Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. He had almost no formal schooling but rose to become the 16th President of the United States. Allen Guelzo, author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, shares the remarkable journey of this remarkable man.
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If the best of America could be embodied in one man, that man would be Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States.
Born on February 12, 1809, Lincoln lived his early years in a log cabin with a dirt floor. He described his childhood and adolescence in Kentucky and later Indiana in bleak terms, as “the backside of this world.”
His father, Thomas Lincoln, didn’t see much practical value in formal education and his son received almost none.
But young Lincoln’s instincts pointed in an entirely different direction. He devoured every book he could get his hands on. And, aided by a near-photographic memory, he retained everything he read. His goal was always (what he called) “improvement.”
At age 19, now 6 feet 4 inches tall, he worked on flatboats carrying cargo down the Mississippi river finally settling as a store clerk in New Salem, Illinois. There, Lincoln quickly established a reputation for good humor, scrupulous honesty, and a fierce determination “to make the most of himself.”
In 1832, following a stint in the state militia, he decided to pursue a legal career.
Like many lawyers, he was drawn to politics. In 1834, he won election to the state legislature.
Lincoln endorsed the tenets of the Whig party, which had been organized by Senator Henry Clay as a breakaway from the dominant Democratic party. Clay and the Whigs supported policies which would build national commercial infrastructure like roads and canals, create a national bank to stimulate investment and expansion into the west, and build tariffs around struggling American industries to protect them from foreign competition.
For many Northern Whigs like Lincoln, slavery was also an issue; and in 1837, Lincoln made his first public statement against slavery, condemning it as “founded on injustice and bad policy.”
In 1846, Lincoln was elected to Congress to represent the newly created Seventh District in central Illinois. What he hoped would be the start of a career in national politics quickly fizzled. Lincoln criticized President James Polk, a Democrat, for goading Mexico into war. It was a principled but unpopular stance and cost him re-election.
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