Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

In 1859, a friend asked Abraham Lincoln to write an autobiography to publish in a newspaper. Lincoln responded with a few short paragraphs. He explained, "There is not much of it, for the reason, I suppose, that there is not much of me." Lincoln was wrong. In a year, Lincoln would be elected as the sixteenth president of the United States.

This is how Lincoln described his education: "...when I came of age I did not know much. Still, somehow I could read, write, and cipher; but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity."

In America, we like to think that even a poor child can grow up to be president. That's what Abraham Lincoln did. He was born in a log cabin in Kentucky to parents who could barely read or write. He said, "I was raised to farm work, which I continued till I was twenty-two." As a captain of volunteers in the Black Hawk War he said he fought a bloody war with mosquitoes. He worked as a boatman on the Mississippi, a store clerk, post office clerk, and surveyor. He taught himself law from borrowed law books, and became a respected lawyer in Springfield, Illinois.

Even after he married Mary Todd, who came from a wealthy, cultured Kentucky family, he still acted like a rough frontier fellow sometimes. People who knew him said he had to unfold his six foot four inch frame to stand up, and he wore his clothes like he put them on "when he was thinking about something else." He had a humorous story for every occasion. Often he turned the joke on himself. He once told the story of a boy selling his picture on a Springfield street corner. "Here's your likeness of Abe Lincoln !'" the boy shouted. "Only two shillings! He'll look a lot better once he gets his hair combed!"

Lincoln loved politics. He served four terms in the Illinois legislature and one term in Congress. He wanted to be elected as a senator from Illinois. Lincoln and his opponent, Stephen Douglas, debated all around the state. Lincoln lost the election, but his fine speeches and his excellent mind gained him national fame. In 1860, he ran for president and won.

His victory made many Southerners unhappy, and before he took office, seven states seceded. Soon war broke out and Lincoln had the difficult job of finding good generals to lead the Union armies. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which freed enslaved African-Americans in Confederate states. Lincoln won reelection in 1864, and in his inaugural address, he spoke of reuniting with the South without anger or punishment. Only a month later—and less than a week after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant—Lincoln was assassinated.

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