LINCOLN, ABRAHAM, an American statesman, and 16th President of the United States; born in Hardin co., Ky., Feb. 12, 1809. His family was of Quaker and Pennsylvania origin. In 1816 his father settled in what is now Spencer co., Ind.; and for 10 years the future president was employed in hard manual labor on the paternal farm. The whole time spent by him at school, to which he went at intervals, did not amount to more than a year. At 19 he was 6 feet 4, and his physical capabilities were remarkable. When, in 1830, his father removed to Macon co., Ill., Abraham not only helped to build the family log-hut, but with a single assistant split rails enough to fence 10 acres of land. In 1831 he worked to New Orleans a flatboat which he had assisted in building. He became then for a time a clerk in the New Salem store of the owner of the boat; and in 1832 entered, and was made captain of, a company of volunteers raised on the breaking out of the Black Hawk War.
Unsuccessful in the country store which he opened, he was appointed postmaster of New Salem, and—borrowing from a neighbor practitioner law books—spent his evenings in the study of law. In 1834 he was elected a member of the State Legislature, and he continued to be re-elected till 1840. In 1836 he had been licensed to practice as a lawyer, and in 1837 commenced business at Springfield, his residence till he was elected President. As a lawyer he became rapidly successful; and in politics he rose to be a prominent leader of the Whig party in Illinois. In 1844 he canvassed the State, making speeches almost daily on behalf of Henry Clay for the presidency. In 1846 he was elected to Congress.
He distinguished himself as an opponent of the annexation of Texas, and of the extension of slavery, and as a supporter of its abolition in the District of Columbia. He advocated a protective tariff, the sale of public lands at a low price, and the system of grants for the improvement of rivers and harbors. When his term ended he resumed the practice of law till the repeal of the Missouri Compromise recalled him to active political life. Through his exertions a Republican Senator—the Whig party having become extinct—was returned by Illinois. In the presidential election of 1856 he worked strenuously for Fremont, and his own name was mentioned in connection with the vice-presidency. In 1858 he ran against Douglas as Republican candidate for the Senate; and after a spirited contest, Lincoln secured a large majority of the popular vote—the State Legislature, however, returning Douglas.
The struggle with Douglas placed Lincoln in the foremost rank of his party; and the Republican National convention, which met at Chicago, May 16, 1860, nominated him for President. He was elected in November following. Before the time came to take his seat, South Carolina and other Southern States had seceded, and under the vacillating policy of Buchanan were able to make all their preparations for war. A plot to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore having been discovered, his journey to Washington, from Harrisburg, Pa., was taken secretly, and he was inaugurated March 4, 1861.
The war broke out with the attack on Sumter, April 12. Lincoln's administration was largely devoted to the suppression of this formidable secession. He at once issued a call for 75,000 volunteers, and secured the defense of the capital. There were conflicting policies in his cabinet, and on the field the Union armies met disheartening defeats. In these dark days the sagacity, patience, and wisdom of Lincoln were proved to the whole country. On Jan. 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, by which more than 4,000,000 slaves were set free. English opinion pronounced it the noblest political document known to history, and in the verdicts of mankind it has taken its place with the Magna Charta and the Declaration of Independence.
His other State papers are among the greatest in the archives of statesmanship. After the battle of Gettysburg, and various brilliant victories, the popular confidence in his administration became limitless, and he was re-elected by increased majorities in 1864, and early in the following year he witnessed the triumph of his policy, and the end of the Civil War. He had served but little more than a month of his second term when he was assassinated. On the evening of April 14, 1865, while present at Ford's Theater, in Washington, he was shot by Wilkes Booth, an actor and fanatical secessionist. Lincoln died the next morning.
Collier's New Encyclopedia, 1921