The Most Consequential Elections in History: Abraham Lincoln's Victory in 1864 Led to the End of the Civil War

Lincoln's victory in 1860 triggered the Civil War, and his victory in 1864 allowed him to win it.

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On March 4, 1865—in his second inaugural address—Lincoln gave one of the most eloquent and stirring speeches in history. "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right," he said, "let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

The following month, five days after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate forces at Appomattox, Lincoln was shot by an assassin. He died the next morning, on April 15, 1865.

In the end, Lincoln's profound legacy was created and propelled by two elections—the one in 1860, which triggered the war, and the election of 1864, which enabled Lincoln to win it. Historian Henry Adams once wrote that a president "resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek." Lincoln understood this to his core. Added historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.: "The Constitution offers every president a helm, but the course and the port constitute the first requirement for presidential greatness. Great presidents possess, or are possessed by, a vision of an ideal America. Their passion is to make sure the ship of state sails on the right course." Defining that vision and setting that course are what Lincoln's presidency was all about.

More from our Most Consequential Elections series:
George Washington and the Election of 1788
Thomas Jefferson and the Election of 1800
Andrew Jackson and the Election of 1828
Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1860
Theodore Roosevelt and the Election of 1904
Woodrow Wilson and the Election of 1912
Franklin Roosevelt and the Election of 1932
Lyndon Johnson and the Election of 1964
Ronald Reagan and the Election of 1980