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Abraham Lincoln is one of the great ones. Perhaps the greatest.
Next to names like John Tyler, Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur — the 10th, 14th and 21st presidents — the 16th is a rock star.
It is Lincoln's birthday today. Born in 1809 in Hardin County, Ky., he lost his mother when he was 10. His father raised him in the wilds of Kentucky and Indiana. Despite a rugged and rough upbringing, he learned to read and write.
He also learned the determination necessary for life on a farm. He served as a captain in the Black Hawk War. He later became a lawyer. His education allowed him the privilege of spending eight years in the Illinois legislature.
His war and legislative experience, along with his childhood struggles, prepared him to bear the challenges he would encounter. As a parent, he lost three of four boys before they reached maturity. As a politician, he lost a race for U.S. senator.
But that race gave him the national attention he needed to intrigue the electorate, which placed him in the White House in 1860. His term spanned the Civil War between mostly northern states and the Southern Confederacy, fighting to preserve a way of life that enslaved blacks. In 1863 — 150 years ago — in the Emancipation Proclamation, he freed the South's slaves.
He won re-election in 1864 and prepared to rebuild the nation as one "of the people, by the people, for the people."
Soon after Lincoln's re-election, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, assassin John Wilkes Booth shot and killed the president. He was only 56.
Lincoln is credited with building the Republican Party. But he also was one of this nation's leaders who had the ability to work with members of other parties, rallying northern Democrats to the Union cause against the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Lincoln brought the nation through one of its most difficult times in history, a period of years when its existence was threatened from within its borders. President George Washington is said to be the father of this country; the same might be said of Lincoln.
It's through his leadership that the nation survived.