Who was Abraham Lincoln?


Lieutenant General
- ★★★ -
Managing Member & Webmaster
Apr 1, 1999
Martinsburg, WV
The story of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood is known to every student. He was born February 12, 1809 on Sinking Springs Farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky. He was the first president born outside the thirteen original colonies. After being forced off the farm in a property dispute, the Lincoln’s moved to Knob Creek, where they lived in a log cabin.

Many biographies make a point to mention that as a boy Lincoln most likely witnessed slaves being transported to the south along the Louisville–Nashville Turnpike, part of the old Cumberland Road, and that this informed his ultimate decision to end slavery. While that may be true, Lincoln’s views on race relations were more complex.


It can be argued that his opposition to slavery didn’t translate into support for integration or the social equality of the races. For example, Lincoln supported a law banning interracial marriage. In the first debate with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln ruminated on the dilemma.

“If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia…but a moment’s reflection would convince me…in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible…What then? Free them and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment, is not the sole question…A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot, then, make them equals.” But he did suggest “systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted.

From our modern vantage point, Lincoln’s views can seem contradictory. For example, on one hand, it’s seems clear he views blacks as social unequals.

“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.”

And yet, he was also against expanding the reach of slavery. “But all this, to my judgment, furnishes no more excuse for permitting slavery to go into our own free territory, than it would for reviving the African slave-trade by law.”

These views must be viewed in context. At the time, they were not considered radical or racist or unconstitutional; just practical and realistic.

As a legislator Lincoln was known to be opposed to slavery but was not considered an abolitionist. He was a careful moderate. In 1837 anti-slavery journalist Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by a pro-slavery mob. The Illinois legislature introduced a resolution that condemned abolitionist groups and designated Southern slavery as constitutionally sacred. Lincoln refused to vote for the resolution. Instead, he wrote a protest that declared slavery was “founded on both injustice and bad policy” but also that “the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than to abate its evils.”

Lincoln’s legislative career was not particularly memorable and by 1849 seemed to be coming to an end. But in 1854, Stephen A. Douglas’s support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act got Lincoln politically active again and ultimately led to his successful run for the Presidency.