Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 - April 15, 1865) was the 16th president of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War, its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy. Lincoln was a self-educated lawyer in Illinois, a Whig Party leader and a state legislator in the 1830s. After a series of highly publicized debates in 1858, during which Lincoln spoke out against the expansion of slavery, he lost the U.S. Senate race to his archrival, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. In 1860, Lincoln secured a Republican Party presidential nomination. His presidential election resulted in seven southern slave states to form the Confederacy before he took the office on March 4, 1861. Lincoln is regarded by historians as one of the greatest United States presidents. During his term, he created the system of national banks with the National Banking Act. This provided a strong financial network in the country. It also established a national currency. In 1862, Congress created, with Lincoln's approval, the Department of Agriculture. Lincoln was able to appoint five Supreme Court justices during his time as president. He is largely responsible for instituting the Thanksgiving holiday in the US. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address of 1863 became an iconic statement of America's dedication to the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy. Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction. On April 15, 1865, six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding General Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated at the Ford Theater by John Wilkes Booth, a noted actor and Confederate spy from Maryland. Lincoln was married to Mary Todd Lincoln on November 4, 1842. They had four children, all boys. Only the oldest, Robert, survived to adulthood. After Lincoln's death, Robert committed his mother, Mary, for a short time. The death of their children had a profound effect on the mental health of both Lincoln and his wife.
Gore Vidal was born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr. on October 3, 1925 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He did not go to college but attended St. Albans School in Washington and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 1943. He enlisted in the Army, where he became first mate on a freight supply ship in the Aleutian Islands. His first novel, Williwaw, was published in 1946 when he was twenty-one years old and working as an associate editor at the publishing company E. P. Dutton. The City and the Pillar was about a handsome, athletic young Virginia man who gradually discovers that he is homosexual, which caused controversy in the publishing world. The New York Times refused to advertise the novel and gave a negative review of it and future novels. He had such trouble getting subsequent novels reviewed that he turned to writing mysteries under the pseudonym Edgar Box and then gave up novel-writing altogether for a time. Once he moved to Hollywood, he wrote television dramas, screenplays, and plays. His films included I Accuse, Suddenly Last Summer with Tennessee Williams, Is Paris Burning? with Francis Ford Coppola, and Ben-Hur. His most successful play was The Best Man, which he also adapted into a film. He started writing novels again in the 1960's including Julian, Washington, D.C., Myra Breckenridge, Burr, Myron, 1876, Lincoln, Hollywood, Live From Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal, and The Golden Age. He also published two collections of essays entitled The Second American Revolution, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 1982 and United States: Essays 1952-1992. In 2009, he received the National Book Awards lifetime achievement award. He died from complications of pneumonia on July 31, 2012 at the age of 86.