Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln : biography

February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

Confederate general Jubal Anderson Early began a series of assaults in the North that threatened the Capital. During Early’s raid on Washington, D.C. in 1864, Lincoln was watching the combat from an exposed position; Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes shouted at him, "Get down, you damn fool, before you get shot!"Thomas (2008), p. 434. After repeated calls on Grant to defend Washington, Sheridan was appointed and the threat from Early was dispatched.Donald (1996), pp. 516–518.

As Grant continued to wear down Lee’s forces, efforts to discuss peace began. Confederate Vice President Stephens led a group to meet with Lincoln, Seward, and others at Hampton Roads. Lincoln refused to allow any negotiation with the Confederacy as a coequal; his sole objective was an agreement to end the fighting and the meetings produced no results.Donald (1996), p. 565. On April 1, 1865, Grant successfully outflanked Lee’s forces in the Battle of Five Forks and nearly encircled Petersburg, and the Confederate government evacuated Richmond. Days later, when that city fell, Lincoln visited the vanquished Confederate capital; as he walked through the city, white Southerners were stone-faced, but freedmen greeted him as a hero. On April 9, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox and the war was effectively over.Donald (1996), p. 589.

1864 re-election

Lincoln was a master politician, bringing together—and holding together—all the main factions of the Republican Party, and bringing in War Democrats such as Edwin M. Stanton and Andrew Johnson as well. Lincoln spent many hours a week talking to politicians from across the land and using his patronage powers—greatly expanded over peacetime—to hold the factions of his party together, build support for his own policies, and fend off efforts by Radicals to drop him from the 1864 ticket.Fish, pp. 53–69.Tegeder, pp. 77–90. At its 1864 convention, the Republican Party selected Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat from the Southern state of Tennessee, as his running mate. To broaden his coalition to include War Democrats as well as Republicans, Lincoln ran under the label of the new Union Party.Donald (1996), pp. 494–507.

When Grant’s 1864 spring campaigns turned into bloody stalemates and Union casualties mounted, the lack of military success wore heavily on the President’s re-election prospects, and many Republicans across the country feared that Lincoln would be defeated. Sharing this fear, Lincoln wrote and signed a pledge that, if he should lose the election, he would still defeat the Confederacy before turning over the White House:Grimsley, p. 80. {} Lincoln did not show the pledge to his cabinet, but asked them to sign the sealed envelope.

While the Democratic platform followed the "Peace wing" of the party and called the war a "failure", their candidate, General George B. McClellan, supported the war and repudiated the platform. Lincoln provided Grant with more troops and mobilized his party to renew its support of Grant in the war effort. Sherman’s capture of Atlanta in September and David Farragut’s capture of Mobile ended defeatist jitters;Donald (1996), p. 531. the Democratic Party was deeply split, with some leaders and most soldiers openly for Lincoln. By contrast, the National Union Party was united and energized as Lincoln made emancipation the central issue, and state Republican parties stressed the perfidy of the Copperheads.Randall & Current (1955), p. 307. Lincoln was re-elected in a landslide, carrying all but three states, and receiving 78 percent of the Union soldiers’ vote.Paludan, pp. 274–293.

On March 4, 1865, Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address. In it, he deemed the high casualties on both sides to be God’s will. Historian Mark Noll concludes it ranks "among the small handful of semi-sacred texts by which Americans conceive their place in the world".Noll, p. 426. Lincoln said: