The Abolitionists: Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

(1809 - 1865)

When he was a candidate for the United States Senate in 1858, Abraham Lincoln said in a debate against Senator Stephen A. Douglas, “There is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The issue of slavery was foremost in the minds of people throughout the country, not just in his home state of Illinois. Not surprisingly, Lincoln’s words were unpopular with slave owners, who depended on slave labor to keep their large plantations profitable. In the North, slavery was opposed as inhumane. The question of slavery threatened to tear the country apart. “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free,” Lincoln declared in a June, 1858 speech.

Lincoln lost the Senate election, but was elected president in 1860. Many saw him as an antislavery supporter, and in the wake of his election the legislatures of seven Southern states voted to leave the Union. They formed the Confederate States of America. Lincoln declared this act unconstitutional, a declaration that many Southerners considered an act of war. Soon, there was war. Four more states subsequently joined the Confederacy. The Civil War lasted from 1861-1865.

In 1863, Lincoln signed The Emancipation Proclamation, which allowed the Army to protect escaped slaves and encouraged border states to outlaw the practice of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation ultimately led to passage through Congress of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery.

In 1864, John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate spy and actor planned to kidnap the president and hold him in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners. After attending an 1865 speech in which Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks, Booth became enraged and decided to assassinate the president. On April 14, 1865 Booth shot Lincoln during a play at Washington, D.C.’s Ford’s Theater. Abraham Lincoln died the next day.