|Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States|
1. Abraham Lincoln was born near Hodgenville, Kentucky, about 40 miles south of Louisville, in 1809. Named for his paternal grandfather, who had been murdered in an Indian attack about 20 years before his birth, Lincoln's maternal grandfather's name is not known. His mother, Nancy Hanks, was born out of wedlock (possibly even the result of rape), and her maiden name was not her father's name, but her mother's. The actor Tom Hanks is a distant relative.
2. Despite the common belief (made famous during his 1860 presidential campaign) that Lincoln was born into virtual poverty, his father was a large landowner and, according to a number of historians, among the richest individuals in LaRue County, Kentucky, at the time of Lincoln's birth.
3. When Lincoln was still a boy, the family moved to Indiana, partly as a result of land disputes in Kentucky, and partly because of the family's strict opposition to slavery, which was legal in Kentucky. His mother died a few years later, in 1818. His father remarried, but in 1820 the family moved to Illinois, due to an outbreak of the same disease that had killed his mother two years earlier.
4. Lincoln is known to have been taught as a child by a series of traveling instructors, but otherwise had no formal education. An avid reader, he was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1836 as a completely self-taught lawyer.
5. Lincoln's love life was complicated: according to his step-mother, he "never took much interest" in girls as a young man, and isn't known to have been romantically involved with any woman until his late 20's. At that time, he was involved with a woman named Ann Rutledge, and when she died in 1835, he was evidently crushed. Not long after, he became involved with a woman named Mary Owen, but broke off their relationship because she got too fat. In his early 30's, Lincoln met and got engaged to Mary Todd, but called it off shortly before their January, 1841, marriage. A year or so later, they rekindled their relationship, and were finally married in late 1842. A number of writers and historians, going as far back as Carl Sandburg in 1926 (whose Lincoln biography won a Pulitzer Prize), have questioned Lincoln's sexual orientation, suggesting he may have been gay or at least bisexual. Others have dismissed these theories as unlikely and supported only by circumstantial evidence.
6. The Lincolns had four children, but only one lived to adulthood. Lincoln's sister had died in the 1820's giving birth to a stillborn child, and since Lincoln himself only had one son who lived to give him grandchildren, he had very few descendants. His last descendant, a great-grandson named Robert, died in 1985 in Virginia.
7. In addition to his law practice, Lincoln served as a member of the Illinois General Assembly throughout the 1830's and 40's, then served one term as a U.S. Congressman from 1846 to 1848, where he took a firm anti-war stance regarding the Mexican-American War that was being waged by president James K. Polk.
8. After leaving Congress in 1848, Lincoln spent the 1850's making himself famous as a lawyer and public speaker, and while he lost bids for U.S. Senate in both 1854 and 1858, the speeches he gave in those campaigns made him a national figure and a rising star in the new anti-slavery Republican party. He was nominated for president in 1860 and won by defeating three other candidates who effectively split the Democratic vote three ways. Although Lincoln was not an abolitionist, and had on numerous occasions stated that his only goal was to keep slavery from expanding to new territories, the slave states of the South seceded after his victory, certain that his election spelled doom for their rights to own slaves.
9. After the start of the Civil War, which began shortly after Lincoln took office, Lincoln did eventually free the slaves, in his now famous Emancipation Proclamation. Many people questioned if he actually had the legal right to do this; Lincoln defended the move by saying it fell under his authority as head of the military. He argued that, because the South was in rebellion, he had the right, as commander-in-chief, to suspend their civil laws. Despite misconceptions to the contrary, the Emancipation Proclamation only affected states and territories that were, as of January 1, 1863, still in rebellion to the Union. Thus, Kentucky and three other border slave-states were excluded, and their slaves were not freed until the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865.
10. Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865, just weeks after the war officially ended. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was chased down and shot to death about a month later. Several months after that, four people were hanged for conspiring with Booth, including the first woman ever executed under federal law in U.S. history.