Abraham Lincoln Influential Leader
While each President of the United States has their own personal legacy, a select few of the men who occupied office can be considered as one of the most influential to the United States, and its development. One president in particular laid the groundwork that helped shape our nation in to what it is today, a country that is united and promotes equality. Facilitating reconciliation when the North and South were divided, abolishing slavery, and giving one of the most memorable speeches in American history. President Abraham Lincoln is truly one of the most influential Presidents that helped to shape the United States in to what it is today.
Abraham Lincoln came from humble beginnings and was largely self-educated. He was elected to be a representative on the Illinois State Legislature in 1834, which kick started his career in politics. Lincoln served four consecutive terms, and before leaving he passed the Illinois Bar exam to become a lawyer (Leidner, 2017). He served a single term in Congress before taking a hiatus from politics to focus on his law practice. When the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was created, this mandated that the rule of “popular sovereignty would be used to decide if slavery would be allowed, settlers of a new territory would make the decision based on majority rules (History.com Staff, 2009). This fueled Abraham Lincoln to reinstate his career in politics. He joined the New Republican Party in 1856, and ran for senate in 1858. A lot of his debates “providing energetic moral arguments against slavery (Leidner, 2017). Despite losing the senate race to Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860.
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After he was elected as President, Abraham Lincoln didn’t immediately begin working on abolishing slavery, despite wanting to. In the early part of the Civil War he wanted to avoid alienating slaveholding states that had remained in the Union (Lagasse). In 1862 he wrote a letter to congress “recommending a resolution to encourage the gradual emancipation of slaves (National Archives). Months before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, President Lincoln signed a bill that ended slavery in the District of Columbia. Antislavery advocates had been pushing for the end of slavery in our nation’s capital for a long time (National Archives). President Lincoln’s main goal was to save the Union to the best of his ability, either by “preserving slavery, by destroying it, or by destroying part and preserving part (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). Deciding the best option was to go with destroying part and preserving part, on January 1, 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, and slavery was abolished in the Confederate States. The Emancipation Proclamation was an important part to ending slavery in the United States, the end result being the eventual ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. In regards to the Emancipation Proclamation Abraham Lincoln said, “The central act of my administration, and the greatest event of the nineteenth century (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica).
Though the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address aren’t always connected, remembering Abraham Lincoln’s ideals of emancipation helped to give his speech at Gettysburg an even deeper meaning. In the months leading up to his speech, Lincoln was constantly defending the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as pushing to abolish slavery in the Border States and in the Confederate States that were under the Union’s military control (Conant, 2015). The Gettysburg address is one of the most famous speeches, and another reason why President Lincoln was one of the most influential people in American history. Despite not being the keynote speaker that day, and how short his speech actually was, it resonated with people, and even today is considered one of the most important speeches. While only ten sentences long, each word was meticulously chosen to have an impact on its listeners. “Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a rhetorical masterpiece delivered in less than three minutes, defined the war as necessary for the survival of the nation and its ideals (National Archives). Abraham Lincoln was committed to equality among people, and this could be heard throughout his speech at Gettysburg. In his opening line, Lincoln references the Declaration of Independence, stating he is “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal (Lincoln, 1863). This first sentence helps to support his principles of human equality, as well as throughout his speech redefining the Civil War as a way to rebirth as a free nation, bringing true equality by ending slavery (Graham, 2008). Throughout his speech Abraham Lincoln was trying to instill that a nation united, and with a strong central government, could end slavery, and liberty for all. Lincoln insisted that liberty wasn’t just a lofty dream, but something that was truly attainable. “Lincoln not only inspired the North to continue the fight, he forever changed how we think about our country (Huebner, 2013).
The Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address helped Abraham Lincoln to facilitate unification of a nation divided, and to influence others to support not allowing for the expansion of slavery to new territories, and eventually to the abolishment of slavery as a whole. The Civil War ended, and instead of giving a victory speech President Lincoln gave a speech about reconstruction, and re-joining ties that had been severed by the war (Berman & Beardsley, 2005). Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated April 15, 1985, and never had the opportunity to fully see all of his efforts come to fruition. Regardless, Abraham Lincoln’s actions throughout his presidency helped to reshape the dynamic of the United States, making it what it is today.