The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln
After becoming President Lincoln, the 16th one in the young nation’s history, he immediately threw himself into the Civil War, which almost exactly coincides with his presidency. Indeed the war was partly prompted by the race between Lincoln and the democrats John C. Breckinridge (Southern) and Stephen A. Douglas (Northern) which also included the Constitutional Union candidate John Bell. During his years as a state legislator in Illinois and as a member of the House of Representatives, Lincoln along with the abolitionist fraction of the GOP actively voiced his opposition to slavery.
Despite there being major disputes among the republicans over the issue, Lincoln managed to keep the party together, something which the until then prevailing Democratic Party did not. This resulted in a fall-out in the democratic ranks, splitting it into a northern faction supporting a doctrine of popular sovereignty allowing each state to determine their stands on slavery independently, and a southern faction in favor of a continued institute of slavery. This development opened up the race for Lincoln, and on March 4th 1861 he was sworn in as President of the United States.
The Difficult Initial Years – Abe Lincoln as Defender of the Union
Just over a month after his inauguration, before which the President-Elect evaded would-be assassins, fighting broke out for the first time between Union and Confederate soldiers at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The now legendary battle resulted in a victory for the Confederate troops, something which Lincoln and his generals would get used to over the next year, building up the pressure surrounding the inexperienced Commander in Chief.
The war consumed most if not all of the President’s time during this hectic and frustrating first year of the campaign, and it was not until the Battle of Antietam in September 1862 that focus could be shifted elsewhere. The turn of the tide in the military effort prompted Lincoln to start work on the famous Emancipation Proclamation, which was to be issued and signed in January of 1863.
The proclamation finally formalized the aspirations of the GOP and the President, and also allowed his commanders, including Andrew Johnson stationed in Tennessee, to start recruitment of ‘Negro troops’. In a letter to Lincoln Johnson noted that: “The bare sight of fifty thousand armed, and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once.”
Road to Victory – From War to Re-Election
Following the important and decisive victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chattanooga in addition to the one at Antietam, Lincoln became more and more optimistic as to the outcome of the war. The Confederate was urgently lacking basic commodities and equipment necessary in order to drive the war effort forward, and as the sheer numbers of troops as time passed were stacked even heavier in favor of the unionists than when the war began, morale faulted as well.
This furthermore enabled the President to focus on politics and the future, and so the noted Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address remembering the roots of the republic and the road ahead, and the beginnings of a strategy for reconstruction all became important aspects of both the struggle and the victory. The only issue which threatened to distort it was the election of 1864, but by choosing war hero and southerner Andrew Johnson as his running mate and exploit the deep splits in the Democratic Party, Lincoln won re-election on a Union Party-ticket.
Lincoln Memorial – A Fitting Legacy
One of the last political moves during Lincoln’s presidency, and indeed his life, was to seek unification of all Americans and a future of cooperation and peace in his second inaugural address. It is fitting, then, that these words are carved into the wall behind a sitting Lincoln at his memorial at the National Mall in Washington D.C:
“IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER”