A Biography of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln inherited the greatest crisis of any president. He surpassed his expectations by preserving the republic and also abolished the barbarous institution of slavery forever. Perhaps one of the most active presidents due to his circumstances, Lincoln proved he had the intellectual, political, and moral responsibility to uphold the integrity of the United States President. Abraham Lincoln expanded the executive powers of the president in proportion to the crisis he faced. He exploited his power to transform his moral ideas into legislation. He outperformed his confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis and always was conscience of the public eye. He was a well-balanced human being, and a president. Abraham Lincoln will always be one of America’s finest presidents.

The election of 1860 reflected the increasingly bitter and sectional conflict between Northerners and Southerners. Lincoln emerged from a new political party, the Republicans. His party elected him because his only real competitor was William Seward, governor of New York and he was viewed as too radical on the issues of slavery. Lincoln personally condemned slavery but otherwise viewed the issue as states rights versus national rights. Lincoln was opposed to letting slavery expand but made it clear he had no intentions of interfering with slavery where it already existed. Lincoln emerged as President from a very split election. The Northern Democrats and Southern Democrats couldn’t compromise on a suitable candidate, thus Lincoln with only about 40% of the popular vote realizes he will be President soon.

The South gets anxious, South Carolina leading the pack. In South Carolina Lincoln is viewed as an abolitionist. The “Fire-eaters” were avidly opposed to Lincoln and discussed seceding after his inauguration. Lincoln once commented that his task of president was to be “greater than that which rested upon Washington” Most Southerners didn’t even own a single slave. But the sectionalist differences seemed to be felt by the South as a whole. Southerners were very influential on each other, and vocal in expressing their interest in slavery as a valuable institution. South Carolina lead fury as they did in 1832-33 in the South during the Nullification Crisis. Southerners were feisty and needed to be appeased.

Lincoln knew that the time between his knowledge of victory and his inauguration would shape his term as president. He looked into installing the Crittenden Plan, which would make an amendment to prohibiting making an amendment top abolishing slavery. He also visited numerous northern cities via railroad and delivered short reassuring speeches that discussed his criteria for his administration policies and assured northerners he would not ignite the southerners by to fussing with slavery. These gestures reflected Lincoln’s earlier willingness to compromise. Yet, the south wanted slavery to expand in order for the south to maintain a balance in power in congress. That reality looked bleak in the southern minds.

Lincoln had to assuage the aggressive southerners in his inaugural speech while managing his firm commitment to the union. This was a very difficult task, but Lincoln rose to the occasion. Once again, his words were very neutral and mirrored his eagerness to negotiate. He assured southerners that he didn’t intend to tinker with slavery at all but that he did oppose the expansion of it. He stayed committed to the Union cause and did not appear weak-hearted for the matter. He called for reconciliation with strong pledge to union. He condemned secession and announced his readiness to use national arms. President Buchanan, in his final address, said the states had no right to secede but the Union had no right to force them to stay. Lincoln received advice from the old general, George Wingfield Scott, who reminded Lincoln that President Jackson used the national military in the South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis.

The Confederate States of America named Jefferson Davis as their president. Most people, including Lincoln, believed that southern unionism would eventually fail and the seceded states would rejoin the Union on their own. Furthermore, Lincoln worried that if he reacted too harshly to the secession of these seven states, the other slave states would secede as well. In the meantime, South Carolina began to resent the federal troops that guarded arsenals in Charleston harbor. Fort Sumter was lost and now a possession of the confederates. Lincoln realized he might be faced with more than a small insurrection. News of Sumter’s surrender solidified Unionist support in the North, and as Lincoln had feared, many of the slave states that had remained in the Union to this point now seceded. Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, Delaware, and most of Virginia (the Unionist districts in northwest Virginia broke off to form their own Union state, West Virginia.

There was no doubt that Lincoln would have to capitalize on the unions better resources in order to assert union dominance. From early on, Lincoln assumed a very hands on roll in the wartime decisions. He announced to congress that he would have full emergency powers and he would be able to exercise powers usually reserved for the legislative branch of the government. He had no military experience so he began reading military strategy manuals when he had any free time. He appointed George McClellan as the head of his army and called for the conscription of 100,000 soldiers under three year terms.

Jefferson Davis called only for 1-year enlistments, a mistake that would cost him later. McClellan constructed a powerful and well-trained army that far outnumbered that of his opponents; he refused to take the offensive, claiming that he was not yet fully prepared. He was very strong-minded but did not show the president his due respect. He was quoted as calling Lincoln a “baboon” and “a well-meaning baboon.” Lincoln, losing political favor with each day of inaction, begged McClellan to take his army into battle. He was taking tremendous heat from the press for keeping the extremely hesitant McClellan. Lincoln told the press he would keep McClellan if he paid off in the battlefield. Lincoln pushed for full-blown frontal assaults and McClellan wasn’t providing them. He inspired such dedication among his troops that even when he failed to produce victory, they remained dedicated to him and fiercely opposed to any attempt by Lincoln to replace him. Despite McClellan ineptness, the Union was scoring victories to the West with U.S. Grant in command. Grant proposed to cross the Mississippi south of Vicksburg; once on dry land he would march north to attack the city from the inland side. Eventually the Union gained control of the entire Mississippi.

A pressing economic situation now demanded Lincoln’s attention: the Union was going broke financing the war, which was becoming increasingly expensive. He admitted needing extra-constitutional methods in order to ensure victory. The first solution came in the form of the first national income tax, which Congress passed on August 5, 1861, establishing a levy of three percent on annual incomes greater than $800. As the crisis darkened, people’s faith in Lincoln waned also. Lincoln pushed for a series of laws that would have never been used except in a time of such great disaster. Later in August, Congress passed Confiscation Act, authorizing the federal army to seize the property, including slaves, of rebelling southerners, and to feed off the crops of Confederate civilians. It also made it legal for the Union army to harbor runaway slaves, who, prohibited from enlisting to fight, were put to work aiding Union troops off the battlefield. The runaways helped set up and maintain camps, gather and cook food, tend the wounded, and carry and fix equipment. Conscripting blacks was originally used to help the union numbers but it had a moral effect of Lincoln later. Lincoln also went to congress to suspend the privilege of habeas corpus.

Lincoln viewed this action as suspending one part of the constitution in order to spare the rest of its integrity. The Conscription Act of 1862 was the United States first draft and Lincoln further pushed for more conscription in the Enrollment Act of 1863. His legislation was extreme but it was very effective. He never backed down against the south and knew that he had the superiority in supplies and knew that was the key to winning the war. However, there was scattered opposition to Lincoln’s conscription. There was opposition and resistance in Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Riots broke out in Boston, Troy and Newark but most of these incidents were quickly settled. But in New York City a huge mob smashed into a draft office, set it on fire and went bombarding the streets. Rioters overpowered the police and were fueled by racist animosities. Several blacks were lynched and the mob even set fire to a local black orphanage.

The crisis with in Lincoln’s family was also contributing to Lincoln’s uneasiness. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln had close relatives who at one point even lived in the white house that supported the confederate cause. Mary was an extravagant spender. With absolutely no common sense or realization of the time of crisis that she is living in. During a time of such great suffering and loss the last think a president’s wife needs to be doing is unconsciously spending money. Her spending got so out of hand that when there were some question to if Lincoln was going to be re-elected she almost had a panic attack because she didn’t know how she would repay the debts she had accumulated. Perhaps the most devastating blow to both parents was the loss of their son William but whom they called Willie. Willie had a striking similarity to his father and they had a very personal connection. He grew gravely sick of flu and slowly died not too long after. A tremendous psychological blow that could have simply made Abe submit to the utter despair he had in his heart. He was taking backlash from press and critics and it didn’t appear as if the country was strongly unified behind him.

The transfer and conscription of black soldiers onto the union side played a huge psychological effect on Lincoln. The tremendous outpour of voluntary blacks into the army and onto the battlefield lead Lincoln to believe they should be equal in the country they were fighting for. It was like an epiphany hit Lincoln. He realized blacks were equal and realized America was about equality. He looked back to the Declaration of Independence and realized what are founding fathers were truly speaking of isn’t in existence in America. He began to feel morally obligated to change the destiny of America and contribute to its further democratic pursuit. The issue of slavery was also a way to punish the rebellious Southern States. He began devising the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery only in rebellious states. Those slaves’ states that stayed loyal to union continued to have slavery, temporarily.

The battle of Antietam was the last straw general McClellan. He forced the enemy to retreat and had the opportunity to chase the enemy and smash them but he let them escape. However, it was technically a union victory and it gave Lincoln the optimism he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Emancipation Proclamation punished the south while simultaneously helping stave off European recognition for the South. Lincoln realized the struggle he faced was also shaping the future. He did a courageous and moral thing. He also inspired every last black in America to want to help union fight for freedom. The Civil War had been single-handedly transformed by president Lincoln, from the war over preserving the republic into the war over preserving the republic and liberation. The Emancipation Proclamation also started reconstruction. Areas like Tennessee and Arkansas, which had been re-conquered and transferred back to union territory, underwent Lincoln’s Ten Percent Loyalty Plan

But, originally the Emancipation Proclamation was only a wartime condition. Louisiana and Arkansas would have reestablished slavery if Lincoln didn’t stop them. Lincoln began pushing for the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery everywhere in America making America the ideal model for democracy across the globe. He received support in congress from Radical Republican’s Stevens and Sumner and had support from a wide array of abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison to Frederick Douglas who was the first black invited to the White House until the 20th century. Years later Douglas wrote, “In all my interviews with Mr. Lincoln I was impressed with his entire freedom from popular prejudice against the colored race.” The 13th Amendment was passed and ratified. Lincoln became America’s symbol of freedom. But the passage of the 13th Amendment exemplifies a leaders acknowledgment of what is best for humanity. He acts as a servant to humanity and enacts legislation that is moral and just. Thus, Lincoln gains the new nickname the “Great Emancipator”. This was a true moment of development as a president and as a humanitarian.

In size and economic power, the North was vastly superior, so it was bound to triumph. Most historians agree that only the amazingly strong spirit of the South kept it from going down to defeat much sooner. The journey to capturing union and freedom was long and drastic. Both efforts were exhausted but also persistent. Battles like Bull Run, Antietam and Shiloh had taken chunks of numbers from both sides. Lincoln went through a handful of generals before finding his most fitting for the occasion. Ambrose Burnside, “Fighting” Joe Hooker, and George Meade. George Meade commanded the union force at Gettysburg. This was one of the most famous and important Civil War Battles that occurred over three hot summer days, July 3, 1863, around the small market town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. . During the costly three days the Union casualties were 3,070 soldiers killed, 14,497 wounded, and 5,434 captured or missing and The Confederacy suffered 2,992 deaths, 12,706 wounded, and 5,l50 captured or missing. The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point because the South was desperately relying on that War for supplies and perhaps help from an outside source. General Meade had the opportunity to smash the enemy but instead was too weary oh his own losses and his own men’s suffering and chose not to pursue a heavily weakened enemy. This infuriated Lincoln who was willing to use no mercy when dealing with the rebellious southerners.

Lincoln knew he had the superiority of numbers and wanted a general who would enforce his all-out warfare tactics. However, when Lincoln traveled to the battlefield, he realized what this war is really all about. Lincoln witnessed the immense numbers lost and saw plenty of others suffering. He admired these soldiers who fought for his and their beliefs. The war brings grim emotions and it was Lincoln’s responsibility to breathe life back into the union cause. The Gettysburg Address is one of America’s finest orations. In an epic fashion, reminiscent of Pericles speaking to his fellow Athenians, Lincoln made sense of all the suffering at Gettysburg. He had a personal connection with the public and he was able to reassure everyone who watched him speak that everyone that fights or fought for the noble union cause is a hero for defending the principles of freedom and democracy. It is a rare ability, but Lincoln as a speaker could make you picture every idea he had in his head. He was able to unify northerners with his words and that is how we could gain further support.

Throughout the war Lincoln had helped investigate, devise and encourage certain plans. His hands on decision however meant nothing on the battlefield. Lincoln needed a fighter. Meade was dismissed and Lincoln looked to U.S. Grant. Grant complied with Lincoln, which was much appreciated by Lincoln. Grant was a real soldier and real fighter, which appealed to Lincoln. The South was losing time and union pressure was mounting. The inevitability of southern defeat was looking more realistic each day. In the final battle of the Civil War, Grant found himself up against Robert E. Lee. Lee was the only general left in the south who had a chance of beating Grant and the North. With troops outnumbering Lee’s two to one, Grant sought out to destroy the Southern army. Grant’s strategy was simply to send all his men into battle at once, never letting them rest until victory prevailed.

Lincoln was on his way to winning the civil war. A few big union victories tied with Abe’s new popularity allowed for an easy victory in the 1864 election. He had closer to 60% of the popular vote and carried 212 of 233 electoral votes. Lincoln’s next job would be “reconstruction”. The re-incorporation of rebellious states back into the United States was an unanswered question. Lincoln had ideas he had previously used and he received input from his advisors and cabinet members. They decided to make no final decisions until the Civil War was completely settled. A series of coordinated campaigns finally brought the war to a successful conclusion. Lincoln derived a plan along with Sherman’s army to storm through and end the war. Lee surrendered his forces at Appomattox Courthouse on April 10, 1865. Lincoln was a national hero and had made successful strides at making the country better than when he inherited it. He put an end to the long lasting and bloody revolt, which drained so much of his time as president. It was time for Lincoln to relax for the first time, and appreciate life. Then he would see to handling his new agenda, reconstruction.

Lincoln now had the time to tend to his own issues like the losses of three of his siblings. He could now dedicate more time to his wife, who needed the extra attention. We will never know to what extents Lincoln would have taken reconstruction, but I assume he would have been very firm and conservative. His Reconstruction policies that we know of had been determined basically by military necessity. He earlier on in his presidency was willing to compromise but after fighting a hard fought war with the southern tyrants, Lincoln had grown some deep pessimism towards the south and would have probably acted fair with them at the best. Lincoln was shot four days after Lee had surrendered. He didn’t die immediately but would never regain conciseness and would soon die after. It was a huge blow to the whole country. But it was a huge blow to blacks in particular. Lincoln always followed through with his word and had already shown early signs of attempting to reincorporate blacks in American society as equals. He had a number of black intellectual friends and had learned use no racial preferences in making decisions. His liberally advanced mind and moral beliefs would have fueled Lincoln to remain an advocate of black equality the rest of his term. Instead, Andrew Johnson was left in charge of reconstruction and his term can be best characterized as unskilled and lacking.

Lincoln was a self-educated man who rose to the highest political office in the United States Government. He inherited the presidency during tremendous crisis and received no help from the prior president. He lacked experienced for the job but compensated for that with true courage and character. He installed his moral beliefs in order to benefit society. In dealing with the problem of emancipation, Lincoln proved himself a masterful statesman. Carefully maneuvering to take advantage of radical pressure to move forward and conservative entreaties to hold back, he was able to retain the loyalty of the Democrats and the Border States while still bringing about the final abolition of slavery. Lincoln’s political influence was enhanced by his great gifts as an orator. Able to stress essentials in simple terms, he effectively appealed to the nation in such classical short speeches as the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address. Moreover, he was a capable diplomat. His humanitarian instincts, brilliant speeches, and unusual political skill ensured his hold on the electorate and his success in saving the Union. That he also gained fame as the Great Emancipator was due to a large degree to his excellent sense of timing and his open-mindedness. Thus, he was able to bring about the abolition of slavery and to advocate a policy of Reconstruction that envisaged the gradual enfranchisement of the freedmen.

About Rafaela Muilenburg

I read; I write; I travel, and I'm hungry for more. Ok, yes that line is partly stolen from Anthony Bourdain. Truth is I read more than I write - a lot more, but that is good for writers, right?

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