Anti-slavery but not an abolitionist, Abraham Lincoln guided the United States during its most divisive period, the Civil War. Lincoln's childhood was spent in Kentucky and Indiana, primarily on wilderness farms. Following two boat trips to New Orleans, Lincoln moved to New Salem, IL, in 1831. Three years later he was elected to the Illinois legislature, where he served for four terms. He was a member of the Whig Party.
In 1836 he became a lawyer and the following year moved to Springfield to become a law partner of John Todd Stuart, the man who encouraged him to enter the profession. From 1847-1849, Lincoln was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he opposed the Mexican War as unconstitutional. Lincoln had lost interest in politics until the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. This legislation enabled, by local option, the potential spread of slavery to lands previously closed to slavery. Lincoln was anti-slavery but not an abolitionist, because he believed that slavery, where it already existed, was protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Joining the newly formed Republican Party in 1856, he campaigned two years later for the U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas. He challenged Douglas to debate the issues, and the two of them debated at seven locations in the state. Douglas won the election, and Lincoln's national prominence was established. He made his first Eastern political appearance at Cooper Union in New York City in 1860.
He became a presidential candidate and won the nomination over William H. Seward. Lincoln won the election, defeating three others. By the time of Lincoln's inauguration in March 1861, seven states already had seceded from the Union. On April 12 of that year South Carolina fired on the Union Army stationed at Fort Sumter and the Civil War began. Lincoln had a rough political period during the war, with Democrats unhappy because he suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1862 (earlier in some areas).
While Lincoln believed the Constitution protected slavery in peace, he believed that in war the commander in chief could abolish it as a military necessity. The preliminary version of his Emancipation Proclamation used this logic. By the election of 1864, Democrats and Republicans differed on the race issue: Lincoln endorsed the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery and his Democratic opponent, George B. McClellan, pledged to return rights to the South that it had in 1860. Lincoln's victory in the election changed the racial future of this country. It also agitated racist John Wilkes Booth to action, culminating in his shooting of Lincoln on April 15, 1865, five days after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Lincoln died the following day. Lincoln is remembered for his actions, exemplified both by his statement concerning the secession of some states--"A house divided against itself cannot stand"--and his address at Gettysburg, where he urged "malice toward none" and "charity for all" in the peace to come.