Abraham Lincoln, born on 12th February 1809, in Hodgenville, Kentucky, was the 16th American president ruling between 1861 and 1865. He is well known for his efforts to preserve the Union at the time of the American Civil war and emancipation of slaves. Lincoln was born in a low profile family where his father was a subsistence farmer and was married to Nancy Lincoln who was also not that much learned. In December 1816, his family was forced to move to southwestern Indiana as squatters on public land after their farm in Kentucky faced a lawsuit.
Though he was born in an almost completely illiterate family, he had a strong passion for learning. Although he did not get books near to read except the Bible which the family owned, he walked long distances in search of education. The stepmother gave him moral support and urged him to search for more knowledge of which the materials he dealt with were of history for example the ‘Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington’ by Parson Weems’s. The family once again underwent a second migration and this time to Illinois. Having the desire to be a legislator he tried it but failed, although was elected to the state assembly twice.
Lincoln decided to study law of which among all the American presidents, “he was among the few who were claimed by both the liberals and the conservatives,” as told by McGovern (23). Lincoln started his political career as a member of the Whig Party and after years as Illinois state legislature he won an election which took him to the U.S. Congress the year 1846.
Once in office, Lincoln’s major mission on emancipation of slavery was not to abolish it instantly, but to contain it in a sense that the people were able to see the decency of the popular government whose role was to “elevate the condition of men to afford all an unfettered start in the start race of life.” Furthermore, according to him democracy was just an experiment the world had not seen and that he was after proving it not in words but through actions. Unfortunately, he died on the 15th April, 1865 after being assassinated after attending a movie at the Fords Theatre while serving his second term as president.
He was able to stay in the congress for only one year because he lost support for opposing the president of the time, James Polk, on the origins of the Mexican war. McGovern (56) notes that “The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 sponsored by Senator Stephen Douglas of the Democratic Party and Dredd Scott decision of 1857 ignited Lincoln’s political desire and ambitions.” Douglas argued that “in a democratic nation there should be a right to decide whether to allow slavery in their territory rather has the national Congress decide for them. But Lincoln was against the whole issue of slavery, though he understood clearly that the U.S. Constitution did not allow for the abolition of slavery in the South, he strongly opposed its expansion to the westward.” “There was a split in the Whig Party what saw him join the Republican Party in 1856 which later led him to oppose Douglas for the senate seat in 1858 although he lost but he gained popularity through his famous debates with Douglas” (McGovern 98).
These was a clear road map to his vying for a presidential election because two years later during the year 1860 he won the election as America’s president on November 6th thereby becoming the sixteenth president. According to American politicians, “Lincoln was a master politician of his own as to ensure he gained support from all he appointed three of his opponents on the Republican nomination to the cabinet namely, William Seward as secretary of state, Salmon Chase as secretary of the Treasury and later on as chief justice of the Supreme Court, and lastly Edward Bates as the Attorney General” (McGovern 102). The result of the election sparked a lot of unrest in the south as there secession and war.
The most challenging moments in his life were: at the time of the American Civil War, he made enormous efforts to preserve the unity of the Union and meet the needs of the citizens. The Civil War erupted leading to secession of some states that declared themselves independent and furthermore elected their own president. These made Lincoln as a president to overstep his mandate by ordering the arrest of all the rebel leaders and their detention in military prisons without trial. He was forced to suppress the opposition press as a way of limiting their access to important information on the functioning of the national congress. During the secession period he argued that those states of the south would as much of the gain in the election and these would lead to them being made slave states. He did not want to use military force to quench the but rather dwell on uniting the Republican union in the south but did not work as he expected. He chose to preserve the unity in union as that would be the foundation in building stability in the south; McGovern describes him as a commander in chief committed to total war’’. There were lots of changes that were done on the Army generals in a bid to try and end the war. During the war time he gave orders through the General Halleck on how to contain the war and further more he communicated directly to the generals.
President Lincoln never believed in negotiation at war time as advised by his army General, Scott, but that to be able to suppress any fighting that had erupts the solution was to use the army to destroy his opponents. Notably, Lincoln always admitted in case he was unable to take control of anything in the country openly, a fact that many presidents would never dare admit if there is any. In addition, Lincoln pioneered the creation of a high command used to bring together energies to in the grand strategy of total war.
Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation was aimed at preventing further spread of slavery to other parts of the United States but at the same he was after ending it for good. He notes “my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that” (as cited by McGovern 64). According to him all people were the same despite their race and color of their skin as long as they were all Americans and that color could not degrade one to be a subject of the other. As much as he tried to fight for the freedom of slaves on the other he was bound by the constitution by which he had sworn and so he had to set back as his generals went a head to abolish slavery.
The Emancipation Proclamation stated that the slaves were to be freed by state action and that those who had slaves had to be compensated, the federal had to share the financial burden; the process had to be in a systematic way and lastly that the freedmen were to be colonized abroad. It was not an easy task to meet all these as others objected who included the southern who viewed them as their subjects and not as fellow human beings (McGovern 75). At the first stance, Lincoln never imagined the war would lead to a total destabilization of the south and break up in the Union, so he had to establish strong measures that would ensure the stability is regained in the nation. These forced him to engage the army in fighting for peace thus “total war”, he never trusted that negotiations would help solve the problem. He also believed that the cold war between the south and the other parts of the larger U.S. would last for a short time but he found it to be necessary to engage the federal army in order to suppress his enemies.
There were a number of reforms that were introduced during the Lincoln era namely: the abolishment of slavery which was preceded by change of a section of the federal constitution to make slavery illegal. Another thing that was crucial was the introduction of education program for the freedmen. Lincoln was able to win popularity in the country by unifying both the whites and blacks and make them live as one people. Also, there was enactment of the law by the Republicans known as the Protective Tariff, also a National Banking System, which mandated the federal with the task of constructing a railroad to the Pacific Coast. Lastly, there was disposition of government jobs to all the citizens both in the North and the South despite the difference in race. Abraham Lincoln is considered by McGovern as a hero of his time from the way he approached his war opponents. McGovern praises Lincoln as “the icon of greatness, the pillar of strength whose words bound up the nation’s wounds. His presidency is the hinge on which American history pivots, the time when the young republic collapsed of its own contradictions and a new birth of freedom, sanctified by blood, created.”
McGovern, George. Abraham Lincoln: American President’s series. Washington, DC: Times Books/Henry Holt and Co. 2009.