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A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN

1809

On the morning of Sunday, February 12, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, wife of Thomas, gave birth to a boy. He was born on a bed of poles covered with cornhusks. The baby was named Abraham after his grandfather. The birth took place in the Lincolns' rough-hewn cabin on Nolin Creek near Hodgenville, Kentucky. (The picture to the right depicts a reassembled replica of the cabin purported to be Lincoln's birthplace.) Thomas Lincoln was an uneducated carpenter and a farmer. Nancy Lincoln had little or no schooling and could not write.

1811-1812

In 1811 the Lincolns moved to a farm on Knob Creek which was also near Hodgenville. In 1812 Abraham's younger brother, Thomas, died in infancy.

1815

Abraham spent a short amount of time in a log schoolhouse. He began to learn his ABC's from a teacher named Zachariah Riney. He attended school with his sister, Sarah. Sarah had dark brown hair and gray eyes, and she was two years older than Abraham. Abraham attended school dressed in a raccoon cap, buckskin clothes, and pants so short that several inches of his calves were exposed. At home young Abraham heard the scriptures read from the family Bible.

1816

Young Lincoln was saved from drowning by playmate Austin Gollaher. Abraham and Sarah briefly attended school taught by Caleb Hazel, a neighbor. Late in the year the Lincoln family moved to southern Indiana and settled near present-day Gentryville. A cabin was constructed near Little Pigeon Creek. It measured 16 X 18 feet, and it had one window.

1818

Abraham's mother, Nancy, passed away on October 5th. She died of milk sickness, a disease contracted by drinking milk from cows which have grazed on poisonous white snakeroot. In later years, Abraham would recall helping to carve pegs for his mother's coffin. Thomas Lincoln hauled the coffin, which was made of green pine, on a sled to the top of a thickly wooded hill and buried her without a formal funeral service. In Lexington, Kentucky, Mary Ann Todd, Abraham's future wife, was born on December 13th.

1819

Thomas Lincoln married Sarah Bush Johnston on December 2nd. Sarah's first husband, Daniel Johnston, had died in the summer of 1816. She added three new children by her former marriage to the Lincoln household - Elizabeth, 12; John, 9; and Matilda, 8. Abraham grew to be much closer to his stepmother than he was to his father. During 1818 or 1819 young Abraham was kicked and almost killed by a horse.

1821

Abraham began borrowing books from neighbors. He read Pilgrim's Progress, Aesop's Fables, Arabian Nights, and Robinson Crusoe.

1822

Abraham attended school taught by James Swaney for about four months.

1824

Abraham attended school taught by Azel Dorsey.

1825

Abraham borrowed a book titled Life of Washington by Parson Mason Weems. When the book got soaked with rain, he worked off its worth for his neighbor (Josiah Crawford) from whom he had borrowed it. This was the very first book Abraham ever personally owned.

1826

Abraham's sister, Sarah, married a neighbor named Aaron Grigsby on August 2, but she died in childbirth 1 1/2 years later on January 28, 1828, just three weeks before her 21st birthday. Sarah was buried with her baby boy who was stillborn.

1827

Abraham earned his first dollar ferrying passengers to a steamer on the Ohio River.

1828

Using a flatboat as transportation, Abraham took a load of farm produce down the Mississippi River to New Orleans with Allen and James Gentry.

1830

The Lincolns moved from Indiana to Illinois. Abraham drove one of the ox wagons. They built a log cabin on the north bank of the Sangamon River about 10 miles southwest of Decatur in Macon County. Later the family moved southeast to Goose Nest Prairie in Coles County, Illinois.

1831

Young Lincoln decided to leave his family and go off on his own. His anti-slavery opinions may have been formulated when he saw the abuse of slaves during his second flatboat trip to New Orleans. In July he moved to New Salem, Illinois, where he boarded at Rutledge's tavern and became acquainted with the owner's daughter, Ann. New Salem was a frontier village consisting of one long street on a bluff over the Sangamon River. On August 1 Lincoln cast his first ballot.

1832

Lincoln joined the Illinois militia for the Black Hawk War. He was elected Captain of the volunteers but saw no military action during approximately three months of service. On August 6th Lincoln was defeated while running for the Illinois State Legislature. Lincoln began to operate a general store in New Salem along with William F. Berry.

1833

Lincoln became postmaster of New Salem on May 7th. The store he operated with William Berry failed. In the fall he learned surveying and was appointed assistant surveyor in the northwest part of Sangamon County. Lincoln met a young woman named Mary Owens. She was four months older than he was, and she came to New Salem to visit her sister.

1834

Again Lincoln ran for the Illinois State Legislature, but this time he was elected. During the summer, John T. Stuart advised Lincoln to study law. On December 1 Lincoln took his seat in state government in Vandalia (Illinois' capital prior to Springfield). He became a member of the Long Nine (the nickname for the delegation from Sangamon County because their combined height was exactly 54 feet).

1835

When the state legislature adjourned in February, Lincoln returned to New Salem and resumed his legal studies with great determination. Additionally, he continued surveying. On August 25th Ann Rutledge passed away. Although it's unproven, some felt Ann was Lincoln's first love.

1836

Lincoln was re-elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. On September 9th, Lincoln was licensed to practice law.

1837

Lincoln, 28, was admitted to the Illinois Bar on March 1, and he moved to Springfield on April 15. He became a law partner of John T. Stuart and lived with Joshua Speed. Lincoln now had income from a law practice as well as a state legislator. In the fall Mary Owens rejected Lincoln's marriage proposal.

1838

Lincoln was elected for a third time to the Illinois House of Representatives.

1839

Lincoln met Mary Ann Todd who had moved to Springfield from Lexington, Kentucky. Mary was living at the home of her older sister, Elizabeth Edwards. Most likely, the two met at a ball. Despite great differences in background, they became interested in each other.

1840

For the fourth and last time, Lincoln won election to the Illinois House of Representatives. In the fall Lincoln became engaged to Mary Todd.

1841

Lincoln and Mary Todd broke off their engagement. Lincoln became a law partner of Stephen T. Logan on May 14th.

1842

A proposed duel with James Shields on September 22 never came off. Lincoln married Mary Todd on November 4. James Harvey Matheny was the best man. Abraham gave Mary a gold wedding ring with the words "Love is Eternal" engraved inside the band. Mary wore this ring until the day she died. The marriage took place in the parlor of the Edwards' home, and the Reverend Charles Dresser, an Episcopal minister, performed the ceremony. The Lincolns moved into the Globe Tavern, a two story wooden structure in Springfield, where they boarded for $4.00 a week.

1843

The first son of the Lincolns, Robert Todd, was born August 1 at the Globe Tavern. He was so-named in honor of Mary's father. Late in the year the Lincolns moved out of the Globe Tavern and began renting a three-room frame cottage at 214 South Fourth Street in Springfield.

1844

Abraham and Mary purchased a home from Dr. Dresser in Springfield for $1500. It was located at the corner of Eighth and Jackson. The family moved in on May 2nd. Lincoln visited his former home in Indiana while campaigning for Henry Clay, the Whig candidate for president. In December Lincoln accepted William Herndon as his law partner.

1846

The Lincolns had their first photograph taken. Abraham and Mary's second son, Edward Baker, was born on March 10th. On August 3rd Mr. Lincoln was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He took his seat the next year and spoke out against the Mexican War.

1847

The Lincolns boarded at Mrs. Anna G. Sprigg's boardinghouse in Washington. Nowadays the Library of Congress is located on this site. On December 22nd Lincoln introduced the spot resolutions in Congress (having to do with his opposition to the Mexican War). Lincoln also became known for his opposition to slavery.

1848

Lincoln campaigned throughout New England for the Whig presidential candidate, Zachary Taylor. His opposition to the Mexican War was not popular in Illinois. During the summer the Lincolns, with the two boys, traveled through the state of New York, visited Niagara Falls, and took a steamer from Buffalo across the Great Lakes.

1849

Lincoln failed in his attempt to be appointed commissioner of the General Land Office, and he returned to a full time law practice in Springfield as his term in the House of Representatives had expired on March 4th. On March 7th he was admitted to practice law before the United States Supreme Court. Also, he received a patent for his device that would lift vessels over shallow spots by means of inflating buoyant chambers. Nothing ever came of his invention.

1850

Lincoln's son, "Eddie," died on February 1. His third son, William Wallace ("Willie") was born on December 21st.

1851

Mr. Lincoln's father, Thomas, passed away from a kidney ailment on January 17th. He was 73 years old and died in Coles County, Illinois. Abraham did not attend the funeral.

1853

The fourth and last son of the Lincolns, Thomas ("Tad"), was born on April 4th. His nickname stemmed from the fact that his father thought he looked like a tadpole.

1854

Lincoln was elected to the Illinois legislature, but he declined the office on November 27th to become a candidate for the U.S. Senate. (He was defeated in this attempt early in 1855.) His opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act fueled Lincoln's re-entry into politics. Lincoln jotted down what would later become a famous quote on slavery and democracy: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master - This expresses my idea of democracy - Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy - " The exact date of this quote is uncertain. Some sources put its origin in 1858. It was written on a scrap of paper and is not known to be part of any speech or special occasion. Mary Todd Lincoln gave it to her friend Myra Bradwell who had helped get Mrs. Lincoln released from the Illinois sanatorium she was sent to in 1875.

1856

Lincoln helped organize the new Republican Party in Illinois. In Bloomington he gave his famous "Lost Speech" on May 29th. Although he wasn't nominated, he received 110 votes for vice-president at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. During the presidential campaign, Lincoln gave over 50 speeches in support of the Republican nominee, John C. Fremont. The Lincolns expanded their Springfield home to a full two stories.


The Lincolns' home after the 1856 expansion.

1857

Lincoln spoke out against the Dred Scott decision.

1858

Lincoln was nominated by the Republicans to run for the U.S. Senate against Stephen Douglas. He gave his famous "House Divided" speech.

The Old State Capitol in Springfield where Lincoln gave the House Divided speech.

During the summer, Lincoln and Douglas engaged in a series of seven debates throughout Illinois. On November 2nd Douglas won the election.

1859

Lincoln gave political speeches in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, and the Kansas Territory.

"If any personal description of me is thought desirable, it may be said, I am, in height, six feet, four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing, on an average, one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with course black hair, and grey eyes - no other marks or brands recollected."

Abraham Lincoln, in a brief biographical sketch, December 20, 1859.

1860

Lincoln gained national fame because of his powerful speech at Cooper Union in New York City on February 27th. He toured New England making more speeches. Regarding the presidency, he wrote a friend on April 29th that "The taste is in my mouth a little." On May 18th he was nominated for president at the Republican National Convention in Chicago. In July the Lincolns' eldest son, Robert, enrolled at Harvard University. On October 15th 11-year-old Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York, wrote Lincoln a letter suggesting he grow a beard. He decided to follow her advice. On November 6th Lincoln was elected president over three opponents (Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge, and John Bell) winning 39% of the popular vote but nearly 60% of the electoral vote. The Lincolns rented their home for $350 a year and sold most of their furniture. L.L. Tildon of Chicago purchased much of the furniture, and it was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

1861

Abraham visited his beloved stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln. On the rainy Monday morning of February 11th he left Springfield by train bound for Washington. He had roped his trunks himself and labeled them, "A. Lincoln, The White House, Washington, D.C." Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the provisional president of the Confederate States of America on February 18th. Lincoln arrived in Washington on February 23rd and was inaugurated as the 16th president of the United States on March 4th. The Civil War began with the Confederate attack on Ft. Sumter in April. On April 15th Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve for three months. The Union met disaster at the Battle of Bull Run.

1862

On January 13th the president appointed Edwin Stanton as secretary of war. On February 20th "Willie" Lincoln died in the White House of typhoid fever. Lincoln proposed a plan of compensated emancipation for slaves in states that remained loyal to the Union. On September 22nd the president announced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation after the Battle of Antietam. On October 2nd the president visited General George McClellan and other Union officers at Antietam.

1863

On January 1st the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in the rebelling areas, took effect. On March 3rd Lincoln approved the first draft law in U.S. history. In early July the Union won two major battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. A huge anti-draft riot took place in New York City, and many were killed. On October 3rd Lincoln issued a proclamation creating Thanksgiving Day. On November 19th Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address which dedicated the battlefield there to the soldiers who had perished. He called on the living to finish the task the dead soldiers had begun. He spoke for less than three minutes following a two-hour speech by Edward Everett. On November 26 the first national observance of Thanksgiving was held.

1864

Lincoln nominated Ulysses S. Grant as the first full lieutenant general since George Washington. Grant assumed his role as general-in-chief of Union armies. Lincoln received the Republican (National Union Party) nomination on June 8th to run for a 2nd term as president. Andrew Johnson was his vice-presidential running mate. On November 8th he easily defeated Democrat George B. McClellan in the presidential election. Later in November General Sherman set Atlanta on fire and began his destructive "march to the sea." On December 6th Lincoln nominated Salmon P. Chase for chief justice.

Pictured above is the Lincoln Cottage at the Soldiers' Home - where the Lincolns often stayed to avoid Washington's summer heat. Once a shot was fired through Lincoln's hat (possibly by a hunter but probably by a sniper) while the president was on horseback near the Soldiers' Home. The president asked that no mention of it be made to the public. He said, "It was probably an accident and might worry my family."

1865

A peace conference at Hampton Roads, Virginia, failed. On March 4th Lincoln was inaugurated as president for the second time.


This is a Library of Congress photograph of Lincoln speaking at his Second Inauguration.
The Confederates abandoned Richmond, and Lincoln walked through the streets of that city on April 4th. On April 9th Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. Lincoln gave his last public speech on April 11th. He told a crowd at the White House that he hoped for an early return of all the seceded states to the Union. The Lincolns attended the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre on April 14th, and Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at about 10:15 P.M. The president died the next morning at 7:22 A.M. + 10 seconds. He was 56 years old at the time of his death. Andrew Johnson took the oath of office as the 17th president on April 15th. On April 21st a nine car funeral train that included 300 dignitaries left Washington, D.C. and began a nearly 1700 mile journey back to Springfield. During the afternoon of May 4th, Lincoln's body was buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Abraham Lincoln is remembered for his vital role as the leader in preserving the Union during the Civil War and beginning the process that led to the end of slavery in the United States. He is also remembered for his character, his speeches and letters, and as a man of humble origins whose determination and perseverance led him to the nation's highest office.
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