Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was very important to the past history of our country. He helped to abolish slavery in this country and kept the American Union from splitting apart during the Civil War.
At 22, he moved to New Salem, Illinois. With his gift for swapping stories and making friends, he became quite popular and was elected to the Illinois legislature in 1834. In his spare time, he taught himself law and became a lawyer. In 1847, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, but returned to his law practice until 1858, when his concern about the spread of slavery prompted him to return to national politics and run for the U.S. Senate.
Lincoln rose to greatness from a humble beginning. Born in 1809 in a log cabin in Kentucky, Lincoln spent most of his childhood working on the family farm. He had less than a year of school but managed to educate himself by studying and reading books on his own.
He believed that slavery and democracy were fundamentally incompatible. In an 1858 speech, he said:
What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independance? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coats, our army and our navy . . . Our defense is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors. Familiarize yourself with the chains of bondage and you prepare your own limbs to wear them (World Book Encyclopedia).
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He lost his campaign for the Senate, but during the debates with his opponent Stephen Douglas, he became well known for his opposotion to slavery. The southern states, which believed they depended upon slavery to remain prosperous in the cotton, tobacco, and rice industries, threatened to secede from the nation if Lincoln won the election. Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, and by April 12, the southern states had formed the Confedrate States of America and the Civil War began.
It was during the Civil War that Lincoln proclaimed the slaves free in the Confederate states. This was his famous Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863.
But Lincoln knew that something else had to be done to insure liberty for the slaves after the war. So he worked hard to pass an antislavery amendment to the Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment, passed by Congress in 1865, prohibited slavery in all states. It was this important act, and the Emancipation Proclamation, that won Lincoln his reputation as the Great Emancipator.