1861-1865RepublicanFebruary 12, 1809, in Hodgenville, Hardin County, KentuckyApril 15, 1865, the morning after being shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. by John Wilkes Booth
Vice PresidentsFirst LadyPrevious OccupationsStates in Union
Hannibal Hamlin
Andrew Johnson
Mary Todd Lincoln (Wife)Farmer, Lawyer36


Lincoln’s parents were Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Lincoln married Mary Todd in 1842. They had four sons: Robert Todd, Edward Baker, William Wallace, and Thomas. Only Robert and Thomas (the oldest and youngest) lived past childhood.


Lincoln fully understood the challenges he faced as president of a nation divided over slavery when he took office. Eleven southern states seceded upon his election and formed the Confederate States of America. In April 1861 Confederate soldiers fired upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina, starting the Civil War.

Lincoln is universally revered for his steadfast dedication to ending slavery and saving the Union. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in Confederate states and committed the Union to ending slavery. In his legendary “Gettysburg Address,” Lincoln passionately declared his belief that those who had died in the war did so “not in vain,” but to help safeguard American democracy for future generations. Lincoln was re-elected to a second term in 1864 and was dedicated to healing the nation. On April 9, 1865 the Confederate Army Commander Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse. Unfortunately, Lincoln did not live to see the “new birth of freedom” he had proclaimed in his “Gettysburg Address” fully realized. Just five days after the surrender, on April 15, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln while he was watching a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Booth shot Lincoln point-blank in the back of his head, then jumped to the stage to make his escape, shouting, “Sic semper Tyrannis! [Thus always to Tyrants] The South is avenged!” ”

Lincoln died early the next morning. His body lay in state for seven days in the capitol before being carried on a slow-moving funeral train back to his home in Springfield, Illinois. All along the 1,700 mile route, thousands of people gathered to see the train pass and offer their last respects.

Booth was not discovered until ten days after he shot Lincoln. He was found hiding in a barn in rural Virginia. In the attempt to capture him, Booth either shot himself or was killed in the shoot-out. Booth had conspired with several accomplices to kill not only Lincoln, but also Secretary of State William H. Seward, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and General Ulysses S. Grant. Four of his co-conspirators were convicted and hanged for taking part in the plot or for having known about it.


As a child, Lincoln wrote this poem in an arithmetic book:
“Abraham Lincoln
his hand and pen
he will be good but
god knows When.”

Upon accepting the Republican nomination for Senate in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln delivered what has become known as his “House Divided” speech, in which he stated, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved––I do not expect the house to fall––but I do expect it will cease to be divided.” (June 16, 1858)

After suffering a political setback in 1862, Lincoln replied when asked how he felt, “Somewhat like the boy in Kentucky who stubbed his toe while running to see his sweetheart. The boy said he was too big to cry, and far too badly hurt to laugh.”

Regarding the dehumanizing nature of slavery, Lincoln once stated, “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

Lincoln believed secession to be illegal, and in his Inaugural Address, he warned the South: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you . . . You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it.”

One of the most famous presidential speeches is the “Gettysburg Address,” which Lincoln made four months after the Battle of Gettysburg: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate––we can not consecrate––we can not hallow––this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us––that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion––that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain––that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom––and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (November 19, 1863)

In his second Inaugural Address, Lincoln looked toward the future in which peace would be restored to the Union. He closed with the following words of optimism: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the fight as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” (March 04, 1865)

At This Time

1861: The Washington Peace Convention tries to preserve the Union, but the Confederacy is formed and the Civil War begins • The U.S. population is 32 million • 1863: Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, officially freeing all slaves held within confederate states • Lion Foucault measures the speed of light • Roller skating is introduced to America • 1864: General Sherman marches his army from Tennessee to Savannah, Georgia • The Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes are massacred at Sand Creek, Colorado • “In God We Trust” first appears on U.S. coins • 1865: The Confederacy surrenders at Appomattox April 9 • The U.S. Civil War ends May 26

Did You Know?

One day Lincoln was carrying his two young sons, both of whom were crying loudly. When asked what was wrong, he noted, “Just what’s the matter with the whole world. I’ve got three walnuts and each wants two.”

Over the course of his term as president, Lincoln received over 10,000 death threats. Some he kept in an envelope labeled “Assassinations” in his White House desk. Remarking on the threats, he commented, “I cannot bring myself to believe that any human being lives who would do me any harm.”

Learn More

  • AbrahamLincolnOnline.org
    A private, historic website dedicated to research, education, discussion, and additional web links about Lincoln.
  • Memory.loc.gov
    Online access to Lincoln’s papers at the Library of Congress.
  • nps.gov/abli
    Information about Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky.
  • nps.gov/liho
    Information about Lincoln’s life and home in Springfield, Illinois.
  • MillerCenter.org/president/lincoln
    In-depth essays created by the University of Virginia on Lincoln’s life and administration.

Field Trips for Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Springfield, Illinois

Carefully restored to its 1860 appearance, the only home owned by Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln is the centerpiece of a four-block historic neighborhood where they lived until his election to the presidency.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Springfield, Illinois

Showcasing the 46,000-item collection of Lincoln memorabilia owned by the State of Illinois, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum also houses the Illinois State Historical Library.

The Lincoln College Collection
Lincoln, Illinois

Many personal items are included in the documents, artifacts, and memorabilia in this collection willed to the college by Judge Stringer. Many later acquisitions have created a treasure for history buffs.

Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site
Petersburg, Illinois

Although most of the buildings are reconstructions of the homes, stores, school, mill, and tavern that were part of Lincoln’s early adulthood, this 650-acre village gives visitors a real feeling of life in 1830’s Illinois. While he lived in New Salem, Lincoln clerked in the stores, split rails, served as postmaster and surveyor, and had other odd jobs.

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Lincoln City, Indiana

This park is the site of Lincoln’s home for fourteen years of his youth and contains a memorial to his beloved mother who died and is buried here. Adjacent to the park is the Lincoln Living Historical Farm, a reconstruction of an 1820’s homestead.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site
Hodgenville, Kentucky

The Memorial Building houses a log cabin “symbolic of one in which Lincoln was born” on the site in which it is believed Lincoln was born. The Visitor Center enhances the exhibit with memorabilia of the Lincoln family and is adjacent to the Sinking Spring Farm purchased by Lincoln’s father in 1808.

Abraham Lincoln’s Boyhood Home at Knob Creek
Hodgenville, Kentucky

The place of Lincoln’s earliest recollection, the log cabin is indicative of one that was home to the Lincoln family during Lincoln’s early youth.

Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum
Harrogate, Tennessee

Situated on the campus of Lincoln Memorial University, this library and museum was created by a Civil War general who had been requested by Lincoln to “do something for the loyal people of East Tennessee” if either survived the war.

Ford’s Theater National Historic Site
Washington, D.C.

The site of the first presidential assassination, Ford’s Theatre is still a working theater. In addition, the Petersen Boarding House across the street, the site of Lincoln’s death, is open for visitors.

President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home
Armed Forces Retirement Home Campus
Washington, D.C.

Located on a picturesque hilltop in Washington, D.C., President Lincoln’s Cottage is the most significant historic site directly associated with Lincoln’s presidency aside from the White House. During the Civil War, President Lincoln and his family resided here from June to November of 1862, 1863, and 1864.

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