Sections: Rise to National Prominence | The Presidency | “Now He Belongs to the Ages” | Vignettes 

Law and politics dominated Abraham Lincoln’s public life. Though he made his living practicing law, politics was his love. He had little interest in the technical aspects of the law; his talent lay in a superior power of reason. His quick mind enabled him to get to the heart of most issues quickly, and he was able to frame his arguments in language frontier jurors could understand.

If Lincoln had not been drawn out of a self-imposed retirement from politics following his single, disappointing term in the House of Representatives, he would only be remembered, if at all, as a good trial lawyer from the state of Illinois. Lincoln’s career path changed in 1854 with the enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed for the expansion of slavery. When Lincoln transferred his mental dexterity and persuasive ability, combined with a deeply felt moral cause, to the political arena, the results were startling. Abolitionists, liberal Whigs, Know Nothings, Free-Soilers, and Republicans, fractured politically, found someone around whom they all could unite, and they lifted a little-known prairie lawyer to heights he could not have imagined.