President Abraham Lincoln: Career Before the Presidency

About the early career of Abraham Lincoln before he became Presiden of the United States.


Career: The son of a poor frontier farmer, Lincoln moved with his family from Kentucky to Indiana to Illinois. After several years working as an intinerant laborer, he moved on his own to the village of New Salem, Ill., where he got a job as clerk in the general store. Though he had attended school for a total of less than one year, Lincoln was passionately interested in politics, and made speeches on political subjects to anyone who would listen. In 1832, after he had been in New Salem less than a year, Lincoln decided to run for the State legislature. He was 23 years old, and from this time until his death--with the single exception of a 5-year period during which discouraging political prospects forced him into the full-time practice of law--Lincoln was busy as an office seeker or an officeholder. In April of 1832, Lincoln decided to help his campaign by volunteering to fight Indians in the Black Hawk War. Though he was elected captain of a company of local volunteers, he never saw battle and the voters in his district were unimpressed: Lincoln finished 8th in a field of 13 candidates. Nevertheless, his political prominence helped with him a job as postmaster, and then as deputy county surveyor, and in 1834, Lincoln was elected to the legislature on his 2nd try. During his 4 terms in the Illinois assembly, Lincoln emerged as the Whig floor leader and a skillful and hardworking party organizer. In 1846 he was rewarded with the Whig nomination for Congress, under the condition that he step aside after a single term to make way for other deserving party workers. In Washington, Congressman Lincoln introduced a major bill that would have abolished slavery in the District of Columbia, and gained some national attention for his spirited oppostion to the "immoral and unnecessary" Mexican War. This stand cost him his popularity at home, and though he campaigned vigorously for Zachary Taylor and the Whig ticket in 1848, he was denied the political plum that he desired: appointment as commissioner of the General Land Office. Bitterly disappointed, Lincoln retired to private law practice back home in Illinois. A remarkable courtroom performer with a knack for swaying juries, Lincoln used his legal talents in behalf of some major corporate clients (like the Illinois Central Railroad) as well as in a variety of criminal cases. Though in nominal retirement, Lincoln remained in the thick of behind-the-scenes political activity. As his law partner William Herndon later observed: "It was in the world of politics that he lived. Politics were his life, newspapers his food, and his great ambition his motive power."

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