Abraham Lincoln   (1809-1865)

By unknown photographer, 1863. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Sixteenth President, 1861-1865

Abraham Lincoln was well known for his opposition to the expansion of slavery, and his election as president in 1860 triggered the secession of eleven southern states from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Lincoln viewed the Southern action as unconstitutional, and he was well aware that a civil war would be a very likely result of any attempt to reunite the country. When Confederate soldiers fired on Fort Sumter in April of 1861, war did break out; resulting in the four bloodiest years the United States has ever seen. In the second year of the raging war, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the Confederate states. Eleven months later, Lincoln delivered his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, on the site where over 50,000 men had lost their lives in the war's deadliest battle.

In 1865, with Confederate resources dwindling and ever more soldiers deserting, the Union army was able to force a surrender at Appommatox court house in Virginia on April 9. Just five days later, Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. The president died the following morning, throwing the nation into intense mourning. Lincoln had plans for bringing the country back together again, but without his leadership, the country was plunged into confusion that would take many years to resolve.