Lincoln Family Life

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln had four children, but only their eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, would survive to adulthood. It's said that Mary Todd Lincoln made her husband's life miserable, for she was unable to handle the loss of their children in later years. Though she was perhaps unstable, Lincoln remained devoted to her, and she in turn supported his political rise.

The ambitious legislator and lawyer soon looked beyond Illinois to the U.S. Congress, and he was elected in 1846 to the House of Representatives. Despite the difficulties of being a freshman congressman, Lincoln never lost confidence in his abilities. He opposed the Mexican-American War begun by President Polk, though his Illinois constituents denounced him as a traitor (for they supported the war). In 1847, he called on Polk for proof of the president's insistence that the war began when Mexicans shed American blood on American soil. According to Lincoln, “That soil was not ours; and Congress did not annex or attempt to annex it.” Lincoln voted for a resolution that declared the war unnecessary. Once war was declared, however, Lincoln supported all appropriations, despite his private opinions.

Lincoln resumed his law practice after serving one term in Congress. Travel between county seats allowed him to reflect, read, and mingle with other lawyers. Though he sometimes lacked time to prepare for cases, he made up for it with oratory skill far greater than many of his peers.

Lincoln's Antislavery Sentiments Grow

Lincoln was outraged by passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, a measure that allowed the territories to decide the issue of slavery for themselves. Democratic senator Stephen Douglas was the author of the act, and Abe Lincoln's passion for the plight of slaves rose to the surface. When Douglas defended the Kansas-Nebraska Act in October of that year, Lincoln spoke the next day, attacking the act with well-researched arguments that forced citizens to contemplate not only the political ramifications of slavery but also the moral ones. Lincoln was quoted as saying, “If the Negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal,' and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another.” As impassioned as his conviction was that slavery was wrong and a national problem to contend with, Lincoln remained fairly nonjudgmental regarding the South. “I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South,” Lincoln said in what became known as his Peoria, Illinois, speech.

Abolitionist John Brown grew so obsessed with winning freedom for slaves that on October 16, 1859, he and approximately twenty others incited an uprising. Federal troops commanded by Robert E. Lee retaliated, killing about half the group, wounding Brown and taking him prisoner. Brown was brought to trial and convicted of treason, murder, and criminal conspiracy. He was hanged on December 2, 1859.

By 1856, the Whig Party that Lincoln belonged to had died out, and the young politician officially identified himself as a Republican. Soon, the slavery issue was gaining national momentum with the Dred Scott case and memories of Bleeding Kansas. As Senator Stephen Douglas ran for re-election, the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln to oppose him. Accepting the nomination, Lincoln used his harshest words, declaring, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

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