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Setting the Stage

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 near Hodgenville, Kentucky to Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln.  The Lincoln family tree can be traced back to the Lincoln Family from Manchester, England who journeyed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 as part of the great Puritan Migration (1620-1640). Subsequent family migration brought the family to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia with Thomas finally establishing a homestead in Kentucky.

As a child and adolescent, Lincoln lived the life of a modest pioneer just west of the Appalachian Mountains.  In an 1860 election pamphlet biography he said, “My life can best be summed up as the simple annals of the poor.”

Lincoln’s mother died when he was nine years old. His stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, encouraged Lincoln to pursue his intellectual passions. This encouragement explains why American popular culture is filled with a young Lincoln reading at night by a hearth fire. Lincoln’s passion for knowledge led him to make a deliberate choice not to follow in his father’s footsteps, but to pursue a more intellectual career.

In 1830, Thomas moved the family to Illinois. From here Lincoln, now twenty-one, began his journey as a man and struck out on his own, moving to the town of New Salem, IL. It was in New Salem where Lincoln became interested in politics. He quickly rose in the Illinois Whig Party, a party dedicated to new ideas and promoting American economic growth. Throughout the 1850s, Lincoln continued to rise to national prominence. As a Whig and a supporter of free (wage) labor, Lincoln was vehemently opposed to slavery both on moral as well as economic grounds. Despite the success of his law practice, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 drew him back into politics.

In 1860, Lincoln won the presidential election, leading seven southern slave holding states to secede by his inauguration in March 1861. For four years Lincoln worked hard to keep the Union together – his most important goal. In 1863, as a war measure, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in those areas still in rebellion to the United States (four slave holding states Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, the Border States remained in the Union). From 1863 to 1865, Lincoln managed to get Congress to support the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery. By the time the war ended, slavery in the United States was dead and the Union was preserved.

 

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