“”by Stephen B.OatesPublished by Mentor BooksAbout the AuthorStephen B. Oates is a professor of history at the University ofMassachusetts, Amherst, and the author of eight other books, includingThe Fires of Jubilee and To Purge This Land with Blood. His task in thisbiography was to perpetuate Lincoln as he was in the days he lived. Hispurpose of this biography was to bring the past into the present for usand his students.The Life of Abraham LincolnAlthough other states such as Indiana lay claim to his birth, mostsources agree that Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in abackwoods cabin in Hodgeville, Kentucky.
In an interview during hiscampaign for the presidency in 1860 Lincoln described his adolescence as”the short and simple annals of the poor.” (p 30). His father Thomaswas a farmer who married Nancy Hanks, his mother, in 1806. Lincoln hadone sister, Sarah, who was born in 1807.The Lincoln family was more financially comfortable than most despitethe common historical picture of complete poverty. They moved toIndiana because of the shaky system of land titles in Kentucky.
Becausethe Lincoln’s arrived in Spencer County at the same time as winter,Thomas only had time to construct a “half-faced camp.” Made of logs andboughs, it was enclosed on only three sides with a roaring fire for thefourth. The nearest water supply was a mile away, and the family had tosurvive on the abundance of wild game in the area.Less than two years after the move to Indiana, Mrs. Lincoln caught ahorrible frontier disease known as “milk sick.”.
Thomas Lincoln returnedto Kentucky to find a new wife. On December 2 he married Sarah BushJohnston, a widow with three children, and took them all back toIndiana. Although there were now eight people living in the smallshelter, the Lincoln children, especially Abe, adored their newstepmother who played a key role in making sure that Abe at least hadsome formal education, amounting to a little less than a year in all. To support his family it was necessary that Abe worked for a wage onnearby farms.”He was strong and a great athlete, but Abe preferred to read instead. Although few books were available to a backwoods boy such as himself,anything that he could obtain he would read tenaciously” (p 56).
Although his formal education had come to an end,his self-education was just beginning.After a three month flatboat journey along the Ohio and Mississippi, the19 year old Lincoln returned to Indiana with an enthusiasm for thelifestyles that he had just encountered. Unfortunately, his new-foundjoy did not last long as his sister Sarah died in childbirth on January20, 1828.
In 1830 the Lincoln family decided to leave Indiana in hopes of a betterfuture in Illinois. It was soon thereafter that Abraham became a leaderin the town of New Salem while operating a store and managing a mill. The next step for such an ambitious man was obvious–he enteredpolitics, finishing eighth out of thirteen in a race for the IllinoisHouse of Representatives in August of 1832.Abraham Lincoln was a strong supporter of Whig founder Henry Clay andhis “American System.” This system that arose from the NationalRepublicans of 1824 was in opposition to the powerful Democratic partyof President Andrew Jackson. Lincoln agreed with Clay that thegovernment should be a positive force with the purpose of serving thepeople.
Internal improvements were high on both mens’ lists, and thisstand made the relatively unknown Lincoln popular in rural Illinois fromthe start. As the Whigs rose in stature throughout the 1830’s, so didLincoln, but not without paying his dues along the way.For eighty days in the spring and early summer of 1832 Lincoln served inthe military. On a constant search for Black Hawk, war leader of theSauk and Fox Indians, he never saw any fighting but he did prove to be asuperior leader of men in some of the most trying situations, includingthreats of desertion. “In return for his eleven and a half weeks ofservice Lincoln earned a mere $125, but the connections that he madewith future leaders of Illinois and the experiencing of life from asoldier’s viewpoint proved to be priceless in his future politicalcareer” (p 80).
During this time Lincoln ran for and won a seat in theIllinois Legislature with bipartisan support.In 1846 Lincoln took his biggest step in politics to that point. He wonelection to Congress as the only Whig from Illinois. His single termwas only memorable in that he took an unpopular stand against PresidentJames K.
Polk and his Mexican War, which Lincoln saw as unjust. Lincolnmade unsuccessful bids for an Illinois Senate seat in 1855, running as aWhig, and the Vice Presidency in 1856, running as a Republican. In his early days as a lawyer and an Illinois Legislator, Lincoln was afrequent guest of the Edward’s family and Mrs.
Edward’s younger sister,Mary Todd, immediately caught Abe’s eye.She was like no woman he had ever known before. Her beauty,intelligence, charm, and ability to lead a conversation was enough tocause the usually unemotional Abraham to propose. Yet he felt he didnot love here and they broke up the engagement. Almost immediatelythereafter, Lincoln began to feel terrible guilt and unhappiness overwhat he had done and what he then realized he had lost.
He became sodepressed that for a short time many of those around him feared that hewas going to commit suicide. Until he longed for her so much that aspark was reignited between the old lovers and they remarried.After receiving the Republican Party nomination for the 1858 Illinoissenatorial race, Lincoln gave his historically famous, yet questionablyradical “House Divided” speechLincoln had lost this election against Douglas but he had strengthenedthe Republican Party and won national recognition in the process.
As aresult of holding his own with the “Little Giant” (referring toDouglas’s physical stature and political power), the entire nation wasable to see just how great and powerful of a leader Abraham Lincolncould become. Lincoln put the Senatorial defeat in its properperspective six years later when he said, “It’s a slip, and not a fall.” (p 143)After Illinois chose Lincoln over the more radical William Seward andEdward Bates, he almost reluctantly turned his attention to the nationalscene. Lincoln’s true desire was to be a Senator, where Abe believedthat he could concentrate on the most important issues more closely. Since he honestly did not believe that he had a chance of actuallywinning the presidency, one of the main reasons that he was running wasto gain more notoriety for the 1864 senatorial.
Nevertheless, Lincolnhad thrown his hat in the ring and he ran on the Republican platformof: 1) opposition to the extension of slavery 2) opposition to”nativist” demands that naturalization laws be changed to limit therights of immigrants 3) support of federally sponsored internal improvements, a protectivetariff, a railroad to the Far West, and free land for Western settlers. This stand was obviously very attractive to Northern and Western voters. When election day finally came, Lincoln simply waited, first in hisoffice at the statehouse and later in the telegraph office. When thefinal results came in at about two o’clock in the morning, AbrahamLincoln had become the sixteenth President of the United States with1,866,452 popular votes. However he, did not receive a single vote inten Southern states, and largely because of his victory, frustrated,humiliated, and defeated Southerners began the process of secession,beginning with South Carolina in 1860.Abraham Lincoln was chosen by destiny as the man to lead theNation through its most trying hour, and it is quite probable that heunderstood just how trying it would be. Upon recalling how he feltimmediately after learning of his victory, Lincolnreplied, “I went home, but not to get much sleep, for I then felt as Inever had before, the responsibility that was upon me.
” (p 231)By Lincoln’s inauguration day in March of 1861, seven states had alreadyseceded from the Union, electing Jefferson Davis as President of theirConfederacy. In his inaugural address Lincoln attempted to avoidaggravating the slave states that had not yet seceded. He asked theSouth to reconsider its actions, but also reinforced his belief that theUnion was perpetual, and that states could not secede, saying, “In yourhands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not mine, is the momentousissue of civil war.
” (p 288) Lincoln also announced that becausesecession was unlawful he would hold the federal forts and installationsin the South. All sided with the Union basically because they wereassured by Lincoln that the war was being fought to preserve the Union,and not to destroy slavery. In a letter to Horace Greeley, editor of theNew York Tribune, on August 22, 1862, Lincoln confirmed this positionsaying:”My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is noteither to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union withoutfreeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing allthe slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeingsome and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” (p 290)Just as he had previously said that he would, on January 1, 1863,Abraham Lincoln declared that all slaves residing in states anddistricts still in rebellion against the United States were to be free.
Although this was a bold move meant to upset the Southern war effort,the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation had no immediate affectbecause it applied only to the Confederate states over which the federalgovernment had no control. The proclamation did not apply to the slavestates under Union control because there was no legal justification forLincoln to apply it in those places. It had to be classified as a”military measure,” such as depriving the South of the services of herslaves.
Lincoln realized that in order to peacefully integrate the former slavesinto American society he decided to train them as regular soldiers, andthey fought gallantly. Some 186,000 colored troops had been enrolled in the Union army by the end of the war. The famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow remarked, “At lastthe North consents to let the Negro fight for freedom.” (p 340)Jefferson Davis, and his war-torn South, had one final hope — thedefeat of Lincoln in the election of 1864. Davis knew that as long asLincoln was in the Office, the industrial superior North would continueto fight, and the South could not withstand the war much longer.
If anew “peace” candidate were to be elected, then the Confederacy mightsurvive.”Luckily for Lincoln the tide of the war turned dramatically inSeptember of 1864 when General Sherman took Atlanta, an extremelyimportant Southern rail and manufacturing center. Morale was boostedgreatly in the North, and the victories continued to mount underLincoln’s new-found leaders in Ulysses S. Grant and General Sherman. Bythe time of the election in November, Lincoln won overwhelmingly with212 of the 233 possible electoral.” (p 402)The very weary President addressed the Nation the next day with lessthan victorious words. He stressed that the South should be dealt withmildly in order to bring the entire Nation back together as soon aspossible.
“Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring theproper practical relations between these states and the Union.” (p 409)What should have been Lincoln’s finest hour was probably one of his moststressing, because it was now up to him as to where the Nation was to gonext.It was Good Friday, April 14, 1865, only five days after the end of thewar. Despite numerous warnings from some of his closest advisors,President Lincoln insisted on attending an evening performance of OurAmerican Cousin at Ford’s Theater. Since General Grant was expected toattend the play with President Lincoln, the President’s attendance washighly publicized.John Wilkes Booth, a staunch Southern supporter, was a well known andpopular actor who felt it necessary to redeem the lost cause of theConfederacy. He had previously planned to kidnap President Lincoln, butwhen that plan did not work he decided to assassinate him instead.
He had the help of three others in his plot, with the intention of also assassinating Vice President Johnson,Secretary Seward, and General Grant.The wounded Lincoln was rushed across the street to the Petersen housewhere he was attended to for nine hours. After fighting for life likeonly he could, President Abraham Lincoln passed away at 7:22 a.m.
on themorning of April 15, 1865.”Even he who now sleeps, has, by this event, been clothed with anew influence…Now his simple and weighty words will be gathered likethose of Washington, and your children, and your children’s children,shall be taught to ponder the simplicity and deep wisdom of utteranceswhich, in their time, passed, in party heat, as idle words.”–Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, 1865″A greater work is seldom performed by a single man. Generationsyet unborn will rise up and call him blessed.
“–Reverend James Reed, 1865″…In all America, there was, perhaps, not one man who lessdeserved to be the victim of this revolution, than he who has justfallen.”–The London Times, 1865″Abraham Lincoln.
..was at home and welcome with the humblest, and had a spirit and a practical vein in the times of terror that commandedthe admiration of the wisest.
His heart was as great as the world, butthere was no room in it to hold the memory of a wrong.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1876″If one would know the greatness of Lincoln one should listen tothe stories which are told about him in other parts of the world. Ihave been in wild places where one hears the name of America utteredwith such mystery as if it were some heaven or hell…
but I heard thisonly in connection with the name Lincoln.”–Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)”In the days before antiseptic surgery, Lincoln had foreshadowed his owndemise; his efforts to preserve the life of the nation had beensuccessful at the cost of its strongest limb.” (p 446)My View on the BookI found this book interesting and was surprised it was not anotherdocumentary style written biography. It was actually interesting to readdue to Oates creative writing style.
And being a factual historicalstory I learned a little about the life style of the post-colonialperiod and of course, the life of Lincoln, that I now know so much more about.