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Lincoln portrait by Hesler in 1860
Lincoln in 1860
Library of Congress

Pre-Presidential Political Timeline

At age 23, with no real qualifications and a very limited formal education, Abraham Lincoln ran for his first Illinois political office. He failed in that campaign for the state legislature, but two years later gained a seat as a member of the Whig Party. The following timeline provides a brief glimpse of his political career before the presidency. It consisted mainly of service in the Illinois General Assembly and one term in Congress. In 1856 he joined the newly formed Republican Party; two years later he ran for the U.S. Senate, making a name for himself in those famous debates. By 1860 he became the first Republican to win a presidential election.

The highly ambitious Lincoln also was a self-taught lawyer who built up a successful practice in Springfield, Illinois. His work included traveling the old Eighth Judicial Circuit, which enhanced his political opportunities, sharpened his public speaking abilities, and gave him time for serious study and reflection. This slow-but-sure effort reflects the real Lincoln, who reminds us of a story -- the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

Timeline

MARCH 9, 1832
Makes first-known published political announcement

AUGUST 6, 1832
Loses first race for Illinois House of Representatives

AUGUST 4, 1834
Wins election to first term in Illinois House of Representatives

AUGUST 1, 1836
Wins election to second term in Illinois House of Representatives

JANUARY 11, 1837
Gives first published speech in Illinois legislature

MARCH 3, 1837
Makes first public declaration against slavery

JANUARY 27, 1838
Delivers speech on "Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions"

AUGUST 6, 1838
Wins election to third term in the Illinois House of Representatives

DECEMBER 3, 1838
Loses bid for Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives

OCTOBER 7, 1839
Attends first Whig Party state convention

AUGUST 3, 1840
Wins election to fourth term in the Illinois House of Representatives

MAY 1, 1843
Attends Whig Party district convention in Pekin, Illinois

OCTOBER 25 - NOVEMBER 6, 1844
Speaks in Illinois and Indiana on behalf of Henry Clay

MAY 1, 1846
Wins Whig Party nomination for Seventh Congressional District

AUGUST 3, 1846
Wins election to Congress as Whig Party representative

DECEMBER 6, 1847
Takes seat in U.S. House of Representatives

DECEMBER 22, 1847
Presents "Spot Resolutions" in U.S. House of Representatives

JUNE 7 - 9, 1848
Attends national Whig Party convention in Philadelphia

SEPTEMBER 9 - OCTOBER 9, 1848
Speaks on behalf of Zachery Taylor in New England

JANUARY 10, 1849
Proposes amendment to abolish slavery in District of Columbia

MARCH 4, 1849
Ends first and only term in U.S. House of Representatives

OCTOBER 16, 1854
Delivers famous anti-Nebraska Act speech in Peoria, Illinois

NOVEMBER 7, 1854
Wins election to Illinois House of Representatives

NOVEMBER 10, 1854
Decides to run for U.S. Senate instead

DECEMBER 23, 1854
Special election held to choose his successor to Illinois legislature

FEBRUARY 8, 1855
Loses bid for Senate when Illinois legislature elects Lyman Trumbull

MAY 29, 1856
Delivers stirring "lost speech" as a Republican in Bloomington, Illinois

JUNE 19, 1856
Considered for vice president at first Republican National Convention

JUNE 26, 1857
Speaks against Dred Scott court decision in Springfield, Illinois

JUNE 16, 1858
Chosen as U.S. Senate candidate by Illinois Republican Convention; gives "House Divided" speech

AUGUST 21, 1858
Begins first of seven formal debates with Democrat Stephen A. Douglas

NOVEMBER 2, 1858
Wins Senate popular vote but loses election to Douglas

SEPTEMBER 16 - OCTOBER 5, 1859
Makes speaking tour of Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin

NOVEMBER 30 - DECEMBER 6, 1859
Makes speaking tour of northeastern Kansas

FEBRUARY 27, 1860
Gives famous Cooper Union speech in New York City

FEBRUARY 28 - MARCH 10, 1860
Makes speaking tour of New England states

MAY 9 - 10, 1860
Receives support of Illinois Republican Convention for president

MAY 18, 1860
Receives Republican nomination for president with running mate Hannibal Hamlin

NOVEMBER 6, 1860
Wins election as first Republican president in a four-way race

MARCH 4, 1861
Takes oath of office as sixteenth president of the U.S.


Timeline Sources: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler and others; Lincoln Day by Day edited by Earl Miers

Documents and Resources

  • Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln
  • Library of Congress Collection
  • Lincoln Historical Digitization Project
  • Papers of Abraham Lincoln

    Commentary/Context

  • Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman as Representative Americans (Yale University)
  • Abraham Lincoln and the Perpetual Campaign (Illinois Humanities Council)
  • Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of an Antislavery Nationalism (JALA)
  • Abraham Lincoln on Popular Sovereignty (JALA)
  • Abraham Lincoln's Partisan Realignment in the 1850s (JALA)
  • A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln (CHM/GLI)
  • Before Cooper Union: Abraham Lincoln's 1859 Cincinnati Speech (JALA)
  • Dividing the House (Claremont Institute)
  • Dred Scott Case (Washington University)
  • Justin Butterfield, Lincoln, and Illinois Whiggery (JALA)
  • Lincoln and Abolitionism (History Now)
  • Lincoln and Daniel Webster (JISHS)
  • Lincoln and the Cooper Union Address (LAP/ALI)
  • Lincoln and the Mexican-American War Revisited (LAP/ALI)
  • Lincoln at the Turning Point: Peoria to the Presidency (LAP/ALI)
  • Lincoln: Campaign Manager and Orator in 1840 (ALA)
  • Lincoln, Form Letters, and Fillmore Men (JISHS)
  • Lincoln on the Perpetuation of Republican Institutions (JALA)
  • Lincoln's Fence Rails (JISHS)
  • Lincoln's Opposition to the Mexican War (JISHS)
  • Lincoln's View of Political Persuasion (JALA)
  • Lincoln's Visit to Kansas (Kansas State Historical Society)
  • Lincoln: Voter and Candidate 1831-1849; Part I (ALA)
  • Lincoln: Voter and Candidate; Part II (ALA)
  • Lincoln/Net (Northern Illinois University)
  • Mr. Lincoln and the Founders (The Lincoln Institute)
  • Mr. Lincoln and Freedom (The Lincoln Institute)
  • Mr. Lincoln and Friends (The Lincoln Institute)
  • New Records of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate at the 1854 Illinois State Fair (JALA)
  • Richard J. Oglesby, Lincoln's Rail-Splitter (JISJS)
  • Senator Abraham Lincoln (JALA)
  • The Partisan Life of Abraham Lincoln (JALA)
  • The Speech that Changed the World (Claremont Institute)
  • The Springfield Lyceums and Lincoln's 1838 Speech (JISHS)
  • The Time of the Lincolns (PBS)
  • Why Abraham Lincoln was a Whig (JALA)

    Debates/Campaign of 1858

  • Debate Scrapbook (Library of Congress)
  • Debating Douglas on the National Stage (Lincoln/Net)
  • Lincoln, Douglas and Their Historic Debates (Gilder Lehrman)
  • Lincoln and Douglas at Bryant Cottage (Bement, Illinois)
  • Lincoln and Douglas in Debate*
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debate Podcasts (Knox College)
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debates (Lincoln/Net)
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debates (Lincoln-Douglas Society)
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debate Sites (Illinois in the Civil War)
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debates Remembered (Smithsonian)
  • Lyman Trumbull and the Real Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (JISHS)
  • Out-of-State Influences and the Lincoln-Douglas Campaign of 1858 (JISHS)
  • Owen Lovejoy's Role in the Campaign of 1858 (JISHS)
  • The Constitution and Declaration of Independence as Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (JISHS)
  • "The Moral Lights Around Us" (JISHS)
  • The Unfinished Text of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (JALA)
  • Union County in 1858 and the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (JISHS)

    1860 Election

  • 1860 Nomination for President (Great American History)
  • Campaigns and Elections/1860 (University of Virginia)
  • Illinois and the 1860 Election (NIU)
  • Lincoln's Acceptance of 1860 Nomination (Library of Congress)
  • Lincoln and Hamlin Election Ticket (Library of Congress)
  • Lincoln for President Banner (Library of Congress)
  • Lincoln-Hamlin Campaign Banner*
  • Lincoln Campaign Banner (Kansas State Historical Society)
  • Lincolniana -- Lincoln is Notified of His Nomination (JISHS)
  • Map of the 1860 Presidential Election (American Presidency Project)
  • Oglesby's Fence Rail Dealings and the 1860 Decatur Convention (JISHS)
  • The British Press Reacts to Lincoln's Election (JISHS)
  • Views of the Wigwam Convention (JALA)
  • The Presidential Election of 1860 (NIU)

    Places

  • Lincoln at Cooper Union (History Now)
  • Lincoln in Decatur (Re:Decatur)
  • Lincoln in Decatur, Illinois (DACBV)
  • Lincoln in Decatur and Macon County (MCHM)
  • Lincoln in Galena, Illinois*
  • Long Nine Museum*
  • Mr. Lincoln and New York (The Lincoln Institute)
  • Old State Capitol Building, Illinois*
  • Old State Capitol Photo Tour*
  • U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.*
  • U.S. Capitol Photo Tour*
  • Vandalia Statehouse (IHPA)

    Books

  • Books about Lincoln's Pre-Presidential Political Career*
  • Nineteenth Century Lincoln-Related Publications (Making of America)
  • Kenneth Winkle on Lincoln's Early Career*

    Selected Speeches and Writings

  • 1860 Nomination Acceptance Letter (Library of Congress)
  • Autobiographies of 1858-60*
  • Cooper Union Address, 1860*
  • Eulogy on Henry Clay, 1852*
  • House Divided Speech, June 16, 1858*
  • Letter to Allen N. Ford, 1846*
  • Letter to Henry Pierce, 1859*
  • Letter to George Robertson, 1855*
  • Letter to Joshua Speed, 1855*
  • Letter to Lyman Trumbull, 1860*
  • Letter to Grace Bedell, 1860*
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debates (NIU)
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debates (University of Michigan)
  • Lyceum Address, 1838*

    Other Timelines

  • Lincoln and Gettysburg Timeline*
  • Lincoln Early Life Timeline*
  • Lincoln Family Timeline*
  • Lincoln Legal Career Timeline*
  • Lincoln Tomb Timeline*
  • Mary Todd Lincoln Timeline*

    *Indicates pages created by Abraham Lincoln Online

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