political figure in the new Republican Party. In 1858, he gained national attention when he ran for the US Senate from Illinois against the Democratic incumbent Stephen A. Douglas. Although he lost the race, Lincoln repeatedly stressed his belief that slavery was a great moral wrong and chastised Douglas for his moral indifference.

Lincoln's strong showing in his debates with Douglas made him a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860. Nominated on the third ballot that spring, Lincoln went onto victory in November against a bitterly divided Democratic Party. As president-elect, however, Lincoln watched helplessly as seven southern states seceded from the Union rather than submit to a government led by a Republican president. In his inaugural address, Lincoln warned the South to not destroy the Union: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."

After Confederate batteries fired upon and forced the surrender of US troops at Fort Sumter, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to take up arms to put the rebellion down. This proclamation led four more southern states to withdraw from the Union. Most all Americans, including Lincoln, expected the conflict to be brief and relatively bloodless. These illusions were shattered by the disastrous northern defeat at the first battle of Bull Run in July 1861, which caused 5,000 casualties.

As the war lengthened as well as increased in size and scope, slavery increasingly became an issue the President had to confront. Although he initially struggled to keep the slavery out of the mix of Union war aims, it proved impossible. Tens of thousands of run-away slaves crowding into Union military camps, pressure from abolitionist Republicans in Congress, and a stalemated war-effort convinced Lincoln on January 1, 1863 to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. This presidential edict freed those slaves in the rebelling Confederacy and made the end of bondage a fundamental Union war aim. Later that year at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Lincoln movingly asserted his larger goals in the war: "...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that 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."

In 1864, as Union armies in the eastern and western theaters made significant, though costly, progress against Confederate forces, Lincoln won reelection against the former general and Democratic nominee George McClellan. The following year at his second inauguration, Lincoln famously urged his fellow countrymen to be magnanimous as the war came to a close, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

On April 14, 1865, just five days after Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant, the President was fatally shot at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. by the actor and southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln quickly became a martyr both to freedom and to the Union he had helped to save. His death, however, tragically ended any opportunity for a magnanimous end to the Civil War.

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  • Mr. LIncoln's White House ( The Lincoln Institute )

    From the Introduction to "Mr. Lincoln's White House" website: It was an "ill-kept and dirty rickety concern," according to presidential secretary John G. Nicolay. "I wonder how much longer a great nation, as ours is, will compel its ruler to…

  • Mr. Lincoln and Friends ( The Lincoln Institute )

    Introduction to Mr. Lincoln and Friends website by Lewis E. Lehrman: By 1863, General Robert Anderson's health precluded a strenuous military command but he needed the compensation of an Army commission. President Lincoln concluded an August 1863 letter to Anderson…

  • Mr. Lincoln and New York ( The Lincoln Institute )

    Introduction to "Mr Lincoln and New York" website by Lewis E. Lehrman: A good suit is neither necessary nor sufficient for a good speech, much less a successful candidacy for the Presidency. Nevertheless in February 1860, Abraham Lincoln bought a…

  • The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois January 27, 1838 by Abraham Lincoln

    From website introduction to the speech: As one of Abraham Lincoln's earliest published speeches, this address has been much scrutinized and debated by historians, who see broad implications for his later public policies. Lincoln was 28 years old at the…

  • Lincoln in the Media ( Gilder Lehrman Collection )

    Gilder-Lehrman Institute Summary: During times of war, art often serves as propaganda for those who seek to promote a cause or diminish the support of their enemy. During Lincoln's presidency, slavery was the defining issue of the time. Republicans, abolitionists…

  • Wilberforce, Lincoln, and the Abolition of Slavery ( Gilder Lehrman Collection )

    Gilder-Lehrman Institute introduction: This exhibition presents a variety of original documents and images highlighting the story of the abolition of slavery between 1787 and 1865 in England and America. Each item has its own historic significance as well as a…

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  • Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

    Publisher's Description: David Herbert Donald's Lincoln is a stunningly original portrait of Lincoln's life and presidency. Donald brilliantly depicts Lincoln's gradual ascent from humble beginnings in rural Kentucky to the ever- expanding political circles in Illinois, and finally to the…

  • Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President by Allen C. Guelzo

    Since its original publication in 1999, "Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President" has garnered numerous accolades, not least the prestigious 2000 Lincoln Prize, given annually by Gettysburg College and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History. Allen Guelzo's peerless biography of America's most…

  • Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words by Douglas L. Wilson

    Abraham Lincoln now occupies an unparalleled place in American history, but when he was first elected president, a skeptical writer asked, "Who will write this ignorant man's state papers?" Literary ability was, indeed, the last thing the public expected from…

  • Inside Lincoln's White House: the Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay by John Hay

    Publisher's Description: On 18 April 1861, assistant presidential secretary John Hay recorded in his diary the report of several women that "some young Virginian long haired swaggering chivalrous of course. . . and half a dozen others including a daredevil…

  • Herndon's Life of Lincoln: the History and Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik

    Reprint of the famous biography of Abraham Lincoln, researched and written by his former Springfield law partner, William H. Herndon.

  • Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power by Richard Carwardine

    As a defender of national unity, a leader in war, and the emancipator of slaves, Abraham Lincoln lays ample claim to being the greatest of our presidents. But the story of his rise to greatness is as complex as it…

  • Abraham Lincoln: A Biography by Benjamin P. Thomas

    Long considered a classic, Benjamin P. Thomas's Abraham Lincoln: A Biography takes an incisive look at one of American history's greatest figures. Originally published in 1952 to wide acclaim, this eloquent account rises above previously romanticized depictions of the sixteenth…

  • The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln by Roy P. Basler

    This eight-volume collection of Abraham Lincoln's written works was compiled after the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection at the Library of Congress was opened to the public. Two additional supplementary volumes were also published. All the volumes are now accessible at…

  • Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850's by Don E. Fehrenbacher

    First published in 1962, Prelude to Greatness reviews the great issues that Abraham Lincoln confronted during the period after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Fehrenbacher states in the preface: "The center of my attention n each of these…

  • The History of Abraham Lincoln and the Overthrow of Slavery by Isaac N. Arnold

    Chicago Congressman Isaac N. Arnold was a friend and supporter of Abraham Lincoln. He wrote shortly after Lincoln's death of Lincoln's involvement in the demise of slavery. He subsequently wrote a biography of Lincoln.

  • Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln by Rodney O. Davis and Douglas L. Wilson

    Publisher's Description: For twenty-fives years after the president's death William Herndon, his law partner, conducted interviews with and solicited letters from dozens of persons who knew Lincoln personally. Up to now, the valuable information he collected has been available only…

  • The Eloquent President : A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words by Ronald C White

    Publisher's Description: In The Eloquent President, historian Ronald C. White, Jr., examines Abraham Lincoln's astonishing oratory and explores his growth as a leader, a communicator, and a man of deepening spiritual conviction. Examining a different speech, address, or public letter…

  • Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography by William Lee Miller

    William Lee Miller's Lincoln's Virtues is less an "event" chronology than the tracing of the moral and ethical core of Abraham Lincoln's beliefs, what Miller calls the man's "unintended preparation for greatness." Miller posits that Lincoln rightly deserves his nonpareil…

  • Lincoln Reshapes the Presidency by Charles M. Hubbard

    'Developed from papers presented at the Lincoln Symposium, held at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum on the campus of Lincoln Memorial University on April 26-28, 2001.Includes bibliographical references.Introduction /Charles M. Hubbard -- Abraham Lincoln and the Changing Role of…

  • Lincoln and the Negro by Benjamin Quarles

    First published in 1962, Lincoln and the Negro was the first book to examine in detail how Lincoln faced the problem of the status of black people in American democracy, and it remains unsurpassed. Starting with Lincoln's childhood attitudes, Benjamin…

  • Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America: a Biography by William Gienapp

    Publisher's Description: In Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America, historian William Gienapp provides a remarkably concise, up-to-date, and vibrant biography of the most revered figure in United States history. While the heart of the book focuses on the Civil War…

  • Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream by Gabor S. Boritt

    Publisher's Description: This unique exploration of Lincoln's economic beliefs shows how they helped shape his view of slavery, his conduct of the war, and most fundamentally his understanding of what the United States was and could become.

  • The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln by Michael Burlingame

    Publisher's Description: Published to a flurry of praise--and consternation--from Lincoln scholars, Burlingame's book takes a hard and unsentimental look at, among other things, Abraham Lincoln's excruciating yet fruitful midlife crisis, his marriage to a dishonest woman who often embarrassed and…

  • The Age of Lincoln by Orville Veron Burton

    Publisher's Summary: Stunning in its breadth and conclusions, The Age of Lincoln is a fiercely original history of the five decades that pivoted around the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Abolishing slavery, the age's most extraordinary accomplishment, was not its most…

  • Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America by Allen C. Guelzo

    Publisher's Description: In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was known as a successful Illinois lawyer who had achieved some prominence in state politics as a leader in the new Republican Party. Two years later, he was elected president and was on his…

  • Lincoln at Peoria:The Turning Point by Lewis E. Lehrman

    From the book's website: :Students of Abraham Lincoln know the canon of his major speeches - from his Lyceum Speech of 1838 to his "Final Remarks" delivered from a White House window, days before he was murdered in 1865. Less…

  • Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 by Harold Holzer

    One of our most eminent Lincoln scholars, winner of a Lincoln Prize for his Lincoln at Cooper Union, examines the four months between Lincoln's election and inauguration, when the president-elect made the most important decision of his coming presidency --…

  • Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World by Eric Foner

    Our best historians offer fresh insights on Abraham Lincoln and his time to mark the upcoming bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.In 1876 the abolitionist Frederick Douglass observed, "No man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln." Undeterred, the contributors…

  • Lincoln's Darkest Year: The War in 1862 by William Marvel

    A revealing look at Lincoln's actions in 1862-and a nation in the midst of warLincoln's Darkest Year offers a gripping narrative of 1862, a pivotal year in our country's Civil War. Marvel continues the story he began in Mr. Lincoln…

  • The Lincoln-Douglas Debates by Rodney O. Davis and Douglas L. Wilson

    This edition of the Lincoln-Douglas debates uses both the Chicago Times version (favorable to Douglas) and the Chicago Press-Tribune version (favorable to Lincoln) to create a more accurate "fusion" version. The editors are recognized experts in Lincoln's writings, having edited…

  • Forge of empires, 1861-1871: three revolutionary statesmen and the world they made by Michael Knox Beran

    Beran details the concurrent stories of Abraham Lincoln, Czar Alexander and Bismarck. The book does not plow new ground certainly not as far as Lincoln is concerned but it does weave the stories of Russia, Prussia and America…

  • Abraham Lincoln and a Nation Worth Fighting For by James A. Rawley

    Publisher's Description: The many sides of Abraham Lincoln-war leader, humorist, commander in chief, politician, and emancipator-are vividly depicted in this concise and fresh look at his presidential years. Pivotal events, decisions, and issues in Lincoln's private and public life are…

  • A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War by Harry V. Jaffa

    A New Birth of Freedom is the culmination of over a half a century of study and reflection by one of America's foremost scholars of American politics, Harry V. Jaffa. This long-awaited sequel to Crisis of the House Divided, first…

  • The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House by F. B. Carpenter

    Publisher's Description: Author Francis Bicknell Carpenter, a New York artist, believed that the Emancipation Proclamation was "an act unparalleled for moral grandeur in the history of mankind." Carpenter had a deep respect for Lincoln's action, and he had an impulse…

  • The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 by David M. Potter

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  • The Lincoln Log by Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission and Papers of Abraham Lincoln

    The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln incorporates Lincoln Day-by-Day: A Chronology, compiled by the Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission with the cooperation and support of the Abraham Lincoln Association and published by the Government Printing Office…

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  • Abraham Lincoln as Statesman by Flagg Taylor

    Course Description: *This course will explore Lincoln's confrontation with the problem of slavery and the American regime. It will primarily consist of a close analysis of Lincoln's speeches and writings, with particular emphasis on the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. *Lincoln's…

  • American Political Thought: Abraham Lincoln and the House Divided by Joseph Fornieri

    American Political Thought: Abraham Lincoln and the House Divided "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free." Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858 Course Purpose The Civil War has been…

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  • Lincoln-Douglas Debates by Phil Hamilton

    In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephan Douglas engaged in seven debates in a race for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. Although Douglas was regarded as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1860, he struggled in…

  • Gettysburg by Phil Hamilton

    The battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) was the most important struggle of the Civil War. After three days of fighting, Gen. George Meade's Army of the Potomac defeated Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Following his defeat…

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