Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a one room log cabin on Nolin Creek in the southeast of Hardin County in the state of Kentucky. This made him the first president to be born in the western part of the United States.
He was not given a middle name.
His parents, Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, were farmers. Lincoln and his family lived in Kentucky until 1816, when they all left for Perry County, Indiana.
Lincoln’s mother died of milk sickness when Lincoln was nine years old. His father mourned the mother and then later remarried to Sarah Bush Johnston. Lincoln was close to his stepmother, and actually referred to her as “Mother” as opposed to calling her “Stepmother” or “Sarah.” She supported his desire to educate himself.
Lincoln experienced another move shortly after when the family relocated to Macon County, Illinois.
Lincoln for the most part was self-educated. He only experienced a short period of formal schooling. He loved to read, and read throughout his childhood.
Lincoln’s tall, thin stature, beard and top hat made him aesthetically iconic in American history and, as such, dressing up as Lincoln is a popular costume for costume events.
Abraham Lincoln is well known for his very characteristic and recognizable appearance. Photos and facts about Lincoln tell us that he was an extremely tall man with a thin build.
While records say that his father was only 5 foot 10 inches, Abraham Lincoln grew to the rather astounding height of 6 foot 5 inches, a height that was exceptionally tall in his time in the 1800s but is still considered very tall today. Lincoln had shrunk to about 6 foot 4 inches at the time of his death, which is typical as humans age.
Interestingly, his height was often deceiving. He did not appear tall when he was seated. Since he had an average torso and very long legs, he was as tall as the average man when sitting down. His height appeared even taller because he liked to wear a stovepipe hat, often using the hat to carry and store things, like notes and letters.
He was the tallest president.
In addition to being very tall, he was also quite thin. In fact, he was a lanky or gangly figure to some extent. He only weighed about 180 pounds consistently throughout his life.
Several of Lincoln's body characteristics distinguished him from other men of his time:
- His skin was on the darker side of white, which you probably cannot tell in a lot of pictures since pictures of the era were black and white.
- His hands and feet were quite big as well, which is frequently the case with very tall people.
- His head was bigger than the average person's head.
- His shoulders were stooped.
Some people have commented that he was an "unusual" looking person. He had a distinctively shaped beard with no mustache, as was typical in the day, and he had a mole. He often wore a bow tie.
His face was extremely defined. He had heavy eyebrows, a defined nose, high cheekbones, and thick lips. He had one of the most recognizable faces of all U.S. presidents.
Early on in his life, Abraham Lincoln started to develop wrinkles on his face, perhaps making him appear older than he actually was. Some have described the appearance of his skin as "leathery" due to both the wrinkles and its dryness.
Abraham Lincoln never went to college. He only had about 18 months of schooling when he was young. He was an avid reader, and he taught himself what he needed to know. For example, when he wanted to be a lawyer, he studied law on his own and became a lawyer.
Abraham Lincoln held many jobs and positions throughout his lifetime prior to entering politics including:
- Military - He served in the Black Hawk War in 1832 to help fight off Native American tribes.
- Postmaster - After an unsuccessful run for the Illinois Legislature, he was appointed the postmaster of New Salem, Illinois on May 7, 1833 and served until the office closed May 30, 1836. The mail arrived once a week. If the mail was not picked up by the person to whom it was addressed, he would deliver it, often placing it in his stovepipe hat.
- Lawyer - After his election to the state legislature, Lincoln wanted to become a lawyer, and began to teach himself the law by reading. He was admitted to the bar in 1837, and began his career as a successful lawyer.
In 1832, when he was 23, Lincoln announced his candidacy for the Illinois General Assembly. Although he didn’t have a formal education or a significant amount of money, he was popular among the people of his county.
He ran on the issue of improvements to the Sangamon River, and he promised navigational improvements for the river if he was elected. Although he didn’t win the election, he came in eighth out of the thirteen candidates. He also won the vast majority of votes from the county which esteemed him.
In 1834 he ran again and won the election for state legislature. He served four terms, until 1842. During this time he made known his opposition to slavery as it did not provide economic mobility or opportunity.
In 1846, Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives, and he served a two-year term, from 1847 to 1849. He was considered a member of the Whig party, and often sided with the party in his votes and speeches. He gave a number of speeches against the Mexican-American War, and criticized President Polk for entering into it.
Lincoln demanded that Polk show Congress the spot where American blood had first been shed by the Mexican army. Although Congress did side with Lincoln on this issue, his demand earned him the nickname of “Spotty Lincoln” among the Congressmen.
After a brief return to his legal career, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 caught the attention of Lincoln. Lincoln spoke out against the spread of slavery. He ran for the Senate in 1854 as a Whig, but was not elected.
Lincoln, becoming more and more disenchanted with his party, started to become active in the Republican Party and was chosen to run as the party’s vice president in 1856. The Republicans, however, were not successful in this election.
In 1858, he was nominated by the Republican Party to run for the office of senator. When he made his acceptance speech for the nomination for Senate in 1858, he ran on a platform calling for the end of the expansion of slavery. He believed that the nation could not survive with part of the nation upholding slavery and the balance not supporting slavery. His famous line from his nomination acceptance speech was,
“A house divided against itself cannot stand."
He campaigned against his rival Stephen A. Douglas who believed that citizens should decide on issues in their geographic area, such as slavery. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln gained fame and wound up winning the debates, but lost the Senate election.
Lincoln did so well at the Lincoln-Douglas Senate debate that he won the Republican nomination for president in 1860. He won the nomination against other high profile candidates such as William Seward and Salmon Chase.
The Democratic Party was split over several issues including slavery in the 1860 election. Lincoln defeated the split Democratic Party and became the President in 1860 with only 40% of the popular vote.
By the time he took office in January 1861, seven southern states had already seceded from the Union. The Civil War began on Apr. 12, 1861.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1, 1863, that freed the slaves within the Confederacy. The Civil War continued for several years and ended on April 9, 1865.
Lincoln was president from 1861 until his death on April 15, 1865.
Lincoln was well respected as a youth and as an adult. Even though he owned several farms as an adult, he was not rich. He was very poor when he was courting Mary Todd. He proposed after a year and her family did not approve.
He married Mary Todd in 1842 and they lived in Springfield, Illinois near his law office. He and Mary had four children: Robert, Edward, William and Thomas. Only one of them, Robert, lived to adulthood.
Lincoln grew up in a highly religious Baptist family. Although Lincoln never joined any established church, he considered himself a Christian. He attended Protestant church services with Mary Todd Lincoln and his children. During his years as president, he and Mary Todd Lincoln attended New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.
He was considered to be a very spiritual man. He seemed to believe in man's predestination, believing that what is meant to be, will be. He also believed in God. After receiving a Bible from some former Maryland slaves he said
In regard to this great book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man...But for it we could not know right from wrong.
Lincoln is cherished in American history as an impressive historical figure who overcame great odds. He is one of the most revered former presidents, and his accomplishments, social policies, skills as commander in chief and talent for oration are historically vital.
- He signed the Morrill Act of 1862 which aided in the establishment of agricultural and technical colleges in each state.
- He issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order, on January 1, 1863 as a war measure during the Civil War to give freedom to the slaves in the states where the anti-slavery rebellion had been subdued and to allow ex-slaves to fight in the Civil War on the side of the Union.
- He helped create a national banking system which resulted in a standardized currency and a network of national banks. The acts, called the National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864, established the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
- He signed the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864, bills that chartered the first transcontinental railroad to be constructed from the San Francisco Bay to the end of the existing U.S. railroad at Council Bluffs, Iowa.
- He kept fighting under extreme pressure during the Civil War until the Confederacy was defeated.
- Lincoln was always fascinated with machines. He made a device that would keep ships buoyant over shallow areas of water called shoals. The patent number was 6469 and was issued on May 22, 1849. No president has held a patent since Lincoln.
- He is ranked by most around the world as one of the greatest presidents of the United States.
- He rose to the top of the political world - the presidency of the United States - with less than 12 months of formal education.
- He was a successful attorney with a large practice.
- Lincoln was the first president not to be born in one of the original colonies.
- Lincoln was both witty and clever.
- He got the nickname "Honest Abe" because he did actually say once that he could not tell a lie.
- When Lincoln was a small child, he was kicked in the head by a horse, and it was thought that he was dead for several days.
- He suffered from migraine headaches and depression and would sometimes spend days in bed.
- He was skilled with an axe and at wrestling.
- He refrained from fishing and hunting because he did not like to kill animals, even for food.
Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, one of the most quoted speeches in history, was given on November 19, 1863. He stated in the Gettysburg Address that he wanted a country that was united with a government that was “of the people, by the people, for the people”.
Explore a variety of inspirational and honest Abraham Lincoln quotes.
- On adversity - Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
- On the future - The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.
- On democracy - As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.
- On voting - The ballot is stronger than the bullet.
- On being quiet - Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
- On fooling people - You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
On April 14, 1865, Lincoln attended a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. During the play, Booth entered the balcony box and shot President Lincoln in the back of the head with a pistol.
The audience at the play thought the shot was part of the show for a brief period of time, until they heard Lincoln’s wife scream hysterically as she sat by her husband who was slumped over in his chair.
After the shot was fired, Booth jumped down the eleven feet to the stage and exited from the back of the theatre. The escape route was well planned, with places to hide, food and remounts waiting on the trail back to the South.
The shot was true and the president died from the wound on April 15, 1865 at 7:22 a.m.
Abraham Lincoln was the first President of the United States to be killed while in office.
Booth was a confirmed Confederate sympathizer. He was an outspoken critic of the Lincoln administration and angry at the defeat of the South in the Civil War. Booth abhorred the abolition of slavery in the United States following the War and was infuriated by Lincoln’s proposal to give the right to vote to the recently freed slaves.
The Lincoln Memorial was built to honor President Lincoln and was finished in 1922. It is located in the National Mall in Washington, DC.
- The architect was Henry Bacon.
- The sculptor of the main statue was Daniel Chester French.
- The murals on the inside were painted by Jules Guerin.
It was built in the style of a Greek Doric temple and has two inscriptions. One is the Gettysburg Address and the other is Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.
The memorial was the site of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 which was given during the rally at the end of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
Many of the states that had previously observed separate days to honor George Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays created a joint holiday called "President's Day" which is observed on the third Monday of February.
Lincoln's birthday is still a legal holiday in eight U.S. states on February 12th each year:
- New Jersey
- New York
For a time perspective of the details of Abraham Lincoln's life, check out the Timeline for Abraham Lincoln on YourDictionary.