Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, guided the nation through its devastating Civil War and remains much beloved and honored as one of the world's great leaders. Lincoln was born in Hardin (now Larue) County, Kentucky. He moved with his family to frontier Indiana in 1816, and then to Illinois in 1830. After serving four terms in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln was elected as a Whig to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. He did not seek reelection and returned to Springfield, Illinois, where he established a statewide reputation as an attorney. Although unsuccessful as a Whig candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1855, Lincoln was the newly formed Republican Party's standard-bearer for the same seat three years later. In that race, Lincoln captured national recognition by engaging Democrat Stephen A. Douglas in a dramatic series of public debates, but Lincoln ultimately lost to Douglas on election day.
In 1860 Lincoln was elected the nation's first Republican president. By the time of his inauguration in March 1861, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union, formed their own separate government, and inaugurated Jefferson Davis as its president. Concerned with preserving the Union from dissolution, Lincoln presented an inaugural address that was conciliatory in nature, assuring that slavery would not be abolished where it then existed. But one month later, when Confederate forces opened fire on Charleston's Fort Sumter while Congress was in recess, Lincoln acted decisively. He called up the militia; proclaimed a blockade; and suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which ensures a citizen's right to be brought before a court before imprisonment. The war that ensued lasted for four years, during which time Lincoln assumed greater executive power than any previous U.S. president.
Of all Lincoln's actions during the Civil War, he is perhaps best remembered for the Emancipation Proclamation, which he issued on January 1, 1863. Although it did not abolish slavery nationwide, it put slaveholders on notice and gave the conflict an undeniable moral imperative. When Lincoln was reelected in 1864, the war's end was in sight, and the president urged leniency toward the Southern states. His plan for postwar reconstruction advocated the forming of new state governments that would be loyal to the Union, a plan later adopted by President Andrew Johnson. Lincoln's presidency ended abruptly when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, in Washington, D.C.'s Ford's Theater. Lincoln died the following day.