American Presidents Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln


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Abraham Lincoln remained the most cherished of American Presidents due to his political philosophy and practical contributions toward the American political and social system. Lincoln who is considered as one the ablest president of United States of America belonged to a poor white family of Kentucky. He was born in 1809. His father was a carpenter by trade and was usually out of employment. Therefore Lincoln could get any regular education. He had in all about twelve months schooling and got education by reading books he could get hold of. When Lincoln was twenty-one the family moved to Illinois and Lincoln took up in turn the job as farmer, rail slipper store-keeper, postmaster, surveyor and river boatman. In his last job he built a flat boat float it down the river to New Orleans. By this time Lincoln had also earned reputation as a wrestler and runner. Lincoln was also interested in law and after studying it he joined the bar at the age of twenty-eight. Soon he was elected a member of House of Representative of Illinois. As a member of the house Lincoln championed the cause of democracy and opposed the extension of slavery.

            Lincoln joined the national politics in1846 when he was elected member of Congress of United States of America. As the member of Congress Lincoln opposed government’s policy on Mexican War and supported the Wilmot Proviso. After serving as a member for one term Lincoln returned back to law practice at Springfield. However, after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln once again returned to politics and took a leading part on Illinois in the movement which ultimately led to the formation of the Republican Party. As a result of this movement Lincoln emerged as an acknowledged leader of his party in Illinois.

            Lincoln gained prominence at the national level only after his nomination as Republican candidate for senate in 1858 to contest against Douglas from Illinois. The two candidates held a series of debates which attracted nation-wide attention. One the chief feature of these debates was public questioning by each speaker of other. The main issue on which these debates mainly centre concerned slavery in the territories. Lincoln held the view that;

“a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government can not endure permanently half free. I do not expect the house to fall -but I do expect it will cease to be divided. I will become one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well new-North as well as South” [1]

Lincoln opposed slavery mainly on moral grounds. In these debates Douglas supported the idea of popular sovereignty which regard to slavery and held that the settlers the Territories should have the right to choose their own way of organization. Though Lincoln could not win the election to the Senate, he gained nationwide publicity and the future was with him.

Presidency of Abraham Lincoln

When Lincoln ascended to the presidency few people could anticipate that he would go down in the American history as the one of the greatest Presidents. On the other hand it was feared that Lincoln would not be able to provide a strong leadership which was so badly needed when he assumed the office. It goes to his credit that he successfully steered the country through the difficult times and preserved the Union. In subsequent years, his reputations kept on swelling and now he is considered not only America’s ablest President, but also one of the most powerful figures in history. He has earned his reputation for the following achievements;

Abolition of Slavery:

Emergence of Lincoln was the most important factor that gave a new turn to the sectional conflict. Lincoln’s views on slavery were well known. While accepting nomination for Senate, Lincoln had declared in his speech; “this government can not endure permanently half-slave and half free”[2] (Springfield, Illinois, June 16, 1858) he further said that agitation would continue “until a crisis has been reached and passed”. But Lincoln did not believe in abolishing slavery by one stroke, as he did, but by through a gradual and lengthy process. But Northerners’ stanch demand for abolition of slavery forced Lincoln to proclaim on September 22, 1862 in his capacity of Commander-in-chief of the army that “on the first day of January A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any state or a designated part of a state the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and for ever free.”[3] By this Proclamation of Emancipation slavery was not abolished from all over United States because the proclamation was only to apply to the rebellious states of South. The slavery in other areas was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. But all credit goes to Lincoln who set an impetus for the constitutional abolition of slavery.

Preservation of the Union: Another great achievement of Lincoln which has won him high appreciation and place in the history of America was the preservation of the Union. To Lincoln the preservation of the union was important not only because he did not want to see the country, which he loved so much, divided. He wanted to preserve the Union because he saw in it the principle of democracy and self-government, at the stake. The division of the United States into two separate and hostile confederations would have proved that the popular government was too weak to maintain itself. In his Gettysburg address Lincoln made this point very clear. He said;

“For my own part, I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity of proving that popular government is not an absurdity.  We must settle this question now, whether in a free government, the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail, it will go for to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.”[4]

As Lincoln genuinely believed in the democracy as a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” he believed in the right and ability of people to be free to govern themselves. He could not tolerate injustice to white as well as Afro-Americans. Speaking of his contributions, Prof. Elson says;

“Born among the lowliest of the lowly, trained in the merciless school of adversity and penury, he rose in public life as become the leading American of his time. Entering upon his great office at the moment when the forces of freedom and of slavery were ready to grapple in deadly conflict, he grasped the reins of government with a master hand; and but for his consummate ability, many believe the Union could not have been saved.”[5]

Lincoln and Foreign Affairs:

Lincoln also handled the foreign affairs very diplomatically. Realizing the importance of foreign public opinion, he sent a number of officials to present the case of the Union before the public of Great Britain. He won the sympathy of European powers by his proclamation of Emancipation which gave the impression to them that Union was fighting to do away with the evils of slavery. Now onward it was not possible for the government of England to support Confederacy, which was fighting to preserve slaver due to change in the public opinion in Great Britain. Lincoln also diplomatically handled the public of United States when it clamored for a war against Britain, when she helped the Confederacy. Thus by his diplomatic handling of the situation, Lincoln was able to make Great Britain neutral in the war. France also remained neutral, because she did not want to act independently.  The neutrality of both these powers was crucial because, as Prof Bailey says;

“Both nations had formidable ironclads in their navies, and if either power had decided to intervene, it could have smashed the wooden blockading fleet of the Union with terrifying ease. If this had happened, the South almost certainly would have won its independence”.[6]

Extensive Use of Presidential Powers:

Though Lincoln was fully devoted to the constitution, he quote often bypass the authority of Congress as well as courts. The chief reason for doing so were that war demanded quick action and the constitutional procedures of the Congress and courts were slow and ill-suited for such a situation. He therefore performed many functions which were under normal circumstances reserved for Congress or the courts. During the period of three month between the fall of summer and opening of special session of Congress in July 1861, Lincoln called out volunteers, expanded the regular army and spent money which had not been passed by the congress. Similarly, he resorted to the use of military courts for the trial of civilians on the plea. This attitude of Lincoln in ignoring the Congress and the courts invited much criticism and doubts has been expressed whether Lincoln was right in exceeding his constitutional powers. However, one thing is very clear that Lincoln did not want to make himself a dictator by using these extensive powers.

Lincoln and his Cabinet:

The quality of selflessness enabled Lincoln to accept criticism and tolerate opposition. Consequently, during the national peril Lincoln included in his cabinet a number of persons who had been his adversaries for the Republican nomination. His cabinet included person like Chase, who intrigued with the party leaders in congress to secure nomination for 1864, Edwin H. Stanton, and Seaward. Lincoln unmindful of his personal differences with these able persons raised a team which could best serve the interest if the country. Likewise in his selection of military leaders, Lincoln found out the best generals by the process of trial and error and gave them complete freedom regarding planning and exclusion of the expedition.

No Malice toward South:

Although South had involved the country into a war, Lincoln never showed or expressed any hatred for the slave-holders of the South, nor did he adopt any attitude of vengeance toward them. In his second inaugural address Lincoln said;

 “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives to us to see the right, let us strive onto finish the work we are in, to wind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have born the battle for his widows and his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”[7]

President directed the military leaders also to offer liberal terms to the defeated army of the South. Thus Lincoln prepared the stage for the smooth reentry of the confederate states into the Union.


In view of the above achievements of Lincoln, it can safely be said that he was one of the ablest presidents of United States and can rank with George Washington. His main achievements were the abolition of slavery and preservation of Union which have perpetuated his name in the history of United States. But his love for American land and its people is unsurpassable as he writes at a younger age;

We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards of extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, that any of which the history of former times tells us.[8]

His political sagacity and his unwavering commitment to the cherished American ideal of freedom, equality and democracy make him the most memorable and eulogized figure in American history.


Bailey, Thomas Andrew. 1965. The American pageant; a history of the Republic. Boston: Heath. Barrett, Joseph H. 1865. Life of Abraham Lincoln: presenting his early history, political career,

            and speeches in and out of Congress; also, a general view of his policy as president of the

            United States; with his messages, proclamations, letters, etc., and a history of his eventful

            administration, and of the scenes attendant upon his tragic and lamented demise.

            Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach & Baldwin.

Hay, John Milton, and Michael Burlingame. 1997. Inside Lincoln’s White House: the complete

 Civil War diary of John Hay. Carbondale, IL [u.a.]: Southern Illinois Univ. Press.

Elson, Henry W. 1937. History of the United States of America. New York: Macmillan


Lincoln, Abraham, and Don Edward Fehrenbacher. 1964. Abraham Lincoln: a

documentary portrait through his speeches and writings. [New York]: New American



            A PROCLAMATION. U.S., Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United

            States of America. Boston. 12. 1267-68.    October 25, 2008).

Lincoln, Abraham. 1865. The Avalon Project: Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln.

 March 4. (accessed

October 25, 2008).

[1] Abraham Lincoln and Don Edward Fehrenbacher, Abraham Lincoln: a documentary portrait through his speeches and writings. (New York: New American Library, 1964), 42
[2] Joseph H. Barrett, Life of Abraham Lincoln: presenting his early history, political career, and speeches in and out of Congress; also, a general view of his policy as president of the United States; with his messages, proclamations, letters, etc., and a history of his eventful administration, and of the scenes attendant upon his tragic and lamented demise. (Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach & Baldwin, 1865.), 160.

[3] Abraham Lincoln, BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A PROCLAMATION. U.S., Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America. (Boston. 12. 1267-68)

[4] John Milton Hay and Michael Burlingame. Inside Lincoln’s White House: the complete Civil War diary of John Hay. (Carbondale, IL [u.a.]: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1997)

[5]Henry W. Elson, History of the United States of America. (New York: Macmillan Co. 1937), 740

[6] Thomas Andrew Bailey, The American pageant; a history of the Republic. (Boston: Heath, 1965), 232
[7] Abraham Lincoln, The Avalon Project: Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln.  March 4 1865.

[8]Abraham Lincoln and Don Edward Fehrenbacher, Abraham Lincoln: a documentary portrait through his speeches and writings. (New York: New American Library, 1964), 35


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