Lincoln was mostly self-taught, growing up on farms in Kentucky. The family moved to Illinois in 1830 and settled at New Salem, near Springfield. Lincoln worked at various odd jobs in New Salem until 1837. Lincoln read everything he could, studied the law and became interested in politics. He spent seven years in the Illinois state legislature as a Whig after 1834 and was admitted to the bar in 1836. In 1837, he began a law practice in Springfield. Elected to the U.S. House of Representative (1847-49), he opposed the Mexican War and was forced to return to his law practice. The slavery issue led Lincoln back to run unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1855 and in 1856 he joined the newly formed Republican party. In 1858, he ran against Stephen Douglas for the senatorial seat in Illinois. The campaign is noted for the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates which highlighted Lincoln's oratorial skills and gave him national attention even though he lost the election. Following a speech in New York at the Cooper Union in February, 1860, Lincoln was nominated as the Republican candidate for president. Running against Douglas, who had been nominated only after a split in the Democratic party, Lincoln won the election as the 16th U.S. President. To Southerners, he represented a party which was totally opposed to slavery and any compromises regarding that issue. By the time Lincoln took office in March of 1861, the secession movement was already underway.
After the attack on Fort Sumtner in South Carolina, Lincoln won complete support from Congress and war was declared. He was given full powers during the war and on numerous occasions, violated the Constitutional rights of individuals. However, his aim was the preservation of the Union and to that end he succeeded. With the South on the defensive in 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery throughout the Union, further isolating the South on moral grounds. In 1863, Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches on human liberty. In the election of 1864, Lincoln was so strong that he won, albeit with only a 400,000 popular vote majority, a second term in office. The war ended in Confederate defeat on 9 April, 1865. Lincoln, while attending Ford's Theatre in Washington, was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14 and died the next morning. Lincoln is remembered as a humble man with noble qualities that rose to the occasion of his country's problems with strength and modesty.