From Ohio History Central
Carte de visite portrait of President Abraham Lincoln, ca. 1865. He served as president of the United States from 1861 to 1865. He was re-elected for a second term, but it was cut short when he was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth President of the United States.
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, near Hodgenville, Kentucky. When he was seven years old, he moved with his family to Indiana, where the Lincolns made a living as farmers. Due to the rural isolation of his home and the hard work his family engaged in to survive, Lincoln had limited schooling. For the most part, he was self-taught. In 1830, the Lincolns moved to Illinois. Abraham Lincoln worked on flatboats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, as well as a store clerk in the community of New Salem.
Lincoln also entered into politics. In 1832, he ran for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, but he lost the election. Politically, Lincoln supported the Whig Party. He tried again in 1834. He was successful in his bid and served in the Illinois House until 1842. In 1836, Lincoln successfully passed the Illinois bar exam. From 1842 to 1846, he practiced law. In 1846, Illinois voters elected Lincoln to the United States House of Representatives. He was an opponent of the U.S.-Mexican War. He also supported the Wilmot Proviso, which would have prohibited slavery in any territory that the United States acquired from Mexico in the war. While many Illinois residents agreed with Lincoln on slavery's expansion, they disagreed with his views on the Mexican War. He failed to win reelection in 1848.
For the next several years, Lincoln practiced law. He became one of the most respected attorneys in Springfield, the capital of Illinois. National events brought Lincoln back to the political arena during the mid 1850s. He strongly opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Because of his views on slavery's expansion, Whig Party members selected Lincoln as their candidate for the United States Senate in 1855. The Illinois legislature chose the Democratic Party's candidate, although the Democrat shared Lincoln's views of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In 1856, Lincoln declared himself a member of the newly established Republican Party. Lincoln's old party, the Whig Party, had collapsed in the early 1850s.
Lincoln acquired a national reputation in 1858. In that year, Lincoln was the Illinois Republican Party's candidate for the United States Senate. The Democratic Party nominated the incumbent senator, Stephen Douglas. The two men participated in seven debates. Lincoln argued that the United States could not survive with half of the nation allowing slavery and the other half opposing this institution. Lincoln contended that African Americans were human beings and that they deserved their freedom. However, he never claimed that blacks should have equal rights with whites. Douglas championed popular sovereignty and accused Lincoln of believing that African Americans were equal to whites. Douglas retained his seat. These debates were reported upon by newspapers across the United States. Thanks to this press coverage, Lincoln and his views became well known across the United States, and made Lincoln well respected by many Northerners.
Douglas and Lincoln met again in the presidential election of 1860. Lincoln represented the Republican Party, while Douglas represented the Northern Democratic Party. By the late 1850s, the Democratic Party was split over the issue of slavery. Northern Democrats generally opposed slavery's expansion, while many Southern Democrats believed that slavery should exist across the United States. Douglas refused to endorse the Southerners' view, and the Democratic Party split in two. John C. Breckinridge represented the Southern Democratic Party. A fourth party, the Constitutional Union Party, also campaigned in this election. Its candidate, John Bell, hoped to compromise the tensions between the North and South away by extending the Missouri Compromise line across the remainder of the United States. Slavery would be permitted in new states established south of the line, while the institution would be illegal in new states formed north of the line.
Lincoln won the election against the other three candidates. Many Northern voters agreed that slavery should not expand, and many of these people also agreed with Lincoln that the federal government could not end slavery where it already existed but that it could prohibit slavery in new territories and states. In 1860, the North had a population of approximately twenty-three million people to the South's nine million. Southerners divided their support between Breckinridge and Bell, while Northerners generally rejected these two candidates. Douglas provided the only real opposition to Lincoln in the North, but most Northern voters preferred Lincoln's views. With such a wide difference in population, the North controlled the Electoral College and gave Lincoln the victory in the election.
Upon Lincoln's election, Southern states began to secede from the Union. Many Southerners believed that Lincoln would end slavery within the United States. Eleven Southern states seceded from the Union between December 1860 and June 1861, creating the Confederate States of America and beginning the American Civil War.
For the first two years of the war, Lincoln struggled to find effective military leaders. Generals such as George McClellan and Ambrose Burnside were reluctant to fight or were poor battlefield commanders. The Union faced a number of setbacks in the East but did achieve an important victory at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. This battle stopped the Confederacy's first invasion of the North in the East. It also permitted Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and make the ending of slavery one of the North's war aims.
Lincoln refused to end slavery during 1861 and the first half of 1862 for several reasons. First, he believed that the United States Constitution prevented the president from seizing the property -- slaves -- of the country's citizens without due process. Second, Lincoln feared alienating the residents of the Border States -- slave states that had remained in the Union. These people included residents of Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, and Maryland. If these people joined with the South, hundreds of thousands of more men could join the Confederate armies. Lincoln wanted to solidify the North's control over these slaveholding states before acting against slavery. Third, Lincoln realized that many white Southerners and Northerners would not support slavery's termination, because it might result in the equality for the African Americans with white people. Lincoln hoped to persuade prominent African-American leaders that the black population should move from the United States if slavery ended. The president also had to negotiate with other nations, to convince these countries to accept African-American immigrants. Finally, Lincoln worried that ending slavery would alienate any Unionist sympathizers currently in the South, further strengthening the Confederate war effort.
By the summer of 1862, Lincoln had become convinced that slavery had to end. Many of his concerns about ending the institution had been alleviated. Northern troops now had firm control over the Border States and they would be able to prevent these states from seceding from the United States. Southerners remained committed to the war effort. Lincoln was convinced that any Unionist support in the Confederacy could not succeed in persuading secessionists to rejoin the United States. A growing number of Northerners began to believe that slavery was morally wrong. As Northern soldiers marched into the South, many of these men saw the true brutality of slavery for the first time. Many of these men informed their loved ones in the North about the injustice of the institution. Finally, Lincoln believed that the federal government did have the right to hamper its enemy's ability to wage war. Slaves grew crops and produced other supplies for the Confederate military. The United States Constitution allowed the president to adopt measures during times of war to help guarantee a military victory. Lincoln decided that ending slavery would hamper the Confederate war effort and was legal under the United States Constitution. Lincoln drafted an initial copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in July 1862, but he did not issue it to the public until September 22, 1862. .
The Emancipation Proclamation declared that slavery would end in any area still in rebellion against the United States on January 1, 1863. Lincoln hoped that white Southerners would rejoin the United States before the deadline to keep their slaves. These Southerners refused to recognize Lincoln's conciliatory gesture, and slavery, in theory, ended in areas in rebellion on January 1, 1863. Slavery did not end everywhere within the United States on that date. The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the Border States. It also did not end slavery in areas in the South that Union forces had conquered. These areas included several coastal areas along the Atlantic Ocean, as well as parts of northern Virginia and Louisiana. Slavery did not end everywhere in the United States until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.
During 1863, Lincoln found better military commanders. Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman, both Ohioans, believed that the quickest way to reunite the nation was to destroy the ability of the South to wage war. Grant believed the best way to do this was to continuously attack Confederate armies. He knew that the North had many more men than the South and that the Union should be able to overwhelm the Confederates. Sherman also waged war against the civilian population, knowing that it was Southern civilians who were supplying the Confederate armies. Because of the success of these strategies, the North won the Civil War. Northern victories on the battlefield helped Lincoln win reelection against George McClellan in the election of 1864.
Lincoln did not live to see the war's end. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln attended a play, Our American Cousin, at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC. A well-known actor named John Wilkes Booth shot the President. Lincoln died the next day. Booth was killed a few weeks later while trying to avoid capture.
For the most part, Ohioans had supported Lincoln and his views. In the election of 1860, Lincoln received 231,000 votes from Ohioans to Douglas's 187,000. People from the South or with Southern leanings tended to vote for Douglas while people from Northern states generally endorsed Lincoln. Bell and Breckinridge, the other two candidates, received a little over twenty-three thousand votes. As civil war gripped the nation, a majority of Ohioans agreed with Lincoln that the nation had to be reunited. A total of 310,654 Ohioans served in the Northern army for varying lengths of time. The federal government required each state to supply a set number of soldiers determined by the state's population. Ohio exceeded the government's call for men by 4,332 soldiers. This number does not reflect the 6,479 men who paid a monetary fine to the government to escape military duty. It also does not include the 5,092 African-American soldiers who served in the United States Colored Troops or in units from other states, including the famous Fifty-Fourth and Fifty-Fifth Massachusetts Infantry Regiments. Ohio exceeded the federal government's requirements by more than fifteen thousand men, clearly illustrating Ohioans' support of the war effort.
Not all Ohioans, however, supported Lincoln and his views. A number of people who had migrated from the South, had economic ties to this region, or objected to the federal government's violation of civil liberties opposed the war effort. They also opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. Other Ohioans responded the Emancipation Proclamation in different ways. Radical Republicans, like Senator Benjamin Wade, welcomed the document, as did the state's abolitionists and the Quaker population. Other Ohioans, especially those from working-class backgrounds, were not as welcoming. Many of these people feared that African Americans would flee the South, move to Northern states and take jobs away from other working people. Clement Vallandigham argued that Lincoln did not have the power to end slavery and that the president was in clear violation of the United States Constitution. Some Ohioans serving in the Union military refused to fight a war that was to end slavery. They deserted and returned home.
Most Ohioans mourned President Lincoln's assassination. Lincoln's body was transported by train from Washington to his home in Springfield, Illinois. Along the way, the train stopped at many large cities to allow the American people to view the President one last time. Ohioans, by the thousands, turned out to say goodbye to the man who had led the nation through the Civil War. When the train stopped in Cleveland, Ohio, more than one hundred thousand people were present. In Columbus, Lincoln's body lay in state at the Ohio Statehouse. People filed past the open casket for almost seven hours and also lined the railroad tracks as the funeral train passed by. Some Ohioans, especially the Peace Democrats, had objected to Lincoln's war policies. However, by April 1865, most Ohioans were thankful for the war's successful conclusion and appreciated Lincoln's leadership.
- Ambrose Burnside
- Stephen Douglas
- Ulysses S. Grant
- Clement Vallandigham
- American Civil War
- Battle of Antietam
- Mexican War
- Missouri Compromise
- African Americans
- Peace Democrats
- Radical Republicans
- George B. McClellan
- Wilmot Proviso
- Emancipation Proclamation
- Democratic Party
- Union Party
- Whig Party
- Kansas-Nebraska Act
- Republican Party
- United States Constitution
- Battle of Shiloh
- William T. Sherman
- Benjamin F. Wade
- Society of Friends
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Columbus, Ohio
- Appalachian Mountains
- Northern Democratic Party
- Popular Sovereignty
- Southern Democratic Party
- United States Colored Troops
- Ohio Statehouse
- Abraham Lincoln's Assassination