Why did Abraham Lincoln decline the governorship of Oregon Territory in 1849?

Why did Abraham Lincoln decline the governorship of Oregon Territory in 1849?

In 1849, when Abe Lincoln was still a young lawyer, according to my book on Washington State history, he was offered the governorship of Oregon Territory-which, it would seem, was a lucrative position even in those days. However, this seems to have been only a minor event for him personally; I can find no reference to Mr. Lincolnn being offered the governorship in any of my numerous Lincoln biographies, even Sandburg's super-detailed one.

So I'm left wondering, why did the young Abraham Lincoln decline to become Governor of Oregon? If possible, I'd like to know from historical sources what reasons he gave for declining this position; and if that's not possible, what historians speculate may have been the reasons.

I haven't been able to find anything written by Abraham Lincoln himself explicitly explaining his reasons for declining the position of Governor of the Territory of Oregon in September 1849.

The surviving correspondence might suggest several reasons, and in particular at least one contemporary seems to say that he may have felt embarrassed to take such a post while friends whom he had recommended for office were rejected.

Lincoln's first (and only) term in Congress ended on 4 March 1849. Shortly after the end of his term, Lincoln had recommended Cyrus Edwards for the position of Commissioner of the Land Office, noting that if Edwards was not acceptable to the Administration he would accept the office himself. In the event, Justin Butterfield was appointed (despite the fact that Lincoln had the support of most of his party) [Arnold, 2008, p81].

His experiences with the Commissionership, and with other matters of patronage at that time, do seem to have given Lincoln a jaundiced view of government. This may also have been a factor in his decision to decline the offer of the governorship. In a letter to John Addison the following year (9 August 1850), Lincoln wrote:

… The substance of the matter you speak of, in detail, has long been known to me; and I have supposed, if I would, I could make it entirely plain to the world. But my high regard for some of the members of the late cabinet; my great devotion to Gen: Taylor personally; and, above all, my fidelity to the great Whig cause, have induced me to be silent; and this especially, as I have felt, and do feel, entirely independent of the government, and therefore above the power of it's persecution.

If he felt that way in September of the previous year, that would go a long way to explain the reasons for his refusal.

What we do know is that Lincoln wrote to Secretary of State John M Clayton on 21 August 1849, advising that he had received a letter notifying him of his appointment as "Secretary of the Teritory of Oregon" [sic] and accompanied by a Commission. He said:

I respectfully decline the office. I shall be greatly obliged if the place be offered to Simeon Francis, of this place [Springfield].

On 23 September, he wrote to Thomas Ewing, Secretary to the Treasury, from Tremont Illinois to advise him that:

Your dispatch of the 20th announcing my appointment as Governor of Oregon is just received, having reached Springfield in my absence, and been forwarded to me here by mail. I have just written a friend at Springfield to answer you by telegraph that I decline the appointment, which I suppose will reach you long before this will. May I request you to express my gratitude to the President for these repeated evidences of his kindness and confidence?

The telegram, sent on 27 September, reads simply:

I respectfully decline Governorship of Oregon; I am still anxious that, Simeon Frances shall be secretary of that Territory. A. LINCOLN

Lincoln's brother-in-law also notified the chairman of the Illinois State Whig Executive Committee, A.G. Henry, about Lincoln's decision. Henryy wrote to Secretary Ewing on 24 September 1849. He said that Lincoln:

has declined the office of Governor of Oregon and for reasons I presume entirely personal to himself and certain friends whose claims he early pressed upon Genl. Taylor for appointment to office. I know Mr. Lincoln is disposed to yield the administration his most cordial support notwithstanding his refusal to take office for himself, so long as his friends are unprovided for.

[Miller, 2010, p240]

This does seem to support the idea that Lincoln was embarrassed, or at least unwilling, to take a post in the patronage of government while friends whom he had recommended for office were rejected.

The subject of Lincoln and the Governorship of Oregon was explored in a paper by Paul I. Miller, presented in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review in December 1936.


Arnold, Isaac N: The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Digital Scanning Inc, 2008

Miller, Richard Lawrence: Lincoln and His World: Volume 3, The Rise to National Prominence, 1843-1853, McFarland, 2010

Oregon was too far away.

It meant that his wife Mary would have to leave her friends in Illinois, (and elsewhere in the Midwest and the South). Also, Lincoln's political connections were there, which meant that he would have had to start fresh in 1849 in a strange and distant territory.

Born in 1809, he was then about 40 years old, too old for most people to make such a fresh start. Such a prospect might have been more appealing to someone five or ten years younger, especially if unmarried.

US Congressman Lincoln

Lincoln’s campaign for congress started in 1843 during his fourth and last term in the Illinois legislature. He took a more active role in his party by attending Whig meetings and taking a leadership role. In 1843 he still lacked support and lost the 1843 Whig nomination to John J. Hardin from Jacksonville.

The following year he campaigned for his friend Edward D. Baker for congress and for Henry Clay as the Whig presidential candidate. For three years Lincoln had campaigned and built support among Whig delegates. In 1846, as he gathered support and popularity within his party, Abraham was nominated as a Whig candidate for congress. The election took place on August 3 rd he ran against Democrat Peter Cartwright and won. He was the only Whig congressman elected from Illinois.

First time in the nation’s capital

House of Mary Todd’s father, Robert Todd. Mary decided to stay with her father in Lexington, Kentuky while Abraham worked in Washington DC.

It was the first time for Mary and Abraham in such a large city, it was almost overwhelming. Washington had a population of 40,000 including 2,000 slaves and 8,000 free blacks. The Lincolns rented one large room at the boarding house of Ann G. Sprigg where previous Illinois congressmen, Stuart and Baker, had resided during their term in congress. Mary was dissatisfied with the living arrangements as her boys were the only children in the boarding house and received daily complaints about their behavior and noise. Mary decided to go to Lexington, Kentucky to her father’s house.

Whig Leadership

Lincoln sought to provide leadership to his party during his term in the thirtieth Congress where 200 of the representatives were new. His experience in the Illinois state legislature gave him the skills to deal with parliamentary procedure. Abraham was assigned to the Committee on Post Offices and Post Road, and he also served on the Committee on Expenditures in the War Department.

James Polk, a democrat, served as the 11th President of the United States from 1845 to 1849.

He got to know congressmen who later would become part of his administration. He met Caleb B. Smith who would become Secretary of the Interior and Robert C. Shenck who Lincoln would appoint major general in the U.S. Army.

During the 1848 presidential campaign he found the Whig party in a weak position. The Democratic administration of James Polk had been greatly successful. In an effort to promote the election of General Zachary Taylor, Lincoln accused Polk of unconstitutionally invading Mexico and declaring war. He argued that people have the right to rebel against Mexico and form a new government to suit them. Many in the opposition reminded him of his position when he was president at the brink of the civil war.

Even though the Whig party was highly disorganized, Zachary Taylor won the elections in 1848 and served as the 12 th US president from March 1849 until his death in 1850. Taylor lacked the support among the antislavery Whigs who objected a Whig slaveholder president. Many had left the party and others threatened to leave.


In his second session in Congress the topic of slavery and its expansion to new territories took center stage. Antislavery congressmen failed to pass the Wilmot Proviso which would prevent slavery from being adopted in the new territories acquired from the Mexican-American War. Abraham Lincoln voted for the passage of the Wilmot Proviso. The Proviso lacked support and antislavery congressmen moved on to propose the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Franklin & Armfield was the country’s largest slave trade center in the country and was shamefully located a few blocks from the Capitol. Many considered it an embarrassment as black men, women and children were traded in front of residents and visitors of the Union’s capital.

Back to Springfield

Lincoln served in Congress for only one term, from March 1847 to March 1849. At the end of his appointment in Congress, Lincoln returned to Springfield. He was offered the office of the secretary to the governor of the Oregon Territory but he declined. After Secretary of State, John M. Clayton, realized that Lincoln had been overlooked and had been the most active Illinois Whig supporter in the campaign of General Taylor, he offered him the governorship of the Oregon Territory but again, he declined the offer. Back in Springfield he resumed his law practice with his junior partner William Herndon.

Accomplishments in Office

The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln was dominated by the Civil War. Despite his limited military background, Lincoln became a strong military leader, directing the actions of the Union. Lincoln amassed considerable executive power- proclaiming a blockade and suspending habeas corpus. All of this was done to "Preserve the Union".

Lincoln's prompt action in ordering the release of Confederate envoys seized on a British ship avoided a potential conflict with Great Britain. Lincoln was a champion of Ulysses S. Grant, who was controversial as a General due to his unkempt appearance and fondness for drinking. When someone complained to Lincoln about Grant's habits, he replied that if he knew Grant's favorite brand, he would send it to all his Generals.

Lincoln's most well-known action was the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863 after the victory at Antietam. The proclamation freed all slaves held in areas still controlled by the Confederacy.

After his re-election, as the war drew towards a successful conclusion, Lincoln remained committed to reconciliation with the South. In his second inaugural speech he promised "malice towards none'. The peace treaty, signed April 9, 1865 at Appottomax, a month after his inaugural speech, were indeed generous. Southern officers were allowed to return home with their side arms, mounted soldiers with their horses.

Five days later, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at the Ford Theater.

Why did Abraham Lincoln decline the governorship of Oregon Territory in 1849? - History

Published at: August 31, 2019 / Category: Government, Media & Information / Comments: No Comments

An Abraham Lincoln Failure Always Became a Positive. Historians Today Take a Closer Look at the Many Pitfalls Overcome by the Emancipator on His Way to Greatness.

An Abraham Lincoln failure always became a positive.

Lincoln has been rated as number one out of all the American presidents, but why is this since he has had so many failures? Lincoln said:

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln’s life was dotted with constant failures, but his persistence and discipline raised him above these setbacks he was not content with his failures.

He believed that he was pre-destined for great things as a young man and believed he could not change his fate.

Lincoln rolled with the punches and in his own mind just kept on continuing towards his inevitable destiny.

The following is a short list of his successes and Abraham Lincoln failures.

  • 1831: Failed in business
  • 1832: Defeated for legislature
  • 1833: Again failed in business
  • 1834: Elected to legislature
  • 1835: Sweetheart died
  • 1836: Had a nervous breakdown
  • 1838: Defeated for speaker
  • 1840: Defeated for elector
  • 1843: Defeated for Congress
  • 1846: Elected for Congress
  • 1848: Defeated for Congress
  • 1855: Defeated for Senate
  • 1856: Defeated for Vice-President
  • 1858: Defeated for Senate

That looks like a pretty glum resume, making you wonder how Lincoln ever made it to the top.

But when you really think of it, to run for office or high positions so many times, you have to have something on the ball and have more successes than meet the eye.

Chronology of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln actually was considered a fairly successful politician in Illinois and a leader of the Whig party in his state, as well as a successful lawyer.

The true chronology of his career is as follows:

1831: At age 22, he lost his job because his father wanted to move the family.

1832: At age 23, he was elected company captain of Illinois militia in the Black Hawk War.

Because of his Black Hawk War involvement, he did not spend sufficient time campaigning and was defeated in running for the Illinois State Legislature.

1834: At age 25, he started a store in New Salem, Illinois with a partner.

He was appointed postmaster of New Salem and deputy surveyor of Sangamon County.

Unfortunately, his partner died causing the business to fail. Lincoln later paid off the whole debt for the failed business.

Then he was elected to the Illinois State House of Representatives.

1835: Lincoln’s sweetheart, Ann Rutledge, died.

1836: At age 27, Lincoln reportedly had a nervous breakdown. Many scholars believe this was made up by William Herndon after Lincoln had died.

Herndon had been a law partner of Lincoln, but they did not get along.

Considering Lincoln’s other accomplishments that year, a nervous breakdown was unlikely.

1839: Lincoln was chosen presidential elector for the first Whig convention. He also was admitted to practice law in U.S. Circuit Court.

1840: At age 31, he was re-elected to the Illinois State Legislature. He also argued his first case before Illinois Supreme Court.

1842: At age 33, he was re-elected to the Illinois State Legislature. Lincoln was also admitted to practice law in U.S. District Court.

He had become a very successful lawyer, as well as a popular legislator.

1843: At age 34, Lincoln wanted to run for Congress but for the sake of the Whig party unity, agreed to hold off until 1846, to allow other party candidates to represent the state.

1844: Lincoln established his own law practice with William H. Herndon as junior partner.

1846: At age 37, Lincoln won the election for U.S. Congress.

1848: At age 39, Lincoln’s term in office was up and was not a candidate for Congress, per an agreed-upon arrangement among the Whigs.

1849: Lincoln was admitted to practice law in the U.S. Supreme Court.

He was offered appointment as governor of the Oregon Territory, but he declined the position.

1854: He was elected to the Illinois State Legislature but declined the seat to run for U.S. Senate.

1855: At age 46, Lincoln ran for the U.S. Senate but then willingly deferred his Whig votes, as a political move, to allow Trumbull to win the seat.

It was an intentional move and not a defeat, as the list claims.

1858: At age 49, he ran for the U.S. Senate and won the popular vote.

But the Illinois State Legislature overthrew the popular vote, as was legal in those days. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson eliminated that practice.

1859: Lincoln had a very successful and lucrative law practice but hesitantly agreed to run for the presidency.

1860: At age 51, Lincoln became President of the United States.

Purpose of Abraham Lincoln Failure to President List

Abraham Lincoln had a very successful career before he became president, but for anyone trying different things, there can be a number of setbacks.

Writers have exaggerated the setbacks or defeats in order to use them to inspire people to overcome life’s difficulties with Lincoln as a model.

An Abraham Lincoln failure was not a reason for him to quit. He believed that the only real failure was the failure not to move on.

From Abraham Lincoln failure to his ultimate rise to president, he kept up the good fight until his death.

The ultimate Abraham Lincoln failure came when he tried to give voting rights to the African-American people.

He was assassinated for this. He has been long gone, but his very name is a legacy of success!

Mr. Lincoln and Freedom

“I have always thought that all men should be free but if any should be slaves it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly, those who desire it for others. Whenever [I] hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally,” President Lincoln told an Indiana Regiment passing through Washington less than a month before his murder. 1

Mr. Lincoln thought deeply on the subject of liberty. He knew it was a vital but fragile concept, which needed to be nurtured. Nearly a decade earlier, in the midst of furor over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Mr. Lincoln had said in Peoria, Illinois: “Little by little, but steadily as man’s march to the grave, we have been giving up the OLD for the NEW faith. Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for SOME men to enslave OTHERS is a ‘sacred right of self-government.’ These principles can not stand together. They are as opposite as God and mammon and whoever holds to the one, must despise the other.” 2

A few months earlier, he had written some notes—perhaps for a speech not given: “Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of equal rights of men, as I have, in part, stated them ours began, by affirming those rights. They said, some men are too ignorant, and vicious, to share in government. Possibly so, said we and, by your system, you would always keep them ignorant, and vicious. We proposed to give all a chance and we expected the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant, wiser and all better, and happier together.” 3

Liberty was the cornerstone of the Republic, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. It was the cornerstone of republican government and a bulwark for the growth of democracy elsewhere. In the Peoria speech, Mr. Lincoln said: “This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.” 4

Mr. Lincoln did not believe that under then-current law slavery could be abolished where it already existed. But morally and constitutionally, he believed it must and could be restricted where it did not exist. In an 1858 speech in Chicago, Mr. Lincoln said: “If we cannot give freedom to every creature, let us do nothing that will impose slavery upon any other creature.” 5 In Kansas in early December 1859, Mr. Lincoln said, “There is no justification for prohibiting slavery anywhere, save only in the assumption that slavery is wrong.” 6 In Hartford on March 5, 1860, Mr. Lincoln said: “If slavery is right, it ought to be extended if not, it ought to be restricted—there is no middle ground.” 7

Mr. Lincoln’s respect for work was fundamental to his disdain for slavery. William Wolf wrote in The Almost Chosen People: “Lincoln felt strongly about the essential importance of labor to society and liked to make it concrete by referring to the injunction on work in Genesis. He had known in early life what it meant to earn bread in the sweat of his brow. He was offended by the arrogant complacency of the planter interests and especially by their mouthpieces in the clergy.” 8 Mr. Lincoln understood that fundamental to one’s attitude toward slavery was one’s willingness to let others sweat on one’s behalf.

Indeed, work was as essentiala value as freedom, argued Mr. Lincoln. In 1854, Mr. Lincoln wrote: “The ant, who has toiled and dragged a crumb to his nest, will furiously defend the fruit of his labor, against whatever robber assails him. So plain, that the most dumb and stupid slave that ever toiled for a master, does constantly know that he is wronged. So plain that no one, high or low, ever does mistake it, except in a plainly selfish way for although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself.” 9

“I believe each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man’s rights,” said Mr. Lincoln in Chicago in July 1858. 10 “Work, work, work, is the main thing,” he advised in a letter. 11 Relatively early in his political career, he had declared:

In the early days of the world, the Almighty said to the first of our race “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” and since then, if we except the light and the air of heaven, no good thing has been, or can be enjoyed by us, without having first cost labour. And, inasmuch [as] most good things are produced by labour, it follows that [all] such things of right belong to those whose labour has produced them. But it has so happened in all ages of the world, that some have laboured, and others have, without labour, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue. To [secure] to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government. But then the question arises, how can a government best, effect this? In our own country, in it’s present condition, will the protective principle advance or retard this object? Upon this subject, the habits of our whole species fall into three great classes—useful labour, useless labour and idleness. Of these the first only is meritorious and to it all the products of labour rightfully belong but the two latter, while they exist, are heavy pensioners upon the first, robbing it of a large portion of it’s just rights. The only remedy for this is to, as far as possible, drive useless labour and idleness out of existence. And, first, as to useless[s] labour. Before making war upon this, we must learn to distinguish it from the useful. It appears to me, then, that all labour done directly and incidentally in carrying articles to their place of consumption, which could have been produced in sufficient abundance, with as little labour, at the place of consumption, as at the place they were carried from, is useless labour. 12

Perhaps as a young man, Mr. Lincoln had done his share of useless labor to last a lifetime. Hedid what was necessary and he expected others to do the same. A man had the right to the fruits of his labors—and an obligation to pursue his labors to the best of his ability. And the rewards of hard work were important in politics as well—one reason that the 1849 appointment of Justin Butterfield to the federal Land Commissioner’s post so disturbed Lincoln. Butterfield hadn’t worked in the election and rewarding him for his lethargy was bad politics and bad government.

Liberty, work, and justice were closely connected concepts for Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln told the US Sanitary Commission Fair in Baltimore on April 18, 1864:

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable [sic] things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable [sic] names—liberty and tyranny.,

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated. 13

Mr. Lincoln’s philosophy was often revealed in letters intendedfor publication. One such letter was to Kentucky editor Albert G. Hodges in April 1864. President Lincoln began: “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling.” 14 Mr. Lincoln understood that he could not act outside of the powers granted by the Constitution. The most powerful tool hepossessed was the doctrine of military necessity that he used to proclaim emancipation on January 1, 1863.

Mr. Lincoln’s views on slavery did not depend on the Constitution alone, but were firmly rooted in the Declaration of Independence. He strongly believed that slavery was wrong—whatever the law stated. “If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away,” said Mr. Lincoln in his Cooper Union address of February 1860, challenging the arguments of slavery’s defenders: “If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality—its universality if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension—its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this? Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation.” 15

The necessity was linked to constitutional provisions associated with the birth of the Union. No President, except in the gravest national emergency, could act alone outside the Constitution.

Mr. Lincoln also realized that the pursuit and protection of liberty required a long struggle. After President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan visited the White House. Mr. Lincoln told Morgan, who was also chairman of the Republican National Committee: “I do not agree with those who say that slavery is dead. We are like whalers who have been long on a chase—we have at last got the harpoon into the monster, but we must now look how we steer, or, with one ‘flop’ of his tail, he will yet send us all to eternity.” 16 Mr. Lincoln realized that freedom depended upon Union—but he also realized that some supporters of Union opposed the actions he had taken to grant freedom to Southern slaves. In August 1863, he addressed these critics::

You dislike the emancipation proclamation and, perhaps, would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional—I think differently. I think the constitution invests its commander-in-chief, with the law of war, in time of war. The most that can be said, if so much, is, that slaves are property. Is there—has there ever been—any question that by the law of war, property, both of enemies and friends, may be taken when needed? And is it not needed whenever taking it, helps us, or hurts the enemy? Armies, the world over, destroy enemies’ property when they can not use it and even destroy their own to keep it from the enemy. Civilized belligerents do all in their power to help themselves, or hurt the enemy, except a few things regarded as barbarous or cruel. Among the exceptions are the massacres of vanquished foes, and non- combatants, male and female.

Biographers John G. Nicolay and John Hay wrote: “Admitting the general principle of international law, of the right of a belligerent to appropriate or destroy enemies’ property, and applying it to the constitutional domestic war to suppress rebellion which he was then prosecuting, there came next the question of how his military decree of enfranchisement was practically to be applied. This point, thought not fully discussed, is sufficiently indicated in several extracts. In the draft of a letter to Charles D. Robinson he wrote, August 17, 1864: ‘The way these measures were to help the cause was not to be by magic or miracles, but by inducing the colored people to come bodily over from the rebel side to ours.’ And in his letter to James C. Conkling of August 26, 1863, he says: ‘But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive, even the promise of freedom. And the promise, being made, must be kept.’” 17

Long after Mr. Lincoln first issued the Draft Emancipation Proclamation, he met with two Wisconsin politicians. In August 1864, former Governor Alexander W. Randall and Judge Joseph T. Mills visited with President Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home on the outskirts of Washington. It was a low point in Union military fortunes as well as the President’s political fortunes. Foes and friends alike seemed determined to deprive himof a second term. So embattled did the President seem that Randall urged him to take a vacation from the conflict for two weeks. Mr. Lincoln said that “two or three weeks would do me good, but I cannot fly from my thoughts my solicitude for this great country follows me wherever I go.” 18 The President then discussed with his Wisconsin visitors both the political situation and the impact of emancipation on the conflict. President Lincoln made it clear that by defending the Union, black soldiers had earned their freedom:

We have to hold territory in inclement and sickly places where are the Democrats to do this? It was a free fight, and the field was open to the War Democrats to put down this rebellion by fighting against both master and slave long before the present policy was inaugurated.

There have been men base enough to propose to me to return to slavery the black warriors of Port Hudson and Olustee, and thus win the respect of the masters they fought. Should I do so, I should deserve to be damned in time and eternity. Come what will, I will keep my faith with friend and foe. My enemies pretend I am now carrying on this war for the sole purpose of Abolition. So long as I am President, it shall be carried on for the sole purpose of restoring the Union. But no human power can subdue this rebellion without the use of emancipation policy, and every other policy calculated to weaken the moral and physical forces of the rebellion.

Freedom has given us two hundred thousand men raised on Southern soil. It will give us more yet. Just so much it has subtracted from the enemy, and instead of alienating the South, there are now evidences of a fraternal feeling growing up between our men and the rank and file of the rebel soldiers. Let my enemies prove to the country that the destruction of slavery is not necessary to a restoration of the Union. I will abide the issue. 19

Clearly, President Lincoln was not about to forget the loyalty of black soldiers or the disloyalty of Confederate ones. Judge Mills wrote: “I saw that the President was a man of deep convictions, of abiding faith in justice, truth, and Providence. His voice was pleasant, his manner earnest and emphatic. As he warmed with his theme, his mind grew to the magnitude of his body. I felt I was in the presence of the great guiding intellect of the age, and that those ‘huge Atlantean shoulders were fit to bear the weight of mightiest monarchies.’ His transparent honesty, republican simplicity, his gushing sympathy for those who offered their lives for their country, his utter forgetfulness of self in his concern for its welfare, could not but inspire me with confidence that he was Heaven’s instrument to conduct his people through this sea of blood to a Canaan of peace and freedom.” 20

Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher wrote of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: “In a sense, as historians fond of paradox are forever pointing out, it did not immediately liberate any slaves at all. And the Declaration of Independence, it might be added, did not immediately liberate a single colony from British rule. The people of Lincoln’s time apparently had little doubt about the significance of the Proclamation. Jefferson Davis did not regard it as a mere scrap of paper, and neither did that most famous of former slaves, Frederick Douglass. He called it ‘the greatest event of our nation’s history.’” 21

Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “Lincoln left no doubt of his convictions concerning the correct definition of liberty. And as commander in chief of an army of one million men armed with the most advanced weapons in the world, he wielded a great deal of power. In April 1864 this army was about to launch offensives that would produce casualties and destruction unprecedented even in this war that brought death to more Americans than all the country’s other wars combined. Yet this was done in the name of liberty—to preserve the republic ‘conceived in liberty’ and to bring a ‘new birth of freedom’ to the slaves. As Lincoln conceived it, power was the protector of liberty, not its enemy—except to the liberty of those who wished to do as they pleased with the product of other men’s labor.” 22

According to Fehrenbacher, “There are two principal measures of a free society. One is the extent to which it optimizes individual liberty of all kinds. The other is the extent to which its decision-making processes are controlled ultimately by the people for freedom held at the will of others is too precarious to provide a full sense of being free. Self-government, in Lincoln’s view, is the foundation of freedom.” 23 Fehrenbacher wrote that President Lincoln “placed the principle of self-government above even his passion for the Union. More than that, he affirmed his adherence to the most critical and most fragile principle in the democratic process—namely, the requirement of minority submission to majority will.” 24

Mr. Lincoln was resolved to preserve the Union. “I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsakes me.” Hay and Nicolay, young men who lived and worked at the White House, had a front row seat for the drama of emancipation. They noted in their ten-volume biography that if “the Union arms were victorious, every step of that victory would become clothed with the mantle of law. But if, in addition, it should turn out that the Union arms had been rendered victorious through the help of the negro soldiers, called to the field by the promise of freedom contained in the proclamation, then the decree and its promise might rest secure in the certainty of legal execution and fulfillment. To restore the Union by the help of black soldiers under pledge of liberty, and then for the Union, under whatever legal doctrine or construction, to attempt to reënslave them, would be a wrong to which morality would revolt.” 25

Slavery was the cause. Disunion was the symptom. President Lincoln chose to administer emancipation as the treatment the Union required. Emancipation ultimately was the just penalty for rebellion and the reward for black military service in restoring the Union. Liberty was both a right conferred by the Declaration of Independence and an obligation of the Union incurred by the service of black soldiers. John Hope Franklin wrote that “no one appreciated better than Lincoln the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation had a quite limited effect in freeing the slaves directly. It should be remembered, however, that in the Proclamation he called emancipation ‘an act of justice,’ and in later weeks and months he did everything he could to confirm his view that it was An Act of Justice.” 26

By recruiting black soldiers and employing them in combat, the government secured a moral obligation to black Americans which President Lincoln clearly understood. But the contract was not just moral. It was practical. President Lincoln wrote Charles D. Robinson in the summer of 1864: “Drive back to the support of the rebellion the physical force which the colored people now give, and promise us, and neither the present, nor any coming administration, can save the Union. Take from us, and give to the enemy, the hundred and thirty, forty, or fifty thousand colored persons now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers, and we can not longer maintain the contest.” 27

Black soldiers were literally fighting for their own freedom. “Emancipation and the enlistment of slaves as soldiers tremendously increased the stakes in this war, for the South as well as the North,” wrote James M. McPherson. “Southerners vowed to fight ‘to the last ditch’ before yielding to a Yankee nation that could commit such execrable deeds. Gone was any hope of an armistice or a negotiated peace so long as the Lincoln administration was in power.” 28

Mr. Lincoln’s course of action was slow but deliberate—designed to effect a permanent rather than a temporary change in the status of slavery in America. Nicolay and Hay saw that clearly: “The problem of statesmanship therefore was not one of theory, but of practice. Fame is due Mr. Lincoln, not alone because he decreed emancipation, but because events so shaped themselves under his guidance as to render the conception practical and the decree successful. Among the agencies he employed none proved more admirable or more powerful than this two-edged sword of the final proclamation, blending sentiment with force, leaguing liberty with Union, filling the voting armies at home and the fighting armies in the field. In the light of history we can see that by this edict Mr. Lincoln gave slavery its vital thrust, its mortal wound. It was the word of decision, the judgment without appeal, the sentence of doom.” 29

Historian LaWanda Cox wrote of Mr. Lincoln’s actions on emancipation “On occasion he acted boldly. More often, however, Lincoln was cautious, advancing one step at a time, and indirect, exerting influence behind the scenes. He could give a directive without appearing to do so, or even while disavowing it as such. Seeking to persuade, he would fashion an argument to fit the listener. Some statements were disingenuous, evasive, or deliberately ambiguous.” 30

In a letter to Albert G. Hodges, for example, Mr. Lincoln somewhat disingenuously said, “I add a word which was not in the verbal conversation. In telling this tale I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity. I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation’s condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.” 31 Mr. Lincoln may not have controlled events, but he did a pretty good job trying to steer them.

Mr. Lincoln himself never claimed to be a liberator—but he did believe in liberation. President Lincoln told Interior Department official T. J. Barnett in late 1862 “that the foundations of slavery have been cracked by the war, by the rebels, and that the masonry of the machine is in their own hands.” 32 African American historian Benjamin Quarles wrote in Lincoln and the Negro:

The Lincoln of the White House years had deep convictions about the wrongness of slavery. But as Chief Magistrate he made a sharp distinction between his personal beliefs and his official actions. Whatever was constitutional he must support regardless of his private feelings. If the states, under the rights reserved to them, persisted in clinging to practices that he regarded as outmoded, he had no right to interfere. His job was to uphold the Constitution, not to impose his own standards of public morality.

As a constitutionalist Lincoln was dedicated to the preservation of the Union. If Lincoln had a ruling passion, it was to show the world that a government based on the principles of liberty and equality was not a passing, short-lived experiment. Up to the time of the Civil War many people, particularly in the Old World, were skeptical about the staying power of America. These doubters believed that a kingless government carried the seeds of its own destruction. Lincoln believed otherwise. He was determined that the American experiment in democracy must not fail, and that such a government by the people “can long endure.”

Lincoln’s behavior on Negro questions not only was a product of his temperament but also reflected his sensitivity to public opinion. Lincoln always had his ear to the ground, trying to sense the mood of America, the things for which men would fight and die. He was a practical politician with a coldly logical mind which impelled him to accommodate himself to the prevailing currents. 33

Historian David Potter wrote: “In the long-run conflict between deeply held convictions on one hand and habits of conformity to the cultural practices of a binary society on the other, the gravitational forces were all in the direction of equality. By a static analysis, Lincoln was a mild opponent of slavery and a moderate defender of racial discrimination. By a dynamic analysis, he held a concept of humanity which impelled him inexorably in the direction of freedom and equality.” 34

Abolitionist Frederick Douglas understood Lincoln’s commitment. In his 1876 speech dedicating the Freedmen’s monument in Lincoln Park east of the US Capitol, Douglass said: “His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful coöperation of his loyal fellow- countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical and determined.” 35

Historian Allen C. Guelzo noted: “When Frederick Douglass arrived at the White House in August, 1863, to meet Lincoln for the first time, he expected to meet a ‘white man’s president, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men.’ But he came away surprised to find Lincoln ‘the first great man that I talked with in the United States freely who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, or the difference of color.’ The reason, Douglass surmised, was ‘because of the similarity with which I had fought my way up, we both starting at the lowest rung of the ladder.” This, in Douglass’s mind, made Lincoln ‘emphatically the black man’s president.’” 36

In undated notes to himself, foreshadowing the sublime Second Inaugural, Mr. Lincoln wrote: “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party—and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say this is probably true—-that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.” 37

Mr. Lincoln had no doubt about maintaining the contest until victory, for “in giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.” 38


As James M. McPherson notes in his recent Tried By Fire: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, “Abraham Lincoln was the only president in American history whose entire administration was bounded by war.”1 During his four years as president Lincoln was preoccupied with the Civil War but several events occurred that had lasting impact on Indian policy and Indian people. As David A. Nichols notes, “For the most part, the president left Indian matters to the Indian office,” the precursor of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.” 2 An indication of the level of Lincoln’s involvement in Indian affairs is his brief mentions of Indians in each of his four Annual Messages to Congress.

Second only to winning the Civil War and establishing a just post war reconstruction, Lincoln’s highest policy priority was settling the west. The Homestead Act and facilitating the construction of the transcontinental railroad were two means designed to accomplish this end. Neither were concerned with the well being of Indians except to the extent that if Indians were in the way they had to be moved by any means necessary. Nichols writes,

The combination of civilization on the march, sanctioned by God buttressed by white supremacy, and personified in homestead, gold mines, and railroads was too powerful for the Indian. In the white men’s mind he was the opposite – a static, uncivilized impediment to the progress of civilization.”3

In other words, Indians were an obstacle to manifest destiny in the form of Christianity, mineral extraction, farming, and the transcontinental railroad.

Most presidents have had little knowledge and even less experience with American Indians. Abraham Lincoln was no exception. As Stephen Oates notes, Lincoln shared the paternalistic view of Indians that most Americans held. This was reflected in both his official policy and his interpersonal relations with individual Indians. His grandfather Abraham Lincoln was killed by an Indian in Kentucky, probably a Shawnee, in 1786 near what is now Louisville. 4 Prior to his presidency Lincoln had only limited contact with Indians. Most of it took place in the Black Hawk War. Royal Clary, who served with Lincoln in the war, related to Lincoln’s former law partner William H. Herndon an incident that took place during that conflict.

An Indian came into Camp..and our boys thought that he was a spy – sprang to our

feet – was going to shoot the man – he had a line or Certificate from Cass.” Lincoln jumped between our men & Indian and said we must not shed his blood – that it must not be our Skirts – some one thought Lincoln was a coward because he was not savage: he said if any one doubts my courage Let him try it. 5

Lincoln’s service in that war lasted three months and was unremarkable. When he was in the House of Representatives in 1848 Lincoln related his limited experience in that conflict by comparing it to that of General Lewis Cass.

If he saw any live, fighting Indians, it was more than I did but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes. 6

Lincoln’s views were reflected in his first debate with Stephen Douglas in 1858 when he referred to them as “inferior. 7 However, he did not go as far as Douglas who, in two debates, called Indians “savage. 8 In his Third Annual Message to Congress Lincoln spoke of Indians as “wards of the Government” and mentioned civilization and Christian faith as necessary in treating Indians. 9

During his years in the White House Lincoln greeted many Indians personally. In these encounters his paternalism and lack of knowledge were apparent. For example, in a greeting that could be from a Lone Ranger and Tonto episode, Lincoln asked a group of Indians, “where live now? When go back to Iowa.”10 David Herbert Donald has speculated that Lincoln enjoyed meeting with Indians dressed in their regalia because “they were exotic and because he rather enjoyed playing the role of their Great Father, addressing them in pidgin English and explaining that ‘this world is a great round ball” 11

In actions that had direct impact on Indians, Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in May 1862 and worked for the transcontinental railroad. The Homestead Act opened the west to accelerated white settlement on lands taken from Indians through treaties. In his Third Annual Message to Congress Lincoln announced that over 1.4 million acres had been opened through homesteading. 12 The following year Lincoln informed Congress that another1.5 million acres had been homesteaded.13 Treaties with tribes also led to the loss of Indian land for the construction of railroads. Historian David Howard Bain has observed about Lincoln and the railroad,

He was really the godfather of the Pacific railroad. If he had not thought of [the transcontinental railroad] as being a national priority, it wouldn’t have been done during the war.14

During his four years in office Lincoln routinely signed treaties with the western tribes and all provided for the cession of Indian land.

Two of the most important events in Indian affairs during the early 1860s were the Santee Sioux uprising in Minnesota and the removal and confinement of Navajos and Mescaleros on a reservation in New Mexico Territory. The conflict with the Sioux is the one aspect of Indian relations that is most well known. In the summer of 1862 the Santee Sioux in Minnesota rebelled against their treatment by the government and killed several hundred white settlers. The starving Santees charged that the government was violating treaty guarantees when it failed to provide annuities and rations, especially food. After an initial attack on five white hunters by the Sioux, a full scale war broke out. When the US Army finally put the rebellion down two months later, the Indians were put on trial before a military tribunal. Three hundred and three warriors were sentenced to death.

Lincoln told Congress in his Second Annual Message that the Sioux uprising had been “wholly unexpected.” 15 He asked General Henry Pope, Commander of the Department of the Northwest, for a “full and complete record” of those convicted. 16 In a special report to the Senate on December 11, the president told the legislators how he reached his decision on pardons. He said that among the documents he reviewed was a “joint letter from one of the Senators and two of the Representatives from Minnesota, which contains some statements of fact not found in the record of the trials.” 17 Lincoln went on to tell the Senate that being anxious not to “act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on the one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other, I caused a careful examination of the records of the trials to be made, in view of first ordering the execution of such as had been proved guilty of violating females.” 18 He found only two to have been guilty of rape. He then distinguished the rest of the convicted between those who engaged in massacres and those who engaged in battles.

Lincoln may have been influenced in his final decision on pardons by Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple who had asked General Henry W. Halleck to arrange a meeting for him with the president. It was after that meeting that Lincoln issued his pardons.

Notwithstanding the popular outcry for the Indians’ executions, Lincoln told Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey that “I could not hang men for votes.”19 After reviwing the cases of all 303 men who were sentenced to death Lincoln sent Colonel Henry Sibley the final list of the 39 Indians to be hanged on December 6, 1862. One man, Tatemina, received a reprieve. The executions of the remaining thirty-eight warriors took place on the day after Christmas in 1862. 20 As Cox writes in Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising, “Lincoln’s intervention was not the result of a complex political calculation but rather a simple expression of his character.”21

Unlike his involvement in the Santee Sioux outbreak, Lincoln took no direct part in the events in New Mexico Territory involving Navajos and Mescalero Apaches. As Nichols notes “General James Carelton was given a relatively free hand when he went to New Mexico in the spring of 1862 to deal with the Indian situation.”22 In July 1863, ostensibly to end Navajo raids on white settlers, Carleton ordered Kit Carson to force them to move to a reservation. Carleton’s plan, according to Prucha, was “to subdue the hostile elements of the tribes and move all to some distant reservation.”23 Carson burned the Navajos out of Canyon de Chelly. The rounding up of Navajos concluded with a forced march to Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico Territory. Known as the Long Walk, several groups of Navajos walked 300 miles to be confined at Bosque Redondo, where up to 9,000 Navajos and several hundred Mescalero Apaches remained at Fort Sumner until 1868, three years after Lincoln’s death. While not directly involved in the New Mexico Indian matters, placing Indians on a reservation was consistent with Lincoln’s overall policy.

While leaving events in New Mexico Territory to the commanders in the field, Lincoln dealt directly with issues concerning the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee) in Indian Territory, especially the Cherokees. The Confederacy deliberately sought to win those five tribes to its side. On the other hand, as Viola notes, “The Lincoln administration evidently at first did not regard the five tribes as a serious military threat and so did little to counter the confederate efforts until too late.”24 Prucha writes that after Union troops were removed from Indian Territory, “The Indians were left at the mercy of the Confederacy, and southern officials were quick to capitalize on all the points in their favor.”25 The Confederacy acted much more aggressively than the Union, engaging in treaty making and recruiting tribal members to its military.

Lincoln, however, did have direct contact with Cherokee Principle Chief John Ross who Viola calls the “foremost Cherokee delegate in the Civil War era.”26 Ross stayed in Washington, D.C. from October 1862 to July 1865. Lincoln first met with Ross on September 12, 1862.27 The Cherokee Principle Chief also wrote a steady stream of letters to the President. Lincoln, in his Second Annual Message told Congress that “The chief of the Cherokees has visited this city for the purpose of restoring the former relations of the tribe with the United States. He alleges that they were constrained by superior force to enter into treaties with the insurgents, and that the United States neglected to furnish the protection which their treaty stipulations required.”28

Ross had made that point to Lincoln in a September 1862 letter. Ross wrote that the Cherokees were “forced for the preservation of their country and their existence to negotiate a treaty with the Confederate States. What the Cherokee People now desire is ample military protection…and a recognition by the Government of the obligations of existing treaties.”29 Lincoln responded that he hadn’t been able to “determine the exact treaty relations between the United States and the Cherokee Nation. Neither have I been able to investigate and determine the exact state of facts claimed by you as constituting a failure of treaty obligations on our part, excusing the Cherokee Nation for making a treaty with a portion of the people of the United States in open rebellion against the government thereof.”30 He said that he would “cause” an investigation of the matter. It is clear from other correspondence that issues involving Cherokees were brought to Lincoln’s attention. In a January 1863 letter to Ross, Huckleberry Downing and Tahlahlah told Ross that Justin Harlan, Agent for the Cherokees, “says that the President thinks that the Indians have been badly treated in time passed, & sent him (the Agent) with special instructions to see that every thing was done for them which can be.” 31 Ross himself wrote several Cherokees that same month that “at our interviews with the President & other officers of the Govt. we represented the deplorable condition in which our people are placed, in consequence of the failure on the part of the U. States Govt. to afford them protection, agreeably to their Treaty obligations with the Cherokee Nation.”32

In January1864, the Cherokee National Council sent a petition to the President drawing his attention to the condition of the Cherokee Nation and what, in a separate letter to Lincoln, Ross called “grievances, and the evils which have come upon them.” 33 Further, the Principle Chief wrote, “we beg leave very respectfully to ask the favorable attention of your Excellency to the several points embraced in the prayer of the petitions.” 34 Lincoln and the government did nothing to ameliorate the conditions Cherokees faced.

Another tragedy in the history of white expansion into Indian land that occurred during Lincoln’s years in the White House was the Sand Creek Massacre in southeastern Colorado in November 1864. During an attack by the Third Colorado Regiment volunteers under Colonel John M. Chivington over 400 Cheyenne and Arapaho were murdered. There is no recorded reaction by President Lincoln to the massacre, although it led to the resignation of Commissioner of Indian Affairs William P. Dole after Lincoln’s death.

Lincoln engaged in a unique relationship with the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico Territory. In 1863, following the examples of a Spanish King in 1620 and the Mexican government in 1821, Lincoln presented Pueblo leaders silver headed ebony canes engraved with his name. New Mexico’s Indian Superintendent Michael Steck had told Lincoln that the Pueblo leaders were anxious to have new canes from the United States. 35 The canes were engraved with the following words: 36

These canes recognized the sovereign status of the pueblos. The canes are still revered in the pueblos today and are used to symbolically legitimize the authority of the pueblo governments.

There was no great difference between Lincoln and Congress in the implementation of Indian policy. This is clear in his Third Annual Message delivered in December 1863. In the same Message Lincoln reveals some of his fundamental goals for Indians. He informed Congress that

The measures provided at your last session for the removal of certain Indian

tribes have been carried into effect. Sundry treaties have been negotiated, which will in due time be submitted for the constitutional action in the Senate. They

contain stipulations for extinguishing the possessory rights of the Indians to large

and valuable tracts of lands. It is hoped that the effect of these treaties will

result in the establishment of permanent friendly relations with such of these

tribes as have been brought into frequent and bloody collision with our outlying

settlements and emigrants. Sound policy and our imperative duty to these wards

of the Government demand our anxious and constant attention to their material

well-being, to their progress in the arts of civilization, and, above all to that moral

training which under the blessing of Divine Providence will confer upon them the

elevated and sanctifying influences, the hopes and consolations, of the

The last mention of Indians in Lincoln’s public papers occurred in a March 17, 1865 Proclamation. Noting that “reliable information has been received that hostile Indians within the United States have been furnished with arms and munitions of war by persons dwelling in conterminous foreign territory and are thereby enabled to prosecute their savage warfare upon the exposed and sparse settlements of the frontier,” Lincoln ordered that the individuals engaged in that activity “be arrested and tried by court-martial at the nearest military post.”38

Finally, Lincoln faced the political and bureaucratic muddle of the Indian Office. The highest levels of those responsible for Indian policy were the Secretary of Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Lincoln had two Interior Secretaries during his time in office. The first was Caleb B. Smith, a Pennsylvanian who had seconded Lincoln’s nomination for president at the 1860 Republican convention. Smith resigned at the end of 1862 due to ill health and was succeeded by John P. Usher of Indiana in January 1863. Lincoln named a fellow citizen of Illinois, William P. Dole, as Commission of Indian Affairs.

Below these positions were the highly political and lucrative positions of Superintendents and reservation agents. These were central to what David A. Nichols calls the “Indian system.” The corruption of the system was open and openly acknowledged. “No president,” writes Nichols, “including Lincoln, could escape the demands of his victorious followers for their share of the rewards.” 39 As was common at the time Lincoln responded to the pressures for patronage by relying on the Interior Secretaries, Dole and members of Congress. For example, early in his administration he refused to name the agent for Oregon tribes that Dole recommended because of objections from the state’s two Senators.40 Nichols notes that

Because of his preoccupation with the War for the Union, Lincoln knowingly allowed the Indian System to function normally until he died.41

President Lincoln broke no new ground in Indian policy or Indian-white relations. He continued the policy of all previous presidents of viewing Indians as wards of the government while at the same time negotiating with them as sovereigns. He made no revolutionary change in Indian-white relations as he did in black-white relations with the Emancipation Proclamation. While he called for reform of the Indian system in his last two Annual Messages to Congress, he provided no specifics and he continued the policy, already in place, of confining Indians to reservations after negotiating treaties. The greatest impact of federal policies on Indians during the Lincoln administration were policies that were not directed at Indians themselves. As discussed, these policies included homesteading and railroad construction. These along with Christianizing and civilizing Indians led to an assimilationist policy and an ever greater loss of Indian land. Finally, any evaluation of Lincoln’s Indian policy must be seen in the context of his larger goals of winning the Civil War and settling the west.

. James M. McPherson. Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln As Commander In Chief. (New York: The Penguin Press, 2008), xiii.

2. Nichols, David A. Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Politics and Policy. (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press,1999), 161

4. White, Ronald C., Jr. A. Lincoln: A Biography. (New York: Random House, 2009), 12.

5. Wilson, Douglas L. And Rodney O. Davis, eds. Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln. (Urbana: IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 372.

6. Roy P. , ed. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953-55), I: 509-10. Hereinafter CWOL.

9. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the President, Volume VIII. (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Literature, 1896), 3388. Hereinafter as Messages and Papers.

10. Viola, Herman J. Diplomats in Buckskin: A History of Indians Delegations in Washington City. (Buffington, SC: Rivilo Books, 1995), 99.

11. Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. (London: A Touchstone Book, 1995),393.

12. Messages and Papers, 3387.

14. Bain, David Howard. “The Transcontinental Railroad.” In Abraham Lincoln Great American Historians on Our Sixteenth President, Brian Lamb and Susan Swain, eds. (New York: Public Affairs, 2008), 111.

15. Messages and Papers, 3333.

17. Messages and Papers, 3345-46.

18. Messages and Papers, 3246.

19. Cox, Hank H. Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862. (Nashville: TN: Cumberland House, 2005),184.

23. Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 450.

27. Moulton, Gary E. John Ross: Cherokee Chief. (Athens: GA: University of Georgia Press, 1978), 176.

28. Messages and Papers, 3333.

31. Moulton, Gary E., ed. The Papers of Chief John Ross Volume II 1840-1866. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 530.

Why did Abraham Lincoln decline the governorship of Oregon Territory in 1849? - History

This insightful biography of Abraham Lincoln was published in Hidden Treasures: Why Some Succeed While Others Fail by H.A. Lewis in 1887. "He was a statesman without a statesman's craftiness, politician without a politician's meanness, a great man without a great man's vices, a philanthropist without a philanthropist's dreams, a christian without pretensions, a ruler without the pride of place or power, an ambitious man without selfishness, and a successful man without vanity."

If one reads the life of Abraham Lincoln they are thoroughly convinced that the possibilities of our country are indeed very great. He was born in Hardin county, Kentucky, on the 14th day of February, 1809, of very poor parents, who lived in a log cabin.

Scarcely a boy in the country will read these lines but has tenfold the opportunity to succeed in the world as had Abraham Lincoln. When he was still a little boy his parents moved to Indiana, which was then a wilderness. Here, in a log cabin, he learned to read under the tuition of his mother and afterward received nearly a year's schooling at another log cabin a mile away,—nearly a year's schooling and all the schooling he ever received from a tutor!

But he loved books, he craved knowledge and eagerly did he study the few books which fell in his way. He kept a scrap-book into which he copied the striking passages and this practice enabled him to gain an education. Here he grew up, becoming famous for his great strength and agility he was six foot four inches in his stockings and was noted as the most skillful wrestler in the country. When he was about twenty years old the Lincoln family moved to Illinois, settling ten miles from Decatur, where they cleared about fifteen acres and built a log cabin. Here is where Lincoln gained his great reputation as a rail-splitter. He had kept up his original system of reading and sketching, and from this period in his life he became a marked man—he was noted for his information. It makes little difference whether knowledge is gained in college or by the side of a pile of rails, as Lincoln was wont to study after his day's work was done.

In 1830 he took a trip on a flat-boat to New Orleans. It was on this trip that he first saw slaves chained together and whipped. Ever after, he detested the institution of slavery. Upon his return he received a challenge from a famous wrestler he accepted and threw his antagonist. About this time he became a clerk in a country store, where his honesty and square dealing made him a universal favorite, and earned for him the sobriquet of 'Honest Abe.' He next entered the Black Hawk war, and was chosen captain of his company. Jefferson Davis also served as an officer in this war. In the fall of 1832 he was a candidate for the legislature, but was defeated. He then opened a store with a partner named Berry. Lincoln was made postmaster, but Berry proved a drunkard and spendthrift, bringing the concern to bankruptcy, and soon after died, to fill a drunkard's grave, leaving Lincoln to pay all the debts. But during all this time Lincoln had been improving his spare moments learning surveying, and for the next few years he earned good wages surveying.

He now decided to become a lawyer, and devoted his attention, so far as possible, to the accumulation of a thorough knowledge. At one period during his studies he walked, every Saturday, to Springfield, some eight miles away, to borrow and return books pertaining to his studies. These books he studied nights, and early in the morning, out of working hours. In 1834 he was once more a candidate for the legislature, and was triumphantly elected, being re-elected in 1836, 1838, and 1840. In 1837, when he had arrived at the age of twenty-eight, he was admitted to the bar, where he soon became noted as a very successful pleader before a jury. He was a Whig of the Henry Clay school, a splendid lawyer, and a ready speaker at public gatherings.

In 1836 he first met Stephen A. Douglas who was destined to be his adversary in the political arena for the next twenty years. Stephen A. Douglas was, or soon became the leader of the Democracy in Illinois and Lincoln spoke for the Whigs as against Douglas. In 1847 Lincoln was sent to Congress, being chosen over the renowned Peter Cartwright, who was the Democratic candidate. In Congress he vigorously opposed President Polk and the Mexican war, and proposed a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, provided the inhabitants would vote for it. In 1855 he withdrew from the contest for the United States Senatorship in favor of Mr. Trumbull, whom he knew would draw away many Democratic votes and to Lincoln was due Trumbull's election. During the canvass he met Stephen A. Douglas in debate at Springfield, where he exploded the theory of 'Squatter Sovereignty' in one sentence, namely: "I admit that the emigrant to Kansas and Nebraska is competent to govern himself, but I deny his right to govern any other person without that person's consent."

In 1858 he had his great contest for the United States Senatorship with Douglas. At that time Judge Douglas was renowned throughout the nation as one of the ablest, if not the ablest of American speakers. Horace Greeley well said, "The man who stumps a State with Stephen A. Douglas and meets him day after day before the people has got to be no fool." The tremendous political excitement growing out of the 'Kansas-Nebraska Act,' and the agitation of the slavery question, in its relation to the vast territory of Kansas and Nebraska, convulsed the nation. The interest was greatly heightened from the fact that these two great gladiators, Stephen A. Douglas, the great mouth-piece of the Democratic party and champion of 'Squatter Sovereignty,' and Abraham Lincoln, a prominent lawyer, but otherwise comparatively unknown, the opponent of that popular measure and the coming champion of the anti-slavery party.

The question at issue was immense—permanent, not transient—universal, not local, and the debate attracted profound attention on the part of the people, whether Democratic or Free Soil, from the Kennebec to the Rio Grande. Mr. Douglas held that the vote of the majority of the people of a territory should decide this as well as all other questions concerning their domestic or internal affairs. Mr. Lincoln, on the contrary, urged the necessity of an organic enactment, excluding slavery in any form—this last to be the condition of its admission into the Union as a State. The public mind was divided and the utterances and movements of every public man were closely scanned. Finally, after the true western style, a joint discussion, face to face, between Lincoln and Douglas, as the two representative leaders, was proposed and agreed upon. It was arranged that they should have seven great debates, one each at Ottawa, Freeport, Charleston, Jonesboro, Galesburg, Quincy, and Alton.

Processions and cavalcades, bands of music and cannon-firing made every day a day of excitement. But the excitement was greatly intensified from the fact that the oratorical contests were between two such skilled debaters, before mixed audiences of friends and foes, to rejoice over every keen thrust at the adversary, and again to be cast down by each failure to 'give back as good,' or to parry the thrust so aimed.

In personal appearance, voice, gesture and general platform style, nothing could exceed the dissimilarity of these two speakers. Mr. Douglas possessed a frame or build particularly attractive a natural presence which would have gained for him access to the highest circles, however courtly, in any land a thickset, finely built, courageous man, with an air as natural to him as breath, of self-confidence that did not a little to inspire his supporters with hope. That he was every inch a man no friend or foe ever questioned. Ready, forceful, animated, keen, playful, by turns, and thoroughly artificial he was one of the most admirable platform speakers that ever appeared before an American audience, his personal geniality, too, being so abounding that, excepting in a political sense, no antagonism existed between him and his opponent.

Look at Lincoln. In personal appearance, what a contrast to his renowned opponent. Six feet and four inches high, long, lean and wiry in motion he had a good deal of the elasticity and awkwardness which indicated the rough training of his early life his face genial looking, with good humor lurking in every corner of its innumerable angles. Judge Douglas once said, "I regard Lincoln as a kind, amiable and intelligent gentleman, a good citizen and an honorable opponent." As a speaker he was ready, precise, fluent and his manner before a popular assembly was just as he pleased to make it being either superlatively ludicrous or very impressive. He employed but little gesticulation but when he desired to make a point produced a shrug of the shoulders, an elevation of the eyebrows, a depression of his mouth and a general malformation of countenance so comically awkward that it scarcely ever failed to 'bring down the house.' His enunciation was slow and distinct, and his voice though sharp and piercing at times had a tendency to dwindle into a shrill and unpleasant tone. In this matter of voice and commanding attitude, the odds were decidedly in favor of Judge Douglas.

Arrangements having been consummated, the first debate took place at Ottawa, in Lasalle county, and a strong Republican district. The crowd in attendance was a large one, and about equally divided—the enthusiasm of the Democracy having brought more than a due proportion of their numbers to hear and see their favorite leader. The thrilling tones of Douglas, his manly defiance against the principles he believed to be wrong assured his friends, if any assurance were wanting, that he was the same unconquered and unconquerable Democrat that he had proved to be for the previous twenty-five years.

Douglas opened the discussion and spoke one hour Lincoln followed, the time assigned him being an hour and a half, though he yielded a portion of it. It was not until the second meeting, however, that the speakers grappled with those profound public questions that had thus brought them together, and in which the nation was intensely interested. The debates were a wonderful exhibition of power and eloquence.

In the first debate Mr. Douglas arraigned his opponent for the expression in a former speech of a "House divided against itself," etc.,—referring to the slavery and anti-slavery sections of the country and Mr. Lincoln defended those ideas as set forth in the speech referred to. As Mr. Lincoln's position in relation to one or two points growing out of the former speech referred to, had attracted great attention throughout the country, he availed himself of the opportunity of this preliminary meeting to reply to what he regarded as common misconceptions. "Anything," he said, "that argues me into the idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse-chestnut to be a chestnut horse. I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it now exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon a footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a matter of necessity that there must be a difference I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong, having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence—the right to life, liberty, and the pursuits of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects—certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral and intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread without the leave of any one else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal, and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man."

Touching the question of respect or weight of opinion due to deliverance of the United States Supreme Court—an element which entered largely into this national contest, Mr. Lincoln said: "This man—Douglas—sticks to a decision which forbids the people of a territory from excluding slavery, and he does so, not because he says it is right in itself—he does not give any opinion on that, but because it has been decided by the Court, and being decided by the Court, he is, and you are bound to take it in your political action as law not that he judges at all of its merits, but because a decision of the Court is to him a 'Thus saith the Lord.' He places it on that ground alone, and you will bear in mind that thus committing himself unreservedly to this decision, commits him to the next one just as firmly as to this. He did not commit himself on account of the merit or demerit of the decision, but is a 'Thus saith the Lord.' The next decision, as much as this, will be a 'Thus saith the Lord.' There is nothing that can divert or turn him away from this decision. It is nothing that I point out to him that his great prototype, General Jackson, did not believe in the binding force of decisions—it is nothing to him that Jefferson did not so believe. I have said that I have often heard him approve of Jackson's course in disregarding the decision of the Supreme Court, pronouncing a national bank unconstitutional. He says: I did not hear him say so he denies the accuracy of my recollection. I say he ought to know better than I, but I will make no question about this thing, though it still seems to me I heard him say it twenty times. I will tell him, though, that he now claims to stand on the Cincinnati platform which affirms that Congress cannot charter a national bank, in the teeth of that old standing decision that Congress can charter a bank. And I remind him of another piece of history on the question of respect for judicial decisions, and it is a piece of Illinois history belonging to a time when the large party to which Judge Douglas belonged were displeased with a decision of the Supreme Court of Illinois, because they had decided that a Governor could not remove a Secretary of State. I know that Judge Douglas will not deny that he was then in favor of oversloughing that decision by the mode of adding five new judges, so as to vote down the four old ones. Not only so, but it ended in the judge's sitting down on that very bench, as one of the five new judges so as to break down the four old ones." In this strain Mr. Lincoln occupied most of his time. But the debate was a very equal thing, and the contest did not prove a 'walk over' either way.

At the meeting in Ottawa Mr. Lincoln propounded certain questions to which Judge Douglas promptly answered. Judge Douglas spoke in something of the following strain: "He desires to know if the people of Kansas shall form a constitution by means entirely proper and unobjectionable, and ask admission into the Union as a State before they have the requisite population for a member of Congress, whether I will vote for that admission? Well, now, I regret exceedingly that he did not answer that interrogatory himself before he put it to me, in order that we might understand and not be left to infer on which side he is. Mr. Trumbull during the last session of Congress voted from the beginning to the end against the admission of Oregon, although a free State, because she had not the requisite population. As Mr. Trumbull is in the field fighting for Mr. Lincoln, I would like to have Mr. Lincoln answer his own question and tell me whether he is fighting Trumbull on that issue or not. But I will answer his question. In reference to Kansas it is my opinion that as she has population enough to constitute a slave State, she has people enough for a free State. I will not make Kansas an exceptional case to the other States of the Union. I made that proposition in the Senate in 1856, and I renewed it during the last session in a bill providing that no territory of the United States should form a constitution and apply for admission until it had the requisite population. On another occasion I proposed that neither Kansas nor any other territory should be admitted until it had the requisite population. Congress did not adopt any of my propositions containing this general rule, but did make an exception of Kansas. I will stand by that exception. Either Kansas must come in as a free State, with whatever population she may have, or the rule must be applied to all the other territories alike."

Mr. Douglas next proceeded to answer another question proposed by Mr. Lincoln, namely: Whether the people of a territory can, in any lawful way, against the wishes of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from their limits prior to the formation of a State constitution. Said Judge Douglas: "I answer emphatically, as Mr. Lincoln has heard me answer a hundred times from every stump in Illinois, that in my opinion the people of a territory can, by lawful means, exclude slavery from their limits prior to the formation of a State constitution. Mr. Lincoln knew that I had answered that question over and over again. He heard me argue the Nebraska Bill on that principle all over the State in 1854, in 1855 and in 1856, and he has no excuse for pretending to be in doubt as to my position. It matters not what way the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question, whether slavery may or may not go into a territory under the constitution, the people have the lawful means to introduce it or exclude it as they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour unless it is supported by local police regulations. Those police regulations can only be established by the local legislature, and if the people are opposed to slavery they will elect representatives to that body who will, by unfriendly legislation, effectually prevent the introduction of it into their midst. If, on the contrary, they are for it their legislation will favor its extension. Hence, no matter what the decision of the Supreme Court may be on that abstract question, still the right of the people to make a slave territory or free territory is perfect and complete under the Nebraska Bill."

It was with great vigor and adroitness that the two great combatants went over the ground at the remaining five places of debate, all of which were attended and listened to by immense concourses. On both sides the speeches were able, eloquent, exhaustive. It was admitted by Lincoln's friends that on several occasions he was partly foiled, or at least badly bothered, while on the other hand the admirers of Douglas allowed that in more than one instance he was flatly and fairly floored by Lincoln. It was altogether about an equal match in respect to ability, logic, and eloquence. Both of them were self-made men both of them were able lawyers and politicians both sprang from obscurity to distinction both belonged to the common people and both were strong and popular with the masses.

Though defeated by an unfair apportionment of the legislative districts for the senatorship, yet Lincoln so ably fought the great Douglas with such wonderful power as to surprise the nation. Heretofore but little known out of his native State this debate made him one of the two most conspicuous men in the nation, and the excitement was intensified from the fact that both from that hour were the chosen opponents for the coming presidential contest.

At the ensuing presidential contest Lincoln was elected to the presidency, and the gory front of secession was raised. Forgetting past differences, Douglas magnanimously stood shoulder to shoulder with Lincoln in behalf of the Union. It was the olive branch of genuine patriotism. But while proudly holding aloft the banner of his nation in the nation councils, and while yet the blood of his countrymen had not blended together and drenched the land, the great senator was suddenly snatched from among the living in the hour of the country's greatest need while the brave Lincoln was allowed to see the end—the cause triumphant, when he was also called from death unto life.

Lincoln elected, though he was, and admitted to have received his election fairly and triumphantly, was yet of necessity compelled to enter Washington, like a thief in the night, to assume his place at the head of the nation. Lincoln met the crisis calmly but firmly. He had watched the coming storm and he asked, as he bade adieu to his friends and fellow-citizens, their earnest prayers to Almighty God that he might have wisdom and help to see the right path and pursue it. Those prayers were answered. He guided the ship of State safely through the most angry storm that ever demanded a brave and good pilot. We can only gaze in awe on the memory of this man. He seemingly knew in a moment, when placed in a trying position that would have baffled an inferior mind, just what to do for the best interest of the nation.

Mr. Lincoln had unsurpassed fitness for the task he had to execute. Without anything like brilliancy of genius, without breadth of learning or literary accomplishments, he had that perfect balance of thoroughly sound faculties which gave him the reputation of an almost infallible judgment. This, combined with great calmness of temper, inflexible firmness of will, supreme moral purpose, and intense patriotism made up just that character which fitted him, as the same qualities] fitted Washington, for the salvation of his country in a period of stupendous responsibility and eminent peril.

Although far advanced on the question of slavery, personally, he was exceedingly careful about pushing measures upon a country he knew was hardly prepared as yet to receive such sweeping legislation. An acquaintance once said: 'It is hard to believe that very nearly one-half of the Republican party were opposed to the issue of the proclamation of emancipation.' Thus Lincoln avoided all extremes, and this quality alone made him eminently fit to govern. Yet, when necessary, he was stern and unrelenting. When the British minister desired to submit instructions from his government, stating that that government intended to sustain a neutral relation, he refused to receive it officially. When France demanded recognition by the United States of the government of Maximilian, in Mexico, he steadily refused. He was firm as a rock he would ride post haste twenty miles to pardon a deserter, but under no consideration could he be induced to suspend hostilities against a people who were trying to destroy the Union. All sorts of political machinery was invented to manufacture public opinion and sentiment against him, but he was triumphantly re-elected in 1864.

The morning of Lincoln's second inauguration was very stormy, but the sky cleared just before noon, and the sun shone brightly as he appeared before an immense audience in front of the capitol, and took the oath and delivered an address, alike striking for its forcible expressions and conciliatory spirit. He spoke something as follows:

"On the occasion corresponding to this, four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. * * * Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish and the war came. * * * Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any man should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayer of both could not be answered. That of neither has been fully. * * * With malice toward none, with charity for all, with the firmness in the right, as God gives us light to see the right, let us finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphans, to all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

He hated slavery from the beginning, but was not an abolitionist until it was constitutional to be so. At the head of the nation, when precedents were useless, he was governed by justice only. He was singularly fortunate in the selection of his cabinet officers, and the reason was he never allowed prejudice to prevent his placing a rival in high office.

Yes, Mr. Lincoln is probably the most remarkable example on the pages of history, showing the possibilities of our country. From the poverty in which he was born, through the rowdyism of a frontier town, the rudeness of frontier society, the discouragement of early bankruptcy, and the fluctuations of popular politics, he rose to the championship of Union and freedom when the two seemed utterly an impossibility never lost his faith when both seemed hopeless, and was suddenly snatched from earth when both were secured. He was the least pretentious of men, and when, with the speed of electricity, it flashed over the Union that the great Lincoln—shot by an assassin—was no more, the excitement was tremendous. The very heart of the republic throbbed with pain and lamentation. Then the immortal President was borne to his last resting-place in Springfield, Illinois. All along the journey to the grave, over one thousand miles, a continual wail went up from friends innumerable, and they would not be comforted. Never was there a grander, yet more solemn funeral accorded to any, ancient or modern. He was a statesman without a statesman's craftiness, politician without a politician's meanness, a great man without a great man's vices, a philanthropist without a philanthropist's dreams, a christian without pretensions, a ruler without the pride of place or power, an ambitious man without selfishness, and a successful man without vanity. Humble man of the backwoods, boatman, axman, hired laborer, clerk, surveyor, captain, legislator, lawyer, debater, orator, politician, statesman. President, savior of the republic, emancipator of a race, true christian, true man.

Gaze on such a character does it not thrill your very soul and cause your very heart to bleed that such a man should be shot by a dastardly assassin? Yet on the 14th of April, 1865, J. Wilkes Booth entered the private box of the President, and creeping stealthily from behind, as become the dark deed which he contemplated, deliberately shot Abraham Lincoln through the head, and the country lost the pilot in the hours when she needed him so much.

Enjoy reading more about Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant in American History and in our collection of Civil War Stories.

10 things you might not know about Abraham Lincoln

Steven Spielberg's film about a long-limbed, inspirational figure is finally coming to theaters. No, it's not a re-issue of "E.T." It's "Lincoln," starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Here are 10 facts about "Honest Abe":

Lincoln detested the nickname Abe, and his friends and family avoided using it in his presence.

The Lincoln's Sparrow is not named after Abraham but for Thomas Lincoln, a man from Maine who shot the bird so that John James Audubon could draw it. Also not named after the 16th president are the towns of Lincoln in Alabama and Vermont, and the Lincoln counties in Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee. They're named after Benjamin Lincoln, the Revolutionary War general who accepted the British surrender at Yorktown.

Lincoln wanted African-Americans to be free — to leave the country. He supported proposals that they be sent to Africa, Central America and Haiti. But when U.S. financing of a black colony on Ile-a-Vache, off the Haitian coast, led to disaster, Lincoln became disillusioned with deportation proposals. He turned to Massachusetts' governor, writing him that if "it be really true that Massachusetts wishes to afford a permanent home within her borders for all or even a large number of colored persons who wish to come to her, I shall be only too glad to know it."

Lincoln's famed Bixby Letter was intended to express sympathy to a Boston mother who had lost five sons in the Civil War. The eloquent letter was featured in the film "Saving Private Ryan" and read by President George W. Bush at ground zero. But in fact, Lydia Bixby lost only two sons in battle. A third got an honorable discharge a fourth deserted and a fifth was captured and later listed as a deserter. Mrs. Bixby, a Southern sympathizer suspected of running a house of prostitution, may have claimed all her sons were dead to elicit sympathy — and donations. It's not even certain that Lincoln wrote the sympathetic letter some believe the author was his secretary, John Hay.

Lincoln declined the King of Siam's offer to supply elephants to the U.S. government, writing in 1862 that his country "does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant."

Who lived in Lincoln's log cabin? How about Jefferson Davis? The cabin that sits inside a marble temple near Hodgenville, Ky., is just as likely the Confederate president's as Lincoln's. Back in the late 1800s, when an entrepreneur bought the Lincoln property, no cabin remained on the site. Instead, he found a cabin nearby that legend had it — and he claimed — was the original home, and had it taken apart and moved back. Regardless of its authenticity, he later put that cabin and one said to be Davis' boyhood home on tour and exhibited them together in Nashville, Tenn., and Buffalo, N.Y. The logs from the two homes were intermingled and stored in a New York warehouse. They were resurrected for the historic site, which opened in 1911.

Lincoln was offered the governorship of Oregon Territory in 1849 but turned down the job.

Conducting the war effort [ edit | edit source ]

"Running the 'Machine'"
An 1864 cartoon featuring Lincoln, William Fessenden, Edwin Stanton, William Seward and Gideon Welles takes a swing at the Lincoln administration

The war was a source of constant frustration for the president, and it occupied nearly all of his time. Lincoln had a contentious relationship with General George B. McClellan, who became general-in-chief of all the Union armies in the wake of the embarrassing Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run and after the retirement of Winfield Scott in late 1861. Lincoln wished to take an active part in planning the war strategy despite his inexperience in military affairs. Lincoln's strategic priorities were twofold: first, to ensure that Washington, D.C., was well defended and second, to conduct an aggressive war effort in hopes of ending the war quickly and appeasing the Northern public and press, who pushed for an offensive war. McClellan, a youthful West Point graduate and railroad executive called back to military service, took a more cautious approach. McClellan took several months to plan and execute his Peninsula Campaign, which involved capturing Richmond, Virginia by moving the Army of the Potomac by boat to the peninsula between the James and York Rivers. McClellan's delay irritated Lincoln, as did McClellan's insistence that no troops were needed to defend Washington, D.C. Lincoln insisted on holding some of McClellan's troops to defend the capital, a decision McClellan blamed for the ultimate failure of his Peninsula Campaign.

McClellan, a lifelong Democrat who was temperamentally conservative, was relieved as general-in-chief after releasing his Harrison's Landing Letter, where he offered unsolicited political advice to Lincoln urging caution in the war effort. McClellan's letter incensed Radical Republicans, who successfully pressured Lincoln to appoint fellow Republican John Pope as head of the new Army of Virginia. Pope complied with Lincoln's strategic desire for the Union to move towards Richmond from the north, thus guarding Washington, D.C. However, Pope was soundly defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run during the summer of 1862, forcing the Army of the Potomac back into the defenses of Washington for a second time. Pope was sent to Minnesota to fight the Sioux.

An 1864 Mathew Brady photo depicts President Lincoln reading a book with his youngest son, Tad.

Panicked by Confederate General Robert E. Lee's invasion of Maryland, Lincoln restored McClellan to command of all forces around Washington in time for the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. It was the Union victory in that battle that allowed Lincoln to release his Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln relieved McClellan of command shortly after the 1862 midterm elections and appointed Republican Ambrose Burnside to head the Army of the Potomac, who promised to follow through on Lincoln's strategic vision for an aggressive offensive against Lee and Richmond. After Burnside was stunningly defeated at Fredericksburg, Joseph Hooker was given command, despite his idle talk about becoming a military strong man. Hooker was routed by Lee at Chancellorsville in May 1863 and relieved of command early in the subsequent Gettysburg Campaign.

After the Union victory at Gettysburg, Meade's failure to pursue Lee, and months of inactivity for the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln decided to bring in a western general: General Ulysses S. Grant. He had a solid string of victories in the Western Theater, including Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Earlier, reacting to criticism of Grant, Lincoln was quoted as saying, "I cannot spare this man. He fights". Grant waged his bloody Overland Campaign in 1864, using a strategy of a war of attrition, characterized by high Union losses at battles such as the Wilderness and Cold Harbor but by proportionately higher losses in the Confederate army. Grant's aggressive campaign eventually bottled up Lee in the Siege of Petersburg, took Richmond, and brought the war to a close in the spring of 1865.

The Peacemakers is an 1868 painting by George P.A. Healy displayed in the White House. It depicts the historic March 28, 1865 strategy session between Abraham Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, and David Dixon Porter on the steamer River Queen during the final days of the American Civil War, 18 days before Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

Lincoln authorized Grant to destroy the civilian infrastructure that was keeping the Confederacy alive, hoping thereby to destroy the South's morale and weaken its economic ability to continue the war. This allowed Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan to destroy farms and towns in the Shenandoah Valley, Georgia, and South Carolina. The damage in Sherman's March to the Sea through Georgia totaled in excess of $100 million.

Lincoln had a star-crossed record as a military leader, possessing a keen understanding of strategic points (such as the Mississippi River and the fortress city of Vicksburg) and the importance of defeating the enemy's army, rather than simply capturing cities. However, he had limited success in motivating his commanders to adopt his strategies, until in late 1863 he found in Grant a man who shared his vision of the war. Only then was he able to insist on using black troops and to bring his vision to reality with a relentless pursuit of coordinated offensives in multiple theaters of war.

Lincoln showed a keen curiosity with military campaigning during the war. He spent hours at the War Department telegraph office, reading dispatches from his generals on many nights. He frequently visited battle sites and seemed fascinated by watching scenes of war. During Jubal A. Early's raid into Washington, D.C., in 1864, Lincoln had to be told to duck his head to avoid being shot while observing the scenes of battle.

Abraham Lincoln Honest Abe

  • Married 4 November 1842, Springfield, Sangamon Co., IL, to Mary Ann Todd, , born 13 December 1818 - Lexington, Fayette Co., KY, deceased 16 July 1882 - Springfield, Sangamon Co., IL aged 63 years old (Parents : Robert Smith Todd, Capt. 1791-1849 & Elizabeth Ann Parker 1794-1825 ) with
    • Robert Todd Lincoln 1843-1926 Married 24 September 1868 toMary Eunice Harlan 1846-1937 with
    • Mary Lincoln Beckwith 1898-1938
    • Robert Lincoln Beckwith 1904-1985

    Watch the video: President Abraham Lincoln - From Politics to Power HD (January 2022).

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