The Essential Guide to Abraham Lincoln

The Life & Legacy of America's 16th President

Abraham Lincoln was one of the most influential and important leaders in American history. Rising from humble beginnings, Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States and steered the nation through its greatest trial – the Civil War.

His leadership helped abolish slavery and preserved the Union, cementing his legacy as the Great Emancipator. This is the story of his remarkable life.

Early Life & Education

Abraham Lincoln was born on 12 February 1809 in a log cabin on the Sinking Spring farm in Kentucky. His parents were Thomas Lincoln, a farmer, and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. When Lincoln was young, the family moved to Indiana where the future president spent his childhood.

Formal schooling was limited but Lincoln was an avid reader, consuming books on history, law and oration. He was mostly self-educated, developing a passion for learning, writing and public speaking from a young age.

In 1830, the Lincolns moved to Illinois where Abraham worked on the family farm. During this time, he also assisted neighbours with manual labour and gained experience working on riverboats. These years he cemented the values of hard graft and determination that would shape Lincoln’s worldview.



Early Political Career

Lincoln’s political career began in 1832 when he unsuccessfully ran for the Illinois state legislature as a member of the Whig Party. Two years later, at age 25, he was elected to the lower house of the Illinois General Assembly where he served four successive terms until 1841.

During this period, Lincoln became known for his formidable oration skills and storytelling abilities. He honed his public speaking through debates, speeches and courtroom arguments. His reputation grew steadily as an eloquent, persuasive voice in Illinois politics.

In 1846, Lincoln won election to the US House of Representatives where he served a two-year term speaking out against the Mexican-American War. He chose not to seek re-election but resumed his law practice in Illinois. Throughout the 1850s, he campaigned for Whig candidates and increasingly opposed the expansion of slavery into western territories.



Election as President & the Civil War

The newly formed Republican Party chose Lincoln as their presidential nominee in 1860. He campaigned on the central platform of restricting the spread of slavery. Lincoln won the election with just 40% of the popular vote in a highly divided political landscape. Several southern pro-slavery states quickly moved to secede from the Union, leading to the outbreak of America’s bloodiest conflict – the Civil War.

As president, Lincoln focused on preserving the Union above all else. He believed strongly that democracy depended on unity and compromise between opposing factions. Initially, Lincoln refrained from making slavery’s abolition a war aim, fearing it would alienate border states vital for winning the war. But the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 declared slaves in confederate states to be “forever free”.

Lincoln proved an adept military strategist in support of Union Army campaigns. He motivated troops with stirring speeches like the Gettysburg Address which humanised the horrific losses with its immortal words “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. The Union won several key victories in 1863-64 shifting the war’s momentum.

On April 9 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered ending the four-year conflict. Just days later, Lincoln was tragically assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln died at the age of 56, just after the war’s conclusion but before the full achievement of its goals. His death was mourned across America and internationally.



Legacy as Great Emancipator

Abraham Lincoln led the nation through its darkest chapter and ensured its survival. While presidents before him had compromised with slavery’s expansion, Lincoln took the decisive stance that it must be abolished. The 13th Amendment officially ending slavery was ratified in 1865, fulfilling his central vision.

Lincoln was multifaceted - an innate politician, eloquent orator, shrewd military tactician and ardent defender of democracy. He made the preservation of America’s democratic ideals the central purpose of the gruelling Civil War. In doing so, Lincoln saved the American experiment in self-governance.

While Lincoln did not live to see the full fruits of reunification and racial justice, his legacy inspired their ongoing pursuit. He charted the path by saving the Union, emancipating slaves, and promoting “a new birth of freedom.”

Lincoln remains one of the most revered presidents in history. Memorials across America honour his life, from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC to currency with his likeness. He epitomized honesty, integrity and moral courage at one of America’s darkest and finest hours. Lincoln’s words and legacy as the Great Emancipator continue inspiring democratic freedom, equality and unity around the world.

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