This website is dedicated to the belief that Abraham Lincoln's presidency was and is the most influential presidency in American history.
Early Life and Influences
While this site is dedicated to Lincoln's presidency, it is important to know who Lincoln was before he became president, so that we better understand his motivations and actions as president.
Lincoln was born February 12, 1809 in his iconic one-room log cabin in Hodgeville, Kentucky. During his early childhood, Lincoln attended a separate baptist church; the church had strict moral standards, the most noteworthy of which being antislavery, while Lincoln was not a deeply religious man (being a self described fatalist for most of his life) this church may well have been one of the earliest influences that would define Lincolns presidency.
Not only is Lincoln arguably the most influential president but also one of the most inspirational, this was due to the fact that he lacked a real formal education. Throughout his young life Lincoln had roughly a year's worth of what passed for a "real" education through a series of itinerant teachers. What really educated Lincoln was his appetite for knowledge, he would read voraciously and study everything he could get his hands on; Lincoln took pride in referring to himself as a "self-made man". That a man with with no formal education could go on to be president of the United States, it really meant something back then when you told your child they could do anything when they grew up (so long as they were a white male of course).
Lincoln's early life, much like his presidency, was fraught with hardship. His father, Thomas, lost his land due to faulty property titles and had to move his family across the Ohio river into non-slave territory in hopes of a fresh start. His mother would later die of milk sickness in 1818 and his older sister would die while in labor. In 1830 Lincolns father, fearing a milk sickness outbreak, would once again move his family with new wife Sara Bush Johnston, heading west until they ended up in Macon county, Illinois. They would move once more to Coles county, Illinois until Lincoln, now a young adult, would eventually set off on his own.
Twice in his life, first in 1828 and again in 1831, Lincoln would travel down the Mississippi river by flatboat to New Orleans, his only real trips deep south. While there is no official information on what Lincoln felt when visiting New Orleans, the cultural differences of such a large and flamboyant city no doubt left quite the impression on Lincoln. Supposedly, he was greatly affected by the scenes of slavery around him and condemned the practice.
While living in New Salem Lincoln would have several jobs. He worked as a clerk in one store and became part owner of another, though it eventually failed. He also served as New Salem's post master and as a county surveyor, all the while studying diligently to make up for the education he never received. However, Lincolns true calling, his political career would start only a short year later.
It could be said that Lincolns political career began in the military, during the Black Hawk War in 1832. Throughout the war Lincoln was often shifted between positions, going from captain of the first company to private before finishing his tour as a spy for an independent company under Captain Jacob Early. Lincoln himself never went into combat, though he did assist in burying dead after several battles; however, Lincoln did make several lasting political connections with young, up and coming political leaders such as Orville Hickman Browning and John Todd Stuart - not to mention making a reputation for himself among volunteers from various parts of the state.
Early Political Career
How is it that a man with so little was able to do so much for his country? After have an idea for who Lincoln was and how he came to be that way, you need to know how a man in his position managed to become president.
Despite his service Lincolns first attempt at political success ended in failure when he ran for the Illinois General Assembly in 1832. He had many features what would him a good political candidate such as his gift for speech, commanding presence (being at 6'4") and a tenacity for learning; however, Lincoln was no doubt held back by his lack of education, powerful friends and finances which would explain why he game in eighth of the thirteen candidates that ran, of which the top four were elected.
Lincolns second attempt at the Illinois General Assembly would come in 1834 with his motivation being an obligation to his country and the lure of a well paying job. Lincoln was a member of the Whig party at this time and with the backing of local democrats was elected at second place in the polls: he would be re-elected in 1836, 1838, and 1840.
From an early age Lincoln was no doubt familiar with court proceedings as his father had been a prominent member of society and would frequently sit in on juries; soon after his successful election he was encouraged to study law and since he could not afford a proper law school, Lincoln once again began reading and studying everything he could to further his education. Lincoln received his law license on September 9, 1836 and in April 1837 he was enrolled to practice before the Supreme Court of Illinois. He would make a reputation for himself as an adept lawyer, appearing in court well over 300 times.
In 1846 Lincoln served his first and only term as a congressman in the House of Representatives; he was the only Whig in the Illinois delegation at the time and represented his party loyally by participating in every vote he could attend and making a number of speeches that supported his parties views.
In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act brought Lincoln once again back into politics, in his Peoria Speech Lincoln declared his disapproval of slavery's advancement claiming that the Kansas Act had "declared indifference" and went on to say
"...but as I must think, a covert real zeal for the spread of slavery. I cannot but hate it. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world..."
Lincoln ran for the Illinois senate seat in 1854; however, support from the split Whig party was dwindling and Lincoln eventually had his supports back candidate Lyman Trumbull who won the election. In 1858 the republican party nominated Lincoln to once again run for the U.S. senate seat after which Lincoln gave his famous House Divided Speech; however, the speech would pale in comparison to the even more famous Lincoln—Douglas debates of 1856 where over the course of seven debates the two opponents would set themselves apart on polar opposites of the issue of slavery. Despite eventually losing the election Lincoln had earned himself a powerful reputation that would eventually lead him to be the presidential nominee of the Republican party: Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States – as well as the first Republican president – on November 6, 1860.