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Famous Men of Modern Times by  John H. Haaren

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ABRAHAM LINCOLN

(1809–1865)

[316] ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the sixteenth president of the United States, was the son of poor parents, and his childhood and youth were full of trial and hardship.

His father, Thomas Lincoln, was a pioneer farmer in Kentucky; and there, in a one-roomed log cabin of the poorer sort, Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809.

His mother was Nancy, the daughter of Joseph Hanks, a neighbor who was also trying to earn a livelihood out of the soil. Abraham had also one sister, of whom not much has been recorded.

As there was little to encourage his stay in Kentucky, Abraham's father moved into Indiana, and built a log cabin in the midst of the forest at Pigeon Creek. Here most of Lincoln's boyhood was passed.

In 1818, Mrs. Lincoln died, and Abraham Lincoln was left motherless.

Eighteen months later his father married Mrs. Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow who had been a neighbor in Kentucky. She was a good woman [317] and treated Abraham with the same care and tenderness which she showed to her own children.

Abraham Lincoln formed a strong attachment for his step-mother, which lasted all through his life. She was really able to do more for him than his own mother had been. He was not only better clothed and better fed; but he also had considerable help in his struggle for an education.


[Illustration]

BIRTHPLACE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN

By the time he was ten he was working hard to help his father to clear some land and turn a little piece of the forest into a farm. He had little or no schooling. He once said, later on in life, that he did not think that all his schooling as a lad amounted to more than six months.

[318] He learned to write by using a charred stick for a pencil, and a piece of board for a slate. There were no books in his home excepting a Bible, a catechism and a spelling book.

But he would walk miles to borrow a book, and he read with great care everything that he could find. He thus gathered a store of information that was of service to him throughout his wonderful career.

At sixteen years of age he had almost reached the height of six feet and four inches for which he was noted in after years.

His bodily strength was very great, and his services were very much in demand. He did everything he could to help his parents.

In 1830 the Lincoln family moved into Illinois and from that time their fortunes began to improve.

Lincoln was now twenty-one. One who knew him well at that time, thus describes his personal appearance: "He was tall, angular, and ungainly, and wore trousers made of flax and tow, cut tightly at the ankles and loosely at the knees. He was very poor, but was welcome in every house in the neighborhood."

He built a flatboat, with his father's consent, and carried a load of farm produce down the [319] river to market. It was on this trip that he earned his first dollar by carrying two gentlemen and their trunks out to a steamer on the Ohio, a fact of which he was very proud and of which he often spoke in after years.

He afterwards made other trips as a boatman and was very successful in them. It was on one of these trips that he witnessed, in New Orleans, the brutality of the slave trade. This led him to say, "If ever I get a chance to hit that institution, I'll hit it hard."

He next entered the employ of a Mr. Offutt who put him in charge of a general store at New Salem.

While tending this More, Lincoln once sold to a woman goods for which she paid the amount of two dollars, six and a quarter cents. He discovered later that a mistake had been made, and that the store owed the customer the six and a quarter cents. After he had closed the store that night, he walked several miles in the darkness to return the amount.

At another time a woman bought a pound of tea. Lincoln discovered the next morning that a smaller weight was on the scales. He at once weighed out the remainder, and walked some distance before breakfast to deliver it.

[320] It was by such deeds as these that he earned the name of "Honest Abe." He gained the good will of his neighbors who called upon him to settle their disputes, and always found him fair and upright in his decisions.

Misfortune overtook Mr. Offutt and Lincoln entered the service of the state of Illinois in what is known as the Black Hawk War. He was elected captain of the company, but neither he nor his men were called upon to do any actual fighting.

At the close of the war he returned to New Salem, and was urged to become a member of the legislature of Illinois; but he failed to be elected.

Like Washington he took up the business of a surveyor. In 1833 he was made postmaster of New Salem. In the following year, 1834, another election of the members of the state legislature took place, and this time he was successful and became a member for Sangamon County.

The two political parties were then known as the Democrats and the Whigs, and Lincoln belonged to the Whigs.

He was still so poor that he was obliged to borrow money with which to purchase suitable clothing before he could take his seat in the House.

[321] His entering the legislature was an important event in his life. The capital of the state was soon afterwards changed from Vandalia to Springfield; and Lincoln who was rapidly rising into fame took up the study of law.

As a lawyer he was decidedly successful. He formed several partnerships with lawyers of eminence, and his days of biting poverty were over.

He still continued his general studies and became one of the best informed men in the state. He gave his first legal fee to his step-mother in the shape of one hundred and sixty acres of land, in memory of her great kindness to him as a boy.

In November, 1842, Abraham Lincoln married Miss Mary Todd, of Lexington, Kentucky, and the next ten years were the happiest of his whole life. In 1846 he was elected a member of the United States Congress. He took his seat in the House of Representatives at Washington on December 6th, of that year.

His first important speech in Congress was one in which he denounced the war then being carried on between the United States and Mexico; a speech in which he dealt the pro-slavery party a severe blow.

At the end of his first term in Congress Mr. Lincoln determined not to seek re-election. He [322] therefore returned to Springfield and resumed the practice of law.

When, in 1854, a bill was passed which put aside the Missouri Compromise and gave greater powers to the friends of slavery, Lincoln again entered politics. He became a candidate for the Illinois legislature and was elected.

Mr. Stephen A. Douglas was then at the height of his power, and was bitterly opposed to Lincoln.

In 1860, with Douglas as his most formidable competitor, Mr. Lincoln was elected president; and in February 1861, he left Springfield for Washington and was duly inaugurated in March of that year.

In the election of Abraham Lincoln as president the South feared that the institution of slavery was in the gravest danger; and they put forth every possible effort for its defense.


[Illustration]

READING THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAIMATION.

Some of the Southern states voted to secede from the Union, Fort Sumter was fired upon, and the terrible Civil War began.

Lincoln called for men, and readily obtained them. It is to the honor of Mr. Douglas that when he saw the real danger in which the country stood, he acknowledged himself in the wrong and became one of Lincoln's friends and supporters.

[324] This war, sometimes called the "War of the Union," lasted from 1861 to 1865. It was the saddest event in the history of our land; and every American boy and girl should make a careful study of its details from the fall of Fort Sumter to the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox.

These were trying days for President Lincoln; and at times his sufferings were intense. But he never flinched from what he felt to be his duty; and he was warmly supported by the generals, the army, and the people of the North.

During the progress of the war, after due warning, he issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation; and on January 1, 1863, most of the slaves in the South were declared free.

In 1864, the year before the close of the war, Abraham Lincoln was again elected president; and on March 4, 1865, he entered upon his second term of office. His majority at his second [325] election was the largest ever given to any president up to that time.

When the war closed there was great rejoicing; and on April 11, two days after Lee's surrender, Lincoln made a speech in Congress in which he strongly urged that the states which had seceded should be treated with leniency and restored to their proper relations to the central government as quickly and as quietly as possible.

On April 14, 1865, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Fort Sumter, a general holiday was observed; and in the evening the President attended a special performance in Ford's theatre.

During the progress of the performance a retired actor gained access to the president's box and, placing a pistol over Lincoln's chair, shot him through the head.

The assassin escaped amid the general confusion, but was discovered, a few days later, in lower Maryland while hiding in a barn. He refused to surrender, and was shot dead by one of the soldiers who had been sent to capture him.


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