Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States. He successfully led the country through its greatest internal crisis, the American Civil War, preserving the Union and ending slavery. As the war was drawing to a close, Lincoln became the first American president to be assassinated. Before his
election in 1860 as the first Republican president, Lincoln had been a lawyer, an Illinois state legislator, a member of the United States House of Representatives, and twice an unsuccessful candidate for election to the Senate.
As an outspoken opponent of the expansion of slavery in the United States, Lincoln won the Republican Party nomination in 1860 and was elected president later that year. His tenure in office was occupied primarily with the defeat of the secessionist Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. He introduced measures that resulted in the abolition of slavery, issuing his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and promoting the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which passed Congress before Lincoln's death and was ratified by the states later in 1865.
Lincoln closely supervised the victorious war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including Ulysses S. Grant. Historians have concluded that he handled the factions of the Republican Party well, bringing leaders of each faction into his cabinet and forcing them to cooperate. Lincoln successfully defused the Trent Affair, a war scare with Britain in 1861. Under his leadership, the Union took control of the border slave states at the start of the war. Additionally, he managed his own reelection in the 1864 presidential election.
Opponents of the war criticized Lincoln for refusing to compromise on the slavery issue. Conversely, the Radical Republicans, an abolitionist faction of the Republican Party, criticized him for moving too slowly in abolishing slavery. Even with these road blocks, Lincoln successfully rallied public opinion through his rhetoric and speeches; his Gettysburg Address is but one example of this. At the close of the war, Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to speedily reunite the nation through a policy of generous reconciliation, a position his successor in the White House, Andrew Johnson, also took. His assassination in 1865 was the first presidential assassination in U.S. history, and as a result Lincoln has been considered a martyr for the ideal of national unity and human rights. Lincoln has been consistently ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.
Originally, John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland, had formulated a plan to kidnap Lincoln in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners. After attending an April 11 speech in which Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks, an incensed Booth changed his plans and determined to assassinate the president.
Learning that the President and First Lady would be attending Ford's Theater, he laid his plans, assigning his co-conspirators to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward.
Without his main bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, to whom he related his famous dream regarding his own assassination, Lincoln left to attend the play Our American Cousin on April 14, 1865. As a lone bodyguard wandered, and Lincoln sat in his state box (Box 7) in the balcony, Booth crept up behind the President and waited for what he thought would be the funniest line of the play ("You sock-dologizing old man-trap"), hoping the laughter would muffle the noise of the gunshot. When the laughter began, Booth jumped into the box and aimed a single-shot, round-slug 0.44 caliber Derringer at his head, firing at point-blank range. Major Henry Rathbone momentarily grappled with Booth but was cut by Booth's knife. Booth then leaped to the stage and shouted "Sic semper tyrannis!" (Latin: Thus always to tyrants) and escaped, despite a broken leg suffered in the leap.
A twelve-day manhunt ensued, in which Booth was chased by Federal agents (under the direction of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton). He was eventually cornered in a Virginia barn house and shot, dying of his wounds soon after.
An army surgeon, Doctor Charles Leale, initially assessed Lincoln's wound as mortal. The President was taken across the street from the theater to the Petersen House, where he remained in a coma for nine hours before dying. Several physicians attended Lincoln, including U.S. Army Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes of the Army Medical Museum. Using a probe, Barnes located some fragments of Lincoln's skull and the ball lodged 6 inches (15 cm) inside his brain. Lincoln never regained consciousness and died at 7:22:10 a.m. April 15, 1865. As he died his breathing grew quieter, his face more calm. According to some accounts, at his last drawn breath, on the morning after the assassination, he smiled broadly and then expired; Lincoln was the first president to be assassinated or to lie in state.
Lincoln's body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession through several states on its way back to Illinois. While much of the nation mourned him as the savior of the United States, Copperheads celebrated the death of a man they considered a tyrant. The Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, is 177 feet (54 m) tall and, by 1874, was surmounted with several bronze statues of Lincoln. To prevent repeated attempts to steal Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom, Robert Todd Lincoln had Lincoln exhumed and reinterred in concrete several feet thick in 1901.