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Abraham Lincoln: The Emancipator Who Changed America

February 18, 20245 min read

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right 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.” - Abraham Lincoln, March 4,1865

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky (which is now part of present-day LaRue County). He grew up in a modest family and experienced the hardships of frontier life firsthand. Despite facing many challenges, Lincoln's thirst for knowledge and determination set him apart from an early age.

Young Abe Lincoln worked various jobs, including rail-splitter and store clerk, before pursuing a career in law.

By 1860, tensions between the Northern and Southern states had reached a boiling point over issues like slavery and states' rights. Northern Democrats disagreed with Southern Democrats over the issue of slavery. This divide split their vote, which helped the brand new Republican party.

Abraham Lincoln was the Republican’s nominee to run for president. He was a relatively obscure Illinois lawyer at the time, but he gained national prominence through his debates with Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States, becoming the first Republican to hold the office.

Honest Abe

Lincoln was known as "Honest Abe" primarily because of his reputation for honesty and integrity. This nickname originated during his early years as a lawyer in Illinois. Legend has it that Lincoln earned this moniker after he ran a general store and realized he had shortchanged a customer by a few pennies. He closed the store and walked several miles to return the correct amount to the customer, even though the error was unintentional and the customer hadn't noticed.

Civil War

Lincoln’s most important Presidential issue was holding the nation together. The Southern states wanted to secede from the union. That means they wanted to stop being part of the United States and form their own country, just like we did with England during the Revolution. They even named their own President, Jefferson Davis.

Lincoln thought it was important to stay as one big country and (just as with England) war was the only way to solve it. One by one, Southern states chose to secede and form the Confederate States of America. The Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861 marked the beginning of the Civil War because it represented an act of rebellion against the federal government.

In 1863, while the war was still going on, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared the slaves to be free in Confederate-held territories. The conflict lasted for four years, ending in 1865 with the defeat of the Confederate forces. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution officially made slavery illegal in the United States.

First Paper Currency

During Lincoln's presidency, the nation grappled with significant economic challenges. Wars are expensive and Lincoln needed money to fund it. The war also disrupted agriculture and trade with other countries. These problems took .

Before 1861, paper money was in the form of colonial notes. This was a problem because the value could change based on the financial stability of the bank that issued it. Colonial Notes were not always backed by a central authority or gold/silver reserves. People couldn’t count on them having value in a time of war

Lincoln started a national banking system and issued the first-ever paper currency, known as greenbacks, to help fund the war. Greenbacks were issued by the federal government, which gave them a standard design, size, and denomination. They could be used to pay all debts, public and private, within the United States.

While today, Lincoln’s portrait is on the five-dollar bill, back in 1861 his portrait was on the ten.

ten dollar note 1861

International Relations and Diplomacy

The Civil War had far-reaching implications beyond America's borders. Lincoln had to keep up foreign relations while securing support for the Union cause. He skillfully managed delicate relationships with European powers, including Britain and France. It became important to keep other countries from supporting the Confederacy.

Reconstruction and Healing the Nation

After the Civil War, Lincoln had the tough job of putting the country back together (Reconstruction) and healing the wounds of war. His plan was to bring the Southern states back into the Union while addressing the social and economic challenges facing the region. Lincoln's vision emphasized reconciliation and forgiveness to heal the rift between North and South.

But his vision never materialized. Before he was elected, Lincoln had chosen Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as his running mate. Even though Lincoln was a Republican, he wanted to show the country that both parties can work together. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see his own vision play out and Andrew Johnson had challenges of his own once he stepped into the Presidential role.

Tragic Death and Enduring Legacy

On April 14, 1865, just days after the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln's life was tragically cut short when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Lincoln's untimely death sent shockwaves across the nation, but his legacy endured.

Abraham Lincoln's presidency was defined by far more than just the Civil War. He faced a myriad of challenges, from economic turmoil to political divisions and international tensions. Yet, through his steadfast leadership, moral clarity, and unwavering commitment to the principles of freedom and equality, Lincoln guided the nation through one of its darkest periods and laid the groundwork for a more unified and prosperous future. So, let us remember and honor the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, not only as the great emancipator but also as a visionary leader who rose to meet the challenges of his time with courage and conviction.

You can learn more about our 16th president here.

Recommended Reading

Bull Run by Paul Fleischman (ages 8 to 10)

Bull Run

In this brilliant fictional tour de force, which the New York Times called "a deft, poignant novel," Newbery Medal-winning author Paul Fleischman re-creates the first great battle of the Civil War from the points of view of sixteen participants.

Northern and Southern, male and female, white and black. Here are voices that tell of the dreams of glory, the grim reality, the hopes, horror, and folly of a nation discovering the true nature of war.

Abraham Lincoln Word Search Puzzle

Download and print this FREE word search puzzle to accompany the article.

Abraham Lincoln word search

U.S. PresidentsPresidents DayAbraham LincolnCivil war
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