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Honest Abe Abe Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, Honest Abe, is one of the greatest American Presidents. He is known today for his Presidency in which he fought the Confederacy during the Civil War and abolished slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation and later the Thirteenth Amendment. He was an intelligent, honest, and just leader who governed at a critical time in American history.
Lincoln was born on the twelfth of February 1809 in a cabin three miles outside of Hodgenville, Kentucky. He was later forced to move to Indiana. As a child Lincoln worked on his family’s farm clearing fields and tending crops. He liked to read but unfortunately received hardly any formal education. In fact, his entire schooling only amounted to about one year of attendance. (Brit. 23) In 1830 Lincoln’s family moved to Illinois. Lincoln didn’t want to be a farmer, so he tried other professions: rail-splitter, flatboat man, storekeeper, postmaster, surveyor, an army man, and a profession in Law.
In 1932 Lincoln, at twenty-three years old, decided to run for the Illinois State legislature. Lincoln was to campaign for local improvements such as better roads and canals. However, a war with the Indians broke out before Lincoln’s campaign could get going. In response, he joined the Army. After his short wartime, Lincoln returned to politics and lost the race of Illinois Legislature. In 1834 he ran again and was elected- second of thirteen. At the age of 25 Lincoln was a member of the Illinois Legislature.
After his term in the legislature, Lincoln found he needed more money. So, he started studying law on his own. He accepted a job in Springfield at John Todd Stuart’s practice.
In the late 1830’s Lincoln found the love of his life, Mary Ann Todd, the daughter of a rich banker. She got engaged to Abe in 1840 and the two were married in 1842. They had thee children together, Willie and Tad Lincoln.
In 1946 Lincoln won the Whig nomination for a seat in the House of Representatives for Illinois and sat in Congress in 1847. The major issues of the time were the Mexican-American war, which Lincoln opposed, and slavery. Lincoln was not an anti-slavery crusader. However, he did vote in Congress to stop it from spreading. Morally, Lincoln hated slavery and said slaver was “founded on both injustice and bad policy.” He wanted to abolish slavery over time because he thought dramatic actions to end slavery would lead to violence. Lincoln felt that Congress should not interfere with slavery in states in which it already existed. After his term in Congress, Lincoln left politics again for a full time law practice.
In the early 1850’s Senator Stephen Douglas opened the issue of slavery in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska act, allowing the issue of slavery in Kansas and Nebraska to be decided by popular sovereignty. Lincoln was “thunderstruck and stunned.” This act brought him back into politics. He felt obligated to speak out against the Kansas-Nebraska act. So, after Lincoln left law he traveled across Illinois campaigning for anti-slavery Whigs. In his campaigning Lincoln called slavery a “cancer” and a “monstrous injustice.” He said he believed in the Declaration of Independence, which states “all men are created equal.” However, he wasn’t sure of what to do with slavery in the states where it already existed in.
In 1856, Lincoln switched from the Whig Party to the Republican Party because the Whigs were weak and could never unite against slavery. Lincoln felt that if he wanted to make a point he would have to be with a strong party.
In 1858, Lincoln won the Republican Nomination for the Illinois Senate seat. He wanted the seat of his long time rival, Senator Stephen Douglas. In Lincoln’s first speech for his Senate campaign Lincoln said, “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.” Lincoln warned his opponents that the spread of slavery must be stopped or else it would become “lawful in all the states; old as well as new- north as well as south.”
In July of 1958, Lincoln challenged Senator Douglas to a series of seven three-hour, public debates. Thousands of people showed up to watch the Little Giant (Douglas) vs. Long Abe. Douglas fought for white supremacy. He believed the country could endure half free and half slave. Douglas said whites made this country therefore they should run it. Lincoln wanted equality. During one debate Lincoln said:
“There is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man.”
In the end, Douglas won the Senate election by a hair. However, Lincoln did not give up. His debates with Douglas had made him famous across Illinois. Lincoln kept debating and got a lot of Republican support. Lincoln got so much support that the Republicans felt he could win the presidential election. So, they tried to get him nominated.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates were incredibly crucial to Lincoln’s future career. It was this series of debates that made Lincoln well known throughout the country. In fact, Lincoln probably would not have won the Presidential Election in 1860 if he hadn’t debated with Douglas. Douglas was far better known than Lincoln was throughout the country and in Illinois. At the Lincoln-Douglas debates people from miles around would come to watch the two men speak in the remote towns of Illinois. Reporters from around the nation came and jotted down what the two men said. What was said at the debates could be read in the newspapers of major cities the very next day. It was Lincoln-Douglas debates that first gave Lincoln nation wide publicity. Lincoln probably would not have ended up in the White House if it had not been for these debates.
At the Illinois Republican Convention in May 1860 Lincoln was chosen as the Republican’s favorite Presidential Candidate. One week later at the National Republican Convention, Lincoln was nominated on the third ballot. Lincoln was running against two Democrats Stephen Douglas of Illinois, and John C. Breckenridge, a southern Democrat from Kentucky.
On Election Day—November 6, 1860—Lincoln won the election with 1,866,000 votes. He carried every Northern State. Southerners hated this “black Republican” and his name did not appear on any southern ballots. Douglas got 1,377,000 votes and Breckenridge received 850,000. If the Democratic Party had not split Lincoln would not have been elected. Douglas and Breckenridge’s votes combined were more than the total number of votes for Lincoln. So, if Breckenridge hadn’t run, almost all Democratic votes would have gone to Douglas.
I also believe, that if Douglas were elected, a civil war would not have broken out. Douglas believed the nation could endure half-free half slave. He did not feel strongly about slavery. Unlike Lincoln, Douglas did not care if slavery spread through America. If it weren’t for Lincoln slavery could have spread into new states and territories. It was Lincoln’s boldness against slavery that created nation wide freedom in America.
As soon as Lincoln was elected some southern states threatened to secede from the Union. The South hated Lincoln. An Atlanta newspaper said, “Let the consequences be what they may… the south will never submit such humiliation and degradation as the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.” And so, sure enough, in December, the slave state South Carolina seceded from the Union. During the next three months before Lincoln’s inauguration, seven more slave states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America with their capital in Richmond, Virginia. In February, Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi became the president of the Confederacy. On the 4th of March 1861, Lincoln was sworn into office. In his inaugural address Lincoln told the people he would not tamper with slavery in the states where it already existed.
“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
Little did the people know what Lincoln was going to do. He later said in his address “In your [the American people] hands, my dissatisfied countrymen, and not mine is the momentous issue of civil war.” Lincoln went on to say he would do everything he could to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Union.
THE CIVIL WAR
Lincoln believed the Union could be saved without any blood. However, On April 14, 1861 Fort Sumter, at the entrance to the Charleston Harbor in South Carolina, was taken over by the Confederacy. The long Civil War had begun.
The Union had claimed the loyalty of 23 states, 22 million people. It was had an industrial economy which could produce rifles, cannons, shoes and everything else an army might need quickly. One thing, however, which the factories could not produce was good generals. Throughout most of the Civil War this would be a constant problem.
The Confederacy had 11 states, 9 million people of which almost four million were slaves. Its economy was agricultural. Unlike the Union, the Confederacy “held a monopoly of military talent.” (LPB 73) Soldiers also knew the land on which the war was fought and had acquired military skills from hunting.
Lincoln decided he needed to keep other countries from helping the confederacy. So, he set up naval blockades in Confederate ports. Then, Lincoln launched three major offensives: One into Virginia, another into Tennessee, and a third to take control of the Mississippi River. He gave General George B. McClellan control of eastern armies. McClellan trained his men very carefully but took a long time doing it.
Lincoln found relief from the pressures of the war in his home life with his wife Mary and his two boys: Willie and Tad. However, in February of 1862 both boys became ill. Tad recovered. Willie, on the other hand, was not as fortunate. On February 20, 1862 William Wallace Lincoln died. This devastated the Lincoln family. Mary was so disturbed that she could not attend his funeral.
By the spring of ’62, the north had captured New Orleans and was gaining control of the Mississippi. Around June, McClellan led his troops to Richmond. He brought his troops there slowly and thus, the Confederates found out and had time to muster their defenses. While McClellan’s troops were waiting outside of Richmond, Lee launched a counter-offensive driving McClellan all the way back to the James River. More than 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing. McClellan’s long anticipated attack on Richmond had failed.
On the eastern front the Union had not won a battle yet and he could not find a competent commander. So, he made himself the Commander in Chief of all armies. McClellan remained supreme commander. Lincoln tried General Henry W. Halleck at the top military position. He was a failure. Halleck gave good advice but was a flake when it came to being decisive in military action.
Initially, Lincoln stated that he would leave slavery alone where it existed. However, abolitionists were urging Lincoln to “teach rebels and traitors that the price they are to pay for the attempt to abolish this country must be the abolition of slavery.” On the other hand, there were also Northerners who supported the Union but not emancipation. Lincoln worried about the support of these states and the loyal slave states: Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware.
Lincoln wanted to start emancipation in the loyal states and sweep the rebel states with it as they were conquered, giving money to slave owners as their slaves were freed. He suggested this plan to the loyal slave states’ congressmen. However, they didn’t like it. “Emancipation in the cotton states is simply an absurdity,” said a Kentucky congressman. So, Lincoln changed his plan. He realized that slavery was crucial to the South’s success in the war. If he could get rid of slavery the south would be crippled and would lose any support from Britain. Britain was willing to help the south because they supplied cotton to them. Without slaves the South could not produce nearly as much cotton. There was too much antislavery sentiment in Britain for them to support a country’s fight for the preservation of slaves. Besides, the Union also needed troops and slaves were eager to get out of their chains and fight for the North. Without emancipation the Civil War wouldn’t mean enough. The reason for the Southern States’ secession in the first place was slavery. Lincoln thought that even if the Union was reunited there would be another war over slavery. However, he questioned his own authority to abolish slavery.
When Lincoln was inaugurated he said he did not have the right to emancipate. However, as a wartime measure he felt he did have the power to do so. So, Lincoln devised a plan to crush slavery in the rebel states but preserve the loyalty of the Union slave states. His plan was called the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Emancipation Proclamation said all slaves were “then, thenceforward, and forever free” on the first of January 1863. Lincoln then planned to gradually emancipate slavery in the loyal states. However, the Union had not had a victory in a long time. Lincoln felt that if the proclamation were released then it would seem like an act of desperation. So, he awaited a decisive military victory by the North.
In July the Union was whipped once again at the second battle of Bull Run. However, at the Battle of Antietam McClellan tried to repel Lee in Maryland while he was advancing to Philadelphia. He was successful and on September 17, 1862 Lee retreated back to Virginia. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest battle yet in the Civil War. It was the victory Lincoln had been waiting for. Five days later, on the twenty-third of September, Lincoln released the Emancipation Proclamation to the press. This proclamation changed the Union’s war effort. Before the Emancipation Proclamation the North was fighting for the prese
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