|Abraham Lincoln (1809 -1865)
US statesman and 16th president. His position as a prominent Whig in Illinois took him to the US House of Representatives. He was a lawyer in Springfield, and his eloquently stated if moderate anti-slavery views gained him increasing attention. He become the presidential nominee of the new anti-slavery Republican Party in 1860. Lincoln received only 40% of the popular vote but he won a majority of the Electoral College votes. Although he had stated his willingness to tolerate slavery where it currently existed, his election precipitated the secession of Southern states and the formation of the Confederacy. In the years of civil war that followed, the inxperienced Lincoln proved to be one of the most extraordinary leaders, both political and moral, the USA has ever seen. First defining the war as being fought over secession rather than slavery, he oversaw the creation of the Union army. When the political time was right he announced the Emancipation Proclamation, thereby interpreting the war as a crusade against slavery, and later oversaw the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) which legally ended slavery. With his immortal Gettysburg Address (November 1863), he further defined the war as the struggle for preservation of the democratic idea which he called ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’. Meanwhile, he took a direct interest in the conduct of the war, hiring and firing generals, getting daily reports from the battlefields, and visiting the troops in the front lines. All this time he had also to mediate between the pressures of radical and conservative elements of the North, using an astute combination of suppression and conciliation, and barely surviving the election in 1864. Having seen the victory of the Union forces, he was beginning to plan a generous reconstruction policy when he was shot by Southern fanatic John Wilkes Booth and died the next day. Master of both a Biblical eloquence and a homespun vernacular, a natural at combining practical politics with moral principles, in only four years as president he had established why he is one of the few Americans who truly ‘belong to the ages’.