Friday, February 11, 2011

Abraham Lincoln: An extraordinary life

I have already given you a glimpse at Lincoln's life in the time that he was president. To honor his memory on his birthday, I will give you the rest of Lincoln's story.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. -Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln, who was given no middle name, was born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln in a one room log cabin in Harding County, Kentucky. Lincoln had a somewhat happy childhood at first, living in a religious household (though Lincoln in the future never joined a church), and the family enjoyed Thomas' well known status in the community. This all changed when they lost all their property and had to move to Perry County, Indiana to start anew. Then Nancy Lincoln died from the dreaded milk sickness, a deadly sickness that happens when a person drinks milk from a cow that fed on White Snakeroot, which is poisonous to humans but not to cows. Not long after, Lincoln also lost his older sister Sarah, who died while giving birth. His father married Sarah Johnston and Lincoln and her became very close. The same did not happen between Lincoln and his father however, as he was embarrassed by his father's lack of education and the amount of farm labor that he had to do under him. Though he loathed it, he still worked hard on his family land and gave all the money he earned from working outside of their land to his father, as was customary until a man was twenty-one years old.

The family moved, fearing a milk sickness outbreak, to several different places in Illinois, ending in Coles County, Illinois. This is where Lincoln, at the age of twenty-two, decided to strike out on his own. He worked on a shipping boat on the Mississippi, taking goods down to New Orleans, but only for one trip. He got to New Orleans, saw slavery firsthand, and walked back home. Lincoln's formal education only lasted eighteen months, and the rest came from self-education. He was known as a rough and tumble wrestler as a young man, but was considered lazy by his family and their friends.

Lincoln's love life was an interesting thing. It started out great, then went downhill, never to come back again. His first love was Ann Rutledge. People who lived in the area claimed that Lincoln and Rutledge were incredibly happy together and it was assumed that they were to be married soon. All Rutledge had to do was get acceptance from a past love. Their marriage was not to be though, as Rutledge died of what was most likely typhoid fever. He next met Mary Owens, but it was a long distance relationship, and they grew apart. Then, the worst thing that could of ever happened to Lincoln reared it's ugly head; he met Mary Todd. Mary was from a wealthy slave-holding family in Kentucky and was used to the rich lifestyle. Lincoln was not and the two didn't seem to be the greatest match. Lincoln courted Mary however, and they were all set to be married. Then Lincoln got cold feet and called it off. They met up months later and decided to give it another go, with this marriage date sticking.

At twenty-three, Lincoln opened a small general store with the help of a partner. Though the economy was booming in the area, the store struggled and Lincoln and the partner had to close it, amounting in a large debt for Lincoln. He then tried his hand at politics, which thankfully stuck, though it would take a long time. He campaigned for the Illinois General Assembly but finished eighth out of thirteen candidates. Shortly before the election, Lincoln served in the militia during the Black Hawk War, though he never saw any combat. Lincoln had some success early on in politics as he served as part of the state legislature for a time, then becoming a lawyer. After being admitted to the bar in 1837, he moved to Springfield, Illinois to practice under Mary Todd's cousin. During this time he also served on the Illinois House of Representatives for four consecutive terms. It was at this time that he started to form his opinion on slavery, feeling that slavery should not be expanded, but not taken away. He supported Henry Clay however, in his cause to make the abolition of slavery practical by helping slaves go back to Africa.

Lincoln was a Whig during his early years in politics and served as one in the U.S. House of Representatives for one two-year term. In that time he opposed James K. Polk and his decision to go to war with Mexico, and decided that when Henry Clay couldn't get nominated, supported war hero Zachery Taylor. Going back home, he became a well known lawyer. After the wedding between Mary Todd and Lincoln, they moved into a house near Lincoln's law practice and quickly started a family. Robert Todd Lincoln was born in 1843, and their second son, Edward Baker Lincoln, was born in 1846. Edward did not live long however, as he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1850, though his death was largely assuaged by the birth of William "Willy" Lincoln. Willy however died during Lincoln's first term in 1862 of a fever, which further plunged both parents into what is now considered clinical depression. Lincoln was especially close with Willy and his death struck a hard blow on him. Tad Lincoln, their last son, was born in 1853.

In the mid-1850's, Lincoln's loyalties began to falter. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which had repealed the Missouri Compromise, had basically split the Whigs over the issue of slavery. The split led to the creation of the Republican Party, which included people from the Know-Nothing party(the anti-immigrant party), the Whigs, and the Free-Soil Party (a party that supported the abolition of slavery). Lincoln decided to go along with the Republicans, and then set his sights on a Senate seat for Illinois. His opponent was Stephen A. Douglas, the "Little Giant." Douglas was the incumbent and preached the notion of popular sovereignty to decide what new states were free or slave. Lincoln opposed him by making his speeches about the stop of the expansion of slavery. The debates between them became the famous "Lincoln-Douglas debates." Though Lincoln put up a good fight, Douglas kept his seat. This flung Lincoln into the limelight, and he soon was in talks to try a hand at being president. Lincoln gained support, but many didn't feel that he would even get close to a nomination for president. Lincoln however received the nomination for his moderate view on slavery and support of internal improvements. Lincoln, though was considered a moderate to Republicans, was an extremist to the United States. His view against the expansion of slavery still didn't jive with southerners, though he never claimed he wanted to get rid of slavery outright. Even though Lincoln's name was not on almost any ballot in the south, he still won the election.

To learn more about his presidency and assassination, I would recommend my other article on Lincoln. To finish this one, I will go about giving additional information on his home life and his funeral. Mary Todd didn't make things easy for Lincoln. They really didn't get along on many levels and she was constantly buying clothes, and I mean hundreds of dollars a day of clothing. Mary went further into her weird shopping habits and bipolar behavior after Willy died. The stress of dealing with an insane wife, losing two sons, and a bloody war had aged Lincoln terribly in his time as president. Lincoln, like I had mentioned in my other post, had many strange dreams. He would always have the same dream that would trumpet big happenings. The strangest dream he had, though this is only a rumor, as it came from a second hand source, showed Lincoln that he would die soon. In the dream, he is walking around the White House and sees a group of people grieving over a casket. He cannot see who it is and no one in the rooms seems to notice him. Finally, Lincoln begs a soldier present to tell him who that poor soul is that has died. The soldier looks at him with a frightful face and declares that the president has been assassinated. This supposedly took place only a few days before Lincoln's assassination.

Mary Todd's behavior did one good thing for history however. Her bipolar-ness was not very attractive to others and Mary did not have many close friends. One person that could not stand her was Ulysses S. Grant's wife, Julia. When the Grant's were asked to accompany the Lincoln's to see a play at Ford's Theater, she refused because she didn't want to be around Mary. This refusal may have saved Grant's life, as he would have been a target of assassination had he been there with Lincoln that night.

Though Lincoln and Mary had a very strained relationship, there is no record of Lincoln ever cheating on her, making him one of the few presidents not to cheat on his wife or take up a mistress. One of the last things they did together, besides see the play at the Ford's Theater, was take a carriage ride together, as it was one of Mary's favorite things to do. Lincoln probably regretted marrying Mary Todd, but he did love her no matter how crazy she was.

After Lincoln died, there was a question of how to pull off the funeral. They couldn't allow millions of people to crowd into Washington D.C., for it would cause pandemonium. It was decided that instead, they would bring Lincoln to the masses. They would have a funeral train that went through all the big cities of the north. The last stop would be Springfield, Illinois. This was risky, as methods of keeping Lincoln from looking like a gross corpse were in their infant stages. They pumped him with as much embalming fluid as they could to have him keep through the journey and the funeral train set out. Many of the cities decorated their areas in mourning colors and made a huge celebration out of the funeral, most notably New York City. There were public viewings allowed but people had to wait in line for hours just to see Lincoln for a few seconds. As the train went further on it's journey, many began to see Lincoln's body become less life-like due to the heat. Makeup was put on him so as not to scare people when they saw him. The funeral train did not go off without a hitch though, as there were many southern sympathizers who were in northern cities. Random people would shout pro-south slogans as the train passed, or would say something against Lincoln, and were promptly beaten, many to death. Such was the fervor and air of anger and sorrow that gripped the nation after the Civil War. Lincoln's final resting place is at Oak Ridge Cemetery, in Springfield, Illinois.

What became of Lincoln's family? Well, Tad ended up dying in 1871 at the age of eighteen, which basically left Mary completely insane with grief, having lost three sons and a husband. Her last remaining son, Robert had her committed to an insane asylum in 1875. Robert went on to become a lawyer and Secretary of War under Presidents Garfield and Arthur. The Lincoln lineage is sadly no longer around since Robert's grandson, "Bud" Beckwith died in 1985.

Lincoln's life was extraordinary in the sense that he had more weight on his shoulders than probably most men in history. One thing I remember in history classes growing up was seeing the poster with all of Lincoln's failures, and then the last one being him becoming president. The poster, of course was showing kids that you should never give up, no matter how many times you fail. This, of course is a very good lesson, and served Lincoln well during his life. He had many disappointments, but he worked hard and kept at it when others would of probably quit. Lincoln also had more tragedies in his life than most. He lost two sons in his lifetime, had an insane wife, and was trying to fight one of the bloodiest wars in history. There is a certain time when perseverance is directly attached to a person, and that undoubtedly is Lincoln.

Many will forget Lincoln's birthday, as it is often overshadowed by Washington's birthday, which is now called President's day. We sort of associate both presidents with the day, but on that day we choose to go out and save on mattresses and dinette sets then remember anything that Lincoln or Washington did for us. So, to celebrate, learn more about Lincoln. Read other articles. Read his speeches, especially the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln is far bigger than anything I could write about him.


  1. "Robert went on to become a lawyer and Secretary of War under Presidents Garfield and Arthur. His only son died of blood poisoning at sixteen, so there are no blood relatives to the Lincoln's."

    Didnt Robert have 2 daughters? Do girls not count as blood relatives? Arent the Beckwith's his descendents?

  2. You are correct, and sorry for not seeing your comment until now. I mixed up my facts on this one, as there were direct members of Lincoln lineage alive until 1985 when Robert Lincoln's grandson "Bud" Beckwith died.