The life of Abraham Lincoln

Posted: June 7, 2015 in Politics
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Politician Biographies
A Short Biography of a Famous Politician

Lead-in questions:

  1. Politicians sometimes like to talk about their earlier lives but sometimes they would rather forget about who they were before they came to power. Do you know anything about the early life of any famous politician?
  2. Political biographies and autobiographies of famous living and dead politicians often sell thousands of copies. Why do you think people like to read about the lives of famous politicians?
  3. What is the difference between a biography and an autobiography? What differences do you think there might be in the content and viewpoint of a biography and an autobiography about the same politician?
  4. Throughout history political leaders and monarchs have sometimes been assassinated by people who disagreed with them. Do you know about any such events in Hungarian history?

The life of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in a log cabin in Kentucky. His father was a carpenter and farmer and both his parents were members of a small Baptist congregation which was opposed to slavery and had separated from a bigger church as a result. As Abraham was growing up he preferred to read rather than work in the fields and this made his relationship with his father, who was the complete opposite, a difficult one.

In 1830 the family moved to Illinois. As a young man Abraham had several jobs including running a store, surveying and being a postmaster. Because the local people were so impressed by his character, he earned the nickname “Honest Abe” in the town where he lived. His first attempt to enter the world of politics by running for the Illinois legislature in 1832 was a failure, but in 1834 he ran again and was successful. He won again in the next three state elections. In his spare time he studied law and became a lawyer in 1836.

In 1839 he met Mary Todd, a scholarly young woman from a good family who was then living with her sister in Springfield, Illinois. She dated several prominent young men but it was Abraham Lincoln who won her heart and they were married in 1842. Over the next 11 years they had 4 children and Lincoln became a successful attorney.

In 1846 he ran for the US House of Representatives and won. The family moved to Washington and Lincoln became well known for his opposition to the Mexican War and to slavery. In 1854, after a period during which his interest in politics had declined, he made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the US Senate. However, over the next few years he rose to prominence in the Republican Party by making impressive speeches and engaging in debates with other important political figures. In 1860 he won the Republican Presidential nomination even though he was not the pre-convention favourite. He was elected as the 16th President of the United States on November 6, 1860.

After his election, many southern states fearing a Republican government which would abolish slavery, seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. In response Lincoln raised an army and decided to fight to keep the Union together. Through the next 4 years there was a bloody Civil War between north and south which cost the lives of more than 600,000 Americans (more than died in both World Wars put together). On January 1, 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation, which was a declaration of freedom for all slaves in the Confederate States, went into effect.

In 1864 Lincoln was re-elected as President and on April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate army, surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union army. Two days later Lincoln made a speech outside the White House in which he said he would give voting rights to certain black people. In the audience was a famous actor who sympathised with the defeated South and hated everything Lincoln stood for. His name was John Wilkes Booth.

On the evening of April 14, 1865 President Lincoln and his wife went to see a play at Ford’s Theatre. During the performance Booth arrived at the theatre, where he was well known, entered the State Box and shot the President in the back of the head at close range. He then leapt onto the stage, breaking his left leg as he landed, and made his getaway (he was hunted down and shot dead 12 days later). The mortally wounded President was carried out of the theatre to a house across the street where he died the next morning at 7.22 am. He was the first President to be assassinated in American history. His body was taken back to his home town of Springfield by train and he was buried on May 4, 1865 while the Union mourned for its lost leader.

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