xxxxxAbraham Lincoln, the man who guided the Union to victory in the American Civil War and brought about the abolition of slavery in the United States, was assassinated on the 14th April 1865, just five days after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. He was born into a poor family near Hodgenville, Kentucky, but spent much of his childhood in a wild, backwoods region of Indiana. He had little schooling, but he taught himself to read and write, and read any book he could find or borrow. In 1831, following a move to Illinois, he worked as a storekeeper and postmaster at New Salem but, in his spare time, he studied law, and in 1834 was elected to the state General Assembly. Admitted to the bar in 1846, he set up a highly successful legal practice in Springfield, the new state capital, and was elected to represent Illinois in Congress in 1847. During this time he gained a reputation for his eloquence and his opposition to slavery. He went back to Springfield in 1849, but returned to politics in 1854 to oppose the extension of slavery into Kansas and Nebraska. He failed to be elected to Congress, but his fighting performance won him the Republican nomination, and he was elected President in 1860. In the civil war that followed his prime aim was to keep the Union intact. To ensure that the border states remained loyal he did not oppose slavery outright, but in 1862 his Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves not under Union control. Then three years later his 13th Amendment extended emancipation across the United States. By clever manoeuvring he managed to retain the support of both radicals and conservatives in Congress, and he eventually found a commander, General Ulysses Grant, who was prepared to wage total war and bring the conflict to a speedy end. His lenient proposal to bring the break-
ABRAHAM LINCOLN 1809 -
xxxxxPresident Abraham Lincoln, the man who successfully guided the Union to victory in the American Civil War, and brought about the abolition of slavery in the United States, was assassinated on the 14th April 1865, just five days after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. While attending a performance of the comedy Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, Washington, an actor named John Wilkes Booth, a known Confederate sympathizer, entered his state box and shot him in the back of the head. He died the following morning.
xxxxxLincoln was born into a poor, illiterate family, near Hodgenville, Kentucky. When he was seven his family moved to Perry County in south-
xxxxxIn 1830 the family left Indiana to settle in Illinois, and a year later Lincoln left home to find work at New Salem, a small settlement on the Sangamon River. The next seven years were the making of him. He took on various jobs, including the running of a small store, work as a surveyor, and the village postmaster, but at the same time he began to build a promising career for himself. His interest in local politics gained him election to the Illinois General Assembly in 1834, and by studying law in his spare time he was admitted to the bar in 1836. A striking young man -
xxxxxIn 1837 he settled in Springfield, the new state capital, and began a highly successful career as a lawyer. His tall, lanky figure -
xxxxxIn March 1849, however, Lincoln returned to Springfield a disappointed man. His opposition to the Mexican War had lost him support amongst his own voters, and he felt frustrated at his failure to gain federal office. He put politics aside and resumed his work as a lawyer, extending his circuit to fourteen counties. And there he might well have remained had it not been for the Kansas-
xxxxxHowever, even before he took office in March 1861, seven cotton-
xxxxxBut Lincoln regarded slavery as a “monstrous injustice” and was determined, when he saw fit, to extend the abolition of slavery to all parts of the United States. The opportunity came in 1864 when he recommended the 13th Amendment to Congress. This was passed by the Senate in the April and, following his re-
xxxxxIn the day-
xxxxxLincoln’s intrinsic honesty, his courage and determination, his consummate skill as a politician, and his passionate defence of self-
xxxxxIncidentally, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on the 14th April 1865 might well have been prevented if the door to the presidential box had been locked, and the police guard on duty in the hallway had not left his post to have a drink across the street! ……
xxxxx…… Afterxthe murder, John Wilkes Booth (1838-
xxxxx…… Just a few days before his death Lincoln told his wife of a dream he had in which he saw a funeral at the White House. When he asked one of the soldiers who had died he was told that the President had been assassinated. ……
xxxxx…… In the 1860 election campaign for the presidency much use was made of the nickname “Honest Abe”. He was also called the “Rail Splitter”. This referred to the fact that in his early days in Salem he earned money by splitting logs for the making of fences. ……
Xxxxx…… Lincoln married Mary Todd in November 1842. They had four sons, all born at Springfield. Only the eldest, Robert Todd, survived into adulthood. Eddie died aged three, and Willie aged eleven. The youngest son, Thomas, but known always as “Tad” (short for Tadpole), had a partially cleft palate and spoke with a lisp. He died of tuberculosis in 1871, aged 18. ……
xxxxx…… As one would expect, Lincoln’s name and statue are found in many places across the United States. The most famous are the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. Ford’s Theatre in Washington and Petersen House (where he died) are museums to his memory. Illinois State is known as the “Land of Lincoln”.
xxxxxIt was in the autumn of 1865 that the American journalist and poet Walt Whitman (1819-
O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
xxxxxDuring the Civil War Whitman visited the battlefield of Fredericksburg in 1862, where his brother George had been wounded, and then spent the next three years visiting the many casualties at the front line or in military hospitals in and around Washington. The eleven articles he wrote about his wartime experiences were later published in 1875 under the title Memoranda During the War. Like his earlier work Drum Taps, it tells of the horror and terror of war, the heroism shown by men in combat, and the intense suffering of the dying and the wounded.
xxxxxWhitman’s major work, the anthology entitled Leaves of Grass, was first published in 1855 and over the next 35 years was continually reviewed and enlarged over nine editions. Written for the most part in free verse, some of the poems were severely criticised for their indecent reference to the human body and their homosexuality. That aside, their unconventional style and their wealth of subject matter sought to champion the cause of the common man, and to portray the American vision of democracy, individual freedom, and the brotherhood of man. Many of the poems take as their theme a pantheistic concept of life, and dwell on the mystic relationship between man and nature. Life as he saw it was “immense in passion, pulse and power”. Among the best known works in this anthology are Song of Myself, I Sing the Body Electric and Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.