Honest Abe (Abe Lincoln) Essay, Research Paper
Abraham Lincoln, Honest Abe, is one of the greatest American Presidents. He is known today for his Presidency in which he fought the Confederacy during the Civil War and abolished slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation and later the Thirteenth Amendment. He was an intelligent, honest, and just leader who governed at a critical time in American history.
Lincoln was born on the twelfth of February 1809 in a cabin three miles outside of Hodgenville, Kentucky. He was later forced to move to Indiana. As a child Lincoln worked on his family’s farm clearing fields and tending crops. He liked to read but unfortunately received hardly any formal education. In fact, his entire schooling only amounted to about one year of attendance. (Brit. 23) In 1830 Lincoln’s family moved to Illinois. Lincoln didn’t want to be a farmer, so he tried other professions: rail-splitter, flatboat man, storekeeper, postmaster, surveyor, an army man, and a profession in Law.
In 1932 Lincoln, at twenty-three years old, decided to run for the Illinois State legislature. Lincoln was to campaign for local improvements such as better roads and canals. However, a war with the Indians broke out before Lincoln’s campaign could get going. In response, he joined the Army. After his short wartime, Lincoln returned to politics and lost the race of Illinois Legislature. In 1834 he ran again and was elected- second of thirteen. At the age of 25 Lincoln was a member of the Illinois Legislature.
After his term in the legislature, Lincoln found he needed more money. So, he started studying law on his own. He accepted a job in Springfield at John Todd Stuart’s practice.
In the late 1830’s Lincoln found the love of his life, Mary Ann Todd, the daughter of a rich banker. She got engaged to Abe in 1840 and the two were married in 1842. They had thee children together, Willie and Tad Lincoln.
In 1946 Lincoln won the Whig nomination for a seat in the House of Representatives for Illinois and sat in Congress in 1847. The major issues of the time were the Mexican-American war, which Lincoln opposed, and slavery. Lincoln was not an anti-slavery crusader. However, he did vote in Congress to stop it from spreading. Morally, Lincoln hated slavery and said slaver was “founded on both injustice and bad policy.” He wanted to abolish slavery over time because he thought dramatic actions to end slavery would lead to violence. Lincoln felt that Congress should not interfere with slavery in states in which it already existed. After his term in Congress, Lincoln left politics again for a full time law practice.
In the early 1850’s Senator Stephen Douglas opened the issue of slavery in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska act, allowing the issue of slavery in Kansas and Nebraska to be decided by popular sovereignty. Lincoln was “thunderstruck and stunned.” This act brought him back into politics. He felt obligated to speak out against the Kansas-Nebraska act. So, after Lincoln left law he traveled across Illinois campaigning for anti-slavery Whigs. In his campaigning Lincoln called slavery a “cancer” and a “monstrous injustice.” He said he believed in the Declaration of Independence, which states “all men are created equal.” However, he wasn’t sure of what to do with slavery in the states where it already existed in.
In 1856, Lincoln switched from the Whig Party to the Republican Party because the Whigs were weak and could never unite against slavery. Lincoln felt that if he wanted to make a point he would have to be with a strong party.
In 1858, Lincoln won the Republican Nomination for the Illinois Senate seat. He wanted the seat of his long time rival, Senator Stephen Douglas. In Lincoln’s first speech for his Senate campaign Lincoln said, “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.” Lincoln warned his opponents that the spread of slavery must be stopped or else it would become “lawful in all the states; old as well as new- north as well as south.”
In July of 1958, Lincoln challenged Senator Douglas to a series of seven three-hour, public debates. Thousands of people showed up to watch the Little Giant (Douglas) vs. Long Abe. Douglas fought for white supremacy. He believed the country could endure half free and half slave. Douglas said whites made this country therefore they should run it. Lincoln wanted equality. During one debate Lincoln said:
“There is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man.”
In the end, Douglas won the Senate election by a hair. However, Lincoln did not give up. His debates with Douglas had made him famous across Illinois. Lincoln kept debating and got a lot of Republican support. Lincoln got so much support that the Republicans felt he could win the presidential election. So, they tried to get him nominated.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates were incredibly crucial to Lincoln’s future career. It was this series of debates that made Lincoln well known throughout the country. In fact, Lincoln probably would not have won the Presidential Election in 1860 if he hadn’t debated with Douglas. Douglas was far better known than Lincoln was throughout the country and in Illinois. At the Lincoln-Douglas debates people from miles around would come to watch the two men speak in the remote towns of Illinois. Reporters from around the nation came and jotted down what the two men said. What was said at the debates could be read in the newspapers of major cities the very next day. It was Lincoln-Douglas debates that first gave Lincoln nation wide publicity. Lincoln probably would not have ended up in the White House if it had not been for these debates.
At the Illinois Republican Convention in May 1860 Lincoln was chosen as the Republican’s favorite Presidential Candidate. One week later at the National Republican Convention, Lincoln was nominated on the third ballot. Lincoln was running against two Democrats Stephen Douglas of Illinois, and John C. Breckenridge, a southern Democrat from Kentucky.
On Election Day—November 6, 1860—Lincoln won the election with 1,866,000 votes. He carried every Northern State. Southerners hated this “black Republican” and his name did not appear on any southern ballots. Douglas got 1,377,000 votes and Breckenridge received 850,000. If the Democratic Party had not split Lincoln would not have been elected. Douglas and Breckenridge’s votes combined were more than the total number of votes for Lincoln. So, if Breckenridge hadn’t run, almost all Democratic votes would have gone to Douglas.
I also believe, that if Douglas were elected, a civil war would not have broken out. Douglas believed the nation could endure half-free half slave. He did not feel strongly about slavery. Unlike Lincoln, Douglas did not care if slavery spread through America. If it weren’t for Lincoln slavery could have spread into new states and territories. It was Lincoln’s boldness against slavery that created nation wide freedom in America.
As soon as Lincoln was elected some southern states threatened to secede from the Union. The South hated Lincoln. An Atlanta newspaper said, “Let the consequences be what they may… the south will never submit such humiliation and degradation as the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.” And so, sure enough, in December, the slave state South Carolina seceded from the Union. During the next three months before Lincoln’s inauguration, seven more slave states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America with their capital in Richmond, Virginia. In February, Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi became the president of the Confederacy. On the 4th of March 1861, Lincoln was sworn into office. In his inaugural address Lincoln told the people he would not tamper with slavery in the states where it already existed.
“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
Little did the people know what Lincoln was going to do. He later said in his address “In your [the American people] hands, my dissatisfied countrymen, and not mine is the momentous issue of civil war.” Lincoln went on to say he would do everything he could to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Union.
THE CIVIL WAR
Lincoln believed the Union could be saved without any blood. However, On April 14, 1861 Fort Sumter, at the entrance to the Charleston Harbor in South Carolina, was taken over by the Confederacy. The long Civil War had begun.
The Union had claimed the loyalty of 23 states, 22 million people. It was had an industrial economy which could produce rifles, cannons, shoes and everything else an army might need quickly. One thing, however, which the factories could not produce was good generals. Throughout most of the Civil War this would be a constant problem.
The Confederacy had 11 states, 9 million people of which almost four million were slaves. Its economy was agricultural. Unlike the Union, the Confederacy “held a monopoly of military talent.” (LPB 73) Soldiers also knew the land on which the war was fought and had acquired military skills from hunting.
Lincoln decided he needed to keep other countries from helping the confederacy. So, he set up naval blockades in Confederate ports. Then, Lincoln launched three major offensives: One into Virginia, another into Tennessee, and a third to take control of the Mississippi River. He gave General George B. McClellan control of eastern armies. McClellan trained his men very carefully but took a long time doing it.
Lincoln found relief from the pressures of the war in his home life with his wife Mary and his two boys: Willie and Tad. However, in February of 1862 both boys became ill. Tad recovered. Willie, on the other hand, was not as fortunate. On February 20, 1862 William Wallace Lincoln died. This devastated the Lincoln family. Mary was so disturbed that she could not attend his funeral.
By the spring of ’62, the north had captured New Orleans and was gaining control of the Mississippi. Around June, McClellan led his troops to Richmond. He brought his troops there slowly and thus, the Confederates found out and had time to muster their defenses. While McClellan’s troops were waiting outside of Richmond, Lee launched a counter-offensive driving McClellan all the way back to the James River. More than 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing. McClellan’s long anticipated attack on Richmond had failed.
On the eastern front the Union had not won a battle yet and he could not find a competent commander. So, he made himself the Commander in Chief of all armies. McClellan remained supreme commander. Lincoln tried General Henry W. Halleck at the top military position. He was a failure. Halleck gave good advice but was a flake when it came to being decisive in military action.
Initially, Lincoln stated that he would leave slavery alone where it existed. However, abolitionists were urging Lincoln to “teach rebels and traitors that the price they are to pay for the attempt to abolish this country must be the abolition of slavery.” On the other hand, there were also Northerners who supported the Union but not emancipation. Lincoln worried about the support of these states and the loyal slave states: Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware.
Lincoln wanted to start emancipation in the loyal states and sweep the rebel states with it as they were conquered, giving money to slave owners as their slaves were freed. He suggested this plan to the loyal slave states’ congressmen. However, they didn’t like it. “Emancipation in the cotton states is simply an absurdity,” said a Kentucky congressman. So, Lincoln changed his plan. He realized that slavery was crucial to the South’s success in the war. If he could get rid of slavery the south would be crippled and would lose any support from Britain. Britain was willing to help the south because they supplied cotton to them. Without slaves the South could not produce nearly as much cotton. There was too much antislavery sentiment in Britain for them to support a country’s fight for the preservation of slaves. Besides, the Union also needed troops and slaves were eager to get out of their chains and fight for the North. Without emancipation the Civil War wouldn’t mean enough. The reason for the Southern States’ secession in the first place was slavery. Lincoln thought that even if the Union was reunited there would be another war over slavery. However, he questioned his own authority to abolish slavery.
When Lincoln was inaugurated he said he did not have the right to emancipate. However, as a wartime measure he felt he did have the power to do so. So, Lincoln devised a plan to crush slavery in the rebel states but preserve the loyalty of the Union slave states. His plan was called the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Emancipation Proclamation said all slaves were “then, thenceforward, and forever free” on the first of January 1863. Lincoln then planned to gradually emancipate slavery in the loyal states. However, the Union had not had a victory in a long time. Lincoln felt that if the proclamation were released then it would seem like an act of desperation. So, he awaited a decisive military victory by the North.
In July the Union was whipped once again at the second battle of Bull Run. However, at the Battle of Antietam McClellan tried to repel Lee in Maryland while he was advancing to Philadelphia. He was successful and on September 17, 1862 Lee retreated back to Virginia. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest battle yet in the Civil War. It was the victory Lincoln had been waiting for. Five days later, on the twenty-third of September, Lincoln released the Emancipation Proclamation to the press. This proclamation changed the Union’s war effort. Before the Emancipation Proclamation the North was fighting for the preservation of the Union. Now, the Union was fighting to free slaves as well. The Emancipation Proclamation also let black men serve in the army. By the end of the war more than 180,000 blacks would enlist in the Union army and would serve in every theater of war.
During a New Years day reception Lincoln and his cabinet left the party and went into Lincoln’s office. There, Lincoln read them the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act,” he said.
Although many rejoiced over the Emancipation Proclamation, there were some Northern Democrats who didn’t care about the abolition of slavery and were angered by the Emancipation Proclamation. Northern Democrats had supported the war to save the Union with slavery intact. They did not want to fight for the freedom of slaves. The proclamation brought out a lot of anti-Lincoln feelings. Northern Democrats accused Lincoln of being a dictator and a tyrant. However, Lincoln held his ground. When he was asked to change the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln said, “I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards.”
In order to deal with the anti war northerners Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus in some areas of America. Habeas corpus is the right to a fair trial in front of a judge. When an area is put under martial law the people of that area lose their rights to a trial along with some other individual rights. Lincoln felt it was necessary to declare martial law because southern sympathizers in the North hurt the Union war effort. Suspending the right of habeas corpus was legal because it was a measure of war to get rid of the “enemy in the rear.”
By 1863, the Union was hard pressed for soldiers. In fact, they needed soldiers so much that on March 3, 1863 Congress passed the first Conscription Act. The Conscription Act allowed Lincoln to draft men between the ages of 20 and 45. Only was a man allowed to get out of the draft if he could hire another man for $300 to take his place in the army. Between martial law and the new draft law there were a lot of anti-war feelings throughout the country. In 1863, Northern Democrats organized a peace movement to end the whole war. These Peace Democrats protested against Lincoln, the draft, the Emancipation Proclamation, Martial Law, and blacks in military. Lincoln reminded his people that there were thousands of black soldiers fighting and dying for the Union cause:
“You say you will not fight to free Negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you…. Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive—even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.”
Lincoln’s fellow Republican’s fought against the anti-war Democrats as well. The pro-war Republicans called the Peace Democrats “Copperheads.” The Republicans said Peace Democrats were hurting the war effort and helping the rebels. Lincoln fought against the Copperheads with martial law. He told army officers to arrest anyone who obstructed the draft or helped the rebels in any way.
Draft riots broke out across the country. In New York City on July 13, 1863 mobs went through the city attacking houses, shops, and people for days. In total, 128 people were killed; most of which were black.
Lincoln was still having trouble finding good commanders. At Antietam McClellan defeated Lee but failed to pursue him when he retreated. “McClellan has got the slows,” said Lincoln. In November 1862, Lincoln fired the cautious McClellan. Then, Lincoln tried Generals Burnside and Hooker, both of which failed.
After General Hooker, Lincoln tried General George Meade, who rushed to Pennsylvania to stop Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. There, 170,000 troops clashed. The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the war. By, July 4, with 50,000 casualties on both sides Lee’s troops began to retreat. When Lincoln learned of this he told Meade to go after Lee and destroy his army. Meade, however, hesitated– letting Lee’s men escape. “We had them in our grasp,” said Lincoln. “We only had to stretch forth our hands and they were ours.”
Four months after the Battle of Gettysburg a ceremony was held to “dedicate a portion of it [the Gettysburg battle field] as the final resting place of those who here gave their lives.” (Gettysburg Address) Edward Everett was the main speaker and spoke for about two hours. After Everett was through, Lincoln said the few words that America now knows so well, the Gettysburg Address. At the time Lincoln and most of the people who heard him speak at Gettysburg were disappointed. Little did they know how famous those words would become.
On the western front things were looking bright. Ulysses S. Grant had been winning decisive victories. The day after the battle of Gettysburg, Grant had taken control of the last important Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi, Vicksburg. Early in 1864, Lincoln appointed Grant as the commander in chief of all Union armies.
Together, Lincoln and Grant came up with a master plan to finally beat the Rebels. They planned to launch coordinate offensives against the Confederacy from all directions. In the East, Grant would attack Lee in Virginia, driving towards the rebel capital, Richmond. In the west General Sherman would go from Tennessee into Georgia, capturing Atlanta which was, at the time, a crucial railway center for the rebels. From there, Sherman would go towards Virginia, squeezing the Confederacy and eventually taking over their capital. Lincoln was hopeful. “Grant is the first general I have had. You know how it has been with all the rest. They wanted me to be the general. I am glad to find a man who can go ahead without me.”
In May 1864 the offensive began. Grant marched down to Virginia but was met my Lee’s newly rebuilt army in a densely wooded area call the Wilderness. Grant fought three major battles near Richmond but still could not take the city. During Grant’s Wilderness campaign roughly 54,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded. Things were better for Sherman. After a long siege at Atlanta the city fell and was evacuated. Sherman’s men then went into the city and destroyed everything that could be used by the South for war. Sherman then marched through Georgia ruining everything in his path: crops, houses, livestock etc. Meanwhile, Grant was slowly taking hold of Richmond. By November the end of the war was in sight for the Union.
In the election of 1864 recent Union victories gave Lincoln much support and sure enough, Lincoln was reelected on November 8, 1865. He had won by almost half a million votes out of some four million cast. Lincoln felt he should now, after winning the election, push for a Constitutional Amendment permanently outlawing slavery everywhere in the United States. Lincoln pressured anti-abolition Congressmen who apposed the amendment in the winter of ’64. Finally, on January 31, 1865 Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawing slavery “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
On March 4, 1865 Lincoln was sworn into office. In his address he denigrated slavery, calling it a hateful and evil practice. He said that now that slavery had been abolished it was time for healing. However, Lincoln said he did not feel “malice” towards Southerners.
Even as Lincoln spoke, the Union victory machine was in action. Sherman marched up the coast capturing the city of Savannah. Then, he moved up towards Virginia and on his way captured Charleston, South Carolina. Then on April 2, after a long siege, the Confederate capital, Richmond, was evacuated and the Confederate government was moved to their new capital in Danville, Virginia. The next day Union troops moved in to officially take control of the city.
Then, on April 9, 1865 Lee and Grant met with their armies at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. There, Grant accepted Lee’s surrender. Lee’s men then lay down their weapons, thus, ending the long Civil War.
The Civil War had lasted almost four years. More than 600,000 United States men had died. That’s more than the total number of lives lost from every war the U.S has fought in combined. Neither side had expected the war to last as long as it did or for the war to put an end to slavery.
After the Civil War, many friends of President Lincoln were worried about the safety of his life. He had been receiving threats of assassination in the mail and everyone knew how much hate there was towards Lincoln, especially from the ex-Confederates. So, bodyguards, cavalry escorts, and even troops camping out on the White House lawn protected Lincoln as best they could. However, all the precautions failed. On, the night of April 14, 1865 Lincoln and his wife attended the theater. Then, in the third act John Wilkes Booth came into the President’s box and shot Lincoln in the head. Doctors rushed to try and save the wounded President. However, on the morning of April 15, 1865 Abraham Lincoln died in his bed at the age of 56.
Lincoln’s funeral was held in the East Room of the White House on April 19, 1865. After his funeral a long procession carried the President to the Capital Building. On the 21st a funeral train brought Lincoln to his final resting-place in Springfield, Illinois.
A GREAT COMMANDER WHO
HANDLED SLAVERY WELL
In the Civil War, Lincoln was a great commander. For most of the war he had trouble finding a good commander to run a campaign in the East. So, Lincoln was forced to almost single handedly head the Union campaign in the East. Early in the war, Lincoln could rely on the good strategic advice of his general in chief, Winfield Scott. Scott had proposed the “Anaconda Plan.” In his plan, Scott wanted to blockade the Southern coast and take control of the Mississippi squeezing the Confederacy and isolating them completely. Lincoln agreed with his plan but wanted to go further. He wanted the Union to take more of an offensive. So, he tightened the blockade and called for more troops. In this sense Lincoln was ruthless. Later, towards the end of the war, Lincoln, with the help of General Grant devised the plan that crushed the rebellion. Today, when we think of Lincoln, the fact that he was a good commander doesn’t stand out in our minds. However, after carefully looking over his bold, decisive actions in the Civil War I realized that he was indeed a great commander.
Lincoln handled slavery very well. Even though he was morally against slavery he was careful in dealing with it. His handling of slavery suits Roosevelt’s saying, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”
In the election of 1860 Lincoln knew he had to have minimal enemies. So, as to not anger any pro-slavery voters Lincoln said he would not tamper with slavery in states in which it already existed. When Lincoln was inaugurated he said the same thing. He did this to try and keep America out of a Civil War. However, many slave states felt they needed to expand slavery. In order to do so they needed to get out of Lincoln’s domain. Once slave states started seceding Lincoln knew he had to crush the rebellion, but keep the border slave states loyal. So, Lincoln, once again, promised he would not take away their slavery. By doing this he kept a lot of Union support.
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation raised a lot of anti-war feelings. Before announcing his plan he consulted politicians from the loyal slave states to make sure they approved. In his original plan Lincoln was going to start emancipation in loyal states. However, after listening to the views of a Kentucky Congressman Lincoln found that the border slave states would be infuriated if they became free states. At that point, when Lincoln was writing the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union was being beaten right and left and could not afford to lose the loyalty of the border states.
Throughout the war Lincoln had the support of Republicans. However, after the Emancipation Proclamation was released many neutral and pro-war people became critical of Lincoln and the war. To control these Copperheads Lincoln declared martial law in certain parts of the country. In this sense he carried “a big stick.”
After Lincoln won the election of 1864 he decided it was time to push forward with emancipation. If his actions had been too strong before the election he would have lost a lot of votes. So, that winter Lincoln started strongly pressing for the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery permanently. Lincoln’s timing for the amendment was impeccable. Also, to ensure two-thirds vote in the house, Lincoln asked an Ohio congressman to get three doubtful Democratic votes for the 13th Amendment by bribing the doubtful voters with certain positions in office and other areas that Lincoln had influence over.
The greatest thing Lincoln ever did was handle slavery so well. He appeased the border states by not taking away slavery in their states and in that sense he walked “softly.” He had to deal with the Copperheads with an iron fist and in that sense Lincoln carried “a big stick.” In general Lincoln is an American hero but he is most famed and rightfully famed for the freeing of slaves.
Lincoln was one of the best Presidents, if not the best, in American history. In his era, Lincoln was viewed by some as dictator and a tyrant. However, over time the American people have come to recognize and appreciate what Lincoln has done more and more to the extent of the Lincoln Memorial and his face on Mount Rushmore. He governed the country at possibly the most critical time in the United States’ history, a time when the very existence of America was at stake. We were lucky to have Lincoln in office during that time. He has affected the world today more than any other man in that century. He handled slavery extremely well and was a great commander. His speaking ability engrossed audiences throughout his career. He died because of what he believed in and he will never be forgotten. I personally, believe that Abraham Lincoln was the finest President this country has ever had.
Abraham Lincoln: a photobiography