A Complete Biography of Abraham Lincoln and his Life

Biography of Abraham Lincoln and his Life
Last updated:

(Hodgenville, United States, 1809 – Washington, 1865) American lawyer and politician who was the 16th president of the United States (1861-1865). Always evoked as the president who abolished slavery, Abraham Lincoln is one of the most admired figures in American history; the honesty, the fortitude of spirit and the depth of his thought and convictions, evident in his writings and speeches, stand out among the virtues of a statesman whose performance was not without hesitation.


Abraham Lincoln

Unfortunately, when Lincoln assumed the presidency, a national crisis was reaching its culmination since the beginning of the century: the confrontation between the dynamic and modern industrial societies of the northern states, which rejected slavery, and the aristocracy of the southern landowners, owner of immense plantations that employed millions of slaves, and who saw in the abolition of slavery the end of their way of life.

Despite the fact that Lincoln was among the most moderate of the abolitionists, his election triggered the separation of the southern states, and not even his conciliatory spirit nor the vigor of his eloquence could prevent the bloody Civil War (1861-1865), which he faced to the newly created Confederation of the South with the Union of the Northern States. After two militarily adverse years, Lincoln led the Union to victory; it abolished slavery, restored the unity of the nation and decisively oriented the country towards industrial capitalism, laying the foundations that would make it a great political and economic power.

Biography

Abraham Lincoln was born into a family of Quaker settlers. During his childhood and youth, marked by the poverty of his family, he traveled the Mississippi and lived closely the subhuman conditions suffered by black slaves. He was twenty-three when he left the farm where he worked to fight as a private in the war against the Indians. Meanwhile, he undertook his self-taught training and by 1836 managed to graduate in law.

Two years earlier, his anti-slavery attitude had led him to intervene in politics, which earned him his election as a deputy from Illinois for the period 1834-1842. Thanks to his advocacy for better living conditions for blacks and his oratorical skills, he achieved great popularity throughout the state. In 1846 Lincoln reached the leadership of the Whig Party, and as a deputy in the federal Congress he supported the abolitionists in Washington.

That same year the war against Mexico broke out (1846-1848); the overwhelming North American victory supposed the definitive annexation of Texas and the incorporation to the United States of Alta California, New Mexico, the north of Sonora, Coahuila and Tamaulipas, while the Mexicans lost half of their national territory. Lincoln had been staunchly opposed to the war from the beginning; The favorable outcome of it made him lose many votes, and he failed in the senatorial elections of 1849.


With his son Tad

Disappointed, he retired from politics and worked as a solicitor for six years. Towards the end of this retirement, Lincoln was still a provincial lawyer and politician, certainly prestigious in his state, but almost unknown outside of Illinois. Nothing to presage that, another seven years later, he would be elected president of the United States, much less that his election was the trigger for the secession of the southern slave states and the start of a fratricidal war, since his abolitionist ideology was realistic. and moderate. Abraham Lincoln considered slavery as a social evil and was firmly convinced that it was necessary to prevent its spread throughout the North American states. However, he did not intend to impose immediate abolition on the southern territories;

The roots of a war

During the first half of the nineteenth century, two divergent types of economies had developed in the vast territories of the United States. The Industrial Revolution had already penetrated the northern states, beginning with the textile and manufacturing industries, which came to achieve considerable prestige. The interests of the northern states went through the maintenance of a protectionist customs policy to defend themselves against the older and better equipped European industry, which generated superior quality products.

The southern states were ruled by an aristocratic class of landowners who used black slaves for labor on their vast plantations. The interests of the South were exactly the opposite: they defended free trade. Its economy was based almost exclusively on the cultivation and trade of cotton, which slavery allowed to produce at low cost. Like any monoculture system, it was closely dependent on market conditions; most of its production was exported abroad, basically in the British cotton industry.

The founders of the new nation had hoped that slavery, inherited from the colonial period, would disappear with the passage of time and the progress of the spirits. However, due to the development of the immense cotton plantations and the need for labor, it continued to grow and spread. It was also essential for the economy of traditional southern society and for the lifestyle of that elegant, cultured and refined world, today universally known for that bucolic portrait drawn in the opening bars of the film Gone with the Wind (1939).

In 1820, by the Missouri Compromise, the country had been divided (along the 36th parallel line) into slave states and abolitionist states. But the acquisition of new territories, together with the flight of slaves to the north, weakened the balance. Thirty years later, in 1850, the incorporation of California as a non-slave state was considered as the annulment of the Missouri commitment (being located, to a large extent, south of the 36th parallel), also assuming the end of parity between slave states. and abolitionists in the federal Senate. The subsequent entry into the federation of Minnesota and Oregon worsened the situation of the Southerners.

In the middle of the century, coinciding with Lincoln’s temporary retirement, public opinion in the northern states began to show growing concern about the survival of a situation that clearly violated the principles of the Constitution. The publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the famous novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, raised the debate to a national issue. The moral disgust that the northern people felt for slavery had become extreme, while the southerners feared that the northern states, increasingly powerful in Washington, would end up imposing abolition. For southern aristocrats, the end of slavery would mean the end of their global monopoly on cotton and their way of life. Clearly uncomfortable, the southern states considered the desirability of separating from the federation, convinced of the possibility of surviving independently thanks to their prosperous plantations.

Towards the presidency

Abraham Lincoln returned to public life in 1854, when the issue of slavery again passed from the social to the political level as a result of the approval of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed slavery to be implanted in the northwestern states. As already indicated, Lincoln did not support the abolition of slavery in the states where it already existed, especially in the southern ones; Each territory had to legislate in this regard according to the conscience of its citizens. However, he fervently opposed the introduction of slavery in those others in which it was not authorized. Particularly famous for the vehemence of his verb and the solidity of his arguments was the antislavery speech he delivered in the city of Peoria (Illinois) in 1854.

In 1856 a new clearly abolitionist party, the Republican Party, was formed in the northern states, which was considered heir to the political tradition of President Thomas Jefferson. Committed to the anti-slavery cause, Lincoln joined the Republican Party the same year it was founded. Defeated again in the Senate elections of 1858, the intensity of the antislavery campaign and the dialectical duels he had with the Democratic candidate Stephen A. Douglas, elected on the occasion, restored his lost popularity; The discussions revealed his extraordinary gifts as a speaker, the depth of his thought and preparation, the maturity of his judgment, and great faith in his mission.


Abraham Lincoln (detail of a portrait of George Peter Alexander Healy)

On February 27, 1860, a large audience in New York surrendered to one of his most memorable speeches (reproduced the next day in all the newspapers), which was followed by another eleven no less acclaimed in different cities. The moderation of his positions was decisive so that on May 17, 1860, the Republican convention in Chicago chose him as a candidate for the presidency to the detriment of William H. Seward, representative of the most radical abolitionists.

The creation of the Republican Party served not only to cause alarm and irritation in the South, but also to divide the Democratic Party precisely on the issue of slavery. Thus, the 1860 elections were attended by four parties: the two Democrats from the north and the south, the Whig Party and the Republican Party, whose candidate was Abraham Lincoln. On November 6, 1860, favored by the internal divisions of the Democrats, Lincoln won the presidential election. The republicans obtained the victory in all the states of the north, whereas the other three parties were divided those of the south.

The Civil War

The Republican Party was unequivocally abolitionist and Lincoln, despite his moderate demeanor, had manifested himself as one of the staunchest antislavers; his choice could not but unleash the reaction of the southern states. Before Lincoln officially assumed the presidency, the state of South Carolina took the initiative to leave the Union. Following in Carolina’s footsteps, ten other states soon declared independence. With secession consummated without difficulty, the divided states were organized into a new political unit: the Confederation or Confederate States of America, with capital in Richmond (Virginia) and Jefferson Davis.as president. The Southerners hoped that Washington would not react, and, furthermore, they relied on the presumed military superiority of their aristocratic and chivalric elites to dissuade the government from any plan of aggression.

Secession did not mean immediate war. Lincoln denied the secessionists the right to leave the Union and was reluctant to acknowledge the reality of the separation, but he was very careful not to use force; He tried to avoid an armed conflict and restore unity by forming a coalition government with the Southerners. It was the southern states that began hostilities by attacking on April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter, a federal enclave that defended the entrance to the port of Charleston.

The Civil War lasted four years (1861-1865) and it ended up showing the superiority of the twenty-three northern states in terms of population and war resources, although the southern states promptly organized their defense and the wealth of their classes. leaders allowed them to acquire weapons in Europe. At the beginning of the war, the southern army compensated for the inferiority of forces with its capacity for initiative, its maneuvering ability and the preparation of its soldiers. Lincoln promulgated the Homestead Act in 1862, for the colonization of the West, and proposed a progressive abolition of slavery, with the intimate purpose of promoting a rapprochement with the southern Confederacy that accelerated the end of the war. After checking once more the intransigence of the other side,


Lincoln presents to his cabinet the decree of abolition of slavery
(oil by Francis Bicknell Carpenter)

The northern army gradually asserted its superiority, and after its victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July 1863, the course of the war turned in its favor. The tactical skill of Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman , and the effects of the naval blockade, which caused serious economic damage to the Confederacy and deprived it of supplies of all kinds, also contributed considerably to this. With his army divided and weakened by desertions, Southern General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses.Grant at Appomattox, April 9, 1865.

Considered the first great modern warlike conflict, characterized by extreme cruelty to the civilian population, the massive use of modern combat means and the systematic destruction by the Yankees of the southern plantations, the Civil War produced a macabre balance between six hundred thousand and one million victims between civilians and the military. The abolition of slavery devastated the agricultural economy of the devastated southern states, in which, although the freedom of blacks and their right to vote were legally sanctioned, discrimination and racial segregation could no longer be erased. On the other hand, the victory of the industrialized and antislavery North marked the triumph of industrial capitalism and the beginning of an impressive economic take-off:

The assassination

During the war, Abraham Lincoln had to improvise as strategist and chief general, remedy military disasters, seditions, and internal corruption, and oppose his quiet integrity to any criticism and accusations. He acted swiftly and energetically against insurgents and foreign intrusions, passed drastic martial laws, and established rigorous press censorship, so that, despite his clemency and restraint, he was branded a dictator by his opponents. Since 1863, the favorable course of military operations, his measures to protect the development of industry, and his conciliatory policy with respect to unruly states allowed him to maintain the confidence of his fellow citizens.


With General McClellan (Antietam, Maryland, 1862)

After the war ended, the problem immediately posed was that of the reconstruction of the Union in the political field, that is, the reincorporation of the rebellious states to the federal congress. Lincoln was in favor of the restoration of the federation in equal rights for all the states, of inscribing in the Constitution the end of slavery and of starting immediately the reconstruction of the country; He advocated an immediate reinstatement of the former confederates, with minimal guarantees and the condition that they approve the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, which entailed the abolition of slavery. Congress, however, wanted to add tougher requirements to this formula.

No less important was the material reparation of the ravages caused by the war. In November 1864, when the forces of the north already dominated the situation almost completely and the end of the war was near, Lincoln was re-elected for a second term with a program of national reconstruction that, however, he would not see carried out. : Five months later, while attending a theatrical performance in Washington, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by a Southwestern actor named John Wilkes Booth.

On April 14, 1865, five days after the surrender of the South, John Wilkes Booth learned that a messenger from the White House had arrived at Ford’s Opera House, a prestigious Washington theater, announcing that the performance that night would be attended by the President Lincoln and his wife Mary. John Booth was a young actor, highly esteemed by the public, who years before had embraced the Southern cause. During the war he had not stopped playing his favorite roles, which were those of Romeo and Brutus, the latter assassin of Julius Caesar. At the same time, his sympathies for the Confederates had turned into hatred against Lincoln, in which he saw a tyrant and accused him of wanting to become “king of the United States.”


The assassination of Lincoln

Upon learning that his enemy was going to the theater that night, he knew his chance had come. Abraham and Mary Lincoln promptly occupied their box. The play began after those present gave an ovation to its president and the first lady. In the corridor, the police officer in charge of his protection believed that such precautions were not necessary and he went out for a beer in a bar located next to the theater. John Booth arrived shortly after, greeted the clerk at the entrance, and headed for the presidential box without being blocked by anyone. He was elegantly dressed, he was a renowned actor and he knew perfectly the twists and turns of a theater in which he had worked dozens of times.

When he entered the box, the president was leaning forward. He held his wife’s hand in his and presented his left profile to the executioner. He crept forward with a Derringer, a small, single-shot pistol. He brought it close to Lincoln’s head and fired. Blue smoke filled the box. The president hardly moved: only his head leaned slowly against his chest.

Booth brandished a dagger so that no one would stop him and exclaimed, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (This is how death always comes to tyrants), words put into the mouth of Brutus at the time of stabbing Julius Caesar, which are also the currency of the state of Virginia. Then he rushed to the railing, yelled again: “The South has been avenged!”, And fell heavily into the box, breaking his leg. However, he managed to get up and limped away. Mary screamed and there was extraordinary agitation. Lincoln died the next day shortly after seven in the morning, the time he usually started work.