American politician and 16th president of the United States from 1861 to 1865,Abraham Lincoln is the first representative of the Republican Party to be elected to this post. Deeply religious and abolitionist convinced, although moderate, his election will trigger the Civil War : the slave states of the South will leave the Union. Under his mandate, he abolish slavery, and the North will emerge victorious from the conflict at the end of an unprecedented human and industrial mobilization. he died assassinated in 1865, by the time the war ends, and will not see the full reunification of the country.
Lincoln: his first political engagements
Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809 in Kentucky. He came from a modest family of cultivators, very religious, who emigrated in 1816 to Indiana, in particular to escape the competition represented by farms using slaves (Kentucky allowed slavery, while the Indiana forbids it). The Lincolns would move again in 1830, this time to settle further west in Illinois. An avid reader and largely self-taught, he entered politics at an early age, running in the 1832 election to enter the Illinois state assembly. He does not succeed, but his talents as a speaker are already showing. That same year, he served in the militia in the war against Indian chief Black Hawk, but would not have the opportunity to participate directly in the fighting.
He tried his luck again in the elections of 1834, this time managing to get himself elected; he was reappointed three more times, serving until 1842. During this period, he affirmed his political affiliation: the Whig party, the main opposition force to the Democratic party at the national level. It was almost naturally, given his family background and his religious beliefs, that he declared himself against slavery as early as 1837. However, anxious to spare his electorate, it is always with great oratorical precautions that he expresses his opinion on an already "delicate" subject.
It was still as a self-taught lawyer that he became a lawyer in 1837, building a reputation over the course of a few years as one of the best in his state. He attracted enough attention to himself to start a national political career: in 1846, he was elected to the House of Representatives. His two-year mandate will not be renewed, however, mainly because of his opposition to the war against Mexico (1846-48).
Abraham Lincoln and the fight against slavery
At the end of his term as representative, Abraham Lincoln was offered the post of governor of Oregon, which he preferred to decline to devote himself to his law firm. He returned to politics in 1854, after the Kansas-Nebraska law was passed. Seen by many as an unacceptable concession to the institution of slavery, this law would trigger the formation of the Republican Party, which Lincoln would join the following year. It was in the Senate election of 1858 that he asserted himself as one of its main leaders. During the campaign, he confronts Democrat Stephen Douglas, the author of the Kansas-Nebraska law and champion of the doctrine of "popular sovereignty", the principle that the inhabitants of a future State of the Union choose themselves. 'They will or will not accept slavery on their soil. Lincoln, for his part, will develop moderate but firm rhetoric focused on stopping the spread of slavery rather than abolishing it outright.
He will be narrowly beaten, but his speech seduces undecided voters in the North and contributes to the rise of the Republican Party. The latter, after the failure of John Frémont and his radical program in the presidential elections of 1856, chose to opt for a more moderate line, and appointed Abraham Lincoln as the presidential candidate for the elections of 1860. During the campaign, he repeats with his usual eloquence that he has no intention of abolishing slavery during his mandate, but only to prohibit its extension. He thus won the support of northern voters, all the more easily as in his face the Democrats were divided. This is how he was elected President of the United States on November 6, 1860.
But the most vocal supporters of slavery interpret his election as a sign of the emancipation of slaves to come. They manage to rally public opinion in the southern states around them, and push it towards what they believe is the only solution allowing slavery to continue, secession. South Carolina was the first state to separate from the Union on December 20, 1860. As Lincoln prophesied in a famous speech in 1858, the nation is now divided. Four months of political negotiations will go unheeded, and Lincoln's entry into the White House on March 4, 1861, will change nothing. The southern states banded together to form their own nation, the Confederate States of America, and set out to assert sovereignty over their territory. The crisis around Fort Sumter, an installation in South Carolina occupied by Northerners, was to plunge the country into civil war after the bombardment of the fort by the Southerners (April 12, 1861).
A president in the turmoil of the Civil War
The presidency Abraham Lincoln then had to resign himself to leading the northern war effort to restore the integrity of the Union. Corruption and military defeats made the first few months difficult, but the Union gained a strategic advantage by securing control of the "border states" between North and South, and the president gradually surrounded himself with efficient and zealous administrators. Despite this, the year 1862 was difficult and if General Grant won important victories in the west of the country, it was not the same on the east coast and Washington was even threatened, until the battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862).
This defensive victory of the Union armies, won on northern soil, was a decisive political milestone for Abraham Lincoln. It enabled him to show his fellow citizens that the North, far from being the aggressor in this conflict, should on the contrary defend itself vigorously to avoid being forced into slavery, and that it was his duty to destroy this conflict. institution. On September 22, 1862, he had an emancipation proclamation issued, declaring all slaves in the country free as of January 1, 1863. By turning the Union's war goals into a fight to the death against slavery, Lincoln resoldered behind his administration a part of public opinion vacillating until then.
From 1863, the industrial and human mobilization of the North began to give it the advantage on the battlefield. Military successes, however, did not prevent weariness from settling in the North in the face of the scale of the sacrifices to be made. In addition to the conduct of the war, Lincoln had to dispute the presidential campaign of 1864. Facing him, George McClellan promised peace to his fellow citizens, even if it meant negotiating with the Confederates. The president therefore urged his generals to emerge from the stagnation and obtain decisive victories, which they did not without difficulty, and at the cost of many human lives.
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Finally re-elected on November 8, 1864, Abraham Lincoln had only to bring to an end a war which was coming to an end anyway, as the southern armies had come to the end of their strength. In fact, Richmond, the Confederate capital, was taken on April 3, 1865. It would soon be time for reconstruction ... But Abraham Lincoln, savior of the United States, could only glimpse the final victory, leaving his work unfinished. He was fatally shot in the head in his dressing room at the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth, actor and Southerner sympathizer. The President of the United States passed away the next morning, April 15, 1865.
He is still a major figure in American collective memory today, both through his enlightened and inflexible views on the abolition of slavery, and through his wartime government. He is arguably the most written US president in all aspects of his life, including the most private. A statue in memory of Abraham Lincoln is also on display in New York on Union Square and there is also a magnificent memorial in Washington, in West Potomac Park.
- Lincoln, biography of Stephen B Oates. Fayard, 1984.
- Abraham Lincoln, by Liliane Kerjan. Folio, 2016.
- Abraham Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America by Bernard Vincent, L'Archipel, 2009.
- Abraham Lincoln's biography on the White House website
- Lincoln, film by Steven Spielberg with Daniel Day-Lewis. 20th Century Studios, 2012.