22. Death page
23. Source page
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Lincoln entered office at a critical period in U. S. history, just before the Civil
War, and died from an assassin's bullet at the war's end, but before the greater implications of the conflict could be resolved. He brought to the office personal integrity, intelligence, and humanity, plus the wholesome characteristics of his frontier upbringing. He also had the liabilities of his upbringing--he was self-educated, culturally unsophisticated, and lacking in administrative and diplomatic skills. Sharp-witted, he was not especially sharp-tongued, but was noted for his warm good humor. Although relatively unknown and inexperienced politically when elected president, he proved to be a consummate politician. He was above all firm in his convictions and dedicated to the preservation of the Union.
Lincoln was perhaps the most esteemed and maligned of the American presidents. Generally admired and loved by the public, he was attacked on a partisan basis as the man responsible for and in the middle of every major issue facing the nation during his administration. Although his reputation has fluctuated with changing times, he was clearly a great man and a great president. He firmly and fairly guided the nation through its most perilous period and made a lasting impact in shaping the office of chief executive.Once regarded as the "Great Emancipator" for his forward strides in freeing the slaves, he was criticized a century later, when the Civil
Rights Movement gained momentum, for his caution in moving toward equal rights. If he is judged in the historical context, however, it can be seen that he was far in advance of most liberal opinion. His claim to greatness endures.
The future president was born in the most modest of circumstances in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Ky., on Feb. 12, 1809. His entire childhood and young manhood were spent on the brink of poverty as his pioneering family made repeated fresh starts in the West. Opportunities for education, cultural activities, and even socializing were meager.
Lincoln's paternal ancestry has been traced, in an unbroken line, to
Samuel Lincoln, a weaver's apprentice from Hingham, England, who settled in
Hingham, Mass., in 1637. From him the line of descent came down through
Mordecai Lincoln of Hingham and of Scituate, Mass.; Mordecai of Berks county, Pa.; John of Berks county and of Rockingham county, Va.; and
Abraham, the grandfather of the president, who moved from Virginia to
Kentucky about 1782, settled near Hughes Station, east of Louisville, and was killed in an Indian ambush in 1786.
Abraham's youngest son, Thomas, who became the father of the president, was born in Rockingham county, Va., on Jan. 6, 1778. After the death of his father, he roamed about, settling eventually in Hardin county, Ky., where he worked at carpentry, farming, and odd jobs. He was not the shiftless ne'er-do-well sometimes depicted, but an honest, conscientious man of modest means, well regarded by his neighbors. He had practically no education, however, and could barely scrawl his name.
Nancy Hanks, whom Thomas Lincoln married on June 12, 1806, and who became the mother of the president, remains a shadowy figure. Her birth date is uncertain, and descriptions of her are contradictory. Scholars despair of penetrating the tangled Hanks genealogy, and the legitimacy of Nancy's birth is a subject of argument. Lincoln, himself, apparently believed that his mother was born out of wedlock. In either case, Nancy came of lowly people. Reared by her aunt, Betsy Hanks, who married Thomas Sparrow, she was utterly uneducated.
Thomas and Nancy Lincoln set up housekeeping in Elizabethtown, Ky., where their first child, Sarah, was born on Feb. 10, 1807. In December
1808, Thomas bought a hard-scrabble farm on the South Fork of Nolin Creek, where Abraham was born. Soon after Abe's second birthday the family moved to a more productive farm along Knob Creek, a branch of the Rolling Fork, in a region of fertile bottomland surrounded by crags and bluffs. The old
Cumberland Trail from Louisville to Nashville passed close by, and the boy could see a vigorous civilization on the march--settlers, peddlers, circuit- riding preachers, now and then a coffle of slaves. This was probably his first view of human bondage, for the small landholdings of the region were not suited to slaveowning, and local sentiment, especially among the
Baptists, with whom the Lincolns had affiliated, was hostile to slavery.
Like most frontier children, Abraham performed chores at an early age, but occasionally he and his sister Sarah attended classes in a log schoolhouse some two miles (3 km) from home. Nancy bore a third child, Thomas, but he died in infancy.
Faulty land titles, which were a constant problem to Kentucky settlers, were especially troublesome to Thomas Lincoln. Because of a flaw in title, he lost part of a farm he had bought before his marriage, and both his other Kentucky farms became involved in litigation. For this reason, and because of his roving disposition, he resolved to move to Indiana, where land could be bought directly from the government.
Abraham was seven years old when, in December 1816, the Lincolns struck out northwestward. They crossed the Ohio River on a ferry near the village of
Troy, made their way 16 miles (26 km) farther north through thick woods and tangled underbrush, and settled near Pigeon Creek, in present Spencer county, Ind. Thomas hastily threw up a half-faced camp, a rude shelter of logs and boughs, closed on three sides and warmed only by a fire at the open front. Here the family lived while Thomas built a cabin. The region was gloomy, with few settlers, and wild animals prowled in the forest.
By spring Thomas had cleared a few acres for a crop. In an autobiography that Abraham Lincoln composed in 1860, he said of himself: "Abraham, though very young, was large of his age, and had an axe put into his hands at once; and from that till within his twenty-third year, he was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument--less, of course, in plowing and harvesting seasons." So, year by year the clearing grew, and the family's diet became more varied as farm products supplemented game and fowl. At first, Thomas was a mere squatter on the land, but on Oct. 15,
1817, he applied for 160 acres (65 hectares) at the government land office in Vincennes. Unable to complete payment on so large a tract, he later gave up half, but paid for the rest.