A political leader of the nineteenth century; the leader of the Union during the Civil War, and one of the most revered presidents, who served from 1861 to 1865. Lincoln, who worked for a time splitting wood into fence rails, was a lawyer by profession and largely self-taught; there is a familiar image of him studying by firelight in the log cabin in Kentucky in which he was born and raised. First a Whig, he joined the Republican party and was its nominee for the Senate from Illinois in 1858. Lincoln rose to national prominence in a famous series of debates with his opponent in the 1858 election, Stephen A. Douglas (see Lincoln-Douglas debates). He was elected president in 1860. Lincoln was an exceptionally active commander in chief of the army and navy in the Civil War, which broke out the month after his inauguration. During the war, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, delivered the Gettysburg Address, and approved the Homestead Act. In his second inaugural address (see Lincoln's second inaugural address), delivered in 1865 as the war was ending, he pleaded for restraint and “charity for all” in the aftermath of the war. He never was able to carry out his program of Reconstruction, however, because a supporter of the Confederacy, the actor John Wilkes Booth, assassinated him a few days after the southern states surrendered.
Note: Lincoln has been referred to in a variety of ways, such as “honest Abe,” “the rail splitter,” and “the Great Emancipator.”
Note: Lincoln is much admired for the political moderation that enabled him to preserve the nation, and he has joined George Washington as a symbol of American democracy. His portrait appears on the five-dollar bill and the one-cent piece.
Note: Lincoln's birthday was February 12. A holiday in February, Presidents' Day, commemorates his birthday and the birthday of George Washington.