Abraham Lincoln: First Republican President and Civil War Leader

Abraham Lincoln:  First Republican President and Civil War Leader

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Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in rural Hardin (now Larue) County, Kentucky, the son of an illiterate carpenter and farmer. In 1831, Abe Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois, near Springfield. In 1832, he led a militia contingent in the Black Hawk War, but saw no action. He worked as a surveyor and rail-splitter and began the study of law.Beginning his political career as a Whig, Lincoln was elected to the first of four terms in the Illinois legislature in 1834. In 1842, he married Mary Todd, the daughter of a socially prominent Lexington family.Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1847, but quickly got on the wrong side of the voters by opposing the Mexican War and doubting President Polk’s assertion that the Mexicans had fired the first shot. He provided active support for Zachary Taylor in the Election of 1848, but was disappointed when he did not receive a political appointment from the victor.Lincoln’s law practice prospered in the early 1850s, but he reentered the political realm after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. His criticism of Stephen A. Douglas led him back into the political area; Lincoln was elected to the state legislature, but declined in order to pursue an unsuccessful senatorial bid in 1856.That year, Lincoln left the Whigs for the new Republican Party and quickly rose in influence, receiving consideration for a vice presidential nomination that year. In the following year, the Dred Scott decision dealt a blow to Republican hopes to contain slavery. In a speech in Springfield on June 26, 1857, Lincoln expressed Republican at the position taken by Douglas that lawabiding citizens should respect this decision of the Supreme Court:

If this important decision had been made by the unanimous concurrence of the judges, and without any apparent partisan bias, and in accordance with legal public expectation and with the steady practice of the departments throughout our history, and had been in no part based on assumed historical facts which are not really true; or, if wanting in some of these, it had been before the court more than once, and had there been affirmed and reaffirmed through a course of years, it then might be, perhaps would be, factious, nay, even revolutionary, not to acquiesce in it as a precedent.But when, as is true, we find it wanting in all these claims to the public confidence, it is not resistance, it is not factious, it is not even disrespectful, to treat it as not having yet quite established a settled doctrine for the country.

In 1858, Lincoln was the Republican Party choice for the Senate seat then held by the Democrat Douglas. The two engaged in a series of exchanges, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, in which Lincoln spelled out his views on the most contentious issue of the day. He regarded slavery as a moral wrong that should not be extended to the territories; however, Lincoln did not advocate the abolition of the institution in the states where it already existed, nor did he believe in the equality of the races. Douglas regained his seat, but Lincoln emerged as a national figure and a leading candidate for the Election of 1860.Abraham Lincoln did much to enhance his chances for the Republican nomination with a speech he delivered at Cooper Union in New York City, February 1860. He offered an alternative to the unflinching abolitionism of William H. Seward and talked of conciliation efforts with the South.The 1860 Republican convention was held in Chicago in mid-May. The Democrats had been forced to suspend their nominating process, begun in Charleston, without a candidate and had not yet reconvened in Baltimore. Seward led on the first ballot, but was overtaken by Lincoln, who wonon the convention`s third ballot, due largely to skillful campaign management and widely held fears about Seward`s radical views. The splintering of the Democratic Party assured Lincoln’s victory.As the inauguration approached, Lincoln entered Washington at midnight and in disguise, prompting charges of cowardice from his critics. By the time he took office, seven states had seceded. The President’s stated aim was to preserve the Union, but he made the critical decision to send supplies to Fort Sumter, a move regarded by the South as an act of war. The first shots of the Civil War were fired on April 12, 1861.Lincoln took immediate military action, summoning the state militias to federal service, calling for volunteers and suspending habeas corpus in critical areas.As president, Abraham Lincoln differed markedly from his counterpart, Jefferson Davis. Lincoln placed ability before compatibility, appointing his rival Seward as secretary of state, the outspoken abolitionist Salmon P. Chase as treasury secretary, the Democrat Edwin Stanton as war secretary. As a military leader, he got off to a poor start. Federal soldiers were not prepared for the initial push to Richmond, which resulted in a crushing defeat. Conditions were worsened by his selection of ineffective military commanders. The news from the battlefront continued to be discouraging until the battle of Antietam (September 1862). In early 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a move fostered by a combination of moral, political and diplomatic concerns. Military leadership continued to be a nagging problem until Lincoln gave the command to Ulysses S. Grant, the hero of Vicksburg.Abraham Lincoln, despite his total lack of travel abroad, established a competent record in foreign affairs. He generally deferred to Secretary of State Seward, but intervened at opportune times.Abraham Lincoln is regarded by most authorities as America’s greatest president, despite the fact that many others in that office had superior education and experience. His greatest contribution lay in preserving the Union. Perhaps the most eloquent expression of his conviction regarding this was his address given on November 19, 1863 at the Gettysburg battlefield, where many thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers had lost their lives.His absolute conviction that he was taking the proper course of action enabled him to persevere while others recoiled at the immense cost and suffering caused by the war, leading them to entertain thoughts of peace without victory. Lincoln had little military experience, but was forced to develop such skills because his early generals repeatedly proved to be inept.Abraham Lincoln was not a highly experienced national politician in 1860, but his humor and willingness not to address every criticism earned him the trust of many political leaders. In an age of overblown oratory, Lincoln made his points with simple eloquence.Lincoln was widely criticized for his suspension of habeas corpus, but he was acting in accord with his vision of what the presidency should be like during wartime. His view of an expanded executive was eclipsed in the post-war years, but would revive under Theodore Roosevelt.On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by a Southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth.


Founded in 1828, the Democratic Party is the oldest of the two largest U.S. political parties. The Republican Party was officially founded in 1854, but the histories of both parties are intrinsically connected. Actually, we can trace the two parties’ historical backgrounds all the way back to the Founding Fathers. Now, let us look at the history of the two major political parties in the U.S.

President Lincoln’s Republican Party Was the Original Party of Big Government

Republicans are fixated on the idea that their party is connected to the party of President Lincoln, whose party also bore the name Republican. During this election season, they keep evoking the hallowed connection again saying “the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln.” Republicans want to imagine that there is a grand tradition between the Republican Party of the Reagan era and Abraham Lincoln’s federal interventionist party of 1861.

The Republican Party has spent decades shouting, among other hollow slogans, that big government is bad and small government is good. They contend that small government is morally virtuous and good for liberty and freedom—epithets from Barry Goldwater’s 1960 Conscience of a Conservative, Movement Conservative’s manifesto. And, one must ask: whose freedom? But, if Republicans understood that Lincoln’s party is the origin of the modern, interventionist, administrative state, they would condemn it as socialist.

Big government began with President Lincoln’s Republican Party, which in fundamental ways is the progenitor of the modern Democratic Party of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lincoln’s party was not one of small, non-intrusive government, minimal taxation, traditional social mores, and white supremacy. It was the party of strong federal intervention and moral directive against the institution of slavery and Southern secession, the party of federally funded higher education, federally funded national transportation, and social welfare. The radical Republicans of Lincoln’s Party with their reform zeal and moral interventionist vision would be to the left of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Lincoln’s administration gave us big government: first income tax, first national banking system, big bureaus like the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Pensions, an explosion of government contracting for the war, Pacific Railroad Act for federally funded intercontinental railroad, the Morrill Act for federally funded higher education (the land grant universities that changed America).

Lincoln’s administration and its legacy brought welfare to a persecuted and disadvantaged minority. It also issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing constitutional rights for every citizen, Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing suffrage, Freedman’s Bureau to aid newly freed African Americans.

President Trump’s failure to understand the history of the federal government’s role in times of crisis has cost the nation greatly.

Today’s Republicans, with their passion for states’ rights, their protection of the white supremacist segments of American society, their aversion to ethical federal pro action, have more ideological connections with the slaveholding southern Democrats of the 1860s than they do with Lincoln’s party.

President Franklin Roosevelt continued the Lincoln tradition because he understood that a well-organized federal bureaucracy was essential to rescuing the nation from an extraordinary crisis in 1932. Unregulated and corrupt capitalism had run the economic and financial infrastructure into the ground. FDR’s New Deal brought the power of federal leadership and the administrative state to a new place. His financial regulations and public work projects stabilized the economy and provided jobs and relief for millions.

The Works Progress Administration, Social Security, and the Fair Labor Standards Act were just some of the innovative and nation-saving programs FDR created. The New Deal put people back to work, rescued capitalism, and restored faith in the American Way.

When another national crisis exploded in the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson exerted federal leadership in mobilizing the modern administrative state for the purpose of ethical and legal intervention. Although the Civil War was supposed to have extinguished inequality for African Americans a century prior, Black people still lived under Jim Crow apartheid and were subjected to lynching, disenfranchisement, and racial prejudice that defined the social and economic structures of the nation.

The African American civil rights movement lead the Democratic Party of President Johnson to pass seminal legislation: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed America and established the Democratic Party as the home of civil rights. Johnson had the skill to push this legislation through the angry white supremacist Southern legislators, who now fled to the Republican Party. From the time Barry Goldwater’s Republican Party opposed Civil Rights legislation in 1964, about 90 percent of African Americans have voted for Democratic Party presidents. What could tell us more about why the Republican Party is America’s white party.

Fast forward to our current national state of chaos. President Trump’s failure to understand the history of the federal government’s role in times of crisis has cost the nation greatly. The amount of unnecessary death and related suffering has been devastating and is still unfolding. Why should the most powerful economy in the world have the most reported cases and the most deaths of Covid-19 in the world?

The United States has been exposed, in this moment, as the most dysfunctional industrialized nation in the world. Notwithstanding that Trump is incompetent for the job of president (conservative Republicans who have worked with him, like John Bolton and Rex Tillerson concur), it is also clear that Trump’s anti-big government attitude has contributed to this crisis.

Those who believe complex modern society can work without a high level of professional, administrative federal government are living in a fantasy. Anti-government obsessions have been embraced by individuals and institutions that want to prioritize amassing wealth over the common good of the nation fostered by a culture of uninformed romantics who idealize cowboy individualism and backwoods libertarianism fueled by recent emigres who have fled totalitarian governments and have understandable fears about totalitarianism but who often have little context for understanding American history and its political institutions.

The idea of “getting government off our backs” (the rhetoric of Goldwater) is as ethically misguided as it is dangerously out of touch with how societies work. “Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps,” may be fine for private life, but when applied to solving complex social problems it is absurd and destructive.

It is impossible to avoid confronting the hypocrisy embedded in these ideas. Republicans hate government when it comes to helping segments of the population in human crisis and infrastructural distress, when it has to do with moral urgencies like ending segregation, creating a voting rights act to redress a century of voter suppression, when it has to do with expanding the minimum wage, or creating national health care.

Because who cares about 30 to 40 million people who have no health care. But they love big government when it comes to funding corporations, agra-business, and the military. In his whistle-blowing book It Was All A Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump, Stuart Stevens, a high-level Republican strategist for almost 40 years, calls it corporate welfare:

As the magazine The American Conservative notes: “Agricultural subsidies are one of the most important examples of corporate welfare—money hand-outs to business based on political connections.” There’s a language war here that Republicans have been winning for decades. “Welfare” is what the poor get because they are, well, poor, and being poor is a choice because in American anyone can succeed. Or something close to that.

But “grants,” “tax breaks,” and “incentives,” are the language businesses use to describe the corporate welfare they demand in exchange for doing what they usually have to do or want to do anyway” (IAL, 68)

That Republican administrations have driven the national debt higher than Democrats over the past 50 years underscores the further hypocrisy of anti-big government rhetoric and alleged values of fiscal responsibility. The campaign to hate big government is what it is: a rhetorical ploy to push the power sectors of big money and military, and shore up the embittered segment of American white people who are threatened by the idea of democratic parity with African Americans and other non-white minorities. Republicans could at least jettison their sloganeering about anti-big government it would be honest and helpful to segments of our citizenry who are being duped by it.

We must recall that in another era, a different Republican Party understood the necessity of big government intervention for human well-being and moral crisis. President Eisenhower expanded Social Security, increased the minimum wage, and created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and the Interstate Highway Program (41,000 miles of roads). He also used federal troops to beat back white supremacists who were beating and flogging African Americans in the streets of southern cities.

President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, passed a series of environmental legislation, created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, supported various expansions of health care tied to federal funding, and made large increases to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

The history of the United States shows us that without proactive, ethical, federal government there is little social justice and change. The clichés of freedom and liberty bandied about by conservatives rarely have anything to do with real people who have been denied real freedoms. What would the United States be without liberal movements for reform: would women be voting, and shaping American government as they now are?

Would African Americans still be living under an apartheid system? How much more ravaged would the environment be? Would children still be working in slave-like conditions? Would labor have redress to capitalist exploitation? Would the LGBTQ community still be hiding in fear?

The colossal failure of Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis makes it clear that we are in desperate need of proactive, federal, scientifically anchored government. It’s not too late for the Republican Party to learn something from Lincoln’s concept. The Democratic Party is not perfect, it does not have the answers for all the world’s problems, but it does not engage in power-hungry deception and policies that are cruel to citizens who have been unfairly left out in the cold.

The idea that complex social and political problems that often involve life and death matters for millions of people who have been marginalized and disadvantaged—often through no doings of their own—should be reduced to the vanities of citizens who are so impressed with their own personal advancement or so self-satisfied with the good luck of having inherited wealth—is an absurdity of conservative ideology that must be rectified for a fair and humane democracy to progress.

For now, unmasking the dishonesty of Republican Party rhetoric about government can help people in need see what is in their best interest and help the nation move forward in a dire time.

Republican Presidents

Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president and the 16th president of the US. He served as president from March 4, 1861, until his assassination on March 15, 1865. President Lincoln is credited for leading the country through the American War of 1861-1865. His tenure was also marred by political and constitutional crisis including secession threat. However, Lincoln managed to preserve the Union and strengthen the federal government. His Emancipation Declaration led to the abolition of slavery in the US. Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, by John Booth at the Ford’s Theater.

President Ulysses S. Grant is one of the few Republican presidents to have served two full terms (the majority of the presidents have served less than 8 years). He was the 18th president of the US and second Republican to ascend to the presidency. Before his election as president in 1869, Grant and Lincoln led the Union Army during the American War. As the president during the post-war era, he oversaw the Reconstruction, especially in the south, and the passage of the 15th Amendment which allowed all citizens to vote irrespective of their race.

James Garfield is one of the second-shortest serving presidents of the US, serving for only 199 days. He also remains the only sitting member of the Congress to ascend to the presidency. Garfield became a Republican in 1857 and was elected to the Senate in 1857 to represent Ohio. In 1880, he was chosen by the Republican National Convention as their presidential candidate. As a president, Garfield’s main accomplishments included fighting the corruption in the Post Office, proposed several civil service reforms, and advocated for civil rights of the Black Americans. He was shot on July 2, 1881, by Charles Guiteau and on September 19, 1881.

Ronald Reagan was the 40th president of the US and the 17th Republican to hold such as an office. He is the second-oldest president to serve after Donald Trump. Reagan’s presidency is credited for many successes in the country including ending the Cold War, war on drugs, reducing inflation from over 12% to 4.4%, and tax reduction. However, he was also criticized for the Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan survived an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump assumed office as the 45th president of the US, elected in 2016. He was a media personality and a businessman before his election. He is currently the oldest first-term president and the only one without prior government or military service.

Winfield Scott Hancock

Winfield Scott Hancock
February 14 1824 - February 9 1886

WInfield Scott Hancock (no relation to General Winfield Scott he was only named in honor of him) was a Union general known for his leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war he served in the South as a part of Reconstruction and in the West against the Indians. He ran for President as a Democrat in 1880 but lost to Republican James Garfield. He also served as President of the NRA (National Rifle Association).

No, Virginia did not hold first Republican convention after Civil War

If Your Time is short

  • Virginia held a Republican convention on April 17, 1867 but, contrary to Winsome Sears' claim, it was not the first one after the Civil War.
  • North Carolina held a Republican convention on March 27, 1867.
  • At least five Northern states held Republican conventions in 1865, after the war ended, or 1866.

Winsome Sears, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, says she wants to convince African-Americans to return "to our roots" in the Republican Party.

"The very first Republican convention after the Civil War was held in Virginia in a Black church," she said during a May 13 interview on Fox News. There was a picture of Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, on the bookcase behind her.

Her historical claim was new to us and we fact-checked it.

Sears is the first Black woman to be nominated by either party for statewide office in Virginia. She’s a Jamaican immigrant, small business owner and former Marine who served one term in the House of Delegates from 2002-2004. She won the nod for lieutenant governor at the state Republican convention held on May 8. Democrats will choose their nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in a June 8 primary.

We asked Sears’ campaign twice for the source of her claim that the first GOP convention after the Civil War was held in a Black church in Virginia, but did not hear back.

We found several references and old newspaper stories about a "Mass Convention of the Union Republican Party of Virginia" that met at the First African Baptist Church in Richmond on April 17, 1867.

After the Civil War, many Northerners, Blacks and Southern reformers were unhappy with the Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson. Other than enforcing the abolition of slavery, Johnson essentially gave the white Southern establishment free reign to run their states.

Radical Republicans from the North won firm control of Congress in 1866. Early the next year, Congress passed and overrode Johnson’s veto of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 that divided the South into five military districts. To be readmitted to the Union, each state was required to hold a convention to draft a new constitution ratifying the 14th Amendment, which gave voting rights to all men.

The Union Republican Party held its statewide meeting in Richmond in April 1867 to prepare for Virginia’s constitutional convention, which convened nearly eight months later. Of the 210 delegates who attended the meeting, 160 were Black, according to "Virginia: The New Dominion," an authoritative history of the state published in 1971.

The Republicans elected a statewide leadership committee and passed a platform calling for:

External Research Collections

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

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Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Detroit Public Library Burton Historical Collection

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Illinois State Archives

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Knox College Archives and Special Collections, Seymour Library

Library of Congress Manuscript Division

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Lincoln Memorial University Department of Lincolniana

Lincoln National Life Foundation

Missouri Historical Society

New-York Historical Society

New York Public Library

Ohio Historical Society

Princeton University Seeley G. Mudd Library

Union College Weeks-Townsend Memorial Library

University of Chicago Library Special Collections Research Center

University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library

University of Michigan William L. Clements Library

Western Reserve Historical Society

Role of the President

The president is the democratically elected head of government and state in the US. The president is the commander-in-chief of the entire armed forces of the US, and is at the helm of the federal government’s executive branch alongside the vice president, tasked to ensure that the constitution is upheld. The people do not choose their president directly but through the Electoral College. Under the constitution, the presidential term is four years and a president can only ever hold two terms consecutively.

Grover Cleveland, 1885-1889, 1893-1897

Grover Cleveland is best remembered as the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. He had been perceived as a reform governor of New York, yet came to the White House amid controversy in the election of 1884. He was the first Democrat elected president following the Civil War.

After being defeated by Benjamin Harrison in the election of 1888, Cleveland ran against Harrison again in 1892 and won.

Why Abraham Lincoln Was Revered in Mexico

American historian Michael Hogan makes a bold claim. He says that Abraham Lincoln is in no small part responsible for the United States being blessed for many generations with an essentially friendly nation to the south—this despite a history that includes the United States annexation and conquest of Mexican territory from Texas to California in the 1840s, and the nations’ chronic border and immigration tensions. “Lincoln is revered in Mexico,” Hogan says. As evidence, he points to the commemorative statues of Lincoln in four major Mexican cities. The one in Tijuana towers over the city's grand boulevard, Paseo de los Héroes, while Mexico City's Parque Lincoln features a replica of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gardens' much admired Standing Lincoln, identical to the one in London's Parliament Square. (The original stands in Lincoln Park in Chicago.) These are commanding monuments, especially for a foreign leader.

In his 2016 study, Abraham Lincoln and Mexico: A History of Courage, Intrigue and Unlikely Friendships, Hogan points to several factors that elevated the United States’ 16th president in the eyes of Mexicans, in particular Lincoln’s courageous stand in Congress against the Mexican War, and his later support in the 1860s for democratic reformist Benito Juárez, who has at times been called the “Abraham Lincoln of Mexico.” Lincoln’s stature as a force for political equality and economic opportunity—and his opposition to slavery, which Mexico had abolished in 1829—made the American leader a sympathetic figure to the progressive followers of Juárez, who was inaugurated as president of Mexico in the same month and year, March 1861, as Lincoln.

“Both were born very poor, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, became lawyers, and ultimately reached the highest office of their countries,” says Hogan in a telephone interview from Guadalajara, where he has lived for more than a quarter-century. “Both worked for the freedom of oppressed peoples—Lincoln demolishing slavery while Juárez helped raise Mexican workers out of agrarian peonage.” (In a lighter vein, Hogan points out that physically, they were opposites: While the gangly Lincoln stood six-foot-four, Juárez reversed those numbers, at a stocky four-foot-six.)

Early on in Lincoln’s political career, as a freshman Whig congressman from Illinois, he condemned the 1846 U.S. invasion of Mexico, bucking the prevailing patriotic tide and accusing President James K. Polk of promoting a falsehood to justify war. After a skirmish of troops in an area of what is now south Texas, but was then disputed territory, Polk declared that "American blood has been shed on American soil” and that therefore “a state of war” existed with Mexico. “Show me the spot where American blood was shed,” Lincoln famously challenged, introducing the first of eight “Spot resolutions” questioning the constitutionality of the war. Lincoln’s stand proved unpopular with his constitutents—he became known as “Spotty Lincoln”—and he did not seek re-election.

He was not alone in his protest, however. Among others, New Englanders such as John Quincy Adams, who lost a son in the war, and Henry David Thoreau, who wrote his famed essay, “On Civil Disobedience,” in reaction to the war, also dissented. Ulysses S. Grant, who distinguished himself as an officer serving in Mexico, later wrote in his memoirs that it had been “the most unjust war ever waged against a weaker nation by a stronger.”

In seizing more than half of Mexico’s territory as the spoils of war, the U.S. increased its territory by more than 750,000 square miles, which accelerated tensions over the expansion of slavery that culminated in the carnage of the American Civil War. Hogan believes strongly that the long-term economic impact on Mexico should inform thinking about border politics and immigration today, “We conveniently forget that the causes of northward migration have their origins,” he writes, “in the seizure of Mexico’s main ports to the west (San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles), the loss of the rich silver mines of Nevada, the gold and fertile lands of California, and the mighty rivers and lakes which provide clean water to the entire southwest.”

In the course of researching his Lincoln book, Hogan made an important discovery in the archives of the Banco Nacional de México: the journals of Matías Romero, a future Mexican Treasury Secretary, who, as a young diplomat before and during the American Civil War, represented the Juárez government in Washington.

Romero had written a congratulatory letter to Lincoln after the 1860 election, to which the president-elect cordially thanked Romero, replying: “While, as yet I can do no official act on behalf of the United States, as one of its citizens I tender the expression of my sincere wishes for the happiness, prosperity and liberty of yourself, your government, and its people.”

Those fine hopes were about to be tested as never before, in both countries.

During its own civil war of the late 1850s, Mexico had accrued significant foreign debt, which the French Emperor Napoleon III ultimately used as pretext to expand his colonial empire, installing an Austrian archduke, Ferdinand Maximilian, as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico in 1863. The United States did not recognize the French regime in Mexico, but with the Civil War raging, remained officially neutral in the hope that France would not recognize or aid the Confederacy.

Nevertheless, the resourceful Romero, then in his mid-20s, found ways to secure American aid in spite of official policy, mainly by establishing a personal relationship with President Lincoln and the First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln. From there, Romero was able to befriend Union generals Grant and Philip Sheridan, connections that would later prove crucial to the Mexican struggle. “What particularly endeared Romero to the American president,” Hogan notes, “was that he escorted Mrs. Lincoln on her frequent shopping trips…with good-natured grace. It was a duty which Lincoln was happy to relinquish.”

With Lincoln’s earlier letter in hand,Romero made the rounds with American bankers in San Francisco, New York and Boston, Hogan says, selling bonds that raised $18 million to fund the Mexican army. “They bought cannon, uniforms, shoes, food, salaries for the men, all kinds of things,” he says. “And Grant later helped them secure even better weapons—Springfield rifles. He would go to the Springfield people and say, “Get them some decent rifles. I don’t want them fighting the French with the old-fashioned ones.”

After the Civil War, the U.S. became even more helpful in the fight for Mexican liberation. In a show of support, Grant dispatched 50,000 men to the Texas border under General Sheridan, instructing him to covertly “lose” 30,000 rifles where they could be miraculously “found” by the Mexicans. Sheridan’s forces included several regiments of seasoned African-American troops, many of whom went on to fight in the Indian Wars, where they were nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers.

By 1867, the French had withdrawn their occupying army the Juárez forces captured and executed Maximilian, and the Mexican Republic was restored. Though Lincoln didn’t live to see it, his Mexican counterpart had also triumphed in a war for the survival of his nation. “Lincoln really loved the Mexican people and he saw the future as us being allied in cultural ways, and also in business ways,” Hogan reflects. “He supported the growth of the railroads in Mexico, as did Grant, who was a big investor in the railroads, and he saw us as being much more united than we are.”

Though most of this history has receded in the national memories of both countries, Hogan believes that Lincoln’s principled leadership and friendship—outspoken in the 1840s, tacit in the 1860s—created a pathway for mutually respectful relations well into the future.

About Jamie Katz

Jamie Katz is a longtime Smithsonian contributor and has held senior editorial positions at People, Vibe, Latina and the award-winning alumni magazine Columbia College Today, which he edited for many years. He was a contributing writer to LIFE: World War II: History’s Greatest Conflict in Pictures, edited by Richard B. Stolley (Bulfinch Press, 2001).

Watch the video: President Abraham Lincoln 1st Inaugural Address - Hear and Read the Full Text