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Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, guided his country through the most devastating experience in its national history-the Civil War. He is considered by many historians to have been the greatest American president.

Early Life

Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809, in a log cabin in Hardin County, Ky. Indians had killed his grandfather. This tragedy left his father, Thomas Lincoln, a wandering laboring boy, who grew up without education. Thomas became a skilled carpenter and purchased three farms in Kentucky before the Lincolns left the state. Little is known about Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Abraham had an older sister, Sarah, and a younger brother, Thomas, who died at infancy.

In 1816 the Lincolns moved to Indiana. Land ownership was more secure in Indiana because the Land Ordinance of 1785 provided for surveys by the federal government, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 forbade slavery in the area. Lincoln's parents belonged to a faction of the Baptist church that disapproved of slavery.

Indiana was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. The Lincolns' life near Little Pigeon Creek, in Perry County, was not easy. Lincoln was raised to farm work and recalled life in the forest as a fight with trees and logs and grubs. Lincoln later remembered, he attended some schools, but for less than a year altogether. He remembered, "I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three; but that was all."

Lincoln's mother died in 1818, and the following year his father married a Kentucky widow, Sarah Bush Johnston. She was a good and kind mother. In later years Lincoln could recall memories of his childhood home. His sister died in childbirth the same year.

In 1830 the Lincolns left Indiana for Illinois. Abraham made a flatboat trip to New Orleans, and in 1831 he left home for New Salem, in Sangamon County near Springfield. In New Salem, Lincoln tried various occupations and served briefly in the Black Hawk War.

Election to the Presidency

In February 1860, Lincoln made his first major political appearance in the Northeast when he addressed a rally at the Cooper Union in New York. He was now sufficiently well known to be a presidential candidate. At the Republican national convention in Chicago in May, William H. Seward was the leading candidate. Seward, however, had qualities that made him undesirable in the critical states the Republicans had lost in 1856: Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and New Jersey. As a result Lincoln won the nomination by being the second choice of the majority.

He went on to win the presidential election, defeating the Northern Democrat Douglas, the Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, and the Constitutional Union candidate John Bell. Lincoln selected a strong cabinet that included all of his major rivals for the Republican nomination: Seward as secretary of state, Salmon P. Chase as secretary of the treasury, and Edward Bates as attorney general.

By the time of Lincoln's inauguration in March 1861, seven states had seceded from the Union. His conciliatory inaugural address had no effect on the South, and, against the advice of a majority of his cabinet, Lincoln decided to send provisions to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The fort was a symbol of federal authority--conspicuous in the state that had led secession, South Carolina--and it would soon have had to be evacuated for lack of supplies. On Apr. 12, 1861, South Carolina fired on the fort, and the Civil War began.

The Civil War

As a commander in chief Lincoln was soon noted for vigorous measures, sometimes at odds with the Constitution and often at odds with the ideas of his military commanders. After a period of initial support and enthusiasm for George B. McClellan, Lincoln's conflicts with that Democratic general helped to turn the latter into his presidential rival in 1864. Famed for his clemency for court-martialed soldiers, Lincoln nevertheless took a realistic view of war as best prosecuted by killing the enemy. Above all, he always sought a general, no matter what his politics, who would fight. He found such a general in Ulysses S. Grant, to whom he gave overall command in 1864. Thereafter,

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