ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809–1865)
Sixteenth president of the United States.
Photographed by Alexander Gardner at
Washington, D.C., on November 8,
1863, eleven days before delivering the
Gettysburg Address. (Photograph with oil paint colorization.)
WHAT WAS ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S LEGACY TO AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONALISM AND CITIZENSHIP?
The two hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, 1809, provides an occasion for teaching and learning about this great man’s contributions to American constitutionalism and citizenship. To this end, the Center for Civic Education has produced this lesson to supplement We the People:
The Citizen & the Constitution, Level 3, a civic education text for high school students. This lesson should be used after students have completed Lessons 1–7 (Unit One) and 17 (Unit Three). The competitive hearings of the 2009 national finals will include a question on Abraham Lincoln and his legacy.
NOTE TO TEACHERS
PURPOSE OF THE LESSON
This lesson traces the rise of Abraham Lincoln from his humble beginnings to the presidency of the United
States. It also examines Lincoln’s ideas and decisions regarding slavery and the use of presidential power to preserve the Federal Union during the Civil War.
When you have completed this lesson, you should be able to explain how Abraham Lincoln overcame daunting disadvantages to become a great president.
You should be able to analyze and evaluate President
Lincoln’s decisions in response to critical constitutional issues of the Civil War. And you should understand and appreciate Lincoln’s enduring legacy to
American constitutionalism and citizenship.
WHO WAS ABRAHAM LINCOLN?
Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), the sixteenth president of the United States, is a symbol of democracy.
His stirring story of hard-won achievements occupies a primary place in America’s heritage. Lincoln’s story
began in Kentucky on February 12, 1809. Born in a crude, one-room log cabin, Abraham was the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. His parents were typical pioneers who had traveled west from Virginia to seek opportunity on the frontier.
In the fall of 1816, when Abraham was seven years old, his family moved north across the Ohio River to acquire 160 acres of land in the wilderness of southern
Indiana. Abraham’s mother died in 1817, and his father married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow from
Kentucky, who nurtured her stepson’s ambition.
Although his formal education was sporadic and limited, amounting to less than one year of school,
Abraham acquired an abiding love of reading. Many years later, he wrote, “A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has been discovered by others.”
Lincoln’s lifelong commitment to learning was his key to self-improvement. In March of 1830, when
Abraham was twenty-one years old, his family went west again in quest of a better life. The destination this time was the fertile farmland near Decatur
Why was young Abe Lincoln’s habit of reading books a key to his achievements as an adult?
in Macon County, Illinois. Abraham, however, soon moved away from his family to New Salem, Illinois, where he studied law by reading legal texts on his own, pursued political interests, and won election to the Illinois state legislature in 1834. He served four two-year terms.
S U P P L E M E N TA L L E S S O N
In 1836, Lincoln acquired a license to practice law and the following year moved to Springfield, the new state capital, where he prospered as a politician and lawyer. In
1842, Lincoln married the socially prominent Mary
Todd, and from 1843 to 1853, they had four sons. In
1846, Lincoln won election to the U.S. House of
Representatives. However, his outspoken criticism of President James Polk for leading the nation to war with Mexico turned public opinion against him.
So, he left Congress at the end of his two-year term and temporarily withdrew from politics.