Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). Prints and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress

Born in Kentucky to a frontier family who later moved to Indiana and Illinois, young Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) grew up in abject poverty. Although Lincoln had only about eighteen months of formal education, he was an avid reader and made extraordinary efforts to gain knowledge while working at many jobs, from farm hand to store clerk. Lincoln served briefly in the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Also that year, he also began his political career with a failed campaign for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly but was elected to the Assembly in 1834. In November 1842, he married Mary Todd (1818–1882), daughter of a prominent Kentucky slave-owning family. The couple settled in Springfield, Illinois, where their four sons—Robert, Edward, William, and Thomas (Tad)—were born. After four terms in the state legislature—during which time he also established a successful law practice—Lincoln was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. His one term in the House preceded several years of semi-retirement from politics, from which he emerged to make two unsuccessful bids for a U.S. Senate seat in 1855 and 1858. Lincoln's 1860 U.S. presidential election victory was marred by the quick secession of seven Southern states, leading to the Civil War (1861–1865), the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history. In 1864, Lincoln was reelected to the presidency, carrying fifty-four percent of the popular vote and all but three northern states—New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky. Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on that same day that the Federal flag was formally raised at Fort Sumter, where almost four years to the day the Civil War began.

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