Abraham Lincoln From the Ridiculous to the Sublime Term Paper

Pages: 11 (2935 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Military

Abraham Lincoln: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

Abraham Lincoln has gone down in history as one of the most endearing presidents of the United States. He was Commander in Chief during the country's most trying times, when brother was pitted against brother, and the entire country was divided in civil war. Lincoln is probably best known for the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed African-Americans from slavery.

Lincoln was born February 12, 1809 in Hardin County, Kentucky, and once wrote that his parents were both born in Virginia, "of undistinguished families, second families, perhaps I should say" (Abraham). His family moved from Kentucky to Indiana when he was eight years old, and a couple of years later his mother died (Abraham). Of Indiana, Lincoln wrote, "it was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods...there I grew up" (Abraham). He claimed that by the time he came of age, he did not know very much, but could "read, write, and cipher...but that was all" (Abraham). He made remarkable efforts to gain an education while working on a farm, splitting rails for fences, and keeping store at New Salem, Illinois (Abraham). Lincoln was a captain in the Black Hawk War, spent eight years in the Illinois legislature, rode the circuit courts for many years, and as his law partner once said of him, "his ambition was a little engine that knew no rest" (Abraham). Addressing the people of Sangamon County, Illinois on March 9, 1832, Lincoln said:

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For my part, I desire to see the time when education and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise, and industry - shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate that happy period" (Lincoln).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Abraham Lincoln From the Ridiculous to the Sublime Assignment

Lincoln ran against Stephen A. Douglas for Senator in 1958 and lost, however his debate with Douglas gained Lincoln a national reputation that won him the Republican nomination for President in 1860 (Abraham). While President, he built the Republican Party into a strong national organization, and rallied most of the northern Democrats to the Union cause (Abraham). He issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, that made African-American slaves within the Confederacy freemen, and never let the world forget that the Civil War involved a larger issue (Abraham). While dedicating the military cemetery at Gettysberg, Lincoln said, "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" (Abraham).

He won re-election in 1864, and as the Civil war was coming to an end, he encouraged the South to surrender and rejoin the Union (Abraham). A quote from his Second Inaugural Address now inscribed on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., states, "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds" (Abraham).

Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd had four children, all boys, but only one lived to maturity (Abraham). He was shot on April 14, 1865 at Ford's Theatre in Washington and the following morning the sixteenth President of the United States died (Abraham). The assassin, John Wilkes Booth was an actor, who believed he was helping the South, however, Lincoln's death actually secured the peace of the nation (Abraham).

In his Inaugural Address, Lincoln had warned the South,

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.

The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it" (Abraham).

Lincoln believed that secession illegal, and never hesitated in his willingness to use force in order to defend Federal law and the Union (Abraham). When Confederate soldiers fired on Fort Sumter and demanded its surrender, Lincoln called on the states for 75,000 volunteers, and the Civil War began (Abraham).

In the January 01, 2002 issue of White House Studies, Frank J. Williams writes that much has been said about Lincoln's fitness to serve as commander-in-chief and of his rather minimal military experiences prior to his presidency (Williams). However, William claims that Lincoln's wartime presidency actually benefited in many ways from his military service, regardless of its length (Williams). Lincoln certainly lacked serious military experience, especially in contrast to Jefferson Davis, who was a West Point graduate and Mexican War hero, and often joked that his brief Army career consisted of "four months' service with several rag-tag militia companies in the Black Hawk War" (Williams).

It is said that after he was elected a captain by his New Salem friends, Lincoln inspired more humor than gallantry as a leader, and that once while marching his troops toward a narrow gate, he forgot the proper command to form his men into a single column so they could advance, and finally shouted, "Halt. This company will break ranks for two minutes and form again on the other side of the gate" (Williams). Although Lincoln was a civilian by habit, experience, and vision, his background served him well when he led the citizen soldiers who fought in the Civil War (Williams).

According to Williams, Lincoln's service in the Black Hawk War should not be underestimated, and that his election as captain led him to reflect some 30 years later that no subsequent success of his life gave him as much satisfaction (Williams). Williams claims that it was a defining moment in Lincoln's life, much like Captain Harry Truman's experience during World War I (Williams). Both men drew numerous lessons from their experiences, the most important for Lincoln was that the exuberant young men could not make the transition from civilians to soldiers overnight, and would never fully transform themselves into full-time military men (Williams). He also learned from the experience that raw recruits came from a democratic culture with a high disregard for authority, and that in the end, many of these civilian soldiers simply could not, and would not, recognize the right of the military to keep them in service longer than they wished to stay (Williams). Such attitude, notes Williams, owed little or nothing to cowardice, laziness, or lack of patriotism, but had a great deal to do with a cultural instinct for independence (Williams). Lincoln shared the men's privation, particularly hunger, since the military supply system worked imperfectly at best and the soldiers often went without rations (Williams). However, when his men went hungry, so did Lincoln, and on one occasion passing two days without food (Williams). He instinctively understood that good humor, patience, a willingness to share equally in the hardships of the privates, and an absence of self-importance were the primary basis to provide leadership and to bind the men to him, all were of course characteristics of his mid-western nature (Williams).

Although Lincoln made mistakes as a war leader, he learned from them and grew as a strategist, all the while asking questions, reading and probing, anything within his power to win and shorten the war, and ironically he, a most unlikely military man, became America's apostle of modern war (Williams). Lincoln relieved George B. McClellan as General-in-Chief in 1862, on the grounds that one man could not direct an Army engaged in active operations and at the same time plan moves for other Armies (Williams). Until he appointed another officer, Henry W. Halleck, several months later, Lincoln acted as his own General-in-Chief, and gained confidence in his own powers to decide military questions (Williams). However, Halleck's refusal to perform the requirements of his position forced Lincoln to act once again as General-in-Chief until he appointed Ulysses S. Grant in 1864 (Williams).

Williams notes that Lincoln's most important legacy as a strategist was his establishment of the modern command system: "a Commander-in-Chief (Lincoln) to establish overall strategy, a General-in-Chief (Grant) to implement plans, and a Chief of Staff (Halleck) to relay information" (Williams). Thus, writes Williams, Lincoln, without recognizing his long-range contribution to the nation's modem command system, laid its foundation in 1864 (Williams). Under this new system, a joint product of Lincoln and Congress, Grant was named General-in-Chief, and was charged with the function of planning and directing the movements of all Union Armies, and because he disliked the political atmosphere in Washington, Grant established his headquarters with the field Army and the Eastern Theatre, but did not technically command that Army (Williams). Hallack then received a new office, as Chief of Staff, but not in the sense of today's term (Williams). Hallack was primarily a channel of communication between Lincoln and Grant and between Grant and the 17 departmental commanders under Grant… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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