Thursday, February 12, 2009

Today in POTUStory

Today in 1809 the myth, the legend, and the man...well just the man was born. The myth and the legend would come on April 15, 1865.

200 years ago our nation's 16th president of the United States was born in Kentucky. He and his family then moved to Indiana before settling down in his home state he has become associated with Illinois.

The 16th President of the United States

Lincoln would go on to become a lawyer traveling the judicial circuit of Illinois. As a lawyer he honed his skills which would help him become the great writer and speaker of his later years.

From 1847-1849, Lincoln served one term in the United States House of Representatives during the Mexican-US War in which he strongly opposed. While he would go on to become a founding member of the Republican Party, he served in the House as a member of the Whigs, a political party which would contribute to the founding of the Grand Old Party.

Lincoln would rise to national prominence in the most famous senate race in U.S. history. In 1858 Lincoln would debate his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas and utter the famous "house divide" lines in terms of the nation existing half slave and half free. Although not competing in a directly elected senate contest since this took place prior to 1913, the Democrats won the majority in the State legislature and thus elected Douglas to the U.S. Senate. Lincoln may have lost but he became a national figure.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

In 1860 the New York Republican Party invited Lincoln to speak at Cooper Union. His speech elevated his status within the Republican Party. That year Lincoln would take on the big names of the Republican Party for the party's presidential nomination. Men like William Seward of New York, Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and Edward Bates of Missouri. Lincoln, the one term Representative from Illinois, would be the victor in the contest against the heavy weights.

Lincoln's chief rival for the Republican nomination and his pick for Secretary of State, William Seward

By November Lincoln would face three other opponents for the presidency: the incumbent vice president John Breckinridge, John Bell, and his former opponent for the U.S. senate, Stephen Douglas. Lincoln won.

With Lincoln's election, or the election of a Republican, the South protested in form of succeeding from the Union. Lincoln would be inaugurated as president without a complete Union of States.

Seal of the Confederate States of America

Those that left the Union feared Lincoln would abolish their way of life or violate their States' Right. Lincoln made it clear he had no intention of doing such a thing. But that did not stop the southern States from leaving the Union and rebelling.

Lincoln's term would become defined by war like no other president in U.S. history. While Lincoln struggled with the war he thought would be over quickly, he also tried to maintain the status of the Union by continuing construction on the dome of the Capitol or building the transcontinental railroad connecting east and west.

The war between the States (or the Civil War or The War against Northern Aggression) was not fought on the issue of slavery. For Lincoln the war was fought to preserve the idea of the Union which was established in 1776. The war took on the notion of ending slavery by January of 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, freeing the slaves within the States in rebellion. With that new cause taken by President Lincoln, the war was not only fought to preserve the Union and free the slaves but to essentially fight for a new definition of what the United States was truly about.

All the way up until 1864, Lincoln thought he would be a one term president. But as successes came in by Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Sherman, Lincoln's election became clear. Instead of running as a Republican, he ran on the Union Party ticket with Democrat Andrew Johnson, the only senator from the South to remain loyal to the Union. The Union Party won and Lincoln was reelected.

Lincoln was determined to not punish the South and he made it clear in his Second Inaugural Address as he declared "With malice toward none, with charity for all."

Lincoln's Second Inaugural on the east front of the Capitol

Lincoln would be shot by southern sympathizer, Confederate spy, and well known actor John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, creating the myth and the legend of the man.

John Wilkes Booth

After his death Abraham Lincoln became a secular saint to some Americans and a war criminal to others. Historians rank him as the best or second best president (George Washington and Lincoln duke it out for the top two spots), while others claim him to be a tyrant and should be removed from Mount Rushmore.

No matter what you believe about Abraham Lincoln, savior of the Union or aggressor toward southerners, he now belongs to the ages.

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