Wednesday, February 11, 2009


In honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of our greatest president and my personal hero, I offer here three insights for our motivation and enlightenment:

He Was a Man of Sorrow.

Abraham Lincoln was raised in extreme poverty; he learned the value of hard work, perseverance and independence, which formed his personal politics of individual liberty and free market capitalism. He truly was a man acquainted with grief. His mother died when he was 9, his dear older sister in childbirth, and two beautiful sons at the tender ages of 4 and 11. He said of his mother, “All that I am or hope to be I owe to my angel mother.” He faced these challenges with courage and aplomb and the hardships made him stronger and prepared him to lead the nation through a terrible civil war where brother killed brother, and his example set the stage for healing when the fighting finally ended.

Dr. Jerome Walker, of Brooklyn, was showing President Lincoln through an army hospital visiting wounded Union soldiers. When they came to three wards occupied by sick and wounded Southern prisoners, the doctor said: “Mr. President, you won't want to go in there; they are only rebels.' Lincoln stopped and gently laid his large hand upon his shoulder and quietly answered, 'You mean Confederates!' He said that the president was “just as kind, his hand-shakings just as hearty, his interest just as real for the welfare of the men, as when he was among our own soldiers.”

His Laughter was the Best Medicine.

Lincoln was famous for his wit and self-deprecating humor. His earliest know writing was a funny poem he wrote in his teens in his school primer:
“Abraham Lincoln
His hand and pen
He will be good but
God knows when.”

At 20 he was elected Captain of the New Salem Militia, sworn in by a regular army Lt. Jefferson Davis, and fought in the Black Hawk War. Although nearly six feet four, Lincoln “tended to walk with a slouch in those days.” His colonel was less than five feet. The colonel reprimanded Lincoln for his poor posture. “Come, Abe, hold up your head; high, fellow!” Lincoln held his head high and stretched his neck and said, “So, sir?” The colonel said, “Yes, fellow, but a little higher. Lincoln asked, “And am I always to remain so?” When the colonel said yes, Lincoln looked down at him with a sad look and said, “Then good-bye, colonel, for I shall never see you again.”

In the midst of the presidential campaign, Senator Douglas called Lincoln a “two-faced man.” Lincoln replied: “I leave it to my audience. If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?”

He Put Principle Above Politics.

His own words inform us of a character to emulate

“You may burn my body to ashes, and scatter them to the winds of heaven; you may drag my soul down to the regions of darkness and despair to be tormented forever; but you will never get me to support a measure which I believe to be wrong!”

“Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.”

“If ever I feel the soul within me elevate and expand to those dimensions not wholly unworthy of its Almighty Architect, it is when I contemplate the cause of my country, deserted by all the world beside, and I standing up boldly and alone and hurling defiance at her victorious oppressors. Here, without contemplating consequences, before High Heaven, and in the face of the world, I swear eternal fidelity to the just cause, as I deem it, of the land of my life my liberty and my love. And who, that thinks with me, will not fearlessly adopt the oath that I take. Let none falter, who thinks he is right, and we may succeed. But, if after all, we shall fail, be it so. We still shall have the proud consolation of saying to out consciences, and to the departed shade of our country’s freedom, that the cause approved of our judgment, and adorned of our hearts, in disaster, in chains, in torture, in death, we NEVER faltered in defending.”

Abraham Lincoln’s example, words and principles are as relevant and instructive today during our current economic crisis as they were during his life. This from Time columnist David Von Drehle:

“Lincoln lived through two major economic crashes, in 1837 and 1857, and he learned some timeless lessons. He foresaw, in the Union he struggled to preserve, an open, competitive, capitalist, enterprising nation, tied together by rapid transportation and communication. He believed that government had a leading role to play in building the infrastructure of a growing economy. But the guiding principle for all of it, the whole reason for the nation's being, was that "equal chance" — the humble citizen's right to get ahead. Lincoln understood that economic freedom was the bedrock of political liberty. One is not possible without the other...Lincoln exhorts us to take risks. Bet on America. But never lose sight of the goal: economic freedom for individuals — the right to rise and prosper." What Would Lincoln Do? Time magazine, 2/9/09.

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