The Rise of Abraham Lincoln
From backwoods origins, Abraham Lincoln held many jobs in his lifetime — rail splitter, ferryboat captain, store clerk, surveyor, and postmaster among them. But the job that solidified his place as a great figure in history was his role as the sixteenth president of the United States during a time of great strife.
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin that his father built in Kentucky. His youth was filled with hunting, fishing, and chores. Because land titles were disputed in Kentucky, Abe's father moved the family to Pigeon Creek, Indiana (near Gentryville today), where the federal government was selling land. Two years after the family settled in this thriving frontier community, Abe's mother died in an epidemic (caused by ingesting poisonous cow's milk). The next year, Abe's father married a widow with three children, and Abe seemed to bond well with his stepmother.
The practice of supporting the projects of other legislators in return for their support became known as logrolling, a term derived from a game of skill, especially among lumberjacks, in which two competitors try to balance on a floating log while spinning it with their feet.
Abe learned at a young age to wield an ax to clear the frontier forest, and he attended a log cabin school when he wasn't tending to chores. In later years, his campaign hearkened back to these “rail splitter” days to prove that Abe came from humble roots. Though the lad had less than one year of formal education, his stepmother encouraged his thirst for knowledge. Lincoln learned to read, write, and do simple arithmetic at an early age, and it's said that a book about George Washington made a deep impression on him. With his family's move to Illinois, Abe helped his father build a log cabin. That year, he attended a political rally and spoke on behalf of one of the candidates. You might say the political bug bit Lincoln, and he never quite recovered!
At a lanky six-foot-four, Lincoln's appearance was somewhat awkward, especially given his long arms and big hands. He held various jobs, but because he could read and write, he was called on to draw up legal papers for the less literate around him. And when Lincoln expressed his views, he did so with a grace and discernment that caught people's attention.
Lincoln Enters Politics
In the spring of 1832, Lincoln decided to run for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. Before the election, he volunteered in the suppression of a rebellion by Native Americans led by Chief Black Hawk, though he saw no actual fighting. Despite a platform of better schools, roads, and canals, Lincoln was defeated, and he began a venture with a general store, followed by his job as a postmaster, a position that gave him ample time to read ravenously, especially newspapers.
Now better known, Lincoln ran for the Illinois legislature in 1834. He was elected every two years, and he studied law between legislative sessions. This experience as a state legislator sharpened his political savvy. Lincoln's first public stand on slavery, which he'd encountered years earlier when he viewed a slave auction, came in 1837 when the Illinois legislature voted to condemn abolition societies that wanted to end the practice by any means. Although Lincoln was opposed to slavery, he also felt strongly that extreme measures were not necessary and that lawful conduct could end the practice.
Though Lincoln became a licensed lawyer in 1836, and continued as a state legislator, economic achievement didn't automatically follow. He also spent this time without love. Some said he was plunged into sadness by the death of Ann Rutledge, the woman he loved, and that a period of melancholy marked his adult years. Others believe this romance was a myth. He proposed marriage to another woman who turned him down. It wasn't until he met Mary Todd in 1840 that courtship blossomed, and the two were married two years later.