Abraham Lincoln is by far one of America’s most well-known presidents – and for good reason, since he managed to accomplish a great deal during his relatively short life!
From being the 16th president of the United States to saving the Union during the Civil War and bringing about the emancipation of slaves, Abe Lincoln’s legacy continues to spark the interest of children and adults all around the world.
In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1809, we’re going to give you a well-rounded analysis of his life (including some unique facts about him, as well as his favorite cake recipe!). For more educational resources on good old Abe, check out our Civil War Time Traveler.
The Humble Beginnings of Abraham Lincoln
Many remember the gripping details of Lincoln’s life, including his dramatic death. However, he surprisingly lived a lowly childhood that didn’t exactly reflect all he would become.
Lincoln was born in a cabin in the woods in Hodgenville, Kentucky. His parents, Thomas and Nancy, had three children, including Abraham, Sarah, and Thomas (who died during infancy).
After the family moved to Indiana, Lincoln spent most of his boyhood working with his father to make ends meet. Lincoln spent most of his days hunting, fishing, clearing fields, and planting crops. Sadly, Lincoln’s boyhood was stricken with grief after his mother died in the autumn of 1818.
However, his father was quick to find a new mother for his children and remarried a widow who brought along two girls and a boy. Lucky for little Abe, his father’s new wife, Sarah, was an “angel mother” who saved his childhood.
Sarah treated Abe and his sister as her own. She even encouraged Abe’s love for reading and learning – even though most of his family was illiterate. Although Lincoln went to school for less than a year in total, he always kept learning at the forefront of his mind.
Lincoln recalled that by some mystery, he could read, write, and cipher to the rule of three by the time he became an adult.
Now 21 years old (and 6’ 4” tall!), Lincoln was on his own in Illinois. During this time, he took on many jobs – from being a rail-splitter and flatboat man to a storekeeper, postmaster, and surveyor.
Many described him as being tall and lean, but surprisingly muscular. Despite keeping to himself, he was quick to make friends since he was so well-mannered and an excellent storyteller.
His first attempt at a leadership role came to him when he enlisted in the Black Hawk War of 1832. Here he became a captain of a crew but later joked that he fought more mosquitoes than actual Native Americans.
After the war, Lincoln knew he needed to settle down and find a vocation. He decided to move into politics and quickly won a seat as an Illinois legislator. He even ran for Congress and served for one term. Finally, he ran for Senate, but was defeated.
On top of politics, Lincoln practiced as a lawyer and was considered one of the most successful in the state. The courts recognized him for his honesty and fairness.
It wasn’t long before he met his future wife, Mary Todd, a well-educated aristocrat from Kentucky. Mary stole Lincoln’s heart with her energetic spirit and wit – not to mention her impressive baking skills!
She supposedly baked her famous lemon cake while they were courting and throughout their marriage. You can find the recipe for Honest Abe’s favorite cake in our blog post, How to Make Lincoln’s Cake.
Abraham Lincoln and the Presidency
In 1860, Lincoln decided to run for president. He labeled himself a part of the newly found Republican party in addition to strongly opposing slavery.
Even though Lincoln only received 40 percent of the popular vote, he still managed to beat his democratic competitors, becoming the first Republican to win office.
It wasn’t long before the southern states disagreed with his policies and wanted out. South Carolina was the first to leave, along with six more states, which would make up a new country called the Confederacy.
The Civil War
The country was divided, and the Civil War began on April 12, 1861.
Abraham Lincoln referenced a scripture verse (Mark 3:25) in what has now become one of his famous quotes, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe the government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” He said the country would either become “all one thing, or all the other.”
The war lasted four long years and is remembered as America’s bloodiest war, taking over 600,000 lives. Although he faced much opposition, he managed to win the final battle with the help of his commander, Ulysses S. Grant. You can read more about Grant and his efforts in leading the Civil War in our blog post, Ulysses S. Grant Takes Command of the Union Armies.
After the war, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, setting the stage for the 13th Amendment, which would free slaves in the Confederate States.
Abraham Lincoln’s Death and Assassination
Lincoln sought to help reconstruct the southern states and unify the country. However, he never lived to see that day, since, on April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, an actor who strongly opposed abolitionists.
Despite Lincoln’s many accomplishments during his presidency, he dealt with a number of tragedies behind closed doors. Not only did Abraham Lincoln’s wife have a mental illness that made her erratic, but he also lost three out of four of his children before they reached adulthood.
After his wife Mary was declared insane following Abraham Lincoln’s death, the public came to respect him all the more for his strength and patience as a husband and father.
As for his beliefs, Lincoln was known for his familiarity with the Bible despite being a skeptic at times. He regularly quoted scripture throughout his presidency, most notably in his famous speech, the Gettysburg Address.
To listen to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, check out the video below.
Here are some other fun facts about Abraham Lincoln:
- He was the first president to grow a beard while in office.
- He was and still is the tallest president.
- He lost five separate elections before becoming president.
- He loved poetry and theatre – especially Shakespeare.
- He is the only president to obtain a patent for an invention, the Vessel Bellows: a contraption attached to the hull of a ship to help keep the ship from becoming grounded on shoals and sandbars.
- He loved animals and had a cat named Tabby and a dog named Fido.
- He was a man of simple taste and enjoyed foods like apples, cheese, crackers, and nuts.
- He liked to store letters and other important items in his top hat.
Studying Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln remains one of the many heroes that helped shape the country we know today. His remarkable life continues to be the subject of many movies, books, statues, and landmarks.
If you’re looking to teach your children about the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln, we have plenty of resources to help! Our Civil War Time Traveler covers the life of Lincoln and his involvement in the war in detail. We also cover him in our Early Nineteenth-Century Time Traveler since he was of all things an inventor on top of being president.
If you’re anything like us and enjoy a good old timeline figure, check out our Timeline Trio, where you can find an intricate drawing of Lincoln himself.
Well, we hope you learned something new about America’s 16th president. Don’t forget to share this post with any friends or family members who share a love for Abe Lincoln!