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Abe Lincoln

Essay by review  •  February 27, 2011  •  Essay  •  2,214 Words (9 Pages)  •  1,036 Views

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Early Life

Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809, in a log cabin in Hardin (now Larue) County, Ky. Indians had killed his grandfather, Lincoln wrote, "when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest" in 1786; this tragedy left his father, Thomas Lincoln, "a wandering laboring boy" who "grew up, literally without education." Thomas, nevertheless, became a skilled carpenter and purchased three farms in Kentucky before the Lincolns left the state. Little is known about Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Abraham had an older sister, Sarah, and a younger brother, Thomas, who died in infancy.

In 1816 the Lincolns moved to Indiana, "partly on account of slavery," Abraham recalled, "but chiefly on account of difficulty in land titles in Kentucky." Land ownership was more secure in Indiana because the Land Ordinance of 1785 provided for surveys by the federal government; moreover, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 forbade slavery in the area. Lincoln's parents belonged to a faction of the Baptist church that disapproved of slavery, and this affiliation may account for Abraham's later statement that he was "naturally anti-slavery" and could not remember when he "did not so think, and feel."

Indiana was a "wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods." The Lincolns' life near Little Pigeon Creek, in Perry (now Spencer) County, was not easy. Lincoln "was raised to farm work" and recalled life in this "unbroken forest" as a fight "with trees and logs and grubs." "There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education," Lincoln later recalled; he attended "some schools, so called," but for less than a year altogether. "Still, somehow," he remembered, "I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three; but that was all."

Lincoln's mother died in 1818, and the following year his father married a Kentucky widow, Sarah Bush Johnston. She "proved a good and kind mother." In later years Lincoln could fondly and poetically recall memories of his "childhood home." In 1828 he was able to make a flatboat trip to New Orleans. His sister died in childbirth the same year.

In 1830 the Lincolns left Indiana for Illinois. Abraham made a second flatboat trip to New Orleans, and in 1831 he left home for New Salem, in Sangamon County near Springfield. The separation may have been made easier by Lincoln's estrangement from his father, of whom he spoke little in his mature life. In New Salem, Lincoln tried various occupations and served briefly in the Black Hawk War (1832). This military interlude was uneventful except for the fact that he was elected captain of his volunteer company, a distinction that gave him "much satisfaction." It opened new avenues for his life.

Illinois Legislator

Lincoln ran unsuccessfully for the Illinois legislature in 1832. Two years later he was elected to the lower house for the first of four successive terms (until 1841) as a Whig. His membership in the Whig Party was natural. Lincoln's father was a Whig, and the party's ambitious program of national economic development was the perfect solution to the problems Lincoln had seen in his rural, hardscrabble Indiana past. His first platform (1832) announced that "Time and experience . . . verified . . . that the poorest and most thinly populated countries would be greatly benefitted by the opening of good roads, and in the clearing of navigable streams. . . . There cannot justly be any objection to having rail roads and canals."

As a Whig, Lincoln supported the Second Bank of the United States, the Illinois State Bank, government-sponsored internal improvements (roads, canals, railroads, harbors), and protective tariffs. His Whig vision of the West, derived from Henry CLAY, was not at all pastoral. Unlike most successful American politicians, Lincoln was unsentimental about agriculture, calling farmers in 1859 "neither better nor worse than any other people." He remained conscious of his humble origins and was therefore sympathetic to labor as "prior to, and independent of, capital." He bore no antagonism to capital, however, admiring the American system of economic opportunity in which the "man who labored for another last year, this year labors for himself, and next year he will hire others to labor for him." Slavery was the opposite of opportunity and mobility, and Lincoln stated his political opposition to it as early as 1837.

Lawyer and U.S. Representative

Encouraged by Whig legislator John Todd Stuart, Lincoln became a lawyer in 1836, and in 1837 he moved to Springfield, where he became Stuart's law partner. With a succession of partners, including Stephen T. Logan and William H. Herndon, Lincoln built a successful practice. Lincoln courted Mary Todd, a Kentuckian of much more genteel origins than he. After a brief postponement of their engagement, which plummeted Lincoln into a deep spell of melancholy, they were married on Nov. 4, 1842. They had four sons: Robert Todd (1843-1926), Edward Baker (1846-50), William Wallace (1850-62), and Thomas "Tad" (1853-71). Mary Todd Lincoln was a Presbyterian, but her husband was never a church member.

Lincoln served one term (1847-49) as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he opposed the Mexican War--Whigs did everywhere--as unnecessary and unconstitutional. This opposition was not a function of internationalist sympathy for Mexico (Lincoln thought the war inevitable) but of feeling that the Democratic president, James Polk, had violated the Constitution. Lincoln had been indifferent about the annexation of Texas, already a slave territory, but he opposed any expansion that would allow slavery into new areas; hence, he supported the Wilmot Proviso, which would have barred slavery from any territory gained as a result of the Mexican War. He did not run for Congress again, returning instead to Springfield and the law.

The Slavery Issue and the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Lincoln "was losing interest in politics" when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress in 1854. This legislation opened lands previously closed to slavery to the possibility of its spread by local option (popular sovereignty); Lincoln viewed the provisions of the act as immoral. Although he was not an abolitionist and thought slavery unassailably protected by the Constitution in states where it already existed, Lincoln also thought that America's founders had put slavery on the way to "ultimate

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