Abraham Lincoln was a freshman Whig congressman from Illinois during the U.S.-Mexican War, and became a vocal critic of President James K. Polk and his war policy. Born in 1809 in Kentucky to a family of modest means, Lincoln moved to Indiana as a child and grew up doing farm work. By 1830, he had moved to New Salem, Illinois, studied law, and began his state political career in earnest 1834.
Lincoln entered the national limelight in 1847, shortly after being elected to Congress. As member of Congress, he helped spearhead the Whig clamor against the war. Hoping to make a name for himself, Lincoln argued that the war had been unprovoked and unnecessary. His so-called “Spot Resolution” speech in January 1848 marked him as a scrappy, bold, and ambitious politician with poor timing. Lincoln lost his next election and returned to his law practice.
Amid the U.S. sectional troubles of the 1850s, Lincoln re-emerged from regional obscurity to national attention in a series of well-crafted speeches and debates. In 1860, Lincoln became the first Republican president in U.S. history. While in office, he led the nation through the American Civil War, but was assassinated shortly before the end of that conflict in 1865.