Lincoln, Abraham (1809-65), 16th president of the United States (1861-65), who
steered the Union to victory in the American Civil War and abolished slavery.
Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, near Hodgenville, Kentucky, the son of Nancy
Hanks and Thomas Lincoln, pioneer farmers. At the age of two he was taken by his
parents to nearby Knob Creek and at eight to Spencer County, Indiana. The following
year his mother died. In 1819 his father married Sarah Bush Johnston, a kindly
widow, who soon gained the boy's affection.
Lincoln grew up a tall, gangling youth, who could hold his own in physical contests
and also showed great intellectual promise, although he had little formal
education. In 1831, after moving with his family to Macon County, Illinois, he
struck out on his own, taking cargo on a flatboat to New Orleans, Louisiana. He
then returned to Illinois and settled in New Salem, a short-lived community on the
Sangamon River, where he split rails and clerked in a store. He gained the respect
of his fellow townspeople, including the so-called Clary Grove boys, who had
challenged him to physical combat, and was elected captain of his company in the
Black Hawk War (1832). Returning from the war, he began an unsuccessful venture in
shopkeeping that ended when his partner died. In 1833 he was appointed postmaster
but had to supplement his income with surveying and various other jobs. At the same
time he began to study law. That he gradually paid off his and his deceased
partner's debts firmly established his reputation for honesty. The story of his
romance with Ann Rutledge, a local young woman whom he knew briefly before her
untimely death, is unsubstantiated.
Illinois Politician and Lawyer
Defeated in 1832 in a race for the state legislature, Lincoln was elected on the
Whig ticket two years later and served in the lower house from 1834 to 1841. He
quickly emerged as one of the leaders of the party and was one of the authors of
the removal of the capital to Springfield, where he settled in 1837. After his
admission to the bar (1836), he entered into successive partnerships with John T.
Stuart, Stephen T. Logan, and William Herndon, and soon won recognition as an
effective and resourceful attorney.
In 1842 Lincoln married Mary Todd, the daughter of a prominent Kentucky banker, and
despite her somewhat difficult disposition, the marriage seems to have been
reasonably successful. The Lincolns had four children, only one of whom reached
His birth in a slave state notwithstanding, Lincoln had long opposed slavery. In
the legislature he voted against resolutions favorable to the "peculiar
institution" and in 1837 was one of two members who signed a protest against it.
Elected to Congress in 1846, he attracted attention because of his outspoken