Abraham Lincoln: Famous or Infamous

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Abraham Lincoln is always ranked first among all the US presidents. He is noted for his lasting influence on US politics especially in the signing of the famous Emancipation Proclamation and the redefinition of republicanism.

Abraham Lincoln’s early life

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Abraham Lincoln was born on 12th February 1809, his father and mother were Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln respectively. The parents although uneducated were hardworking farmers. Lincoln was born in Southeast Hardin County, Kentucky at the Sinking Spring Farm in a one-room log cabin.[1]

Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather was called Abraham and that where Lincoln’s name came from. The grandfather had been killed in the American Indian raid in 1786. Although uneducated, his father Thomas was a skilled carpenter and purchased three farms in Kentucky before they left the State. Abraham had an older sister Sarah Lincoln born in 1807 and a younger brother, Thomas Jr. who died in infancy.[2]

            The family were staunch Baptist’s but differed with the parent church over the issue of slavery. Lincoln never joined the church, but was exposed to his parents’ antislavery convictions from early age. He had no use of religion though.

             At the age of seven years old in 1816 the family was forced to ran “partly on account of slavery” and “chiefly on account of difficulty in land titles in Kentucky” to move to Perry County, Indiana. Land ownership was more secure than at Kentucky because of the Land Ordinance of 1785 which made provisions for surveys by the federal government. Also, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 forbade slavery in the area.[3]

Indiana was a “wild region with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods” Life here was very challenging for the family and Lincoln “was raised to farm work” Because of the challenges the family was facing Lincoln had no interest in education and Lincolns formal education consisted of about 18 months of schooling. The rest was self educated.[4]

               At the age of nine years his mother died of milk sickness at the age of 34 years. His father now a widower married Sarah Bush Johnston the following year. Sarah Bush was a very affectionate mother who raised him as one of her own children. Likewise Lincoln was also affectionate towards his step mother who he considered as his mother. However he was very distant from his father of who he spoke very little about in his mature life. In 1828 Lincoln made his first flat boat trip to New Orleans, the same year his sister Sarah died during childbirth.[5]

In 1830, the family experienced more economic and land title hardships in Indiana and were forced to move to Illinois. Abraham made a second flatboat trip to New Orleans and in 1831 he left home for New Salem, Sangamon County near Springfield. Here he secured an employment that involved transporting goods on flatboats from New Salem to New Orleans on the Illinois and Mississippi river.

              Although Lincoln lacked a strong educational background he was an avid reader and mastered the Bible, Shakespeare, English and the American History. He was a talented wrestler and was very skilled with an ax which earned him the name ‘rail-splitter’. Lincoln disliked hunting or fishing because he was fond of animals and would not have liked to kill them. Lincoln was sometimes called ‘Abe Lincoln’ and nick named ‘Honest Abe’.[6]

Abraham Lincoln political career

Lincoln political career began in 1832 when aged 32 years. He ran unsuccessfully for the Illinois General Assembly as a member of the Whig party. He was eighth in a field of 13 candidates, and his campaign platform was the improvement of navigational infrastructure on Sangamon River which he believed held the economic breakthrough for the sparsely populated poorer areas along the river.

              In 1834 as a Whig, he was elected to the Lower House for the first four consecutive terms. Lincoln was naturally a Whig, because his father was one also. His ambition of economically developing the rural areas by developing infrastructure endeared him to the party which held similar convictions.

             Therefore in the 1850’s Lincoln’s main political task remained advocating his economic vision that called for the development of banking, commerce, industry and transportation. After studying law which he had developed interest in, he was admitted to the bar in 1837. Lincoln then moved to Springfield, Illinois to practice law with John T. Stuart.[7]

               In Illinois, he became famous as a lawyer and was greatly revered. In 1837, he made his first protest against slavery in the Illinois House. In 1854 together with a fellow law partner and Whig he joined the Republican Party.

                   It was on November 4, 1842 that Lincoln married Mary Todd and the couple had four sons but it was only Robert Todd who survived to adulthood and died on 26th July 1926.[8]

             Abraham Lincoln was a great admirer and supporter of Henry Clay was the Whig Party leader and in 1846 his support earned him to be elected for a term in the US House of Representatives. Here he was not powerful and influential. In 1847 the couple moved to Washington DC and continued to support the governmental aid for the economic development of the country. But he spoke out against the Mexican American war. His opposition to the Mexican American and his speeches against President Polk led to his unpopularity which also damaged his political reputation. Lincoln decided not to run for re-election but campaigned for Zachary Taylor in 1848. After-wards, Lincoln became frustrated by tensions within the Whig Party and gave up politics for law practice for several years.[9]

                      In 1854 Lincoln after a long break, he found another entry point into politics in the form of the Kansas – Nebraska Act. The act was designed by Stephan A Douglas of Illinois and established that Settlers could decide whether to allow slavery or rule of the people. Stephen A. Douglas at that time was very powerful in the senate and he advocated for popular sovereignty as a panacea to the slavery problem. He argued that in a democracy the people should have the authority or right to decide whatever they wanted with slavery and not forced to do things whether by congress or anyone else.

Lincoln played an instrumental role in forming the new Republican Party which was a combination of the various fragmented parties, which included Free soil, Whig Party Democratic and Liberty Party. After a successful campaign, the Republicans carried the day in Illinois and elected senator Lyman Trumball who was a Democrat.

           In 1858 Lincoln after being nominated to the senate, he delivered his famous speech. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” meaning that the union could not hold when America was half slave and half free. This rallied the Republicans across the north.

             The same year Lincoln and Douglas entered into national debates contests on the issues of slavery. The legislature re-elected Douglas to the senate but Lincoln’s eloquence popularized him politically. The debates dwelt much on slavery, while Douglas was for local settlers to choose whether to allow slavery or not Lincoln opposed it all together.

                  In May 9 – 10, 1860 at a Republican stage convention in Decatur, Lincoln was endorsed to run for presidency. During the election of 1860 Lincoln was chosen as the Republican candidate for Presidency.

            In the campaigns the main platform issue was slavery. Lincoln life story was greatly highlighted as a masterpiece of a rise from poverty and obscurity, through hard work. The goal was to emphasize the superior power of hard work and integrity, where a farm boy could work his way up to presidency, through hard work.

          On November 6, 1860 Lincoln was elected as the president of the United States after beating his main rival Stephen A. Douglas a Democrat. Lincoln received 180 of 303 possible electoral votes. He became the 16th President of US, whose ascendancy to presidency was the most dramatic and memorable in all history.

 Civil War

                     The civil war broke out when 11 states in the south decided to secede from the Union. The secession was started off by South Carolina followed within two months by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. In 1861 the Confederate States of America were formed with Jefferson Davis being the president. By the time Lincoln wanted to rejoin the Union a compromise was impossibility. “However Lincoln refused to take any action against the south to uphold the constitution unless the unionists were attacked first”.[10] The attack happened in April 1861 Lincoln had made some serious blunders by

        i.      Believing he could preserve the Union.

      ii.      Hold government property and still avoid war

    iii.      Did not understand how weak the Union was in the south and Border States.

    iv.      Misunderstood the conditional support of unionists in the Border States.

The civil war began in April 12, 1861 when the Confederates under Gen. Pierre Beauregard opened fire on Port Sumter in Charles tore South Carolina. The fort was forced to surrender and Lincoln ordered the mobilization of troops from every state to recapture the port. In total 75,000 troops were mobilized to protect the capital and “Preserve the Union” Shortly after this Virginia seceded and North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas followed suit.[11]

                   However the states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware refused to break away upon the promise from Lincoln that he was not to interfere with slavery there. Rebel leaders were arrested and imprisoned. During the period of the war Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Blockade against southern ports. The blockade limited the rural south from accessing valuable goods.

                 In 1962, the Second Confiscation Act was passed by Congress with a view of freeing all slaves. This was to weaken the rebellion. The law was implemented with Lincolns famous “Emancipation Proclamation” which was put into effect on January 1, 1863 and freed slaves in territories not under Union control. The Union Armies continued advancing into the south and more slaves were freed, they totaled close to 5 million. Lincoln continued to pursue the permanent abolition of slavery throughout the nation by passing the 13th Amendment.[12]

                      On July 21, 1861, the union Army under Gen Irvin Mc Powell suffered a defeat at Bull Run, 25 mile south west of Washington. The Confederates under Gen Thomas J. Jackson resisted the union attacks forcing the union troops to fall back in Washington.

                 The union troops were under Gen M.C Powell until he was replaced by Gen George B McClellan a Democratic general. He was soon replaced by Ulysses S. Grant who was given overall command in 1864. Lincoln’s role in the military planning became less although his interest never wavered.

                  Lincoln throughout the war tried to keep the Republican Party together but he ensured that military appointments were divided between the Republicans and the Democrats. Lincoln authorized Grant to “target civilians and infrastructure with a view of destroying the south’s morale and weaken it economically to continue fighting”.[13]

It was not until Grant headed the union troops that Lincoln insisted on using African American troops.

       During the civil war Lincoln became powerful and most times did not follow due process in the decisions he took, something that no other president had ever done.[14] For example “he instituted a blockade, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, spent money on the war without congressional authorization and imprisoned war suspects without trial”.[15]

On November 8, 1864, Abraham Lincoln was re-elected president defeating Democrat George B.  McClellan. In Jan 31, 1865 the US Congress approved the 13th amendment to the constitution abolishing slavery all together later in April 1865 General Grants forces advanced at Petersburg which was the Confederate capital, Richmond was evacuated. Within two days president Lincoln toured Richmond where he entered in the Confederate white house and sat at the desk or Jefferson Davis

                          The Confederates’ General Robert E. Lee ceded to Gen Ulysses S. Grants, in Virginia at Appomattox Court House. This was April 9 1865 and the war was virtually over and celebrations rocked Washington the following day.[16]

Lincoln Assassination

On 14th April 1865 when the star and stripes were ceremoniously raised over Fort Sumter Lincoln and his wife Mary watched the play “Our American cousin” at Fords Theatre Lincoln was without his main bodyguard Ward Hill Lemmon. John Wilkes Booth a well known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland, Jumped into Lincoln’s state box (Box 7) in the balcony and shot him at point blank on the head.[17]

                    Doctors attended to the president in the theatre then moved him to a house across the street. Abraham Lincoln died the following morning at 7.22 am and vice president Andrew Johnson assumed presidency. John Wilkes Booth with a broken limb was pursued and killed on April 26 1865 in a tobacco barn in Virginia

Lincoln’s body was carried through most states by train in a magnificent funeral procession to his burial in Illinois.[18]


Abraham Lincoln was a man whose life story was both interesting and inspiring. His death made the president a Martyr, he died for a cause. Lincoln was an epitome of honesty, hard work, love for humanity and integrity. He is best known for standing against all odds including poor education background to ascend to power.

He saved the Union and through him all slaves were freed.

His misdeeds

Much of Abraham’s Lincolns misdeeds were evidenced during the civil war when he deliberately and maliciously sent armed troops into the offices of newspapers that disagreed with him, publishers and editors were arrested.

He trampled the constitution to prevent the southern states the freedom to cut themselves off the rest to the states. Although he is credited to ending slavery in the US between 1861 and 1862 he made it clear that the “north was fighting the war to preserve the union, not abolish slavery”.[19] This led to criticism from the union abolitionists who complained that Lincoln was moving slowly in the Slavery matters. During the war Lincoln even though inexperienced in military affairs, took an active role in drawing strategies and was usually in the forefront. This was a very dangerous thing to do for a president and in 1864 during Tubal A. Early’s raid on Washington DC he was almost shot if not for ducking.[20]

During the war he became so powerful to an extent he proclaimed a blockade, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and spent money without any authorization and following procedure especially ignoring the congress on these matters. He even imprisoned over 18,000 confederates without trial. His actions were heavily opposed by copperheads who celebrated when he was shot dead.


Abraham was a self made man who rose from obscurity to the presidency. America would not be what it is today if not for his refusal to fight for its union. Indeed he is the most famous of all US Presidents.[21]


Kennedy, David M, Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas A. Baily. The American Pageant: A History of the Republic to 1877. 13 ed. Vol. I, Edited by Peter Nowka. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, n.d.

DiLorenzo, Thomas. The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. Roseville, CA: Crown Publishing Group, Inc., 2003.

 Gavin,Philip.“The History Place.” 04 July 1996..html (http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/index accessed Nov. 01, 2007).

 Gienapp, William E. Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America : A Biography. Oxford University Press, Inc., 2002.

 Norton, Roger. “Abraham Lincoln Research Site.” 29 Dec. 1996. http://members.aol.com/RVSNorton/Lincoln2.html (accessed Nov. 01, 2007).

[1] Kennedy, David M, Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas A. Baily 1877
[2] Kennedy, David M, Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas A. Baily,1877
[3] http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/index.html
[4] http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/index.html
[5] http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/index.html
[6] http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/index.html
[7] http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/index.html
[8] http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/index.html
[9] http://members.aol.com/RVSNorton/Lincoln2.html
[10] DiLorenzo, Thomas.2003
[11] DiLorenzo, Thomas.2003
[12] DiLorenzo, Thomas.2003
[13]DiLorenzo, Thomas. 2003
[14] DiLorenzo, Thomas. 2003
[15] DiLorenzo, Thomas. 2003
[16] Gienapp, William E.2002
[17] Gienapp, William E. 2002
[18] (http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/
[19]DiLorenzo, Thomas. 2003
[20] Gienapp, William E. 2002
[21] http://members.aol.com/RVSNorton/Lincoln2.html

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Abraham Lincoln: Famous or Infamous. (2016, Jun 09). Retrieved from


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