Lessons from Lincoln

Lessons from Lincoln

As the birthday of President Lincoln falls on Saturday, it is fitting and proper to pause and reflect upon some of his most important lessons. “Father Abraham,” as the troops he commanded affectionately called him, still has much wisdom to share with us.

President Abraham Lincoln. Portrait by Alexander Gardner Taken on February 5, 1865




President Abraham Lincoln. Portrait by Alexander Gardner Taken on February 5, 1865


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Keep an open mind. Though firm in his convictions, Lincoln felt it important that he always listen to divergent opinions. To that end, the president filled his cabinet with some of his greatest Republican rivals for the 1860 nomination, including the interminably bitter Salmon Chase as Treasury Secretary and William Seward (of Seward’s folly) as Secretary of State. Originally, Lincoln planned to suffocate slavery by not allowing it to spread west; he would leave the institution alone where it already existed. And should all slaves be free, Lincoln thought it reasonable that they be sent back to Africa, as he could not imagine whites and blacks living together as equals.

But as the war drew to a close, he was speaking triumphantly of black suffrage from the window of the White House, causing John Wilkes Booth, who was in the crowd, to turn to his friend and retort: “I’ll put him through.” Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, penned by the man himself, was the product of hours upon hours spent in tortuous thought. (He was the last of our presidents to write all his own speeches, as well.) Before he signed it, Lincoln took a few minutes to steady his hand. He wanted to be sure that posterity knew he meant every word.

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