A Life in Brief
When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, seven slave states left the Union to form the Confederate States of America, and four more joined when hostilities began between the North and South. A bloody civil war then engulfed the nation as Lincoln vowed to preserve the Union, enforce the laws of the United States, and end the secession. The war lasted for more than four years with a staggering loss of more than 600,000 Americans dead. Midway through the war, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves within the Confederacy and changed the war from a battle to preserve the Union into a battle for freedom. He was the first Republican President, and Union victory ended forever the claim that state sovereignty superseded federal authority. Killed by an assassin's bullet less than a week after the surrender of Confederate forces, Lincoln left the nation a more perfect Union and thereby earned the admiration of most Americans as the country's greatest President.
Born dirt-poor in a log cabin in Kentucky in 1809, Lincoln grew up in frontier Kentucky and Indiana, where he was largely self-educated, with a taste for jokes, hard work, and books. He served for a time as a soldier in the Black Hawk War, taught himself law, and held a seat in the Illinois state legislature as a Whig politician in the 1830s and 1840s. From state politics, he moved to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1847, where he voiced his opposition to the U.S. war with Mexico. In the mid-1850s, Lincoln left the Whig Party to join the new Republican Party. In 1858, he went up against one of the most popular politicians in the nation, Senator Stephen Douglas, in a contest for the U.S. Senate. Lincoln lost that election, but his spectacular performance against Douglas in a series of nationally covered debates made him a contender for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination.