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Lincoln was the first President not born in one of the thirteen original colonies. Also, he was the first President from the Republican Party. Prior to his election as President, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union. In his inaugural address on March 4, 1861, Lincoln reached out to the South by telling them he had no intention of changing slavery as it existed; but he held firm to the ideal that the Union be forever preserved and indissoluble. Soon after this, the Southern states banded together in their own Confederate Union. They demanded that the North abandon its garrisons in Southern territories, specifically naming Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, since it held strategic importance at the harbor to the city. That set the stage for the attack on the fort that became the first hostile act in the Civil War. Lincoln ordered supplies sent by sea to support Fort Sumter, but within two days the Confederates began their siege of the fort, and it surrendered.
The border between North and South was drawn. Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland remained in the Union, while Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas joined the Confederacy. Lincoln called upon the Union states to send 75,000 militiamen, and he established a blockade of all Confederate ports.
In leading the Union through the Civil War, Lincoln took powers no previous President had ever assumed. He did not wait until Congress approved expenditures, and he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which allowed that a person could not be imprisoned indefinitely before being charged with specific crimes. He expected a swift battle or two and a quick end to the war, but realized he was wrong after the Battle of Bull Run in Virginia, where the Confederates trounced Union Army. The struggle for the heart and soul of a nation would weigh heavily on the shoulders of this Commander and Chief.
In September of 1862 the Union Army won a small victory at Antietam in Maryland. Lincoln used this event to make one of his most important decisions. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which admonished slaves residing in rebellious states “be then, henceforward and forever free.” This would become effective January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation was aimed only at those states at war with the Union, and did not effect slave-holding border states that did not join the Confederacy. More than an attempt to free the slaves, it was an attempt to re-join the country. The Proclamation was an important factor in turning the tide of the war. Not only did freeing the slaves deprive the South of manpower, but in the neighborhood of 186,000 former slaves joined the Union Army. Additionally, it changed the European’s perspective on the War from being about politics to being about principle. The northern defeats had tempted Britain and France to recognize the Confederacy; but the Proclamation made them reconsider.
After the Proclamation it continued to be an uphill battle for Lincoln, and the North lost many key battles. General Robert Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army, began a push into Pennsylvania to meet the Union in battle at Gettysburg. Lincoln had appointed General George Mead to defend the North. In early July 1863 the two armies met. More losses were sustained in that battle than in all the previous American wars together; but the North held the ground and won the day. July 5, 1863 was a banner day for the North, for on that day word came that General Ulysses Grant had also captured Vicksburg, a key Confederate position on the Mississippi River. On November 19, 1863 the Gettysburg battleground became a military cemetery. Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, which spoke of preserving a “nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
In 1864, Lincoln named Grant Commander in chief of all the Union Armies. The strategy was bold. In lieu of attacking major Southern cities, Grant decided to attack the principal Southern Armies. It proved to be successful. The war, however, was expensive and in order to pay for it, the North had to raise tariffs, and the federal government started to print paper money. The National Banking Act of 1863 made it possible to sell government bonds. As the tide of the War began to turn in favor of the North, Lincoln started to plan for Reconstruction. His ideas were controversial, and some felt they did not punish the South enough. Nevertheless, with Andrew Johnson of Tennessee as his Vice Presidential running mate, he won a second term with ease.