Abraham Lincoln was the most hated and despised president of all time, yet he is one of America’s greatest presidents. During the years before the presidential election of 1860, Lincoln clearly stated that slavery was a morally evil and corrupt institution, and that one day, the country would be either all free or all slave. His clarity on this issue led the South to believe that Lincoln would try to abolish slavery, even though he never stated he would. His election to the presidency in 1860 pushed the first Southern states to secede and form the Confederate States of America. Over the next four years, 1861-1865, Lincoln led the effort to crush the rebellion in the South.
Lincoln’s circumstances of youth were common to many Americans. He was born on February 12, 1809, in Kentucky, in a log cabin. His family was part of the Separate Baptist Church, which forbade alcohol, dancing, and slavery. Abraham’s dad, Thomas, saw Indians kill his own father. When Abraham was 9, his family moved north to Indiana. Then, Abraham’s mom died. About a year later, Thomas remarried to Sarah, called “Sally.” Abraham came to love Sally and called her “mother.” As a young person, Abraham learned to read and write at an “ABC School” a few weeks per year. In ABC Schools, children in a larger community met at a log cabin and were taught by a private tutor. Lincoln read the Bible, Robinson Crusoe, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Franklin’s Autobiography, and law books, whenever he had extra time. At the age of 21, Lincoln moved west to Illinois.
As a boy and young man, Lincoln was known as physically strong and a person of wit. He was 6 feet, 4 inches tall, lanky and wiry. For fun, he would tell stories and wrestle. Lincoln is enshrined in the Wrestling Hall of Fame, and had a 300-1 record. Once, after beating his opponent, Lincoln looked at the crowd and declared, “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.” Nobody took him up on the offer.
Lincoln was a reader, a hard worker, and a person of character whom others respected. He read the few books he had many times, and when possible, he borrowed books from other frontier settlers. While living with his parents, he worked on the family farm all day. Lincoln traveled by flatboat down the Mississippi River in 1828 and 1831, and he later received a patent pertaining to flatboats. In the Black Hawk War, Lincoln was voted militia corporal. When he lived on his own, Lincoln opened a store with his partner, who then embezzled all the money. Lincoln worked to pay off the resulting debt of $1,000 (equal to about $26,000 in 2017). Later he decided to be a lawyer.
Lincoln’s understanding of religion changed over time. As a young man, he was skeptical that God and Jesus Christ existed. Later, he believed in Christ, but he still rejected joining a religious denomination. Toward the end of his life, Lincoln was convinced of the truth of the New Testament and was led by his faith. In the election of 1846, he campaigned, “I am not a member of any Christian Church…but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures.” During the Civil War, Lincoln professed a conversion experience to Christianity. Immediately after the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln visited the battle scene. He wrote this of what happened:
"When I left Springfield I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I love Jesus."
After this, Lincoln prayed every day and read the Bible. To a friend he wrote, “Take all of this book [the Bible] upon reason you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man.”
Abraham Lincoln married Mary Todd in 1842 and had four boys. Though Lincoln left Mary Todd at the altar during their first wedding attempt, Lincoln called marriage a “profound wonder.” His son Edward died at the age of four of thyroid cancer. William died at the age of 12 of typhoid fever. Tad died of pneumonia at the age of 18. Only Robert lived into adulthood, dying in 1926. The boys’ deaths were a source of great sadness for the Lincolns.
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Lincoln was known for physical beauty, but they were known for their character, ideas, and determination. Mary once said of her husband, “Mr. Lincoln is to be president of the United States some day. If I had not thought so, I would not have married him, for you can see he is not pretty.”
In 1858, Americans learned a great deal about the thoughts of Abraham Lincoln through the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Republican Abraham Lincoln was running for an Illinois U.S. Senate seat against the incumbent Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas. Lincoln was relatively unknown in the country, and many believed Douglas would one day be president. Lincoln and Douglas debated seven times, with each debate lasting around three hours. The debates were big events, with bands, food, and whiskey. At the end of each debate, the candidates shook hands, and maintained a cordial, friendly attitude toward each other. There was no questioner or moderator, only the two men on stage, speaking at great length.
At the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, the two candidates expressed greatly different views, especially on slavery. Lincoln spoke strongly against slavery, calling it a moral evil. Lincoln’s clear and unequivocal talk on slavery angered Southern Democrats who wanted slavery to expand. Douglas stated that he was personally against slavery, but he favored popular sovereignty, that the decision should be left to the people in the individual states.
At the last debate, Lincoln stated,
"The real issue is the sentiment on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong…The Republican Party look(s) upon it as being a moral, social and political wrong…and one of the methods of treating it as a wrong is to make provision that it shall grow no larger…That is the real issue.” [The black man is] “entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…In the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.”
In the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Lincoln argued that the new Republican Party believed the Southern states opposed the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln saw slavery as a sin, as evil, and as a threat to liberty and equality for all. How Lincoln foresaw ending slavery, however, was through legal means, either by voting or appointing Northern judges who would chip away at slavery in the courts. He wanted to peacefully abolish slavery through law, over time.
Stephen Douglas won the 1858 Senate election against Abraham Lincoln, but Lincoln became a national political figure. All Americans understood that Lincoln and the Republicans saw slavery as morally corrupt, and that over time, they would work to end it. When Lincoln was elected president in 1860, the Southern states believed they had to secede from the Union in order to preserve the Southern culture, which included slavery.
The Civil War
Nearly the entire Presidency of Abraham Lincoln consisted of the Civil War. Over 600,000 Americans gave their lives, and over that number suffered injuries. The North defeated the South and the United States remained as one country. Immediately after the war, the northern states passed the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.
The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Five days after Lee’s surrender and just over one month after Lincoln’s second inauguration, a Southern actor conspired with others and then shot Abraham Lincoln on Good Friday, April 14, 1865. Lincoln was attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., when his bodyguard John Parker left his post to get a drink at a nearby tavern. John Wilkes Booth snuck behind the president, aimed his .44–caliber gun inches from the back of Lincoln’s head, and fired. President Lincoln was carried across the street to a nearby inn and died nine hours later.
After the assassination, Booth jumped to the stage below, shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis” (“Thus be it ever to tyrants”), and escaped on his waiting horse. Soon after, Federal soldiers trapped him in a barn, set it on fire, and a cavalryman shot Booth as he tried to escape. Lincoln’s conspirators had planned to murder a number of Republicans, but failed in their attempts. Four of Booth’s conspirators, three men and one woman, were hanged. Three others received life sentences, and one went to jail for six years.
Lincoln’s assassination immortalized the 16th President, alongside Washington and Jefferson, as one of America’s greatest heroes, and it led Congress to punish the South for its rebellion. The morning after Lincoln’s murder, Walt Whitman wrote the poem “O Captain, My Captain.” This poem expressed the grief many people in the North felt after Lincoln’s death.
In Lincoln’s second inaugural address, given a little over a month before his assassination, he stated:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
Lincoln had planned generous peace terms for Southerners who had joined the Confederate States of America, but his assassination gave control of the government to the Radical Republicans, who wanted to completely change the South.
For a more detailed version of Abraham Lincoln, slavery in America, and the Civil War, read The Story of Liberty, America's Heritage Through the Civil War, by John De Gree. For a Video Lesson on Lincoln, Go Here and scroll down.
1. Did Abraham Lincoln experience tragedy as a young boy?
2. What did Lincoln do for work before he left home?
3. Did Lincoln read many books or a few books many times as a young person?
4. Before becoming President, what did Lincoln do for work?
5. What did Mary Todd think about Abraham's physical appearance?
6. What was Lincoln's stance on slavery before the Civil War?
7. Describe Lincoln's conversion experience regarding Christianity.
8. Why did Southern Democrats secede from the United States of America?
9. How did Lincoln die?
10. Why do Americans celebrate the life of Abraham Lincoln?
by Adam De Gree
Charles R. Drew was born in Washington, D.C. on June 3, 1904. By the time of his death just 45 years later, he had become the ‘father of the blood bank’ and one of the great scientists of the 20th century. Along the way, he pioneered new medical techniques, broke down racial barriers, and saved thousands of lives. As a black man born in a time when segregation was still practiced all over the United States, his achievements stood as an example of the great potential of African-American doctors and researchers. Yet despite his laboratory success, his early life was marked more by sports greatness than academic excellence.
Drew was not a good student until well into his university years. However, his natural athleticism earned him a scholarship to Amherst College for football and track and field. It was there that he developed an interest in medicine. After graduating, he chose to attend medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, where his academic pursuits finally took center stage. Drew earned the annual scholarship in neuroanatomy and won multiple awards on his way to graduating 2nd in a class of 127 students.
After graduating from McGill with honors, Drew began his work with transfusion at Montreal Hospital. There, he worked with bacteriology professor John Beattie to develop treatments for shock. Drew hoped to pursue transfusion therapy studies at the Mayo Clinic, but racial prejudice against African-Americans barred him from joining the organization. However, he was admitted to doctorate studies at Columbia University, where he studied with John Scudder and aided in the establishment of an experimental blood bank.
At Columbia, Drew overcame racist treatment to successfully complete his award-winning dissertation, “Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation.” His research brought significant progress to the growing field of transfusion. Drew’s understanding of fluid balance, shock therapy, and the processing and storage of blood samples allowed him to develop new and safer ways to collect and store blood. This earned him a post at the head of the Blood for Britain Project. Thanks to his work, thousands of liters of blood were sent to Britain as it bled in World War II.
When the United States joined World War II there was a great need for blood donations. Naturally, Drew was the man for the job. He was named assistant director of the National Blood Donor Service, where he pioneered the invention of ‘bloodmobiles’ – blood donation trucks with refrigerators.
Yet even though Drew was an African-American, the Red Cross did not allow blacks to donate blood. This meant that Drew could not donate to his own program. Eventually, this policy changed to one of segregation, where the blood of black donors could only be used by black recipients. Drew called this “unscientific and insulting to African Americans.” He resigned after a few months.
Drew spent the rest of his career at Howard University, where he had taught on and off in between other assignments. He headed the Department of Surgery and sought to “train young African American surgeons who would meet the most rigorous standards in any surgical specialty.” In addition to training surgeons, Drew campaigned relentlessly for the inclusion of black doctors in local and national medical associations.
On April 1, 1950, Charles Drew fell asleep at the wheel on the way to a medical conference. He died despite being given a blood transfusion at an all-white hospital nearby. In less than half a century, Drew earned numerous awards and appointments unique for his age and his race. His work on blood transfusion has undoubtedly saved the lives of millions of people. Today, he is remembered as one of the greatest medical scientists of the last century. He is also remembered for powerful words such as these:
“So much of our energy is spent in overcoming the constricting environment in which we live that little energy is left for creating new ideas or things. Whenever, however, one breaks out of this rather high-walled prison of the "Negro problem" by virtue of some worthwhile contribution, not only is he himself allowed more freedom, but part of the wall crumbles. And so it should be the aim of every student in science to knock down at least one or two bricks of that wall by virtue of his own accomplishment.”
By Adam De Gree
Henry Ossian Flipper
Henry Ossian Flipper was born a slave in 1856, but he would achieve much by the time of his death in 1940. His life serves as an example of the courage and the challenges African Americans faced during Reconstruction. As the first black man to graduate from West Point and command African-American ‘Buffalo Soldiers,’ Flipper served with distinction. Yet white officers framed him for embezzlement only a few years into his military commission. Not until 1999 was his reputation restored by the United States government.
Flipper was born the eldest of five to Isabelle and Festus Flipper in Georgia. His father worked as a shoemaker and carriage-trimmer for a wealthy slave dealer. After the Civil War, the family did as much as they could to better their own lives. As a young man, Flipper attended Atlanta University. There, he earned an appointment to West Point, the United States Military Academy.
At West Point, Flipper and his fellow black cadets faced many challenges. White students at the academy regularly mistreated them. For example, Flipper wrote extensively about the many ways that white cadets would bully black students in order to gain the attention and favor of their superiors. Within several years he was the only black cadet who had not left the school. Flipper persevered in part because of his strong commitment to good behavior.
After graduating from West Point in 1877, Flipper was given a commission as a second lieutenant. His command was a company of African-American troops in the Western outpost of Fort Sill, Oklahoma. These black frontier troops were called ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ by Native Americans. The Indians thought the hair of the black soldiers resembled buffalo fur. Flipper was the first black officer to command Buffalo Soldiers.
According to army records, Flipper served with distinction at Fort Still. In addition to fighting in the Apache Wars and the Victorio Campaign, he contributed to many engineering projects. For example, he developed a system to drain stagnant pools of water that provided breeding grounds for malaria epidemics. In addition, he developed a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness with the local residents. He also started a close friendship with a white woman named Mollie Dwyer.
Suddenly, in 1881, Flipper was accused of embezzling over $3,000 worth of commissary funds by Colonel Shafter, his commanding officer. He was arrested and put before a court martial. During the trial, it became clear that there was little evidence to support the allegations. Colonel Shafter repeatedly contradicted his own testimony and many witnesses testified to Flipper’s honesty.
Since there was little chance of convicting Flipper of embezzlement, the court introduced a new charge – conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman. Many argue that this charge had more to do with Flipper’s friendship with a white woman than any error he made in keeping track of military funds. He was found guilty and dishonorably discharged.
Lieutenant Flipper was crushed by the dismissal. However, he resolved “to go forth into the world and by my subsequent conduct as an honorable man and by my character disprove the charges.” Over the next decades, Flipper worked throughout Mexico and the American Southwest as a civil and mining engineer, translator, surveyor, and cartographer. He became a well-respected Senate foreign relations expert on Mexican relations. Later, Flipper oversaw the planning and construction of the Alaskan railway system. His many achievements left an indelible mark on the West.
Despite his continual efforts, Flipper could never get his name cleared by the Army. He tried to enlist again during the Spanish-American War and the first World War, but was denied both times. After attaining old age, he retired to Atlanta and lived with his brother until his death in 1940.
Flipper’s death did not signal the end of the battle to reclaim his legacy. Several friends and family members continued to challenge the official narrative, and in 1976, the Army granted him a full pardon. However, his military rank and record would wait until a 1999 pardoning by President Bill Clinton.
Today, the U.S. Army gives the Henry O. Flipper Memorial award to the most outstanding cadet at West Point in the areas of leadership, self-discipline, and perseverance. Numerous landmarks and memorials dot the country in his memory. Henry Ossian Flipper paved the way for thousands of black West Point graduates and officers who have served their country nobly. In his conduct in the Army and in the world, he set a fine example for all Americans.
Interesting Questions for You to Discuss with Your Children and Students:
by Adam De Gree
John Buford Jr. was born on March 4, 1826. Just 37 years later, he would lose his life in the Civil War after receiving a deathbed promotion to the position of major general of Volunteers from Abraham Lincoln. Known for his key role in major battles including Gettysburg, Buford had a profound impact on Union victory and is remembered as an American hero.
Buford was born in Kentucky, which became a battleground state in the Civil War. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Illinois. His father was a well-known Democrat who opposed Abraham Lincoln. Like many Americans, Buford’s ancestors had fought in the Revolution; his grandfather served under Robert E. Lee’s father. Growing up in a political family, Buford was very patriotic. After one year at Knox College in Illinois, he was accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Divisions between American society increased as Buford grew older. The issue of slavery split the country into two factions – North and South. But while the split sounds simple, it wasn’t – many families were split into two opposing camps. For example, Buford’s father owned slaves, although he did not want to leave the Union. On the other hand, Buford’s wife Pattie was from a Southern family, and his in-laws fought for the Confederacy. At West Point, young men from the north and south trained to become officers, only to fight against each other when war broke out.
In 1861, the Civil War erupted. While Buford could have chosen to fight with the rebellious Confederates, he stayed in the United States Army and quickly rose to the rank of brigadier general. Buford was a cavalry officer, and one of the finest in the war. He served with distinction in major battles such as the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Brandy Station. However, John Buford is best remembered for his role in the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most important battles of the entire Civil War, and Buford secured the field for a Union victory. As tens of thousands of troops from North and South neared one another, Buford’s cavalry arrived in the town of Gettysburg, located on high ground. As he looked down, the general saw thousands of Confederate troops marching up the road and knew that he had to hold the high ground if the Union was to win the battle. He boldly ordered his much smaller force to defend their position against the advancing Rebels. They held out just long enough for reinforcements to arrive and staked out a strong defensive position that held for three bloody days of fighting.
Buford served ably for some months after Gettysburg. However, it became clear that he was sick, possibly with typhus. This was a serious issue because during the Civil War, more American soldiers died of an illness than of a bullet wound. Buford was quartered at the home of a fellow general in Washington for his last days. President Lincoln, upon hearing that the hero of Gettysburg was on his deathbed, promoted him to “Major General for distinguished and meritorious service.” Buford, upon hearing of his promotion, asked, “Does he mean it?” and then said, “it is too late, now I wish I could live.”
John Buford’s funeral was attended by the President, and his pallbearers were Union generals. He was buried at West Point, where he joined other American war heroes. In response to his death, the Philadelphia Enquirer ran the poem:
No more to follow his daring form
Or see him dash through the battle's storm
No more with him to ride down the foe
And behold his falchion's crushing blow
Nor hear his voice, like a rushing blast
As rider and steed went charging past ... Buford is dead!
Interesting Questions to Discuss with your Children:
Copyright ©2017 by the Classical Historian. All Rights Reserved.
John De Gree
John De Gree writes the current events with a look at the history of each topic. Articles are written for the young person, aged 10-18, and Mr. De Gree carefully writes so that all readers can understand the event. The perspective the current events are written in is Judeo-Christian.
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