With Malice Toward None by Stephen B.Oates About the Author Stephen B. Oates is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of eight other books, including The Fires of Jubilee and To Purge This Land with Blood.
His task in this biography was to perpetuate Lincoln as he was in the days he lived. His purpose of this biography was to bring the past into the present for us and his students. The Life of Abraham Lincoln Although other states such as Indiana lay claim to his birth, most sources agree that Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a backwoods cabin in Hodgeville, Kentucky. In an interview during his campaign for the presidency in 1860 Lincoln described his adolescence as “the short and simple annals of the poor.” (p 30). His father Thomas was a farmer who married Nancy Hanks, his mother, in 1806.
Lincoln had one sister, Sarah, who was born in 1807. The Lincoln family was more financially comfortable than most despite the common historical picture of complete poverty. They moved to Indiana because of the shaky system of land titles in Kentucky. Because the Lincoln’s arrived in Spencer County at the same time as winter, Thomas only had time to construct a “half-faced camp.” Made of logs and boughs, it was enclosed on only three sides with a roaring fire for the fourth. The nearest water supply was a mile away, and the family had to survive on the abundance of wild game in the area. Less than two years after the move to Indiana, Mrs.
Lincoln caught a horrible frontier disease known as “milk sick.”. Thomas Lincoln returned to Kentucky to find a new wife. On December 2 he married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children, and took them all back to Indiana. Although there were now eight people living in the small shelter, the Lincoln children, especially Abe, adored their new stepmother who played a key role in making sure that Abe at least had some formal education, amounting to a little less than a year in all. To support his family it was necessary that Abe worked for a wage on nearby farms.
“He was strong and a great athlete, but Abe preferred to read instead. Although few books were available to a backwoods boy such as himself, anything that he could obtain he would read tenaciously” (p 56). Although his formal education had come to an end, his self-education was just beginning. After a three month flatboat journey along the Ohio and Mississippi, the 19 year old Lincoln returned to Indiana with an enthusiasm for the lifestyles that he had just encountered. Unfortunately, his new-found joy did not last long as his sister Sarah died in childbirth on January 20, 1828.
In 1830 the Lincoln family decided to leave Indiana in hopes of a better future in Illinois. It was soon thereafter that Abraham became a leader in the town of New Salem while operating a store and managing a mill. The next step for such an ambitious man was obvious–he entered politics, finishing eighth out of thirteen in a race for the Illinois House of Representatives in August of 1832. Abraham Lincoln was a strong supporter of Whig founder Henry Clay and his “American System.” This system that arose from the National Rebublicans of 1824 was in opposition to the powerful Democratic party of President Andrew Jackson. Lincoln agreed with Clay that the government should be a positive force with the purpose of serving the people. Internal improvements were high on both mens’ lists, and this stand made the relatively unknown Lincoln popular in rural Illinois from the start.
As the Whigs rose in stature throughout the 1830’s, so did Lincoln, but not without paying his dues along the way. For eighty days in the spring and early summer of 1832 Lincoln served in the military. On a constant search for Black Hawk, war leader of the Sauk and Fox Indians, he never saw any fighting but he did prove to be a superior leader of men in some of the most trying situations, including threats of desertion. “In return for his eleven and a half weeks of service Lincoln earned a mere $125, but the connections that he made with future leaders of Illinois and the experiencing of life from a soldier’s viewpoint proved to be priceless in his future political career” (p 80). During this time Lincoln ran for and won a seat in the Illinois Legislature with bipartisan support.
In 1846 Lincoln took his biggest step in politics to that point. He won election to Congress as the only Whig from Illinois. His single term was only memorable in that he took an unpopular stand against President James K. Polk and his Mexican War, which Lincoln saw as unjust. Lincoln made unsuccessful bids for an Illinois Senate seat in 1855, running as a Whig, and the Vice Presidency in 1856, running as a Republican. In his early days as a lawyer and an Illinois Legislator, Lincoln was a frequent guest of the Edward’s family and Mrs.
Edward’s younger sister, Mary Todd, immediately caught Abe’s eye. She was like no woman he had ever known before. Her beauty, intelligence, charm, and ability to lead a conversation was enough to cause the usually unemotional Abraham to propose. Yet he felt he did not love here and they broke up the engagement.
Almost immediately thereafter, Lincoln began to feel terrible guilt and unhappiness over what he had done and what he then realized he had lost. He became so depressed that for a short time many of those around him feared that he was going to commit suicide. Until he longed for her so much that a spark wasreignited between the old lovers and they remarried. After receiving the Republican Party nomination for the 1858 Illinois senatorial race, Lincoln gave his historically famous, yet questionably radical “House Divided” speech Lincoln had lost this election against Douglas but he had strengthened the Republican Party and won national recognition in the process. As a result of holding his own with the “Little Giant” (referring to Douglas’s physical stature and political power), the entire nation was able to see just how great and powerful of a leader Abraham Lincoln could become. Lincoln put the Senatorial defeat in its proper perspective six years later when he said, “It’s a slip, and not a fall.” (p 143) After Illinois chose Lincoln over the more radical William Seward and Edward Bates, he almost reluctantly turned his attention to the national scene.
Lincoln’s true desire was to be a Senator, where Abe believed that he could concentrate on the most important issues more closely. Since he honestly did not believe that he had a chance of actually winning the presidency, one of the main reasons that he was running was to gain more notoriety for the 1864 senatorial. Nevertheless, Lincoln had thrown his hat in the ring and he ran on the Republican platform of: 1) opposition to the extension of slavery 2) opposition to “nativist” demands that naturalization laws be changed to limit the rights of immigrants 3) support of federally sponsored internal improvements, a protective tariff, a railroad to the Far West, and free land for Western settlers. This stand was obviously very attractive to Northern and Western voters. When election day finally came, Lincoln simply waited, first in his office at the statehouse and later in the telegraph office.
When the final results came in at about two o’clock in the morning, Abraham …