Lincoln's Life in Letters - LIST BUILDER

At its heart, the museum is a showcase for the millions of items housed in the library across the street. On any given day, at least 100 of those items are on display, drawn from our collection devoted to Illinois history and Abraham Lincoln. Included in that collection are more than 1,600 documents in Lincoln’s hand. We invite you to explore Lincoln’s life through some of the documents that shaped our museum exhibits and the stories they tell.

Lincoln the Lawyer

New Salem was also where Lincoln developed his interest in the law. He taught himself from borrowed law books and passed the bar in 1836.

Learn more about Lincoln the Lawyer

The Debates

The 1858 race for Stephen A. Douglas’s seat in the U.S. Senate received national attention. Lincoln, representing the new Republican Party, challenged Douglas, one of the most prominent Democrats in the nation, to a series of seven debates in which slavery was the central topic.

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1860 Campaign

The national slavery debate peaked with Lincoln’s presidential campaign. Although most Republicans only wanted to prevent slavery’s expansion, opponents often accused them of seeking its immediate end.

Learn more about 1860 Campaign

The Lincoln Family

Like many Americans during the Civil War, the Lincolns experienced horrific loss inside and outside of their family. Here, ten-year-old Willie writes from the White House to his friend Henry Remann back in Springfield that family friend Colonel Elmer Ellsworth has been killed.

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As the Civil War dragged on, the Confederacy’s stubborn defense and the constant stream of African Americans escaping their enslavement to Union lines convinced Lincoln he could only save the union by destroying slavery. He began that process by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Learn more about Emancipation

Gettysburg Address

Almost a year after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The largest battle ever fought in North America had been waged there from July 1-3, 1863, and Lincoln stood on that same ground on November 19 to dedicate the land to a new national cemetery.

Learn more about Gettysburg Address

Assassination / Postwar

By the end of the Civil War, Mary had lost two of her four sons and witnessed the murder of her husband. She was emotionally shattered by these losses and carried that burden for the rest of her life.

Learn more about Assassination / Postwar

The originals of all these documents are in our vault, but their images in this exhibit were created by our Papers of Abraham Lincoln project. Please visit their website to see more documents written to and by Lincoln from all over the world. If you have a Lincoln document, or know someone who does, please reach out to us. We are always looking for new discoveries.

Research Resources   Law Practice of Lincoln   

Papers of Abraham Lincoln   The Licoln Log

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