Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the nation through the American Civil War, its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. He preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the U.S. economy.
Born in a log cabin, Lincoln grew up on the frontier (mainly in Spencer County, Indiana) in a poor family. Self-educated, he became a lawyer, Whig Party leader, Illinois state legislator and U.S. Congressman from Illinois. In 1849, he left government to resume his law practice, but angered by the Kansas–Nebraska Act’s opening of the prairie lands to slavery, reentered politics in 1854. He became a leader in the new Republican Party and gained national attention in the 1858 debates against national Democratic leader Stephen Douglas in the U.S Senate campaign in Illinois. He then ran for President in 1860, sweeping the North and winning. Southern pro-slavery elements took his win as proof that the North was rejecting the constitutional rights of Southern states to practice slavery. They began the process of seceding from the union. To secure its independence, the new Confederate States of America fired on Fort Sumter, one of the few U.S. forts in the South. Lincoln called up volunteers and militia to suppress the rebellion and restore the Union.
As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican Party, Lincoln confronted Radical Republicans, who demanded harsher treatment of the South; War Democrats, who rallied a large faction of former opponents into his camp; anti-war Democrats (called Copperheads), who despised him; and irreconcilable secessionists, who plotted his assassination. Lincoln fought the factions by pitting them against each other, by carefully distributing political patronage, and by appealing to the American people. His Gettysburg Address became an iconic call for nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy. He suspended habeas corpus, and he averted British intervention by defusing the Trent Affair. Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, including the selection of generals and the naval blockade that shut down the South’s trade. As the war progressed, he maneuvered to end slavery, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863; ordering the Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraging border states to outlaw slavery, and pushing through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed slavery across the country.
Lincoln managed his own re-election campaign. He sought to reconcile his damaged nation by avoiding retribution against the secessionists. A few days after the Battle of Appomattox Court House, he was shot by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer, on April 14, 1865, and died the following day. Abraham Lincoln is remembered as the United States’ martyr hero. He is consistently ranked both by scholars and the public as among the greatest U.S. presidents.
1637 – Samuel Lincoln from Hingham, England, settles in Hingham, Massachusetts.
1778 – Thomas Lincoln (Abraham’s father), descendant of Samuel, is born in Virginia.
1782 – Thomas and family move to Kentucky.
1786 – Thomas’ father is killed by Native Americans.
1806 – Thomas marries Nancy Hanks. A daughter, Sarah, is born eight months later.
1808 – Thomas buys a farm called “Sinking Spring” near Hodgenville, Kentucky.
February 12, 1809 – Abraham Lincoln is born in a one-room log cabin on Nolin Creek in Kentucky.
1811 – In spring, the Lincoln family moves to a 230-acre farm on Knob Creek ten miles from Sinking Spring.
1812 – A brother, Thomas, is born but dies in infancy.
1815 – Young Abraham attends a log school house.
1816 – Abraham briefly attends school. In December, the Lincoln family crosses the Ohio River and settles in the backwoods of Indiana.
1817 – In February, Abraham, age 7, shoots a wild turkey but suffers great remorse and never hunts game again.
1818 – Young Abraham is kicked in the head by a horse and for a brief time is thought to be dead. On October 5th, Nancy Hanks Lincoln (his mother) dies of “milk sickness.”
1819 – On December 2nd, Abraham’s father, Thomas, marries a widow, Sarah Bush Johnston, and becomes stepfather to her three children. Abraham develops much affection for his stepmother.
1820 – Abraham, now 11, briefly attends school.
1822 – Abraham attends school for a few months.
1824 – Abraham, now 15, and called ‘Abe’ by his friends, does plowing and planting and work-for-hire for neighbors. He attends school in the fall and winter, also borrows books and reads whenever possible.
1828 – On January 20th, his married sister, Sarah, dies while giving birth. In April, Abe, now 19, and Allen Gentry take a flatboat containing a cargo of farm produce to New Orleans. During the trip they fight off a robbery attack by seven black men. At New Orleans, Abe observes a slave auction.
1830 – In March, Abe and his family begin a 200-mile journey to Illinois where they settle on uncleared land along the Sangamon River, near Decatur. Abe makes his first-ever political speech in favor of improving navigation on the Sangamon River.
1831 – Abe makes a second flatboat trip to New Orleans. His father moves again, but Abe doesn’t go and instead settles in New Salem, Illinois, where he works as a clerk in the village store and sleeps in the back. During this year, he wrestles a man named Jack Armstrong to a draw. He learns basic math, reads Shakespeare and Robert Burns and also participates in a local debating society.
1832 – In March, Abraham Lincoln becomes a candidate for the Illinois General Assembly. The Black Hawk War breaks out. In April, Abe enlists and is elected captain of his rifle company. He re-enlists as a private after his company is disbanded. He serves a total of three months but does not fight in a battle. On August 6th, he loses the election for General Assembly. The village store he worked in goes out of business. Lincoln and partner, William Berry, purchase another village store in New Salem.
1833 – The new store fails, leaving Abe badly in debt. Lincoln is then appointed Postmaster of New Salem. In autumn, Lincoln is appointed Deputy County Surveyor.
1834 – On August 4th, Abraham Lincoln, age 24, is elected to the Illinois General Assembly as a member of the Whig Party. He begins to study law. In December, he first meets Stephen A. Douglas, 21, a Democrat.
1835 – In January, former store partner William Berry dies, increasing Lincoln’s debt to $1,000. On August 25th, Ann Rutledge, Lincoln’s love interest, dies from fever at age 22.
1836 – On August 1st, Lincoln is re-elected to the Illinois General Assembly and by now is a leader of the Whig Party. September 9th, Lincoln receives his license to practice Law. He begins a courtship of Mary Owens, 28. He suffers an episode of severe depression in December.
1837 – Lincoln helps to get the Illinois state capital moved from Vandalia to Springfield. On April 15th, he leaves New Salem and settles in Springfield, then becomes a law partner of John T. Stuart. In the summer, Abe proposes marriage to Mary Owens, but is turned down and the courtship ends.
1838 – Lincoln helps to successfully defend Henry Truett in a famous murder case. On August 6th, he is re-elected to the Illinois General Assembly, becoming Whig Floor Leader.
1839 – Abe travels through nine counties in central and eastern Illinois as a lawyer on the 8th Judicial Circuit. On December 3rd, he is admitted to practice in the United States Circuit Court. He meets Mary Todd, 21, at a dance.
1840 – In June, Lincoln argues his first case before the Illinois Supreme Court. On August 3rd, he is re-elected to the Illinois General Assembly. In autumn, he becomes engaged to Mary Todd.
1841 – January 1st, Abe breaks off the engagement with Mary Todd. He has another episode of depression. On March 1st, he forms a new law partnership with Stephen T. Logan. In August, Abe makes a trip by steamboat to Kentucky and observes twelve slaves chained together.
1842 – Lincoln does not seek re-election to the legislature. In the summer, he resumes his courtship with Mary Todd. In September, Abe accepts a challenge to a duel by Democratic state auditor James Shields over published letters making fun of Shields. On September 22nd, the duel with swords is averted by an explanation of letters. On November 4th, Abraham Lincoln marries Mary Todd in Springfield.
1843 – Lincoln is unsuccessful in his try for the Whig nomination for U.S. Congress. On August 1st, his first child, Robert Todd Lincoln, is born.
1844 – In May, the Lincoln family moves into a house in Springfield, Illinois, bought for $1,500. Abe campaigns for Henry Clay in the presidential election. In December, he dissolves his law partnership with Logan, then sets up his own practice.
1846 – March 10th, a son, Edward Baker Lincoln is born. On May 1st, Abe is nominated to be the Whig candidate for U.S. Congress. On August 3rd, Abraham Lincoln is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
1847 – U.S. Representative Lincoln moves into a boarding house in Washington, D.C., with his wife and two sons. On December 6th, he takes his seat when the Thirtieth Congress convenes. December 22nd, Rep. Lincoln presents resolutions questioning President Polk about U.S. hostilities with Mexico.
1848 – On January 22nd, Rep. Lincoln gives a speech on floor of the House against President Polk’s war policy regarding Mexico. In June, he attends the national Whig convention, supporting General Zachary Taylor as the nominee for president. He campaigns for Taylor in Maryland and in Boston, Massachusetts, then in Illinois.
1849 – March 7th and 8th, Lincoln makes an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the Illinois statute of limitations, but is unsuccessful. On March 31st, he returns to Springfield and leaves politics to practice law. On May 22nd, Abraham Lincoln is granted U.S. Patent No. 6,469 (the only President ever granted a patent).
1850 – February 1st, his three-year-old son Edward dies after a two-month illness. Lincoln resumes his travels in the 8th Judicial Circuit covering over 400 miles in 14 counties in Illinois. “Honest Abe,” as he is called, earns a reputation as an outstanding lawyer. On December 21st, another son, William Wallace Lincoln (Willie) is born.
1851 – January 17th, Lincoln’s father dies.
1853 – On April 4th, his fourth son, Thomas (Tad) Lincoln is born.
1854 – Lincoln re-enters politics, opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He is elected to the Illinois legislature but declines the seat, hoping instead to become a U.S. Senator (appointed by the legislature).
1855 – Lincoln does not get chosen by the Illinois legislature to be U.S. Senator.
1856 – May 29th, Lincoln helps organize the new Republican Party of Illinois. At the first Republican convention, Lincoln gets 110 votes for the vice-presidential nomination, thereby gaining national attention. He campaigns in Illinois for the Republican presidential candidate, John C. Frémont.
1857 – On June 26th, in Springfield, Lincoln speaks against the Dred Scott Decision.
1858 – In May, Lincoln wins acquittal in a murder trial by using an almanac regarding the height of the moon to discredit a key witness. On June 16th, he is nominated to be the Republican Senator from Illinois, opposing Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. He gives his “House Divided” speech at the state convention in Springfield. He also engages Douglas in seven separate debates, attracting big audiences at each one.
1859 – The Illinois legislature chooses Douglas for the U.S. Senate over Lincoln by a vote of 54 to 46. In autumn, Lincoln makes his last trip through the 8th Judicial Circuit. On December 20th, writes a short autobiography.
1860 – March 6th, Lincoln delivers an impassioned speech on slavery in New Haven, Connecticut. Also in March, the “Lincoln-Douglas Debates” are published.
May 18, 1860 – Abraham Lincoln is nominated to be the Republican candidate for President of the United States. He opposes Northern Democrat, Stephen A. Douglas, and Southern Democrat, John C. Breckinridge. In June, he writes a longer autobiography.
November 6, 1860 – Abraham Lincoln is elected as 16th President of the United States, and is the first Republican. He receives 180 of 303 possible electoral votes and 40 percent of the popular vote.
December 20, 1860 – South Carolina secedes from the Union – followed within two months by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.
February 11, 1861 – President-elect Lincoln gives a brief farewell to friends and supporters at Springfield and leaves by train for Washington, D.C. During the train trip, he is warned about a possible assassination attempt.
March 4, 1861 – Inauguration ceremonies are held in Washington, D.C. President Lincoln delivers his First Inaugural Address.
April 12, 1861 – At 4:30 a.m., Confederate artillery opens fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The Civil War begins.
April 15, 1861 – President Lincoln issues a Proclamation Calling Militia and Convening Congress.
April 17, 1861 – Virginia secedes from the Union – followed within five weeks by North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas, thus forming an eleven-state Confederacy.
April 19, 1861 – The President issues a Proclamation of Blockade against Southern ports.
April 27, 1861 – The President authorizes the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus.
June 3, 1861 – Political rival Stephen A. Douglas dies unexpectedly of acute rheumatism.
July 21, 1861 – The Union suffers a defeat at Bull Run in northern Virginia. Union troops fall back to Washington. The President now realizes the war will be long.
July 27, 1861 – Lincoln appoints George B. McClellan as Commander of the Department of the Potomac.
August 6, 1861 – Signs a law freeing slaves being used by the Confederates in their war effort.
August 12, 1861 – The President issues a Proclamation of a National Day of Fasting.
September 11, 1861 – Revokes General John C. Frémont’s unauthorized military proclamation of emancipation in Missouri.
October 24, 1861 – Relieves General Frémont of his command and replaces him with General David Hunter.
November 1, 1861 – Appoints General McClellan as Commander of the Union Army after the resignation of Winfield Scott.
January 27, 1862 – Issues General War Order No. 1 calling for a Union advance to begin February 22nd.
February 3, 1862 – Writes a message to McClellan on a difference of opinion regarding military plans.
February 20, 1862 – The President’s son Willie dies at age 11. The President’s wife is emotionally devastated and never fully recovers.
March 11, 1862 – President Lincoln relieves McClellan as General-in-Chief and takes direct command of the Union armies.
April 6, 1862 – A Confederate surprise attack on General Ulysses S. Grant’s troops at Shiloh on the Tennessee River results in a bitter struggle with 13,000 Union men killed and wounded and 10,000 Confederates. The President is then pressured to relieve Grant but resists.
April 9, 1862 – Writes a message to McClellan urging him to attack.
April 16, 1862 – Signs an Act abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia.
May 20, 1862 – Approves the Federal Homestead Law giving 160 acres of publicly owned land to anyone who will claim and then work the property for 5 years. Thousands then cross the Mississippi to tame the ‘Wild West.’
June 19, 1862 – Approves a Law prohibiting slavery in the Territories.
August 29/30, 1862 – The Union suffers a defeat at the second Battle of Bull Run in northern Virginia. The Union Army retreats to Washington, D.C. The President then relieves Union Commander, General John Pope.
September 17, 1862 – General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate armies are stopped at Antietam in Maryland by McClellan and his numerically superior Union forces. By nightfall, 26,000 men are dead, wounded or missing – the bloodiest day in U.S. military history.
September 22, 1862 – The President issues a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves.
November 5, 1862 – The President names Ambrose E. Burnside as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing McClellan.
December 13, 1862 – The Army of the Potomac suffers a costly defeat at Fredericksburg in Virginia with a loss of 12,653 men. Confederate losses are 5,309.
December 22, 1862 – The President writes a brief message to the Army of the Potomac.
December 31, 1862 – The President signs a bill admitting West Virginia to the Union.
January 1, 1863 – President Lincoln issues the final Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in territories held by Confederates.
January 25, 1863 – The President appoints Joseph (Fighting Joe) Hooker as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing Burnside.
January 26, 1863 – Writes a message to Hooker.
January 29, 1863 – General Ulysses S. Grant is placed in command of the Army of the West, with orders to capture Vicksburg.
February 25, 1863 – Signs a Bill creating a National banking system.
March 3, 1863 – Signs an Act introducing military conscription.
May 1-4, 1863 – The Union suffers a defeat in the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia. Famed Confederate General Stonewall Jackson is mortally wounded. Hooker retreats. Union losses are 17,000 killed, wounded and missing. Confederate losses are 13,000.
June 28, 1863 – The President appoints George G. Meade as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing Hooker.
July 3, 1863 – Confederate defeat in the Battle of Gettysburg marks the turning point of the war.
July 4, 1863 – Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi, is captured by the General Grant and the Army of the West.
July 13, 1863 – The President writes a message to Grant.
July 14, 1863 – Writes an undelivered letter to Meade complaining about his failure to capture Lee.
July 30, 1863 – Issues an Order of Retaliation.
August 8, 1863 – Writes a letter to his wife regarding their son Tad’s lost goat.
August 10, 1863 – The President meets with abolitionist Frederick Douglass who pushes for full equality for Union ‘Negro troops.’
September 19/20, 1863 – A Union defeat at Chickamauga in Georgia leaves Chattanooga in Tennessee under Confederate siege. The President appoints General Grant to command all operations in the Western Theater.
October 3, 1863 – Issues a Proclamation of Thanksgiving.
November 19, 1863 – President Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address at a ceremony dedicating the Battlefield as a National Cemetery.
December 8, 1863 – The President issues a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction for restoration of the Union.
March 12, 1864 – President Lincoln appoints Grant as General-in-Chief of all the Federal armies. William T. Sherman succeeds Grant as Commander in the West.
June 3, 1864 – A costly mistake by Grant results in 7,000 Union casualties in twenty minutes during an offensive against entrenched Confederates at Cold Harbor, Virginia.
June 8, 1864 – Abraham Lincoln is nominated for a second term as president by a coalition of Republicans and War Democrats.
July 18, 1864 – The President issues a call for 500,000 volunteers for military service.
August 31, 1864 – Makes a speech to the 148th Ohio Regiment.
September 2, 1864 – Atlanta is captured by Sherman’s army. Later, the President on advice from Grant, approves Sherman’s ‘March to the Sea.’
October 19, 1864 – A decisive Union victory by General Philip H. Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley.
November 8, 1864 – Abraham Lincoln is re-elected as President, defeating Democrat George B. McClellan. Lincoln gets 212 of 233 electoral votes and 55 percent of the popular vote.
December 20, 1864 – Sherman reaches Savannah in Georgia leaving behind a path of destruction 60 miles wide all the way from Atlanta.
March 4, 1865 – Inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. with President Lincoln delivering his Second Inaugural Address.
March 17, 1865 – A kidnap plot by John Wilkes Booth fails when Lincoln doesn’t arrive for a visit to the Soldiers’ Home.
April 9, 1865 – The Civil War concludes as General Robert E. Lee surrenders his Confederate Army to General Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
April 10, 1865 – Celebrations break out in Washington.
April 11, 1865 – President Lincoln makes his last public speech which focuses on the problems of reconstruction. The United States flag ‘Stars and Stripes’ is raised over Fort Sumter.
April 14, 1865 – Lincoln and his wife Mary see the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. About 10:13 p.m., during the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth shoots the President in the head. Doctors attend to the President in the theater then move him to a house across the street. He never regains consciousness.
April 15, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln dies at 7:22 in the morning.
April 26, 1865 – John Wilkes Booth is shot and killed in a tobacco barn in Virginia.
May 4, 1865 – Abraham Lincoln is laid to rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery, outside Springfield, Illinois.
December 6, 1865 – The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, is finally ratified. Slavery is abolished.