Strange Flag over Sumter
In This Chapter
John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry
The fall of Fort Sumter and the early battles
Union military failures
Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin in Hardin (now Larue) County, Kentucky. In 1816, the family moved to Indiana and, finally, to Illinois in 1830. Largely self-taught, Lincoln tried various occupations and served as a militiaman in the Black Hawk War (1832). Although he had little appetite for military life, Lincoln took “much satisfaction” in having been elected captain of his militia company. That position opened new horizons for the young backwoodsman. Lincoln ran for the Illinois state legislature, losing his first bid but subsequently gaining election to four consecutive terms (1832-41). After setting up a successful law practice in Springfield, the state capital, he served a term (1847-49) in the U.S. House of Representatives but then returned to his law practice.
At this point, by his own admission, Lincoln “was losing interest in politics.” Then came the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Its doctrine of popular sovereignty potentially opened new territories to slavery, and Lincoln saw the provisions of the act as immoral. Although he believed that the Constitution protected slavery in states where it already existed, he also thought that the Founding Fathers had put slavery on the way to extinction by legislating against its spread to new territories. Lincoln ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1855, then, the following year, left the Whig party to join the newly formed Republicans.
In 1858, Lincoln ran for the Senate against the Illinois incumbent, Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln accepted his party’s nomination (June 16, 1858) with a powerful speech suggesting that Douglas, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, and Democratic presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan had actually conspired to nationalize slavery. Declaring that compromise was doomed to fail and that the nation would become either all slave or all free, he paraphrased the Bible: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” For the fate of the country, it was as if he spoke prophecy.