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Presentation U.S. History Primary Source Timeline

Abraham Lincoln's Presidency

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 and again in 1864. His first inauguration, on March 4,1861, featured an unprecedented amount of security around the president-elect, spurred by the approaching onset of the U.S. Civil War.

Lincoln had campaigned against Stephen Douglas, mostly in a series of debates which addressed popular sovereignty and slavery. Guided by the phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal,” Lincoln spoke against slavery. While Lincoln opposed slavery, he also was well aware of Constitutional boundaries to what actions the president could take.

The war brought the issue of emancipation to the forefront, but Lincoln postponed executive action until he felt he had clear authority. Congress passed legislation in July 1862 and after months of working with his cabinet, on January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation declared "all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery, but it did change the basic character of the Civil War. The North was now fighting to create a new Union without slavery.

As the war continued, both sides suffered enormous loss in numerous battles. For example, more than 50,000 people died in the Battle of Gettysburg. On November 19, 1863, Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address during the dedication of that battle cemetery.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, validated on December 18, 1865, ended slavery in the United States, but Lincoln did not live to see that ratified. On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln while he was attending a play at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln died early the next morning.