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Abraham Lincoln

Life Before the Presidency

Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky. His family faced many hardships. They struggled to survive and to learn. The Lincolns moved to Indiana in 1816, partly because of their opposition to slavery. Lincoln took every opportunity to learn while he worked on a farm, split rails for fences, and tended a store in Illinois.

He married Mary Todd on November 4, 1842. She was from Kentucky and came from a more upper class slave owning family. The couple had four sons: Robert Todd (1843-1926), Edward Baker (1846-50), William Wallace (1850-62), and Thomas "Tad" (1853-71). Only Robert lived to adulthood. He, in fact, served on General Ulysses S. Grant's Civil War staff at City Point, Virginia.

In 1846, Lincoln ran for the United States House of Representatives and won. While in Washington, he became known for his opposition to the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848). He opposed this war because he saw it as a way to extend slavery. The War started when Mexico objected to the Republic of Texas becoming a U.S. state. This was the first foreign war for the U.S. and soldiers from every state served in it, including Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and William T. Sherman. These men later played an important role in the Civil War. Lincoln became disappointed with politics and others' views on slavery and returned home to practice law.

Lincoln's interest in politics was renewed by passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The Act allowed people in these two territories to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery within their borders. This led to bloody battles in Kansas. President Franklin Pierce sent in Federal troops to end the fighting, but the slavery debate continued.

Lincoln reentered politics and ran for the Senate in 1856, but was unsuccessful. Two years later, he ran against Stephen A. Douglas for a senate seat. He lost that election, but in a series of debates with Douglas, he gained a reputation as a skilled and passionate speaker.

As he entered the 1860 presidential election, Lincoln was not favored to win the Republican Presidential nomination, because of the South's dislike of him and his views on slavery. He was finally chosen his party's nominee with Hannibal Hamlin as his running mate. Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President on November 6, 1860, defeating Douglas, John Bell, and John C. Breckinridge. Southern voters split their votes among the four candidates, with Lincoln ultimately winning the race.

In February 1861, Lincoln and his wife, Mary, departed by train for Washington, D.C. President Lincoln was sworn in on March 4, 1861.

Learn more about Abraham Lincoln:

Life Before the Presidency
Did You Know?
Presidential Accomplishments
A Deadly Premonition
Lincoln's Presidency Ends
Lincoln's Lasting Legacy