Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin on February 12, 1809 in Hardin County, Kentucky. From these humble beginnings the first born son of Thomas, an uneducated farmer, and Nancy Hanks, Lincoln would grow to become the 16th President of the United States.
In 1997 William Riding Jr. And Stuart B. McIver asked a group of 719 professors, elected officials, historians, attorneys, authors and other professionals to rate the presidents. The categories in which the various presidents were rated included leadership qualities, accomplishments and crisis management, political skill, appointments, and character and integrity. Lincoln finished no lower than third in any category and was first overall. In February of 2009 C-SPAN conducted a survey of 65 historians. The group was asked to rank the presidents in ten categories including public persuasion, economic management, international relations and moral authority. Again Lincoln finished first (Norton).
During the election of 1860 many Southern states had declared that if Lincoln were elected they would secede because of his opposition to slavery. Lincoln won the election with only 39% of the vote ("Abraham Lincoln") and in December 1860 South Carolina was the first to leave the Union. Six other Southern States quickly followed: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Soon after Lincoln's inauguration in March of 1861 Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina also declared their independence from the union. These states became known as the Confederate States of America, and when the Confederates seized Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April of that year the first shots were fired signaling the beginning of the Civil War (National Parks Service).
Lincoln faced the greatest national crisis of any U.S. President. He played a vital role in preserving the Union and beginning the process that led to the end of slavery. He is remembered as a man of extraordinary character and leadership, for his speeches and letters, and as person of humble beginnings who through sheer will power and determination rose to the nation's highest office.
Lincoln faced extraordinary pressures throughout the Civil War. His generals were not ready to fight, his life was constantly threatened, and his cabinet members bickered among themselves. There were huge losses on the battlefield and opposition from many corners. However, despite all of these things Lincoln remained steadfast in his resolve to preserve the Union and persevered. He did not bow to pressure to end the war early and kept fighting until the Confederacy was defeated and all of his goals had been achieved (Norton).
The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to territories not under Union control ("Abraham Lincoln"). The fact of the matter is that legal freedom for all slaves was not achieved until the final passage of the thirteenth amendment in December of 1865. Lincoln was a strong supporter of the amendment; however he was assassinated eight months before the legislation was ratified.
Lincoln's foreign policy was aimed at preventing foreign intervention during the Civil War. His domestic policies included support for the Homestead Act, which allowed private citizens to obtain land in the West thus promoting expansion. He also signed the Morrill Act, designed to aid in the establishment of agricultural and mechanical colleges in each state. Lincoln signed the National Banking Act, legislation which established a national currency and provided for the creation of a network of national banks. In addition, he signed tariff legislation that offered protection to American industry and signed a bill that chartered the first transcontinental railroad (Norton).
Lincoln is also well-known for a number of his writings and the enduring speeches he delivered before and during his presidency. These include the House Divided Speech, the Cooper Union Address, the First Inaugural Address, the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural Address. Lincoln initially believed one of his most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address, was a failure. The address was delivered as part of a ceremony to dedicate a portion of the battlefield to "Those who here gave their lives so a nation might live." The battle in Pennsylvania marked a turning point in the war and the Chicago Tribune accurately predicted that the speech would live among the annals of man ("Abraham Lincoln").
Lincoln set an example of strong character, leadership, and honesty that many succeeding presidents have attempted to emulate. Present day leaders are often compared to Lincoln. He had a benevolent leadership style as compared to the authoritarian, participatory, or laissez-faire. He is highly respected for his integrity, character, and wisdom, for holding the Union together and for ending slavery.
Lincoln's Early Years
When Lincoln was born he was given his paternal grandfather's name, with no middle name. His grandfather had been killed by Indians and his death was witnessed by his father, Thomas. Though his father was uneducated he was highly respected in the community and had purchased land. Thomas was a religious Baptist who was outspoken in his beliefs against slavery. While this humanistic anti-slavery attitude influenced Lincoln from birth, he did not share in his father's religious beliefs. It is believed that a combination of his father's outspoken stance against slavery and an increasing amount of debt led to the family leaving Kentucky when Lincoln was seven years old and moving to what is now known as Spencer County in Indiana (Ketcham).
By the time Lincoln was ten he had lost two family members, his younger brother had died in infancy, and his mother died from 'milk sickness.' Lincoln was profoundly affected by her death. Lincoln soon had a new stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston. Lincoln and his stepmother forged a strong bond. Lincoln's formal education consisted of a little more than a total of 18 months throughout his early life, and was mostly from itinerant teachers. This did not stop Lincoln, he was an avid reader and borrowed books from neighbors at every opportunity. His stepmother was instrumental in teaching Lincoln to read and write (Kearns).
In 1830 Thomas moved the family to Illinois. They settled in Macon County, and when the family was fairly settled the 21-year-old Lincoln started out for himself. He arrived at the threshold of manhood morally clean. He had formed no bad habits and was free from vice as well as crime. He was not profane, he had never tasted liquor, he was no brawler, he never gambled, he was honest and truthful. On the other hand, he had a genius for making friends, he was the center of every social circle, he was a good speaker and possessed analytical ability (Ketcham).
Lincoln's Philosophy of Life
Lincoln accredited no individual as a predominate influence on his intellectual development or his personal philosophy. Lacking a formal education Lincoln's philosophy was shaped by a passion for reading and learning. As a child Lincoln largely rejected organized religion, but the Calvinistic 'doctrine of necessity' remained a strong influence throughout his life. In April 1864, in justifying his actions regarding Emancipation, Lincoln wrote, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it" (Kearns).
Lincoln's religious skepticism was fueled by his exposure to the ideas of the lock and classical liberalism, especially economic liberalism. Lincoln would often use the Declaration of Independence as the philosophical and moral expression of these two philosophies. In a February 22, 1861 speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia Lincoln said,
"I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. ... It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence" (Lincoln).
Lincoln found in the Declaration justification for Whig economic policy and opposition to territorial expansion and the platform of the Know Nothings. In claiming that all men were created free, Lincoln and the Whigs argued that this freedom required economic advancement, expanded education, territory to grow, and the ability of the nation to absorb the growing immigrant population.
It was the Declaration of Independence, rather than the Bible, that Lincoln most relied on to oppose any further territorial expansion of slavery. He saw the Declaration as more than a political document. To him, as well as many abolitionists and other antislavery leaders, it was, foremost, a moral document that had forever determined valuable criteria in shaping the future of the nation (Boritt).
As Lincoln matured, and especially during his term as president, the idea of a divine will somehow interacting with human affairs increasingly influenced him. On a personal level, the death of his son Willie in February 1862…