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Lincoln, the 16th president of the US, is renowned for his role in leading the nation through the Civil War, abolishment of slavery, modernization of the economy, and stabilization of the US federal government. This paper aims to provide a brief history of Abraham Lincoln’s life as well as a comprehensive analytic review of the argument that he is among the most important and prominent leaders in the history of the US.
Abe Lincoln was born in Hardin County, Kentucky on 12 February 1809. According to Schwartz and Howard, his family had a low social standing and in fact, they lived in a single room cabin with his parents and two siblings. His family later moved to the state of Indiana in 1816 when he was 7 years. In order to support his family, Lincoln had to work at a young age, helping his father in doing farming chores. This had a significant adverse impact on his education, with historical research suggesting that he went to school for only a single year as a child.
Later on in 1830, his family moved again in 1830 to Macon County in Illinois. He became employed as a hand on a riverboat that was in the business of freight transportation along the Mississippi River (Burlingame). He later settled in New Salem, a town in Illinois, where worked as a postmaster and a shopkeeper. This is where Lincoln began his political career, supporting the Whig party. He lost his first election race in 1832 when he vied for the Illinois state legislature. However, he later won the election in 1834 and become a prominent fixture of his party for eight consecutive years.
Notably, Lincoln was a self-taught lawyer. As aforementioned, his stay in school was short. However, the education he received was sufficient to read and write and during his childhood and early adulthood, his interest in law contributed to his pursuit of a career in the field (Nicolay). In spite of his focus on politics, he continued to study and in 1837, he was admitted to the bar. He moved to Springfield in the same year.
In 1842, Lincoln married his wife, Mary Todd. Together, they had four children, all sons, two of whom died at a young age. Later, in 1846, he was elected to the US Congress, at which point he moved to Washington D.C. to complete his term. Lincoln, along with other politicians such as Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, strongly opposed slavery and in fact, he attempted without success to abolish slavery in the state (Foner).
In 1849, Lincoln decided to resume his law career and devote more time to his family. He went back to Springfield and his career in politics seemed to be at an end. However, when the slavery question began to intensify across the nation in the 1850s, he decided to return to politics, vying unsuccessfully for Senate in 1854 as well as 1856. In spite of the losses, Lincoln gained nationwide recognition for his prowess in public speaking and his view of slavery.
In 1860, Lincoln won the Republican nomination for the position of US president. In a particularly fragmented race comprising four candidates, Lincoln won the presidential election with a popularity percentage of less than 40. Fearing that Lincoln’s presidential power and his views of slavery would result in the total abolition of the practice in the nation, some Southern states began to contemplate secession. Seven states, including South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama, established an independent nation called the Confederate States of America, which was distinct and independent from the United States. Attempts by President Lincoln to withhold Fort Sumter in South Carolina from the Confederates sparked the American Civil War. To quash the rising rebellion, the president increased military reinforcements. This resulted in further secession of other states, including Virginia.
In spite of Lincoln’s insistence that the Civil War aimed to preserve the union of the United States, the question of slavery was among the major factors influencing the decisions of states to join the Confederates. The president took on the role of commander-in-chief and signed several critical legislations into law, including policies regarding US currency, taxation, and transport networks. Lincoln developed and implemented the first national income tax and established several structures that defined the federal government of the US, which has remained stable and effective to this day (Burlingame).
In 1863, Lincoln made the Emancipation proclamation, which paved the way for the 13th Amendment of the US constitution and the abolition of slavery in the nation. He made several memorable speeches, such as the Second Inaugural and the Gettysburg Address, in recognition of the many men who died in the war (Burlingame). Most historians and researchers consider these the most significant actions of Lincoln as president, and in fact, the Gettysburg Address is among the famous historical speeches by great leaders. A year later, he vied for presidency again and had sufficient support to be re-elected as president. With the war concluding, President Lincoln began to make reconstruction preparations to assist in the unification of the nation once more.
A week after the surrender of the Confederacy, on April 14th, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln while the president was attending a theater in Washington. Booth managed to escape but died two days later from gunshot wounds sustained during attempts to capture him. Today, Lincoln is regarded as among the greatest presidents of the nation, with his leadership during the Civil War, his fight against slavery, and his eloquent orations being the pinnacle of his legacy.
Abraham Lincoln assumed leadership of the United States during a time of great crisis, and in fact, his past life before the presidency was pivotal to the success he achieved in his life and the legacy he left behind (Nicolay). His humble beginnings are among the most noticeable aspects of his traits. Born into a poor family, Lincoln had to learn the value of hard work at a young age. Arguably, this contributed to his passion and commitment to his principles as well as his efforts to achieving his objectives as a family man, a lawyer, and as the president of the US (Nicolay).
According to Schwartz and Schuman, Lincoln’s effective communication is a factor that contributed significantly to his success as a leader. Especially given that he was self-educated, his ability to communicate effectively through oral and written media was critical to his effectiveness as a leader. Burlingame notes that he had no significant military experience during the Civil War, but his ability to give directions, instructions, and inspiration was pivotal to the success of the Union.
Lincoln’s moral compass and rhetoric are also significant factors that defined his leadership. From the beginning of his legal and political career, President Lincoln strongly fought against human slavery in the nation. Johnson is keen to note that Lincoln held the belief that no man had the right to own another human being. The strong ethics of the president are traceable to his family roots, as his parents raised him in line with Christian beliefs, and in fact, his father had strong views against bondage.
Abraham Lincoln played a major role in defining and molding the United States into the nation it is today. His powerful ethical principles in the fight against bondage and his leadership in the American Civil War were crucial contributions that resulted in the unification of the United States as well as the eradication of slavery in the nation. His rise from humble beginnings to becoming the US president is inspiring. Lincoln’s gallant act of selflessness in returning to politics to contribute to the question of slavery, at a time when he had virtually retired to pursue a law career and raise his family, is one that had numerous positive impacts on the nation. In addition, his style of leadership, which was not only effective and charismatic but also compassionate, has been the subject of significant research over the last century.
Some scholars have identified several weaknesses in Lincoln’s leadership and decision-making. Most note the fact that he had little military experience, which may have contributed to the significant deaths on both sides of the war, as he lacked the skill to make effective war strategies. Nevertheless, Lincoln’s efforts of reconciling and healing the nation in the aftermath of the war, as well as his role in ending slavery and bringing the United States together during a time of crisis, are factors that make him among the best presidents of the US so far.
Burlingame, Michael. Abraham Lincoln: A Life. Vol. 2. JHU Press, 2013.
Foner, Eric. "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery." The Chautauqua Journal 2.1 (2018): 5.
Johnson, Ludwell H. "Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln as War Presidents: Nothing Succeeds Like Success." The American Civil War. Routledge, 2017. 15-29.
Nicolay, John G. A short life of Abraham Lincoln. BoD–Books on Demand, 2018.
Schwartz, Barry, and Howard Schuman. "History, commemoration, and belief: Abraham Lincoln in American memory, 1945-2001." American Sociological Review 70.2 (2005): 183-203.
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