Abraham Lincoln Statue
Abraham Lincoln statue in Union Square Park (c. 2019)
The statue in its original location at the southwest corner of Union Square Park (c. 1910)
A photograph of the statue in 1917 with a good look at the ornamental fence that once surrounded it
The statue taken off its pedestal before being relocated during the redesign of Union Square Park (c. 1929)
Backstory and Context
Abraham Lincoln was born in Hardin County (now LaRue County), Kentucky on February 12, 1809. His parents, Thomas Lincoln and Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln, were both born in Virginia and came from humble families. When Lincoln was seven years old, his family moved to Indiana. Two years later, his mother died. As a young man, he received very little formal education. Despite this, he possessed a voracious appetite for knowledge and read as much as possible, often by candlelight well into the night. In 1830, his father moved the family to Illinois. Two years later, Lincoln served as a militia captain during the Black Hawk War, but never saw combat. After his military service ended, he read law and attempted to launch a political career, campaigning for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly as a member of the Whig Party. Lincoln was defeated, but a second attempt in 1834 was successful. He would ultimately serve four terms in the Illinois General Assembly from 1835 to 1843. During this time, he received his law license and practiced in Springfield throughout his tenure in the state legislature. In 1842, after a tumultuous courtship, Lincoln married Mary Todd, the daughter of wealthy slave-owning family from Lexington, Kentucky. The couple met a few years earlier at a ball in Springfield. The marriage produced four sons, only one of whom (Robert Todd Lincoln) lived to adulthood.
Four years later, Lincoln won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. His time in Congress, however, was short-lived; serving only one term from 1847 to 1849. After, Lincoln resumed his legal career, but the passage of the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 reinvigorated his interest in politics. Four years later, Republicans in Illinois nominated him to run for the U.S. Senate. While he ultimately lost the race to Democrat Stephen Douglas, Lincoln earned a national reputation. Two years later, in 1860, the Republican Party nominated him as their candidate for president of the United States. Despite not receiving a single electoral vote from the slave states and winning just about forty percent of the popular vote, Lincoln enjoyed a relatively comfortable win in the Electoral College.
Before Lincoln took the Oath of Office in early March 1861, seven southern slave states had already seceded from the Union. His decision to resupply Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor the following month led to its bombardment by South Carolina troops. While the federal installation surrendered, the incident galvanized northerners, who enthusiastically answered Lincoln’s subsequent call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the southern rebellion. His call for volunteers, however, acted as a double-edged sword; four additional southern slave states seceded and joined the Confederacy. After the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all enslaved individuals living in the Confederacy free. While in reality it did not free any slaves given that the Confederacy did not recognize or obey U.S. federal law, the Emancipation Proclamation did allow for the enrollment of African American men in the U.S. armed forces. In addition, it dashed the Confederacy’s hopes of securing foreign recognition, since both Great Britain and France had abolished slavery decades earlier and thus could not support the creation of a slave-owners’ republic. In late 1864 and early 1865, Lincoln worked assiduously to secure the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery in the United States.
On the evening of April 14, 1865, less than a week after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln was shot by southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth while attending a performance of the comedy Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. He died early the next morning. He was fifty-six years old. Nearly two weeks later, federal troops tracked down and killed Boothe in Virginia. Four of his fellow co-conspirators were apprehended, tried, convicted, and executed that summer.
Following Lincoln’s assassination, the Union League Club, an organization of pro-Union New Yorkers formed in 1863, began raising funds for the construction of a monument to commemorate the slain president. The group then hired distinguished sculptor Henry Kirke Brown (1814-1886) to design it. The over-life-sized bronze statue of Lincoln, which rests on a nearly fifteen-foot-tall granite pedestal, was dedicated on September 16, 1870 in Manhattan’s Union Square Park. A few years later, in 1875, a decorative stone and bronze rail fence was installed around the base of the pedestal. Inscribed on it was the famous phrase from Lincoln’s second inaugural address: “WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE; WITH CHARITY FOR ALL." In the late 1920s, due to subway construction, the park was entirely demolished, but was reconfigured and reopened soon after. Consequently, the statue of Lincoln was moved from its original location at the park’s southwest corner to its north end, where it remains today. The elaborate stone and bronze rail fence, however, was discarded.
"About the Club." The Union League Club. Web. 4 January 2021 <https://www.unionleagueclub.org/about>.
"Abraham Lincoln." American Battlefield Trust. Web. 4 January 2021 <https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/abraham-lincoln>.
"Abraham Lincoln." New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The City of New York. Web. 4 January 2021 <https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/union-square-park/monuments/913>.
Freidel, Frank and Hugh S. Sidey. The Presidents of the United States of America. Washington, DC: White House Historical Association, 2006.