One of the best-known figures in U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States. Leading the young country through the crisis of slavery dividing the north and the south and preserving the union, in 1865 he became the first president to be assassinated.
Although he was president for only four years, he left a long-lasting effect on the face of the nation. In addition to abolishing slavery, he created a national banking system and a standardized currency with the National Banking Act in 1863. Before his presidency, he was elected to Congress for only one term, due to his unpopular stance on the Mexican War. A self-made man and lawyer, he managed his own successful re-election campaign, though he died early in his second term. He was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate spy and actor, while attending a play. Booth’s original plan was to kidnap Lincoln and hold him for ransom in exchange for the release of important Confederate prisoners.
Lincoln was a gifted orator and the Gettysburg Address is frequently cited as his most influential speech. A lesser- known speech, however, may have been just as powerful. On May 29, 1856, at an Anti-Nebraska convention in Bloomington, Illinois, Lincoln gave a speech now regarded as lost because it was supposedly so engaging that notes were not taken, by either reporters or attendees. Today, the speech is thought to have been an impassioned condemnation of slavery. The topic was so controversial that the lack of notes may have been deliberate. At any rate, Lincoln agreed not to repeat it during his 1856 campaign.
During the speech, over 1,000 people listened for 90 minutes. Lincoln’s law partner, Herndon, wrote that “his speech was full of fire and energy and force. It was logic; it was pathos; it was enthusiasm; it was justice, equity, truth, and right set ablaze by the devine fires of a soul maddened by the wrong; it was hard, heavy, knotty, gnarly, backed with wrath.” Despite no written record being in existence, those who heard the speech were frequently called upon to describe it and several attempted to piece together recounts.
Today, only memories of his presidency endure, as Abraham Lincoln has no living descendants. His great-grandson Robert Lincoln Beckwith died in 1984, leaving behind no heirs.