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The Accomplishments of President Abraham Lincoln
The oil painting of Lincoln is by artist and sculptor Richard R. Miller.
Abraham Lincoln is remembered for his vital role as the leader in preserving the Union during the Civil War and beginning the process (Emancipation Proclamation) that led to the end of slavery in the United States. He is also remembered for his character and leadership, his speeches and letters, and as a man of humble origins whose determination and perseverance led him to the nation's highest office.

President Lincoln endured extraordinary pressures during the long Civil War. He carried on despite generals who weren't ready to fight, assassination threats, bickering among his Cabinet members, huge loss of life on the battlefields, and opposition from groups such as the Copperheads. However, Lincoln remained brave and persevered. He didn't give in to the pressures and end the war early. He kept fighting until the Confederacy was defeated. A lesser man would have given in and stopped the war before the goals had been achieved. Lincoln did not do this.

The Emancipation Proclamation didn't immediately free any slaves because it only applied to territories not under Lincoln's control. The actual fact is that legal freedom for all slaves in the United States did not come until the final passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in December of 1865. Lincoln was a strong supporter of the amendment, but he was assassinated before its final enactment.

President Lincoln's domestic policies included support for the Homestead Act. This act allowed poor people in the East to obtain land in the West. He signed the Morrill Act which was designed to aid in the establishment of agricultural and mechanical colleges in each state. Also, Lincoln signed legislation entitled the National Banking Act which established a national currency and provided for the creation of a network of national banks. In addition, he signed tariff legislation that offered protection to American industry and signed a bill that chartered the first transcontinental railroad. Lincoln's foreign policy was geared toward preventing foreign intervention in the Civil War.

Lincoln's most famous speech was the Gettysburg Address. In the address Lincoln explained that our nation was fighting the Civil War to see if we would survive as a country. He stated it was proper to dedicate a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield as a remembrance of the men who had fought and died there. Lincoln said that the people who were still alive must dedicate themselves to finish the task that the dead soldiers had begun which was to save the nation so it would not perish from the earth.

One important way Lincoln effects contemporary society is that we look back on his presidency as a role model for future generations. Lincoln's high character affects us because we compare present-day politicians to the example Lincoln set. Another effect is in the area of quotations. Politicians love to quote Abraham Lincoln because Lincoln is considered America's wisest president. A major effect Lincoln has on the U.S. today is simply through the good example he set when it came to leadership and integrity. Many American politicians in our time try to emulate his thinking by using Lincoln quotes in their speeches.

Lincoln had a benevolent leadership style in contrast to oppressive (authoritarian), participatory (democratic), or laissez-faire (hands-off). When there was disagreement among advisors and himself, his leadership style often involved telling a story that demonstrated his point. Lots of times this method worked, and people admired and respected him for it. He could virtually disarm his enemies with his highly moralistic, skillful leadership. Lincoln possessed qualities of kindness and compassion combined with wisdom. In fact, one of his nicknames was "Father Abraham." Like George Washington, Lincoln demonstrated an extraordinary strength of character, but Lincoln's unique style of leadership involved telling stories which explained his actions and influenced others to follow his lead.

More than fifteen years ago a book entitled Rating the Presidents by William J. Ridings, Jr. and Stuart B. McIver (Secaucus, New Jersey, Citadel Press, 1997) was published. Seven hundred nineteen professors, elected officials, historians, attorneys, authors, etc. participated in the poll and rated the presidents. Abraham Lincoln finished first, Franklin Roosevelt was second, and George Washington finished third. The categories in which the various presidents were rated included leadership qualities, accomplishments and crisis management, political skill, appointments, and character and integrity. Lincoln was ranked no lower than first, second, or third in any of the categories, and his overall ranking was first among all American presidents.

Another poll was released in February 2009. This poll was sponsored by C-SPAN and consisted of a survey of 65 historians. The participants were asked to rank the presidents in ten categories ranging from public persuasion and economic management to international relations and moral authority. Abraham Lincoln finished first, George Washington was second, and Franklin Roosevelt was third.

Lincoln rose to the top through sheer ambition and hard work. He had nearly no education at all. He spent less than 12 months attending schools as a youth growing up on the frontier. Each one was very small, and the lessons were most often taught orally, and schools thus got the nickname "blab" schools. Later when he moved to New Salem, Illinois, he began to study law books in his spare time. In New Salem he earned the nickname "Honest Abe." He was almost totally self-educated, and he became a lawyer in 1836, although he never attended college. Lincoln was a very successful attorney with a large practice prior to his election as president in 1860. Additionally, Lincoln served four terms in the Illinois State House of Representatives and one term in Congress.

Perhaps the most important action Lincoln took was his decision to fight to preserve the Union. In the end this decision to fight the Civil War resulted in the USA remaining one nation rather than splitting into two separate countries. Although Lincoln was criticized for stepping over the traditional bounds of executive power, he was faced with the greatest threat to federal authority in the history of the country. He felt his job was to protect the Union from disintegrating. Also, Lincoln's contribution in the area of freedom for the slaves is extremely important. He got the ball rolling with the Emancipation Proclamation. We honor Abraham Lincoln for his actions in preserving the Union and beginning the process of freedom for slaves.

SUMMARY OF MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

1. Abraham Lincoln made the decision to fight to prevent the nation from splitting apart.

2. Abraham Lincoln was an unfaltering commander in chief during the Civil War which preserved the United States as one nation.

3. Abraham Lincoln's foreign policy was successful in preventing other countries from intervening in America's Civil War.

4. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which began the process of freedom for America's slaves. The document also allowed black soldiers to fight for the Union.

5. Abraham Lincoln was a strong supporter of the Thirteenth Amendment that formally ended slavery in the United States.

6. Legislation Abraham Lincoln signed into law included the Homestead Act, the Morrill Act, the National Banking Act, and a bill that chartered the first transcontinental railroad.

7. Abraham Lincoln set an example of strong character, leadership, and honesty which succeeding presidents tried to emulate. Barack Obama stated during his campaign that he would look to Lincoln as a model.

8. Abraham Lincoln gave a series of great speeches before and during his presidency including the House Divided Speech, the Cooper Union Address, the First Inaugural Address, the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural Address.

9. Abraham Lincoln wrote a series of famous letters including the letters to Grace Bedell, Horace Greeley, Fanny McCullough, and Lydia Bixby.

10. Abraham Lincoln's quotes are among the most famous quotes in the world.


CLICK HERE for a brief summary of Abraham Lincoln's life.


Lincoln's Military Leadership During the Civil War


Abraham Lincoln's leadership was steady throughout the Civil War. His faith in the righteousness of his pro-Union policies kept the Union alive during the darkest days of the Civil War. He was a charismatic, moral leader who had a broad strategic vision of his goal (reuniting the nation like it was before the war started; later, freeing the slaves became a second goal). He had great political skill in settling disputes among his Cabinet members and generals, especially when they were dealing with adverse circumstances. His leadership style was at the same time shrewd and disarming. He could handle the most outspoken of his opponents in a classic diplomatic manner. He came from a humble background but, over the years, he grew into a master politician who made no unnecessary enemies. He had a great method of telling stories in an effort to manipulate people into seeing things his way. Lincoln's "story telling technique" was his most distinct and creative leadership method in comparison to other presidents.

For much of the Civil War, Lincoln was forced to serve as both commander in chief and chief of staff. This was because when the Civil War began the USA had no organization of high command suited to the vast size of the war operations. Lincoln supplied a good deal of the strategic thinking for the nation's armies despite his lack of technical military knowledge; Lincoln made his fair share of mistakes (including an early-on inability to pick the right man to head the armies). Also, some were fooled by Lincoln's reputation for granting clemency to soldiers and thus felt him too tenderhearted to wage the kind of war necessary to defeat the South. This is not the correct way to analyze Lincoln. He could be plenty tough when it came to plans to defeat the Confederacy.

On July 23, 1861, Lincoln wrote some "Memoranda of Military Policy Suggested by the Bull Run Defeat." This was a strategic plan devised by Lincoln, and it read as follows:

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Memoranda of Military Policy Suggested by the Bull Run Defeat

July 23. 1861.

1. Let the plan for making the Blockade effective be pushed forward with all possible despatch [sic].

2. Let the volunteer forces at Fort-Monroe & vicinity---under Genl. Butler---be constantly drilled, disciplined, and instructed without more for the present.

3. Let Baltimore be held, as now, with a gentle, but firm, and certain hand.

4 Let the force now under Patterson, or Banks, be strengthened, and made secure in it's possition [sic].

5. Let the forces in Western Virginia act, till further orders, according to instructions, or orders from Gen. McClellan.

6. [Let] Gen. Fremont push forward his organization, and opperations [sic] in the West as rapidly as possible, giving rather special attention to Missouri.

7 Let the forces late before Manassas, except the three months men, be reorganized as rapidly as possible, in their camps here and about Arlington

8. Let the three months forces, who decline to enter the longer service, be discharged as rapidly as circumstances will permit.

9 Let the new volunteer forces be brought forward as fast as possible; and especially into the camps on the two sides of the river here.

July 27, 1861

When the foregoing shall have been substantially attended to---

1. Let Manassas junction, (or some point on one or other of the railroads near it;); and Strasburg, be seized, and permanently held, with an open line from Washington to Manassas; and and [sic] open line from Harper's Ferry to Strasburg---the military men to find the way of doing these.

2. This done, a joint movement from Cairo on Memphis; and from Cincinnati on East Tennessee.


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By January, 1862, Lincoln had devised a broad strategic plan to defeat the South. Lincoln wrote to General Don Carlos Buell with a copy also sent to General Henry Halleck:

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My dear Sir: Washington, Jan. 13, 1862.

Your despatch [sic] of yesterday is received, in which you say ``I have received your letter and Gen. McClellan's; and will, at once devote all my efforts to your views, and his.'' In the midst of my many cares, I have not seen, or asked to see, Gen. McClellan's letter to you. For my own views, I have not offered, and do not now offer them as orders; and while I am glad to have them respectfully considered, I would blame you to follow them contrary to your own clear judgment---unless I should put them in the form of orders. As to Gen. McClellan's views, you understand your duty in regard to them better than I do. With this preliminary, I state my general idea of this war to be that we have the greater numbers, and the enemy has the greater facility of concentrating forces upon points of collision; that we must fail, unless we can find some way of making our advantage an over-match for his ; and that this can only be done by menacing him with superior forces at different points, at the same time; so that we can safely attack, one, or both, if he makes no change; and if he weakens one to strengthen the other, forbear to attack the strengthened one, but seize, and hold the weakened one, gaining so much. To illustrate, suppose last summer, when Winchester ran away to re-inforce [sic] Mannassas [sic], we had forborne to attack Mannassas [sic], but had seized and held Winchester. I mention this to illustrate, and not to criticise [sic]. I did not lose confidence in McDowell, and I think less harshly of Patterson than some others seem to. In application of the general rule I am suggesting, every particular case will have its modifying circumstances, among which the most constantly present, and most difficult to meet, will be the want of perfect knowledge of the enemies' movements. This had it's part in the Bull-Run case; but worse, in that case, was the expiration of the terms of the three months men. Applying the principle to your case, my idea is that Halleck shall menace Columbus, and ``down river'' generally; while you menace Bowling-Green, and East Tennessee. If the enemy shall concentrate at Bowling-Green, do not retire from his front; yet do not fight him there, either, but seize Columbus and East Tennessee, one or both, left exposed by the concentration at Bowling Green. It is matter of no small anxiety to me and one which I am sure you will not over-look, that the East Tennessee line, is so long, and over so bad a road. Yours very truly A. LINCOLN.


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On January 1, 1863, Lincoln decided to let black soldiers into the Union armies. This decision altered the arithmetic of war much more heavily in the North's favor. The decision was one of Lincoln's boldest moves of the war as it might appear to some that the president was getting desperate to win. Also, by the middle of 1863, Lincoln had decided on another important piece of strategy. He told General Hooker, "I think Lee's Army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point. Fight him when opportunity offers."

Lincoln maintained this strategy with all his commanders until the end of the war. Lincoln's skill as commander in chief was excellent. He faced an enormous task, and he did not shrink from it as many men would have done. By 1864, after Ulysses S. Grant was appointed General-in-Chief, Lincoln could turn the job of strategic planning over to him. After changing generals many times during the previous three years, Lincoln finally had a man who could win the war. Lincoln now turned most major military decisions over to Grant. The two thought alike which was in direct contrast to Lincoln's previous generals.

To sum up, Lincoln was a very good commander in chief. He may not have been a genius, but under the circumstances, his leadership was bold and courageous. A weaker man could not have handled what Lincoln did.


I relied heavily on Mark E. Neely's The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia in the above discussion of Lincoln's wartime leadership. Perhaps the best book on the subject is Lincoln and His Generals by T. Harry Williams (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1952). For an excellent analysis of Lincoln's role as commander in chief, please CLICK HERE.


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