Lincoln is one of the most important figures in American history, and the man most responsible for insuring that America was not divided into two countries as a result of the Civil War of 1861-1865. While Lincoln is often credited with being the “Great Emancipator” for his role in freeing enslaved Southern Blacks, and while he did oppose slavery, his primary concern during the Civil War was to preserve the Union.
Born in a log cabin to illiterate frontier parents, Lincoln’s personal history is one of continual failure and eventual triumph over adversity. His brother was born in 1812 and died in infancy. Lincoln’s mother died from milk disease when he was nine. Raised in the wilderness where the family had to provide its own food, water, and heat, Lincoln never received more than a year of formal education. In 1828 his sister died while giving birth. In 1835 the woman he loved, Ann Rutledge, died from fever at age twenty-two. In 1837 he proposed to Mary Owens and was refused, allegedly because of her belief that he would never “amount to anything.” In 1842 he married Mary Todd. Of Lincoln’s four children, all sons, from his marriage to Mary Todd, three predeceased him (dying at ages 4, 12, and 18). Only Robert Todd survived into adulthood.
After unsuccessful attempts at business, Lincoln taught himself the law and became a skilled orator. His first bid for the Illinois state legislature was unsuccessful, but he was elected in 1834, as a Whig, and served four terms. He was elected to the United States Congress in 1846, but was not a popular representative and served only one term before returning to his law practice. In 1855 he unsuccessfully sought the Whig nomination for the Senate. In 1858, running as a Republican, he engaged in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates as part of his unsuccessful bid for the Senate. With only a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives for national political experience, Lincoln was chosen as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate on the third ballot, and won the 1860 election with 40 percent of the popular vote. Reelected in 1864, he was shot on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth. He died the next day.