March 4, 1861 to April 15, 1865
Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th President of the United States and holds the distinction of being first Republican voted to this office. The 1860 election showed vast divisions between states on the subject of slavery, with Lincoln’s name not even appearing on the ballot in ten southern states. He did, however, win every northern & western state that was eventually referred to as “The Union”, with the exception of New Jersey where electors were split between him and Democrat nominee Stephen A. Douglas.
Often described as “backwoods”, Lincoln was the first “Western” President. He had a high pitched voice and was an avid story teller. His schooling amounted to less than a year in total. He married Mary Todd in 1842, who had been born into southern Kentucky aristocracy. Though their backgrounds were very different, both had lost their mothers at a young age and were fervent Whig supporters. Though stories about their relationship became legendary, they were true partners leading up to the Presidency & had four boys, one who died in 1850. His height (6’4″), gangly arms & legs, unruly hair, rough face & ill-fitting clothes made him look unfit for the job of high office when people met him in person. But his talent was the spoken word, brilliantly crafting speeches that drew in readers & crowds in support of his run. It was a period in history where people were looking for answers and went with the man who wasn’t a career politician. Lincoln surrounded himself with those who had once been his competition for high office; all believed that they could do a better job. All secretly wanted to be the puppet master behind the Lincoln “puppet” that they thought this inexperienced man would be, and were ready to take over once he finally realized he was in over his head.
Lincoln was not considered to be an abolitionist like many others in the newly founded Republican party. A self trained lawyer who practiced law in Central Illinois by riding the circuit, his main objection to slavery was that it went against the Declaration of Independence. Though the founding fathers technically ignored the issue of slavery so that they could gain the support they needed from the southern colonies (where slavery was a common practice among the affluent farming societies), Abraham believed in Thomas Jefferson’s famous written words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Like many Northerner’s, Lincoln was outraged by the Dred Scott decision in 1857, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Scott – or any person of African ancestry – could claim citizenship and therefore had no rights to sue for his freedom even though he was a resident of a “free state.” This judgement awoke a lot of people from their slumber. All of a sudden the boundaries of “free vs. slave” states didn’t matter, and it started to appear that slavery was not going to be allowed to die a slow, natural death the way many had wished & predicted. It appeared to be gaining momentum and the fear of it spreading to areas outside of the slave holding states was a concern for many. However, it’s important to point out that this was not the main cause of the war; it was simply the one that received the most attention. Though many opposed slavery,the vast majority – including Lincoln – still saw the African American race as inferior.
When Lincoln entered office seven states had seceded from the Union, with several others threatening the same action. Decades of discussion & threats led to no possibility of a reconciliation at this point. The country was broken. He had a choice: to let the states leave, or use force to put down what was considered to be a rebellion from a small percentage of the population.