Sunday, February 11, 2024

Abraham Lincoln: From Log Cabin to President -- By Brenna Powelson

Of the 46 U.S. Presidents, Abraham Lincoln has been ranked the best by historians, but what made Lincoln so special wasn't the fact that he saved the Union from falling to its knees to the Confederacy, how he helped bring about the end of slavery, or he proved Democracy is the way to govern. If it were these things that made Lincoln such a great president, why couldn't these things have been done before his presidency, and why hadn't anyone else been able to accomplish what Lincoln did? What made Lincoln, Lincoln? 

On February 12, 1809, Nancy and Thomas Lincoln welcomed a baby boy into their home who would be named Abraham, named after his grandfather who was killed by Native Americans. Abraham was not their first child; his older sister Sarah was born February 10, 1807, exactly two days and two years older than her brother. The family of four lived in a one room log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Nancy spent her days doing household chores and trying to teach her children to read and write the best she could, having no formal education herself. Thomas Lincoln was a farmer; he had 30 acres and raised pumpkins and corn. The children both attended a small school and helped with chores around the house and farm–Sarah with her mother, and Abe with his father. Abraham never truly enjoyed doing farm work and would rather be reading and learning. 

The family lived in Kentucky until 1816.  Because of conflicts over land titles and wanting to get away from the raise of slavery in Kentucky, the family moved to Pigeon Creek, Indiana, where Thomas built them a cabin. Abraham continued to help his father on the farm and improved his skill with the ax and the plow while continuing to attend school as often as he could but still very little. Lincoln grew up without the love for farming his father wanted him to have; however, to be fair, his love for farming would have been greater if he hadn't been kicked in the head by a horse, causing a lazy eye. I wouldn't like farming much either after that.

In 1819 the Lincoln family had to deal with a tragic loss. His mother passed away after getting milk sickness, which is caused when someone drinks the milk of a cow that ate a toxic plant. This was a hard hit for everyone in the family but mainly for Abraham, who was very close to his mother, as she encouraged him to read and learn. Forty years later Lincoln still felt the impact of his mother saying, "All that I am or hope to be, I own to my angel mother.” Thomas and Abraham built a coffin and buried Nancy on a hill near the cabin.

Unable to live without his wife, Thomas went back to Kentucky to find a new wife named Sarah Bush Johnston, who was a widow with children. Sarah loved the Lincoln children like her own. Lincoln's stepmother always showed affection to her stepson, and he returned her affection. Years after Lincoln's death Sarah would say, ¨Abe was the best boy I ever saw.”

Lincoln is known for his height. Standing at 6´4¨, he looked like a giant to most. At 19 years old Lincoln finished growing and spent his days wrestling with other locals. He continued wrestling when he moved to New Salem, where he wrestled in 300 matches and only lost one. The people in New Salem said Lincoln could lift a good amount of weight and drive an ax deeper than any man around.

Abraham and his sister grew up very close and would were still close until January 20, 1828, when Sarah passed away during childbirth. Sarah was married to Aaron Grigsby whose family lived near the Lincoln family. When Abraham heard of his sister´s death, all we could do was sob. After Abraham's death reporters traveled to Indiana to learn about the President and said Lincoln blamed Sarah's death on her husband´s negligence.

In 1828 Lincoln was invited by James Gentry to go on a flatboat with Gentry’s son to New Orleans with produce. Lincoln witnessed a slave auction, which greatly disturbed him and made a lasting impact on him. Lincoln ended up working for Gentry at his store in Illinois, where he developed an interest in politics. When people came into the store they would talk about political views, and Lincoln would listen, then began sharing views of his own. 

In 1830 Thomas Lincoln decided to move his family to Macon County, Illinois. Abraham left his family and moved to New Salem. Right off the bat Lincoln was well liked by his fellow citizens. During his time in New Salem, Lincoln was busy. He was elected captain of the thirty-first Regiment of the Illinois Militia in the Blackhawk War. He worked odd jobs such as a shopkeeper, surveyor, postmaster and also began to read law.  

Lincoln's professional life is talked about very often, but what is not mentioned as much is his personal life–for good reason, because it is sad. While in New Salem Lincoln met a lady named Ann Rutledge, who would make Lincoln feel love then the deepest despair. The couple met when Lincoln was working as the postmaster. Lincoln is known as the man who captured Anne´s heart after her first failed engagement. ¨Lincoln's last law partner, William Herndon, wrote in a letter that Lincoln and she were engaged. Lincoln told me so.¨ While little is known about the couple it is said that Anne was Lincoln's first love, and when she died from typhoid fever, Lincoln couldn't stand it.

Lincoln eventually married Miss Mary Todd, a woman who was best described by a friend of Lincoln as, a woman who was to make his domestic life “a burning, scorching hell, terrible as death and as gloomy as the grave.” Mary was the opposite of her future husband. When Lincoln arrived in Illinois, he already had a crowd of people following him, wanting to know the tall lanky man. Mary, on the other hand, was not well liked. It is said that everyone who met her disliked her. The couple married in 1842 and lived in Springfield. They were the talk of the town, with people saying such things as “She seemed to take a special delight in contradicting her husband and humiliating him on every occasion,” said Maria Biddle. “Poor Abe, I can see him now running and crouching,” William Herdon said. Mary would even assault the man with broomsticks, potatoes, pieces of stove wood, cups of hot coffee—sometimes striking him hard enough to draw blood. 

The unhappy couple remained married until the fateful day in April of 1865. They had four children: Robert 1843-1926, Edward 1846-1850, Thomas 1853-1871, and the youngest William, who lived 1850-1862. 

Lincoln is very well known for his political career, but some may not know that he started his political career at a young age. In 1834 he was elected as a Whig candidate in the lower house of the Illinois General Assembly, where he served until 1846 when he was elected from the Whig Party to the United States House of Representatives, where he only served one term. During his term he introduced spot resolutions, challenging President James K. Polk to prove that the "spot" of land on which American blood had been shed was the event that prompted the United States to declare war on Mexico had in fact been shed on American soil. In March of 1849 he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court before resuming law in Springfield. 

In 1854 Lincoln was inspired to return to politics when passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act allowed slavery to expand beyond their existing boundaries. He gave a three hour speech to run for the Illinois House of Representatives, which was unsuccessful, as was his run for the Illinois Senate.

Between August to October of 1858 Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, the Democratic candidate for the United States Senate, traveled around Illinois debating on certain topics, with each debate lasting three hours. These debates put Lincoln's political career on the map, while muffling Douglas´ Career. 

Over the years Lincoln became very popular in Illinois, and the northern states nominated him to run as president on May 18, 1860.  He ran against the other candidates: John Breckinridge as a southern Democrat, John Bell, Constitutional Union, and Stephen A Douglas as a Democratic candidate 

Abraham Lincoln won the election, becoming the 16th president of the United States, with 180 electoral votes and 1,866,452 poplar votes. John Breckinridge lost with 72 electoral votes and 847,953 popular votes, John Bell with 39 electoral votes and 590,901 popular votes, and Stephen Douglas with 12 electoral votes and 1,380,202 popular votes.

From March 4, 1861 to April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln served his four-year term as President of the United States, and from April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865, the American Civil War was fought. The war lasted four years, becoming one of the bloodiest battles in American history. On April 15th President Lincoln called for 75,000 militia, after which Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee seceded from the Union in the following weeks.

During the bloody war the president tried to lead the Union to success while the Confederacy tried to drag the Union through the mud. Soldiers dropped like flies due to war conditions or sicknesses like pneumonia, typhoid, diarrhea/dysentery, and malaria. Many deaths were a result of infected battle wounds that were left untreated. 

The first two years of the war dragged by for the soldiers, for the president, and for the United States as a whole. While not actually fighting on the battlefield himself, Lincoln would communicate with the military using electronic devices such as the telegram, making him the first president in history to do so. 

After Lincoln was elected the South started to secede from the Union, with South Carolina being the first to secede on December 20 of 1860. Lincoln had to secretly arrive in Washington DC after an assassin attempt in Baltimore. One March 4th, Lincoln was Inaugurated the 16th president of the United States. On April 12th the Confederacy fired on the Union held Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War. 

On January 1st of 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, which stated enslaved people in rebelling states could be free. Black troops were happy, but white southerners were outraged. This document was a turning point, because now the end goal was to make a better Union without slavery. 

One of the most famous battles in the Civil War was the Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863. The battle had more casualties than any other battles of the war, but the Union came out on top after a gruesome battle. Thirty-three thousand were wounded, and ten thousand died. There were six Confederate generals and five Union generals in this battle, more than any other battle. The Battle of Gettysburg is known as one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Months later in November of 1863 the nation was looking for their leader to guide them after years of fighting and gallons of blood shed on American soil. President Lincoln gave one of the most famous speeches in American history. Lasting only two minutes and consisting of only 272 words, it was Lincoln's shortest speech. 

The next two years of the war felt like two decades, but on April 9, 1865 at last the Union won over the Confederacy. With the war finished, the 13th Amendment went into effect, freeing all enslaved people in the nation. Unfortunately, the president would only have six days to celebrate with the Union.

On April 14th at 10:20 p.m. Lincoln was watching a play at Ford's Theater when John Wilkes Booth snuck up behind him and shot him straight into the back of his head. Lincoln was taken across the street at the Petersen boarding house, since it was thought Lincoln would not survive the ride to the White House due to bumpy roads. In Lincoln´s room, his wife Mary checked on him regularly. Outside thousands of people were on the street waiting for news.

At 7:22 a.m. President Lincoln was pronounced dead; for this was one hit the president could not shake off. However, his leadership changed the state of Illinois and the entire country more than any other president.


Weathering the Storms

Living in the Midwest, we are familiar with the ever changing, diverse, and oftentimes, extreme weather. I don’t need to tell you how crazy Mother Nature’s mood swings can be. We’ve all experienced them—sometimes two or three within a twenty-four hour period!

Living in a rural community, not only do we experience these weather events on a regular basis, but we talk about them—at lot! In fact, chatting about the weather in these parts isn’t just making small talk, it’s talking about something important to our daily lives. Whether we are working, exercising, or playing outdoors, being out and about taking care of business, or trying to figure out if the roads are passable, the weather is important. It’s also important to know what the weather is supposed to do. We have forecasts available at the tap of a phone screen. While weather apps are handy, they are constantly updating as the weather and conditions change, giving us more reason to constantly check our phones!

Growing up on a grain and livestock farm, and weathering the blizzards of the late seventies, I know that even though winter weather can be interesting and beautiful, it can also be dangerous. It can make it much harder to do the most basic of chores—watering and feeding livestock. With current technology we can look ahead and plan ahead, but it’s still no fun working outdoors under severe weather conditions. When heavy snow and strong wind hits, even the best laid plans can go awry.

With my current work as a conservationist, I try to plan field work for decent weather, but that’s not always possible. Hot and humid weather is not ideal, and neither is extremely cold, wet, and windy weather. During the winter, frozen fields without much snow cover can make field work go faster, allowing for driving across the fields to save much time. Last year, I had the misfortune to get stuck not once, but twice, when doing field work. That is more than all my previous 29 years at the Stark County SWCD combined. There was also a very near miss on a dirt road that started off innocent enough, but ended with me having very sweaty clenched palms around the steering wheel and my heart racing. Since we rarely have sunny and 75 degree days, that means we must work outdoors in less than perfect weather much of the time.

Fortunately, I try to see the beauty in my surroundings every day. So while it’s tempting to stay tucked away inside as much as possible in bad weather, I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to catch winter weather scenery photos. I’m out with my camera on foggy, misty, frosty, snowy, and icy days, photographing some of nature’s simplest but finest beauty—various forms of precipitation on our local native trees, plants, and landscapes. Sometimes weathering the storm can be a beautiful thing, as long as you’re prepared for the worst.