During his Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln tried to warn the Southern States of the dangerous course that they had embarked upon.
“In your hands, my dissatisfied countrymen, and not mine is the momentous issue of civil war.”
Lincoln believed that secession constituted a crime and was willing to use force to preserve the Union, as well as to uphold Federal authority in the United States. When the Confederate States attacked Fort Sumter, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers.
Born on February 12, 1809, Lincoln was the son of a Kentucky frontiersman and a plantation owner’s daughter. As Lincoln grew up he had to struggle to learn as well as to earn a living. When he was eight, the family moved from Kentucky to Indiana because Kentucky had not yet been properly surveyed and it was difficult for farmers to prove ownership of their land. Lincoln’s mother died when he was ten years old.
Lincoln continued his efforts to educate himself, often studying by night after splitting logs for fence rails or working in a shop by day. Lincoln also served as captain in the Illinois State militia during the Black Hawk War, in addition to working as circuit lawyer and serving in the state legislature for eight years.
Lincoln eventually married Mary Todd, the daughter of a successful Kentucky banker. Together they would have four children. Unfortunately only one of them would survive to adulthood.
In 1858, Lincoln ran for the Senate against Stephen Douglas. Lincoln lost, but learned from the experience and applied those lessons during his successful 1860 presidential campaign.
The Lincoln Presidency
Lincoln was able to use his influence as the President of the United States to build the Republican Party into a national political force. He was also successful in rallying most of the Northern Democrats when war broke out following the Confederate siege of Fort Sumter in 1861. In 1863, Lincoln became known as the Great Emancipator after signing the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that guaranteed the freedom of the slaves in the Southern United States.
Lincoln saw to it that nobody forgot the larger issue that the American Civil War represented, which was that a group of individuals had tried to illegally subvert a democratically elected government.
Lincoln was easily re-elected in 1864 as one stunning Union victory after another showed that the tide was turning in the favour of the North, and that the war would soon be over. With the Civil War drawing to its conclusion, Lincoln began planning for peace. His speeches from this period indicate that he was willing to be generous with the South once the war ended.
Unfortunately, this was not to be. On Good Friday, April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was shot in the back of the head at close range by John Wilkes Booth, while attending a performance at Ford’s Theatre. With the death of Abraham Lincoln, the reconstruction of the devastated South was left to his Vice President, Andrew Johnson, who was a supporter of states’ rights. As a result the opportunity for a generous and lasting peace with the former Confederate States was lost forever.
Lincoln still draws the fascination and admiration of many people around the world. He is considered one of the great men not just of American history, but of the world. Leo Tolstoy described such luminous individuals as Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington as “pale moonlight” to Lincoln’s sunshine. Even in his own time Abraham Lincoln was described as a great leader and a nearly perfect man.