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Abraham Lincoln: Civil War President
Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) was the Civil War President. When Lincoln was elected in 1860, southern states, fearing that he would ask Congress to outlaw slavery, seceded from the Union. South Carolina was the first to depart. Eventually 10 other states broke their ties with the United States and formed a new nation, the Confederate States of America. As the states seceded, their elected delegates to Congress left their seats and returned to their home states.
Lincoln was mostly self-educated. He had a typical frontier education with several months in a “blab” school where students learned to “read, write, and cipher” (do arithmetic). From these basics he learned how to be a surveyor. He was also a storekeeper and became a lawyer. He passed the bar exam in Illinois, and set up an office as a lawyer in Springfield.
In 1846, Lincoln was elected to Congress. As a representative, he gained some notice because he opposed the Mexican War. In 1858, Lincoln, a Republican, ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas was a well-known senator, a Democrat, and a capable public speaker. As the two campaigned for office, they engaged in several debates. Lincoln’s performance in those debates brought him national attention. Though Lincoln lost that election, the Republican Party asked him to run for President in 1860.
Immediately after Lincoln was elected President, southern states threatened to secede. Secession meant that the United States would have to go to war to restore the Union. In his inaugural address, Lincoln spoke directly to the southern states saying:
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.
Lincoln did not intend to free the slaves when he first became president. He came to that conclusion slowly over the course of the Civil War as he listened to his advisors and members of Congress. He also knew that restoring the Union meant ending slavery permanently. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared enslaved people to be free.
During his presidency, Lincoln ensured that the United States would continue to establish new territories and states in the West. To help these states prosper, he signed the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railway Act, and the Morrill Land Grant Act. Though the war in the states took up most of his time and attention, he read reports on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and the battles in Dakota Territory. He made sure that military resources were sent to Dakota. He appointed able officials to the new Dakota Territory.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was assassinated on April 14, 1865 just as the Civil War came to a close.