Young Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln began his political career in 1832, at age 23, with an unsuccessful campaign for the Illinois General Assembly, as a member of the Whig Party. He ran eighth in a field of 13 candidates. The centerpiece of his platform was the undertaking of navigational improvements on the Sangamon River. He believed that this would attract steamboat traffic, which would allow the sparsely populated, poorer areas along the river to flourish.
He was elected captain of an Illinois militia company drawn from New Salem during the Black Hawk War, and later wrote that he had not had "any such success in life which gave him so much satisfaction." Though he never saw combat, Lincoln did assist in burying the dead from the Battle of Stillman's Run the day after Major Isaiah Stillman's troops fled the field of battle.
For several months, Lincoln ran a small store in New Salem, selling tea, coffee, sugar, salt, blue calico, brown muslin, straw hats and whiskey. Later, he found work as village postmaster and as a surveyor.
In 1834, he won election to the state legislature, and after coming across the Commentaries on the Laws of England, began to teach himself law. Admitted to the bar in 1837, he moved to Springfield, Illinois, that same year and began to practice law with John T. Stuart. With a reputation as a formidable adversary during cross-examinations and in his closing arguments, Lincoln became one of the most respected and successful lawyers in Illinois and grew steadily more prosperous.
He served four successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives as a representative from Sangamon County, and became a leader of the Illinois Whig party. In 1837, he made his first protest against slavery in the Illinois House, stating that the institution was "founded on both injustice and bad policy." It was also in 1837 that Lincoln met his most intimate friend, Joshua Fry Speed.
In 1842, Lincoln wrote a series of anonymous letters, published in the Sangamon Journal, mocking State Auditor (and later US Senator) and prominent Democrat James Shields. When Shields learned that it was Lincoln who had been writing the barbs, he challenged him to a duel. Since Shields was the challenger, Lincoln was granted the right to choose the weapon and specified "Cavalry broad swords of the largest size." Much taller and with long arms, this gave him an overwhelming advantage over his opponent; but the duel was called off at the last minute.
Mary Todd Lincoln c. 1846
In 1844, Lincoln entered law practice with William Herndon, a fellow Whig. In 1854, both men joined the fledgling Republican Party. Following Lincoln's death, Herndon began collecting stories about Lincoln and published them in Herndon's Lincoln.
On November 4, 1842 Lincoln married Mary Todd, daughter of a prominent slave-owning family from Kentucky. The couple had four sons:
" Robert Todd Lincoln (August 1 1843 - July 26 1926): born in Springfield, Illinois, and died in Manchester, Vermont.
" Edward Baker Lincoln (March 10 1846 - February 1 1850): born and died in Springfield.
" William Wallace Lincoln (December 21 1850 - February 20 1862): born in Springfield and died in Washington, D.C..
" Thomas "Tad" Lincoln (April 4 1853 - July 16 1871): born in Springfield and died in Chicago.
Only Robert survived into adulthood. Lincoln greatly admired the study of science in the elite schools of New England and sent him to Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard College.
Four of his wife's brothers fought for the Confederacy, with one wounded and another killed in action. Lieutenant David H. Todd, a half-brother of Mary Todd Lincoln, served as commandant of the Libby Prison camp during the war.
Daguerreotype of Lincoln c. 1846
A staunch Whig and fervent admirer of party leader Henry Clay, Lincoln was elected to a term in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. As a freshman House member, he was not a particularly powerful or influential figure. He spoke out against the Mexican-American War, which he attributed to President Polk's desire for "military glory - that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood", challenged the President's claims regarding the Texas boundary and offered Spot Resolutions demanding to know on what "spot" on US soil that blood was first spilt. In January 1848, he was among the 82 Whigs who defeated 81 Democrats in a procedural vote on an amendment to send a routine resolution back to committee with instructions to add the words "a war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States." The amendment passed, but the bill never reemerged from committee and was never finally voted upon.
Lincoln later damaged his political reputation with an intemperate speech, declaring: "God of Heaven has forgotten to defend the weak and innocent, and permitted the strong band of murderers and demons from hell to kill men, women, and children, and lay waste and pillage the land of the just." Two weeks later, President Polk sent a peace treaty to Congress. While no one in Washington paid any attention to Lincoln, the Democrats orchestrated angry outbursts from across his district, where the war was popular and many had volunteered. In Morgan County, resolutions were adopted in fervent support of the war and in wrathful denunciation of the "treasonable assaults of guerrillas at home; party demagogues; slanderers of the President; defenders of the butchery at the Alamo; traducers of the heroism at San Jacinto".
Warned by his law partner, William Herndon, that the damage was mounting and irreparable, a despondent Lincoln decided not to run for reelection. In fact, in 1848 he campaigned vigorously for Zachary Taylor, the successful general whose atrocitieshe had denounced in January. Regardless, his statements were not easily forgotten. They would haunt him during the Civil War, and were held against him when he applied for a position from the new Taylor administration. Instead, Taylor's people offered Lincoln various positions in the remote Oregon Territory. Acceptance of this offer would have ended his career in the rapidly growing state of Illinois, so Lincoln declined the position. Returning to Springfield, Lincoln gave up politics for