Long after Lincoln’s assassination we still celebrate his life, legacy, and achievements to this day. As America continues becoming a more diverse and inclusive nation, Lincoln’s message and legacy is just as relevant today. Who could have imagined that only 150 years after we fought a war over slavery, we would elect the first African American President? Lincoln is one of America’s greatest leaders, from his fight for human liberty with the Emancipation Proclamation to holding the nation together in one of its darkest hours.
Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. The son of a Kentucky frontiersman Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Lincoln, young Abraham Lincoln grew up in farm life with minimum education. After his mother’s death at the age of 9, he began teaching himself how to read and write with the help of his father’s second wife. At 22, Lincoln left home and moved to New Salem, IL, where he worked a number of jobs, bonding with the locals and developing a knack for public speaking.
After a career in law, Lincoln challenged incumbent U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas for his seat in 1958. While he ultimately lost the election, the seven debates held across IL raised Lincoln’s profile and helped catapult him to the national stage. Aided by his moderate views on slavery, Lincoln was able to beat better known candidates and secure the Republican nomination for President. In the general election, Lincoln faced Stephen Douglas again, this time in a four way race. Despite not getting a majority of votes, Lincoln was 180 of the 303 electoral votes and became the 16th president of the United States.
Before he was even inaugurated, seven states had seceded and a month in to his Presidency, Fort Sumter came under attack by Southern troops. In September of 1862, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, effectively declaring the end of slavery. Upon signing the document Lincoln said, “"I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.”
It would take 3 more years of the bloodiest and most costly war in American history, but eventually the slaves were freed. On March 28, 1865, General Robert E. Lee, surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, basically ending the Civil War.
Lincoln was re-elected and used his Inaugural Address to set a course to rebuild the nation. Sadly not everyone shared his vision for America and many were angry with the changes happening in America. On April 14, 1865 at a play in Ford’s theatre, Lincoln was assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.
Lincoln’s death would not be the end of his legacy. Our country has come a long way in the past 150 years and much of that change is because of the vision and leadership of President Abraham Lincoln. While today is his actual birthday, there is no federal holiday for Lincoln. Instead we celebrate him on Presidents’ Day (Washington’s Birthday).