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When considering American heroes, Abraham Lincoln continues to hold a special allure for Americans and those from other countries. This allure originates from his heroic historical roles as the savior of the Union and emancipator of enslaved people. It is also due to his impressive and dedicated life (the ascent from a humble background and his dramatic assassination). His impact as a voice for democracy continues to increase in importance. He believed it was important to preserve the Union because of the value he placed on the concept of self-government. Due to his strategic domestic policies and despite being resented by the southerners, Lincoln is considered the most outstanding leader of the 19th century and the greatest President Americans have ever had.
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Lincoln`s Early Political Career
Lincoln began his political career during the reign of Andrew Jackson as the President. Lincoln shared the Jacksonians’ compassion for the working class but disagreed with their belief that the state should have no economical role (Ward, 1873). Later, he would elaborate on this idea, saying that “the legitimate goal of government is to accomplish for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot do so well, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.”
Lincoln served four terms as a Whig lawmaker in the Illinois State Legislature from 1834 to 1840. During this time, he championed a plan to build a system of railroads, roadways, and canals using money from the state. The Whigs and the Democrats worked together to approve an omnibus law funding these projects, but the panic of 1837 and the subsequent business crisis caused many of them to be scrapped (Ward, 1873). His actions in the legislature proved that he was not an abolitionist despite his opposition to slavery. Lincoln believed that the spread of “abolition beliefs serve rather increase than abate the problems of slavery” and that slavery was “based on both injustice and bad policy.”
Lincoln, the lone Whig from Illinois during his tenure in Congress (1847-49), paid little attention to legislative affairs. His proposed legislation to provide for the progressive and compensated emancipation of enslaved people in the District of Columbia was met with opposition from both abolitionists and slaveholders. Mostly, it happened due to its reliance on the consent of the district’s “free white citizens.” Instead, he devoted much of his time to presidential politics (Burlingame, 2022). He challenged the statement of James K. Polk and helped in the election of Zachary Tylor. However, because he criticized the American-Mexican War, he lost his political seat at age 40.
Lincoln’s pollical life was re-awakened by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which provoked violent opposition in Illinois and the surrounding states. The Act gave way to the creation of the Republican Party and the ultimate disintegration of the Whig party. Lincoln joined the Republican party in 1856 as an orator; he gained popularity and became the Republican leader (Burlingame, 2022). During the 1860 election, Lincoln was the republican candidate and won the election. Notwithstanding, South Carolina had seceded from the Union before his inauguration.
As a president, he faced the greatest crisis the United States has ever faced since its birth – the American Civil War. Lincoln pledged to preserve the Union at all costs in his inaugural Address. For instance, “The government will not assail you… You have no oath … to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.” However, the Southern States saw his election as threatening to their survival. Being an abolitionist, they believed he would end slavery (The White House, 2006). As a result, these states left the Union, thus causing the American Civil War.
During his tenure, he built and strengthened the Republican Party and gave it a national outlook by convincing the vast majority of northern Democrats to support the Union. Through his effort, the United States became a single united country speaking with one voice: The United States of America “is” instead of “are,” showing the singularity the Nation had become.
One of the things that set Lincoln apart from his predecessors was the Emancipation Proclamation of January the 1st, 1963. This proclamation permanently freed all enslaved people within the Confederate territories. Slavery was an issue the founding fathers left to solve by later generations. It was indeed a threat to the Union since its practice was not in line with The Declaration of Independence.
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Lincoln was re-elected in 1864, the year that Union military victories signaled the war’s end. The President was tolerant and forgiving in his peace plans, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a full reunion of the country. With “malice toward none; with love for all; with firmness in the right, as God grants us to see the right,” “let us struggle on to finish the job we are in; to bind up the Nation’s wounds… “This was his plea during his Second term Inaugural Address (The White House, 2006). John Wilker Booth assassinated him at Ford’s Theatre on April the 14th, 1865.
Most modern scholars have ranked George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as some of the greatest American presidents, with Lincoln topping the list due to his move to free enslaved people – an act whose consequences still liger to date. Yet, Lincoln persevered over the Union and established a strong executive. What a leader Lincoln was to this Nation!
- Burlingame, M. (2022). Abraham Lincoln: Life before the presidency. UVA Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/president/lincoln/life-before-the-presidency
- The White House. (2006). Abraham Lincoln: The 16th President of the United States. The White House. https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/abraham-lincoln/
- Ward, H. L. (1873). The life of Abraham Lincoln; From his birth to his inauguration as President. The North American Review, 116(238), 184-189.