Abraham Lincoln. On January 20, 2009, a historic moment unfolded in the midst of a cold day. Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first African-American president in the history of the United States. A profound sense of history accompanied this event. Notably, Obama took his oath of office on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln, his idol, had used when he was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States 148 years earlier.
For Obama, Abraham Lincoln was a role model, to the extent that Lincoln’s portrait adorned his office in the White House. “Without Lincoln,” Obama remarked while gazing at a picture of Lincoln, “I might not be here.”
But what was it about Lincoln that fostered such a deep emotional connection between the two presidents?
Early Life of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. At that time, Kentucky, Lincoln’s birthplace, was a state that allowed slavery. As we delve into American history, it is crucial to understand the backdrop of slavery in the country.
Lincoln grew up in a religious family that firmly opposed slavery. In 1816, the Lincoln family moved to Indiana, a state that had abolished slavery. Their relocation was primarily influenced by a land dispute in Kentucky, as well as the desire to escape the institution of slavery.
After residing in Indiana for 15 years, the Lincoln family relocated to southern Illinois. It was during this period that Lincoln became more aware of the prevalence of slavery in his surroundings.
Lincoln’s he Joined the Whig Party
Lincoln’s political journey commenced when he joined the Whig Party, a party that was deeply critical of slavery. His upbringing in an anti-slavery family strongly influenced his aversion to the system. His ideological alignment with the Whigs was apparent.
Lincoln then entered the realm of Illinois politics, winning a seat in the state legislature in 1834. It was at this point that he developed a vision for opposing slavery’s expansion into new territories. Self-taught in law, he passed the bar exam in 1836. He subsequently relocated to the state capital of Illinois, Springfield.
Early Focus on American Slavery
On November 7, 1837, the killing of an abolitionist named Elijah Lovejoy by pro-slavery mobs had a profound impact on Lincoln. It marked the occasion for Lincoln to deliver his first speech as a politician and attorney.
In his address titled “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions” at the Young Men’s Lyceum in Illinois, Lincoln condemned the violent mob actions in America. He urged citizens to respect the rule of law. He warned that if mob violence was left unchecked, it could lead to a time when America would be governed by a dictator.
Another poignant experience deepened Lincoln’s concern about slavery. In September 1841, while returning from Kentucky, he encountered a group of 12 slaves who were chained together and being offered for sale by their master. Surprisingly, these enslaved individuals were able to joke and even sing together. This encounter left a profound impression on Lincoln, stirring a mix of sadness and admiration for the resilience of these people in the face of such adversity.