Facts about Abraham Lincoln. Biography

Key facts about Abraham Lincoln

  • lincoln-100 Born February 12, 1809. Assassinated April 15, 1865.
  • 16th US President 1861-1865
  • Lincoln was President during the American Civil War, leading the Union to victory over the Confederate states.
  • Issued Emancipation Proclamation 1st January 1863
  • Gave Gettysburg Address 19 Nov 1863.
  • 1865 – helped pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery in the United States.
  • Assassinated by Confederate spy, John Wilkes Booth one week after the surrender of Lee’s Confederate Army.


Bouncing back from Failure

Lincoln’s life was notable for numerous setbacks and personal misfortune.

Lincoln failed in business in 1831 and again in 1833. He was defeated for the Legislature in 1832 defeated for speaker in 1838, defeated for Elector in 1840. Lincoln was defeated for Congress in 1843 and 1848. Defeated for Senate in 1855 and 1858. Defeated for Vice-President in 1856. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1836.

His mother died when he was nine. His beloved sister Sarah died from childbirth in 1821. He also had younger brother Tommy, who died three days old. His first love Ann Rutledge died of typhoid fever in 1835. He also saw two of his young sons die – Edward and “Willie” Lincoln (1862.)

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks


  • Abraham_Lincoln Lincoln was noted for his unusual, ugly looks. Walt Whitman gives a typical description on seeing Lincoln: “Lincoln has a face like a Hoosier Michael Angelo, so awful ugly it becomes beautiful, with its strange mouth, its deep cut, criss-cross lines, and its doughnut complexion.”
  • Height: Lincoln was tall (6″ 4′) and relatively thin. A neighbour in New Salem said of Lincoln he was “thin as a beanpole and ugly as a scarecrow.”
  • Weight: Most sources suggest around 180lbs. During his presidency, he is believed to have lost weight.
  • Beard. Lincoln was the first President to wear a beard.
  • He grew a beard after an 11-year old girl, Grace Bedell, wrote a letter in the fall of 1860 saying that he would be more charming with whiskers. ‘for you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin‘. Lincoln replied to her letter and started to grow a beard (Letter) (In the 1990s, the original letter was sold for $1,000,000.)

Personal life

  • Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky on the Western Frontier.
  • He was named Abraham Lincoln after his paternal grandfather who was a military captain in the American Revolution and was killed by Native Americans in 1786.
  • In 1816, his family moved to an unbroken forest in Indiana – a non-slaveholding territory.
  • Lincoln had two brushes with death; 1816 he was saved from drowning, 1819 he was kicked unconscious by a horse.
  • Lincoln read late into the night to improve his own education. He sought out any good books he could read.
  • In 1825, he left a borrowed book on George Washington out in the rain; the farmer Josiah Crawford made Lincoln work for two days to pay off the costs of damage to the book.
  • Lincoln abstained from alcohol and tobacco throughout his life
  • Lincoln supported the Temperance movement, though he also suggested the Temperance movement would be more successful if it concentrated less on denunciation and more an emphatic/sympathetic understanding of those who drink.
  • Lincoln became very close to his step-mother Sarah “Sally” Bush Johnson who his father remarried. His step-mother helped to re-invigorate the family home after finding it in a state of disrepair.
  • He was not close to his father and did not attend his funeral.
  • Lincoln was physically strong, adept at using an axe. However, he was said to be not keen on manual labour.
  • Until he was 21, he had to give all earnings to his father. It gave him a natural empathy for those who could not keep the fruits of their labour.
  • Up until 1827, Lincoln earned no more than 31 cents per day for manual labour. He once ferried two passengers halfway across the Ohio river, and he was tossed two half dollar coins. Saying: “It was a most important incident in my life. I could scarcely credit that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day. … The world seemed wider and fairer before me.
  • Lincoln volunteered for the Army during the Black Hawk War, though he never saw action.
  • On one occasion during the Black Hawk War, he saved the life of a Potawatomi – a native Indian who wandered into this camp. His men wanted to kill him, but Lincoln intervened to prevent this.
  • In 1832, Lincoln opened a general store in New Salem, Illinois. It proved a commercial failure. Lincoln liked to talk politics to customers, and his partner drank heavily building up debts.
  • After his business failed in 1833, he was left with debts of $1100. He avoided bankruptcy and referred to it as his “National Debt.” He eventually paid it off.
  • Lincoln worked at various jobs – farm hand, rail-splitter, county surveyor, lawyer, boatman, General Store Manager, New Salem Postmaster, speaker.
  • Lincoln became an adept boatman, making long trips down the major rivers of Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio.
  • Lincoln is the only president to successfully apply for a patent (No. 6469). His device was to help boats stuck on sandbanks.
  • As president, he earned $25,000 a year. On his death, he left no will and had an estate of $82,000.
  • He married Mary Todd in 1842. Lincoln was not confident around women, stating once “I can never be satisfied with anyone who would be blockhead enough to have me.”


  • Lincoln attended school for less than a year.
  • Lincoln was an entirely self-taught lawyer, learning from Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.
  • Lincoln was admitted to the bar in 1836.
  • Lincoln’s law practices were based in Springfield, Illinois.
  • Lincoln and his partners handled over 5,000 cases. From murder charges to civil and Railroad cases.
  • Lincoln took one case to the US Supreme Court Lewis v. Lewis (1849)
  • In 1858, he defended William Armstrong on the count of murder. He successfully defended his client after using a Farmer’s Almanac to show on that day the moon was at a low angle, and witnesses could not have seen the event in detail.


  • Lincoln witnessed slavery first-hand while sailing down to New Orleans. It is said he took a vow to end slavery after seeing a beautiful negro girl sold into slavery.
  • Lincoln opposed slavery by often referring to the Declaration of Independence and the opening lines on the equality of men. Lincoln contented the Founding Fathers intended for slavery to die out and for the US to aspire closer to this lofty goal of equality.
  • In the 1850s, Lincoln opposed acts such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act which could see the spread of slavery into free states.
  • In the 1850s, Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He did not believe the constitution allowed to interfere in the southern slaveholding states. However, he personally wished for all men to be free and denounced the extension of slavery into any new state.
  • In 1857, Lincoln denounced the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott v Sanford, arguing that Declaration of Independence

    ‘did consider all men created equal — equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’.”


  • From 1834-1842, Lincoln served as a Whig politician holding a seat in the Illinois state legislature.
  • Lincoln’s domestic policies included supporting internal improvements – government spending on infrastructure, such as canals, roads and bridges.
  • Lincoln quietly expressed support for giving women the vote at a time when it was rare: “I go for admitting all whites to the right of suffrage who pay taxes or bear arms – by no means excluding females.” June 13, 1836 (Sangamo Journal)
  • 1847-49 he was a Whig member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Lincoln was critical of President Polk’s actions over the Mexico War. This was politically costly for Lincoln, as many considered it unpatriotic to question the President’s motives and action over the war.
  • After two years in Congress, he decided not to re-stand for election and 1849 returned to being a lawyer.
  • In 1854, Lincoln ran for Senate as a Whig. Despite leading after six rounds, Lincoln asked his friends to vote for the anti-slavery Lyman Trumbull. Lincoln felt his withdrawal was necessary to beat the incumbent pro-slavery Democratic candidate. Trumball would remember this act of political magnanimity, and he went on to co-author the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.
  • In 1858, Lincoln campaigned for Senate against Stephen Douglass. There were seven major debates, which attracted large crowds. Douglas supported the extension of slavery. Lincoln opposed the extension
  • Although he lost this 1858 election, his performance impressed many in the new Republican Party.
  • During the 1860 election for the Republican Nomination, Lincoln was considered the outsider. He had little executive experience, serving only two years in the House of Representatives.
  • In the 1860 Presidential election, Lincoln was promoted as the “The Rail-splitter candidate” Lincoln’s humble roots, coming from a log-cabin and hard manual labour of splitting logs for rails was used to portray their candidate as a man of the people, someone embodying the “American Dream.”
  • In the 1860 election, Lincoln won – becoming the first US president from the Republican Party.
  • In 1860, turnout was a record 82.2%.
  • He won the electoral college by 180 to 123, though received only 39% of the national vote.
  • In the 1861 Inaugural address, Lincoln made overtures to the south to prevent secession.
  • As President, Lincoln vetoed only four bills passed by Congress.
  • In 1861, Lincoln signed a bill for the first US income tax of 3% on incomes over $800.
  • Lincoln was responsible, in 1863, for making Thanksgiving a major US holiday.
  • In 1863 Lincoln approved the creation of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • In 1864, Lincoln approved a grant and federal support for Yosemite Valley and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove to be used for public recreation (later National Park)
  • In 1864, Lincoln was re-elected in a landslide, receiving 78% of the Union soldiers vote.

Lincoln during the Civil War

Lincoln and his cautious General McClellan.

  • Lincoln was determined to avoid firing the first shots in any Civil War with the South. However, ignoring the advice of many in his cabinet, he also approved the Federal Fort Sumter to be restocked, leading to the first skirmish of the war.
  • In the early months of the war, Lincoln tread carefully to keep Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri and Delaware from joining the Confederacy. Lincoln said, “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”
  • Lincoln assumed sweeping powers during the Civil War, taking a close interest in military issues as Commander in Chief.
  • Lincoln’s acts included a military draft, suspension of habeas corpus and the power to appoint generals.
  • Lincoln avidly read many military manuals and became frustrated with generals, such as McClellan who he considered too timid.
  • During the Civil War, Lincoln was criticised by both “Copperheads” southern Democrats supportive of slavery in the south, and radical Republicans who wished to see the immediate abolition of slavery.
  • In 1862, Lincoln stated the Civil War was primarily about defending the Union: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.”
  • However, on September 22, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in 10 states under Union control. The end of slavery now became a military objective.
  • On signing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln stated: “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper.”
  • The Gettysburg Address November 19th. Lincoln spoke for just three minutes, saying 272 words.
  • Lincoln was ill during the Gettysburg Address with an early stage of smallpox.
  • At Gettysburg, a fellow senator Edward Everett gave the main address, speaking before Lincoln for two hours and 13,607-words.
  • In 1863/64, Lincoln appointed General Ulysses S. Grant to the command of the Union army.
  • Many criticised General Grant and spread rumours of his heavy drinking, but Lincoln, supportive of his general, reportedly stated: ‘Well, I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.”
  • Lincoln toured battlefields. On one occasion, Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes shouted at him, “Get down, you damn fool, before you get shot!”
  • Lincoln often showed compassion to deserters. He rarely allowed execution for desertion. Overturning 75% of death sentences for desertion – rising to 95 percent by the middle of the war.


  • Abraham Lincoln was assassinated Good Friday, April 14, 1865, while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre.
  • On the day of his death, Lincoln told his wife, he wished to visit the Holy Land.
  • Booth was a Confederate spy from Maryland, who was incensed when Lincoln supported voting rights for blacks in a speech 11 April 1865.

Personal characteristics

  • “Honest Abe” – Abraham Lincoln gained the nickname of ‘Honest Abe’ when his business partner died and Lincoln inherited his debts. Rather than flee town, as was common in the West, Lincoln remained and worked hard for several years to pay off his debts.
  • Lincoln was widely considered a man of integrity, truth and conscience.
  • In 1856, Walt Whitman denounced northern, eastern Democrats, stating he wished to vote for a Presidential candidate who had the following characteristics. “I would be much pleased to see some heroic, shrewd, fully-informed, healthy-bodied, middle-aged, beard-faced American blacksmith or boatman come down from the West across the Alleghanies.”
  • Lincoln rarely resorted to slogans, stereotypes and personal attacks in politics, but generally offered considerations developed from his reflections and reading.
  • In the political sphere, Lincoln generally rejected equal voting rights for black voters (it was a minority political view in the 1860s). Frederick Douglass, who sometimes disagreed with Lincoln, nevertheless stated. “He treated me as a man… He did not let me feel for a moment that there was any difference in the colour of our skins.”


  • Lincoln loved to read the Bible. He never joined any particular church, though he did attend different churches with his wife, especially when President.
  • Lincoln expressed belief in an all-powerful God, but no explicit profession of Christian beliefs.

Unusual facts about Lincoln

  • On November 9, 1863, he saw the actor John Wilkes Booth – his eventual assassin during a play ‘The Marble Heart’ at Ford’s Theatre.
  • In 1842 Abraham Lincoln almost fought a duel with swords with the Illinois State Auditor, James Shields. The duel never took place after friends intervened.
  • On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln made the traditional Thanksgiving celebration a national holiday.
  • After Lincoln was elected president in 1860, the King of Siam offered him a gift of elephants.
  • Co-incidences with the assassination of JFK and A.Lincoln. Both presidents were shot in the head on a Friday seated beside their wives. Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre; Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln automobile, made by Ford. (more co-incidences)

Labels applied to Lincoln

  • “Spotty Lincoln” – over Lincoln’s desire to enforce President Polk to point to spot where the first conflict with Mexico actually occurred.
  • “Black Republican” – During the 1858 Senate election, Lincoln was given the derogatory label ‘Black Republican’ for his support for black Americans.
  • The Great Emancipator.
  • Father Abraham – For biblical reference to Abraham who led his people during the war.
  • The Tycoon – For energetic leadership of Civil War
  • Uncle Abe – For his kindly, avuncular nature.

Historical Reputation

  • In scholarly ranking polls, Lincoln has been rated as the best president in a poll of polls (Washington Post)