We Can Still Learn From Lincoln
Terry L. Paulson, PhD, CSP, CPAE
More than any other
president, Abraham Lincoln showed that ordinary people from humble beginnings
and with self-education, a strong character and focused will can aspire
to and create greatness. George Washington may be credited as the President
who created the union; Lincoln preserved that union. Lincoln was a great
communicator and was, arguably, the most gifted writer we ever had as
a President. Even 150 years after his death, we keep quoting him endlessly.
He showed other Presidents how to lead in the midst of crisis with vision
and resolve. He raised the bar for the presidency; he helped define the
office for the ages. In short, Lincoln continues to be rated as America's
favorite and most respected President. His ability to learn from and persevere
in the face of failure, his resolve in the face of sustained conflict,
and his breadth of insight about leadership and life are still relevant
to America. Here are some of Lincoln's best quotes and some thoughts on
how he can still speak to you today.
prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves
a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on
his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner
to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor the just
and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all
gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition
to all." Abraham Lincoln
don't believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would
do more harm than good. So while we do not propose any war on capital,
we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with
everybody else." Abraham Lincoln
the principle that we today call free market capitalism. It provides the
greatest opportunity possible for every person to make his way in the
world, and even to prosper. Lincoln understood what many in Washington
just don't get. There's no war between capital and labor. Capital and
labor are the same people at different stages of their lives. Workers
work to save, then to invest and ultimately to become owners of capital.
don't know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know
what his grandson will be." Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln knew that
what made America great was not its government, but its people empowered
in a free country to live their own version of the American Dream.
worst thing you can do for those you love is the thing they could and
should do for themselves." Abraham Lincoln
should do for people that which they cannot possibly do for themselves--and
leave otherwise alone!" Abraham Lincoln
in limiting the rolls that government should play. He cared enough to
challenge people to take responsibility for their own future. There would
have been no war on poverty in Lincoln's administration. There was encouragement
and support, but there was no room for an entitlement mentality.
have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction
that I had nowhere else to go." Abraham Lincoln
regards to this great book, the Bible, I have but to say it is the best
gift God has given. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All
things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are to
be found portrayed in it." Abraham Lincoln
know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my
constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the
Lord's side." Abraham Lincoln
read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his
aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare
to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat
of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The
prayers of both could not be answered--that of neither has been answered
fully. With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness
in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to
finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds...to do
all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves,
and with all nations." Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln knew man's
limitations and felt the grace and guidance of God in his life. He was
not known for church attendance, but he increasingly included references
to faith and God as he faced the challenges as President of a nation at
I were to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop
might as well be closed for business. I do the very best I know how,
the very best I can, and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the
end brings me out right, what is said against me won't amount to anything.
If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right will
make no difference." Abraham Lincoln
we took a vote in the Cabinet and it was eight to one-but I was the
one." Abraham Lincoln
Most know and value
the idolized Lincoln, but few of us realize how unpopular he was at the
time in taking our country through one of the most trying periods of our
history. Respect does not always mean high approval polls. Too much thought
is put into resolving disagreement and tension, instead of finding the
truth and the power that exists in using the tension for needed change.
Great leaders learn to manage and treasure the tension and end up being
respected for doing just that.
shoot too high--aim lower and the common people will understand you.
They are the ones you want to reach--at least they are the ones you
ought to reach. The educated and refined people will understand you
any way. If you aim too high your ideas will go over the heads of the
masses and only hit those who need no hitting." Abraham Lincoln
do not seek applause…nor to amuse the people. I want to convince them.
I often avoid a long and useless discussion by others or a laborious
explanation on my own part by using a short story that illustrates my
point of view." Abraham Lincoln
You don't remember facts, graphs, or even quotes, but people do remember
stories. Lincoln connected with people through the power of a good story.
His positions were accepted and remembered because they were carried
on the wings of story.
the question recurs 'can we do better?' The dogmas of the quiet past
are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with
difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new,
so we must think anew, and act anew." Abraham Lincoln
Like all great leaders,
Lincoln valued the past while still embracing change. Every improvement
is the result of change; not every change is an improvement. The past
will always have value, but it can't be allowed to have an automatic veto.
Lincoln could take the best from the past and be open to changes that
would improve America.
you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his
true friend.. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which
say what he will, is the greatest highroad to his reason, and which
once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment
of the justice of your cause, if indeed, that cause be really a just
one." Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln did not avoid
his difficult people; he found a way to bridge to them by keeping them
close. He put his most threatening enemies in his own party into his cabinet
so he could win them over. He was reported to have said, "I don't like
that man. I am going to have to get to know him better."
find quite as much material for a lecture, in those points wherein I
have failed, as in those wherein I have been moderately successful."
Lincoln never gave
up. He faced repeated failure but found the courage and fortitude to persevere
to become the most respected President of all time.
up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this."
Lincoln was a lawyer
who valued the judicial system that helped guarantee our freedoms and
rights. But he would have been disappointed by the lottery that many have
made of our court system in today's world.
"No man has
a good enough memory to make a successful liar." Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln was grounded
in integrity based on core principles that guided his actions. He was
able to stand his ground, because he knew the ground he stood on.
"We hope all
dangers may be overcome; but to conclude that no danger may ever arise,
would itself be extremely dangerous." Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln had a realistic
view of human nature and the world around him. He knew that challenges
would confront every age and every leader.
seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation,
conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are
created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether
that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.
We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate
a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here
gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting
and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot
dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave
men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above
our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long
remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished
work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It
is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before
us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that
cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we
here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that
this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government
of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the
earth." Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address Nov. 19, 1863
Lincoln was not afraid
to use force in matters of principle. But he also knew the value of honoring
those who gave their all in defense of those principles.
"I believe people
are just about as happy as they make their minds up to be." Abraham
is the joyous universal evergreen of life....Were it not for my little
jokes, I could not bear the burdens of this office...With the fearful
strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die."
"A Little Mistake"
A minister and a lawyer were riding on a train together.
"Sir," the minister asked the lawyer, "do you ever make mistakes while
"Very rarely," the lawyer said, proudly, "but on occasion, I must admit
that I do."
"And what do you do when you make a mistake?" the minister asked.
"If they are large mistakes, I mend them," the lawyer said. "If they
are small mistakes, I let them go. Tell me, Reverend, don't you ever
make mistakes while preaching?" "Of course," said the minister. "And
I dispose of them in the same way that you do. Not long ago, I meant
to tell the congregation that the devil was the father of liars, but
I made a mistake and said the father of lawyers. The mistake was so
small that I let it go."
Lincoln took his role
seriously, but himself lightly. His sense of humor was both his stress
breaker and his communication tool that helped him survive his years as
Some people keep looking for Elvis. In times like these, I find myself
wishing that Lincoln would return. The American journey continues into
a new chapter of our history. Freedom isn't a birthright of America; it
must be earned and reearned in every age. Now is our time to earn it again.
May his words live on to inspire us for ages to come.
APPENDIX: THE LINCOLN LEGACY
When failure continually knocks at your door, welcome it in. Once experienced
and learned from, failure becomes the steppingstone to success. Consider
a man whose life was engulfed with failure, setbacks, and letdowns. He
once wrote, "I am the most miserable man living. Whether I shall be better,
I cannot tell."
He experienced a difficult childhood. When he was only seven years old,
his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality. He went
to work to support his family, and at nine, his mother died. He completed
less than one year of formal schooling.
At twenty-two, he lost his job as a store clerk. His desire was to go
to law school, but his lack of education restricted him from being admitted.
He borrowed money to become a partner in a small business. A few years
later, his partner died, leaving him swamped in debt that took seventeen
years to repay.
In 1832, he was defeated for the legislature; this was followed by another
business failure one year later.
In 1835, the young woman he loved refused to marry him, and a woman he
had loved earlier died, leaving him rejected, confused and heartbroken.
He was defeated for speaker in 1838 and defeated for the elector in 1840.
Two years later he married into a burdensome life and an ultimately unhappy
He was defeated for Congress in 1843, but finally, after his third try
was elected in 1846. Two years later, at thirty-nine, he ran again and
failed to be reelected.
His personal life was also in shambles. His four-year-old son died (in
fact, only one of his four sons lived past eighteen). At this point, he
experienced a nervous breakdown. The next year, he failed to get an appointment
to the U.S. Land Office.
At forty-five, he ran and was badly defeated for the US Senate. Two years
later, in 1856, he became candidate for the vice presidency and again
Failure stood at his door in 1858 when he was again badly defeated for
the US Senate.
Amazingly enough, this man withstood a lifetime of crisis, criticism,
public denial, personal defeat, deep depression, and loneliness to become
a US President in 1860. At fifty-one years old, he experienced the success
he so badly desired. However, his second term of office was cut short
by a final earthly defeat--his assassination.
As Abraham Lincoln lay dying, Edwin M. Stanton spoke of this man as most
of us remember him: "There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world
has ever seen...(and) now he belongs to the ages."
Because of his accomplishments, his foresight, his insight, and his wisdom,
Abraham Lincoln was an example of how failure can produce achievement.
Lincoln would surely have agreed with Charles F. Kettering, who believed,
"It is not a disgrace to fail. Failing is one of the greatest arts in