Abraham Lincoln debating against Stephen Douglas on the campaign trail for the Illinois Senate race.

Abraham Lincoln

Sometimes an initial lack of success leads to bigger things. In 1858 Abraham Lincoln ran against Stephen A. Douglas for senator of Illinois. Lincoln set the tone for that campaign when he addressed the volatile slavery issue with his prophetic statement, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Douglas accepted Lincoln's challenge to participate in seven debates throughout Illinois. Between August and October crowds as large as Twenty Thousand stood for three hours in each city to hear them speak. A New York Evening Post reporter wrote in repose, “I must confess that long Abe's appearance is not comely, but stir him up and the fire of genius plays on every feature.” Listening to him calmly and unprejudiced, I was convinced that he has no superior as a stump speaker. Interestingly Katharine Stubergh Keller modeled Lincoln's face from a copy of a rare 1860 life cast mask of the president she had acquired. She then loaned the mask to Disney to make their famous animatronic Lincoln at Disneyland. Lincoln lost the senatorial election, but in debating with Douglass he gained a national reputation that won him the Republican nomination for president in 1860. In the months between his election and inauguration seven states of the deep south (those most dependent on slavery) left the union. Just a few weeks later Confederate officials demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston South Carolina. On April 12 1861 they fired on the fort and the only war fought on American soil began. Four more slave states left the union before Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9th 1865 bringing an end to the civil war. Three million Americans had fought, six hundred thousand died.

Lincoln's deep commitment to preserving the union no matter what the consequences to himself had triumphed. Just over a week later on Good Friday. John Wilkes Booth shot and mortally wounded Lincoln at Ford's Theater. The nation's greatest president died the next morning April 15th 1865.


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