Scholars and historians consider Abraham Lincoln one of the three most influential and effective of our presidents.
Born February 12, 1809, Lincoln served as the 16th President of the United States from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the U.S. through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and perhaps its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy.
Born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Lincoln grew up on the western frontier. Largely self-educated, he became a lawyer in Illinois, a Whig Party leader, and was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, in which he served for eight years. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846, Lincoln promoted rapid modernization of the economy through banks, tariffs, and railroads. Because he had originally agreed not to run for a second term in Congress, and because his opposition to the Mexican-American War was unpopular among Illinois voters, Lincoln returned to Springfield and resumed his successful law practice. Reentering politics in 1854, he became a leader in building the new Republican Party, which had a statewide majority in Illinois. In 1858, while taking part in a series of highly publicized debates with his opponent and rival, Democrat Stephen Douglas, Lincoln spoke out against the expansion of slavery, but lost the U.S. Senate race to Douglas.
In 1860, Lincoln secured the Republican Party presidential nomination as a moderate from a swing state. Though he gained very little support in the slaveholding states of the South, he swept the North and was elected president in 1860. Lincoln’s victory prompted seven southern slave states to form the Confederate States of America before he moved into the White House—no compromise or reconciliation was found regarding slavery and secession. Subsequently, in April 1861, a Confederate attack on Fort Sumter inspired the North to enthusiastically rally behind the Union. As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican Party, Lincoln confronted Radical Republicans, who demanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats, who called for more compromise, anti-war Democrats (called Copperheads), who despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists, who plotted his assassination. Politically, Lincoln fought back by pitting his opponents against each other, by carefully planned political patronage, and by appealing to the American people with his powers of oratory. His Gettysburg Address became an iconic endorsement of the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy.
Lincoln initially concentrated on the military and political dimensions of the war. His primary goal was to reunite the nation. He suspended habeas corpus, and he averted potential British intervention in the war by defusing the Trent Affair in late 1861. Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including his most successful general, Ulysses S. Grant. He also made major decisions on Union war strategy, including a naval blockade that shut down the South’s normal trade, moves to take control of Kentucky and Tennessee, and using gunboats to gain control of the southern river system. Lincoln tried repeatedly to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond; each time a general failed, Lincoln substituted another, until finally Grand succeeded. As the war progressed, his complex moves toward ending slavery included the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863; Lincoln used the U.S. Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraged the border states to outlaw slavery, and pushed through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery.
An exceptionally astute politician deeply involved with power issues in each state, Lincoln reached out to War Democrats and managed his own re-election campaign in the 1864 presidential election. Anticipating the war’s conclusion, Lincoln pushed a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness. He was only 56 years old when in April 1865, five days after the surrender of the Confederacy at Appomattox, his life was cut short by John Wilks Booth at the Ford Theater.
The Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., I personally believe, is the most impactful, moving of all the tributes in our nation’s capital.
Each year, 7.1 million people gaze upon the larger-than-life statute that honors our 16th president and his extraordinary efforts to preserve the nation. It is here at the Lincoln Memorial, one of the most-visited sites in the National Park System, that we renew our American values, express our rights, discover our history—and continue to make history. It is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic speech, energizing the civil rights movement.
Unfortunately, this noble monument wears its age poorly. Significant cracks, mortar loss, damaged brick masonry, roof deficiencies, and years of black biological growth threaten its stone surfaces and structural integrity.
Plans already exist to protect, restore, and enhance this national treasure. These renovators go far beyond fixing brick and mortar. If all goes well, in just a few short years, Honest Abe’s current space will undergo an astounding facelift. Approximately 15,000 square feet of public space will be added to this national treasure.
New areas of the memorial will open to the public. For the first time in history, you will be able to look into the monument’s underground vault, view its foundational pillars…even see the graffiti of workers who assembled the monument in the early twentieth century. Enhancing the memorial will bring a new research area, new education center, new ranger office, new restrooms and elevator service, new classrooms and state-of-the-art educational exhibits, and new areas especially for school groups.
Did you know?
- Architect Henry Bacon modeled the memorial after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
- The columns, like the exterior walls and facades, are inclined slightly inward. This is to compensate for the optical illusion that could make them appear asymmetrical to the naked eye.
- The marble and limestone that built the Lincoln Memorial come from five different states.
- The north and south side chambers contain carved inscriptions of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address.
It’s a great place to visit in D.C.