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Abraham Lincoln: Life and Death

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Often found on lists of history’s greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln left an unforgettable legacy as an early defender of civil rights and an opponent of slavery. He came from humble beginnings in rural America. Entering the political sphere, he was instrumental in shaping the new Republican Party. His election to the Presidency was decisive, though his policies were divisive. Honest Abe also saw the country through one of its most turbulent periods: The U.S. Civil War. However, his second term was cut short by an assassin and his full potential as President was never realized. In this video, learns more about the life, accomplishments and assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

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His many nicknames included “the Great Emancipator” and “Honest Abe.” Welcome to, and today we’ll be learning more about the life and accomplishments of President Abraham Lincoln.

Early Years

Born February 12th, 1809 in Kentucky, Lincoln spent his youth on farms in rural America. Mostly self-educated, he began to study law in 1835, only after he was elected to the Illinois state legislature as a member of the Whig Party. This political group was a challenger to President Andrew Jackson’s Democrats.

Beginnings in Politics

By 1846, Lincoln had secured a spot in the U.S. House of Representatives. His opposition to President James Polk’s Mexican-American war damaged his reputation, and he decided not to seek re-election after his term. Meanwhile, he had also become a successful lawyer and continued to practice after his two-years in Congress.

The New Republican Party

In 1854, Lincoln revisited politics to challenge the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was essentially a pro-slavery bill. Shortly after, the Whig Party practically dissolved, and Lincoln went on to have an influential role in molding the new Republican Party. Ultimately he lost the nomination as its Vice Presidential candidate in 1856. However, he continued campaigning against slavery.

A Strong Orator

In 1858, the Republicans nominated him to campaign for a place in the U.S. Senate as the representative of Illinois, against incumbent Democrat Stephen Douglas. Upon his selection, Lincoln strengthened his reputation as a strong public speaker by delivering one of his most famous speeches. Suggesting the country could not survive with both slave and free states, this speech contained the line “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Elected President

A fierce campaign followed, and included what are considered some of the most famous political debates in U.S. history. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were well-publicized at the time, and this raised Lincoln’s profile nationally. Though he ultimately lost the race, his interest in politics increased and in 1860, he was decisively elected the sixteenth President of the United States.

The U.S. Civil War

Because of Lincoln’s election, and his stance against the expansion of slavery, a group of seven southern states declared they would secede from the Union to become the Confederate States of America. Soon after, Lincoln delivered his inaugural address in Washington D.C. Just two months later, Confederate forces initiated the start of the U.S. Civil War, which led to the secession of a number of additional states. Exercising exceptional Presidential control during the battle, Lincoln went on to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, effectively freeing millions of slaves. Following a great Union triumph, on November 19th, 1863 the President delivered one of the most-quoted speeches of all time: his Gettysburg Address.

Re-Election and Assassination

Despite wavering support and the lingering war, Lincoln was re-elected by a landslide in 1864. When the Union finally won the war in April the next year, he was regarded as a hero by former slaves. However, he was still an enemy to many Confederates and on April 14th, 1865 he was assassinated by Confederate spy John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre.


Leading the country through one of its most tumultuous times, Abraham Lincoln left an indelible impression as one of the greatest Presidents of all time, and an early champion of human rights.

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