Without a doubt, Abraham Lincoln is the most noted president in American history. How much of the doctrine and folklore is true?
As with any legendary historical figure Abraham Lincoln’s life, presidency and death were shrouded with conflicting stories and shadowy tales. There are some very strong points of fact though, that managed to survive the scrutiny of national historians.
Growing up Abraham Lincoln
Unlike other so called log cabin presidents prior to his tenure, Abraham Lincoln was the original grass roots president and the genuine article. Lincoln really did come from a pioneer background and his family gave new definition to the term “dirt poor”. Lincoln’s father was illiterate, some surmise even a little slow, and his mother died when he was young. It was then that his step mother introduced him to scholastic reading, studying, and the sanctity of the Bible. Abraham Lincoln’s strong spiritual sense became one of his defining characteristics, and his obvious lack of false piety led to his tremendous appeal to his constituency.
Lincoln was an obviously imposing man at 6 ft. 4in., but that was not the only thing that made him a big man to his admirers. He was self taught, including his education of the law. He went on to win local elections, gained entrance to the Illinois bar, and in 1847, he earned his seat in the House. It was at that time, according to Kenneth Davis’ book Don’t Know Much About History (Harper-Collins 2003) when fellow politicians began to describe him as honest to a fault and “too exact in his notions for Washington”.
Abraham Lincoln, Politician and the War
Jefferson paved the way for Lincoln, and as he grew in office more and more of America’s people began to share his sentiment that “all men are created equal”. After he was in office as the President for some time he began to bend political rules to achieve his strategic results. And, with the onset of the Civil War and while Congress was out of session, Lincoln blocked port access, created an army of militias, called upon volunteers, and most controversially, denied opposing soldiers their right of habeas corpus, in order to imprison them without due process. His direct breach of constitutional rights was called for and he was quoted as stating “appropriate in cases of rebellion or invasion. This was politically unprecedented and has changed the way the United States views prisoners of war.
There are many conclusions put forth by war strategists as to why the Civil War ended as it did, but consensus prevails and simply put, the Union outnumbered the Confederacy, by two to one. And ultimately, with the North’s continuous source of funds, supplies and munitions, they wore the South down.
Abraham Lincoln’s Death
Regardless of the oppression following the war, in 1865, the United States held high hopes for the future. Lincoln’s main focus was on reconciliation and reconstruction that would bring the states back into a Union. The placid reunion made possible by Lincoln’s promise of minimal reparation and punishment, and his popularity grew.
The evening of April 14th, 1865, Lincoln took his wife to see a play called Our American Cousin, and the mood of the country was calm. The policeman who was covering the President left his post, there was a shot, and a man jumped from the balcony and limped away. The shooter brandished his gun and shouted, and there is some question here, either “thus be it ever to tyrants” or “The South shall live”. He then escaped on an awaiting horse.
The investigation of Abraham Lincoln’s death was lead by Secretary of War Stanton, and martial law was declared in Washington. Later, it was discovered that John Wilkes Booth had shot the President, and by now they knew the President was dead. Booth, along with his entire family, were fanatical supporters of the South and saw Lincoln as a turn coat for his proposed reconciliation. Booth was later found by the Union Army in a Virginia tobacco barn, and was shot while resisting.
Abraham Lincoln is called the quintessential American Hero and a martyr for his death. But, matter the political affiliation, Americans across the United States sing the praises of Abraham Lincoln’s accomplishments. Even now, in the 21st Century, politicians draw from his innovations and people all over the world openly recognize his greatness.
- Davis, Kenneth C., Don’t Know Much About History, Harper-Collins Publication.2003 (pg. 237-45)