‘History is written by the victors.’
Sir Winston Churchill
At the time of Lincoln’s death, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States had not been ratified by all the states, but it had been passed by Congress. Lincoln saw this as the consummation of his efforts to end slavery in the United States. The only task left was to reunite all of the United States into one country again. Lincoln’s intent in how this was to be done was summed up in his second inaugural speech:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
Unfortunately, Lincoln’s carefully laid plans for reuniting North and South and healing the wounds left by war would die with him. After his death, Democratic Vice President Andrew Johnson was left to fill Lincoln’s very large shoes. It was an uphill battle from the beginning, with both the Radical Republicans of Congress and Lincoln’s own Cabinet set against Johnson and the continuance of Lincoln’s reconstruction plans.
Lincoln’s least disputed legacy is his rags-to-riches story. Even though the colonies had broken with Great Britain to become the United States, it was still a country populated by Europeans, and the European class system persisted. Lincoln’s family was near the bottom of the social classes – unsuccessful, poor, uneducated and residents of the wild, untamed wilderness. To rise above such a station in life during Lincoln’s time was extremely rare. Schools, tutors and education were for the upper classes. People with little or no influence and financial backing were highly unlikely to be elected to public office. And a young man like Lincoln would certainly never hope to marry the daughter of a wealthy planter, much less become president.
And yet Abraham Lincoln overcame all of the odds. With the encouragement of his mother and stepmother, he struggled for an education, grasping every opportunity to read and to learn. He took on the hard physical labour that was demanded for survival in the wilderness and put it to use more than once in a time when the wrong political choice could threaten your life and your career. It was almost as if Lincoln didn’t know that he could never expect more from life than the rough log cabin and back-breaking work he had been born to.
Lincoln married well, educated himself, became an attorney and was as successful in politics as any man could hope to be. As president, he held the country together when it attempted to rip itself apart, ended slavery, and brought new ideas and positive changes to the American political landscape. Lincoln is remembered as one of the most powerful, respected and revered leaders in the history of the United States.