What’s so special about Lincoln?

Apr 07 2024
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Ronald H. Koehn of Fulton will present a program titled “What’s so special about Lincoln?” at the Sterling-Rock Falls Historical Society’s April meeting. The meeting is at 2 PM on Sunday, April 14, at the Lincoln Learning Center, 611 E. Third St., Sterling. The program is free and open to the public.
When Barack Obama of Illinois was elected the 44th President of the United States, there was much talk about his improbable journey to the White House. Yet, when Abraham Lincoln of Illinois was elected 16th President, his journey to the Executive Mansion was even more improbable.
On February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, poverty-stricken illiterates born in Virginia to undistinguished families, on a hardscrabble farm near Hodgenville in Hardin County, Kentucky. In 1816 the family relocated to the wilderness of Indiana, where young Abe’s mother died from “milk sickness”. It was here that he sporadically received his scant amount of formal education, no more than one year total.
Raised to hard manual labor on the farm, Lincoln worked as a grocery store clerk, farmhand, and ferryboat rower on the Ohio River. After his family relocated again to Illinois, Lincoln worked in a village store and served as a militiaman in the Black Hawk War of 1832. He then worked as a surveyor, studied law by reading borrowed books, and served as postmaster in New Salem for three years.
Lincoln served as a Whig in the Illinois House from 1834 to 1842, was licensed to practice law in 1836, and married Mary Todd, a well-educated member of a prosperous Kentucky family, in 1842. Lincoln served as a U.S. Representative from 1847-49, but he ​was not renominated. Forsaking politics, he concentrated on developing a successful law practice. However, his interest in politics was suddenly reawakened by the passage of the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
In 1854 Lincoln was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate, and two years later he was
an unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate at the first Republican National Convention. Douglas defeated Lincoln in his second bid for election to the U.S. Senate in 1858, but he gained national exposure and prominence debating the slavery issue in Illinois. In 1860 he secured the Republican nomination for President as a “dark horse” compromise candidate, much to the dismay of his better-educated and more experienced rivals. Lincoln’s improbable journey to the Presidency culminated with his victory in a four-way contest that split the Democratic Party.
When seven states of the South seceded from the Union and with the organization of the Confederate States of America prior to his inauguration on March 4, 1861, Lincoln became president facing a national crisis of monumental proportions. Considering his lack of formal education and scant public service, Lincoln appeared less likely to succeed as the nation’s Chief Executive than most men who
have occupied the office.
How, then, do we account for Lincoln’s brilliant success as President? What special qualities or abilities did he possess? These are the questions that Koehn will attempt to address in his program: “What’s so special about Lincoln?”
Ron Koehn is a native of the Land of Lincoln. He earned his BS degree in history and political science and his MS degree in history at Illinois State University. Employed as a social studies instructor at Fulton High School from 1974-2003, he taught US history, sociology, and American government. At FHS he always taught his students that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest President in American history.
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