Abraham Lincolns Life Story

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Abraham Lincolns Life Story

Membership in a state legislature was only a part time job and not one that paid well. So Lincoln decided, simultaneously, to become a lawyer. He did this, like everything else in life, through his own initiative and studying. He borrowed all the law books he could and studied them until he felt he understood their principles. His advice to law students later was; "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing." When he was 27, he earned his license and moved to the state capital of Springfield to join the law practice of his friend, John Stuart. Stuart once described his first impressions of Lincoln: "He was the most uncouth looking young man I ever saw. He seemed to have little to say; seemed to feel timid, with a tinge of sadness visible in the countenance, but when he did talk all this disappeared for the time and he demonstrated that he was both strong and acute." One of Lincoln's most famous law cases was when he discredited a witness who claimed he'd seen Lincoln's client committing a murder, by the light of the moon. Lincoln produced an almanac that proved there was no moon the night of the murder, and his client was acquitted.

Lincoln changed law firms a few times and finally settled down with a partner, William Herndon. He never dissolved that partnership, even when he was President. At his request, the sign above the office still read Lincoln and Herndon, even when Lincoln was in the White House.

While living in Springfield Lincoln began courting Mary Todd, a Kentucky woman to whom he soon proposed. It was a turbulent relationship from the start. Mary was high strung and socially ambitious - Lincoln was introspective and given to moods. Lincoln broke off the engagement at one point, sure they wouldn't be able to make each other happy. But he was so depressed after this, an event he always referred to as "that fatal first of January," that they reconciled soon after. The two finally married in 1842, when Lincoln was 33 and Mary was 23. It was a loving marriage and a devoted one, in spite of persistent troubles and challenges that increased dramatically during the White House years. Lincoln had regular episodes of melancholy and Mary had a series of nervous fits and breakdowns. She occasionally had tantrums of jealousy and temper that embarrassed Lincoln in public, and she spent their money so lavishly that her husband was often driven into debt. Mary was an unhappy First Lady. Her brothers were serving in the Confederate army while her husband was commanding the Union, and as a result she was considered a traitor by some of the public and press. She also grew desperately lonely when Lincoln was forced to travel. After the death of one of their children, and after she witnessed her husband's assassination, she went insane and was admitted to a mental institution.

The Lincolns had four children, all boys, but only one - Robert - lived to adulthood. Edward died at age four, years before Lincoln became president; Willie died in the White House at age eleven, and Tad died at age 18, a few years after Lincoln was killed.

When Lincoln was 38, he ran for and won a seat in Congress, still as a member of the Whig Party. When his term expired he returned to Springfield and took up his law practice with renewed vigor. By the 1850's, he was one of the leading lawyers in Illinois. He might have continued as a lawyer in Illinois except for a sudden change in the national policy towards slavery, that lured him once more into politics.

The change was a repeal of the Missouri Compromise, an earlier bill that prohibited slavery in new territories. The new bill allowed settlers in the territories to decide for themselves if they wanted slavery. It had been introduced by a Senator from Illinois named Stephen A. Douglas.

Lincoln was outraged. Although not an abolitionist, he was strongly opposed to further spread of slavery. Slavery, he said, was in violation of the American principles of equality and freedom. It would enable enemies of the free world to, "taunt us as hypocrites." Determined to stop the new bill, Lincoln spearheaded a movement against Stephen Douglas and other politicians who supported it. When his own party, the Whigs, seemed split on the issue of slavery, he joined the Republican Party, an anti-slavery party still in its infancy. Then he accepted that party's nomination to run against Douglas for the U.S. Senate. His acceptance speech, given in 1858 when he was 49 years old, contained some of his most stirring and famous words:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved - I do not expect the house to fall - but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other."

Lincoln challenged his opponent to a series of historic debates, famous now for two reasons: it brought the slavery issue into prominence; and it brought national attention to Abraham Lincoln. Large crowds gathered for the debates and newspapers covered them with bold headlines. They were a colorful pair of opponents - Douglas, five feet four inches tall, smooth and polished, with a husky, well-trained voice. And Lincoln, nicknamed "the railsplitter," a full foot taller, with his earthy backwoods manners, a stride like a ploughman, and a voice with a high pitched twang. But it was more than Douglas versus Lincoln. It was slavery versus freedom.

Lincoln lost the debates and he lost the election. But he won something much larger. He won the attention of the nation and the Republican Party. In 1860, when he was 52 years old, they offered him the nomination for Presidency of the United States.

In the 1800s it was considered undignified for a candidate to do his own campaigning - so Lincoln sat back and watched while his followers did it for him. Their work was made somewhat easier by the fact that the Democratic Party split into two factions, which competed against each other. In the end Lincoln won all the electoral votes needed to put him in office. But more Americans voted against Lincoln than for him, and he lost the popular vote. Nearly all of Lincoln's popular and electoral votes came from the North. When he took the oath of office of President of the United States, it was already a nation divided.

The first state to secede from the Union was South Carolina. It was followed quickly by six others, and then four more. The Confederate States of America had been born, and for the first time in one hundred years, the future of the Union was in doubt.

In Charleston Harbor, South Carolina there was a fort that soon became a symbol to the American people of the sanctity of the Union. It was called Fort Sumter. After Lincoln took office, the South seized federal forts within their borders and left Lincoln with some difficult decisions. Should he reclaim the forts? Should he strengthen the forts that had not been taken, like Fort Sumter? He knew if he reinforced Fort Sumter, the South would consider it an act of war. Yet if he didn't, the North would protest. As a compromise Lincoln decided to send only provisions to the fort, first informing the South of his intentions. The compromise didn't work. The South attacked, the fort surrendered, and the Civil War had begun.

The Civil War was the sole consuming business of the entire presidency of Abraham Lincoln. It was a crisis of such enormous import, and he poured so much energy and soul into resolving it, that by the time his four-year administration was over, he had aged twenty years. The pictures of him before and after are the pictures of two different men.

 


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