Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lincoln and the 2012 Campaign: Not a Fit. Part 4

It seems clear that Abraham Lincoln no longer fits the context of an American political campaign. But you be the judge: can you think of any of our current crop of candidates – from president to dog catcher – who would express anything like the following?

 “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lincoln and the 2012 Campaign: Not a Fit. Part 3

It seems clear that Abraham Lincoln no longer fits the context of an American political campaign. But you be the judge: can you think of any of our current crop of candidates – from president to dog catcher – who would express anything like the following?

 “I am charged with making too many mistakes on the side of mercy.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lincoln and the 2012 Campaign: Not a Fit. Part 2

It seems clear that Abraham Lincoln no longer fits the context of an American political campaign. But you be the judge: can you think of any of our current crop of candidates – from president to dog catcher – who would express anything like the following?

“He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help.”

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lincoln and the 2012 Campaign: Not a Fit. Part 8

It seems clear that Abraham Lincoln no longer fits the context of an American political campaign. But you be the judge: can you think of any of our current crop of candidates – from president to dog catcher – who would express anything like the following?

“I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”

Lincoln and the 2012 Campaign: Not a Fit, Part 1

It seems clear that Abraham Lincoln no longer fits the context of an American political campaign. But you be the judge: can you think of any of our current crop of candidates – from president to dog catcher – who would express anything like the following?

“Mr. Chairman, this work is exclusively the work of politicians, a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people, and who, to say the most of them, are, taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men. I say this with the greater freedom, because, being a politician myself, none can regard it as personal.”

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lincoln as Permissive Parent: Part 1: "Enriching" Cabinet Meetings

Lincoln allowed his sons the run of the White House. To the dismay of harried Cabinet members the boys periodically would burst into Cabinet meetings and jump on their daddy’s lap – and their daddy would welcome the interruption [“Boys will be boys!”].

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lincoln and the levers of power

‘Lincoln liked using Charles Sumner, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a check against his Secretary of State William Seward, and decided to make it a standard practice. Therefore he designated Sumner as his chief adviser on foreign policy, authorized him to go through all foreign correspondence …and according to his biographer, Sumner now possessed ‘a virtual veto over foreign policy.’

In return for such power, Sumner gave tacit approval to Lincoln’s war policies and became a valuable Lincoln man on Capitol Hill.’

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lincoln Keeping it Simple

In the 1850's Lincoln was involved in a high-profile case arguing for a steam ship company against a railroad company. The issue had to do with low-lying trestles across a river. In his summation to the jury the lawyer for the railroad argued brilliantly as to why the burgeoning economic prosperity of the entire region demanded free and unfettered access to bridges across rivers. His summary took over an hour.

Lincoln's summary was one sentence: 'What this jury has to decide is whether one group has more right to cross a river than another has to go up and down the same river.'

He won the case.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

2-Inch Stimulus, 20-foot Response?

In 1832 Lincoln served as a captain in the Black Hawk War, a short-lived Indian skirmish that lasted but a few weeks and in which he did not hear a shot fired in anger. In short, there seemed to be virtually nothing in this experience that might contribute to the burgeoning political career of a man whose law partner of 17 years said, ”Ambition was a little engine inside him that knew no rest.”

Lincoln had a way of dealing with the pretense of those who, like himself, had virtually no combat experience to bolster their political careers: he showed how they and he were pretty much on the same footing. In short, their pretense brought out his sarcasm.

There is little that can stand the assault of biting humor like the following: “By the way, do you know I am a military hero? Yes, sir, in the days of the Black Hawk War, I fought, bled, and came away. Speaking of General Cass's career reminds me of my own. I was not at Stallman's defeat, but I was about as near to it as Cass to Hull's surrender; and like him I saw the place very soon afterwards. It is quite certain I did not break my sword, for I had none to break, but I bent my musket pretty badly on one occasion...

“If General Cass went in advance of me picking whortleberries, I guess I surpassed him in charging upon the wild onion.  If he saw any live, fighting Indians, it was more than I did, but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes, and although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say that I was often very hungry.”

A salutary warning indeed for any fellow politician attempting to extract 20-mile political career from a 2-inch military background.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lincoln, Obama and Romney: The Ultimate Zinger

Tonight Obama and Romney are going toe to toe yet again, this time over foreign policy. I’m sure each in his heart of hearts is hoping for that ever-elusive but supreme gotcha moment. But my guess is, they will each, like kids with with nose pressed against the candy store window, sigh longingly for the following Abraham Lincoln there’s-no-answer-to-that-one zinger.

It happened during one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. Douglas had just come out with what Lincoln clearly considered a particularly lame argument, and replied, “Hasn’t it got down about as thin as a homoepathic soup made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that died of starvation?”

History does not record what Douglas said immediately after the laughter died down, but my guess is, he stood there looking about as graceful as a side-stepping pregnant duck.

Lincoln the Politician: How to Play the Game

Lincoln was a man of great compassion, but that isn’t to say he couldn’t be tough. When Kansas Senator Pomeroy, an early recipient of Lincoln’s largesse, was shown, to Lincoln’s satisfaction, to have contributed too energetically to the Chase-for-President effort [Salmon Chase, Lincoln’s brilliant Secretary of the Treasury, wanted very much to be president himself in 1864, but got other Republican figures outside the Cabinet to head up his effort], Lincoln ended the Kansan’s access to the federal gravy train.

In short, it appeared Lincoln acted on the unspoken assumption that, in politics, you either jump to the leader’s tune or go to the wall.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A 21st Century Debasing, then Rehibilitating, of Abraham Lincoln

Over this past summer we witnessed what this blogger considers a profound, a money-grubber’s insult posed by "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" to the memory of this great man.

On the other hand, it is heartening that Lincoln's memory is rehabilitated, as it were, in “Lincoln” by the gravitas of Stephen Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis, of Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field and David Strathairn. It is as if Hollywood has delved deep within itself and called forth the very best it has to offer.

By all accounts Spielberg’s “Lincoln” will be well worth the wait!

Abraham Lincoln: Appearances aren't Everything

Early in January 1861, a Colonel Alex McClure received a telegram from President-elect Lincoln, asking him (McClure) to visit him at Springfield.

Colonel McClure described his disappointment at first sight of Lincoln with these words: “I went directly from the depot to Lincoln's house and rang the bell, which was answered by Lincoln himself opening the door. I doubt whether I wholly concealed my disappointment at meeting him.  Tall, gaunt, ungainly, ill-clad, with a homeliness of manner that was unique in itself, I confess that my heart sank within me as I remembered that this was the man chosen by a great nation to become its ruler in the gravest period of its history.

“I remember his dress as if it were but yesterday - snuff-colored and slouch pantaloons, open black vest, held by a few brass buttons; evening dress-coat, with tightly fitting sleeves to exaggerate his long, bony arms, and all supplemented by an awkwardness that was uncommon among men of intelligence. Such was the picture I met in the person of Abraham Lincoln.”

Before McClure left that meeting he was impressed, as so many others who initially dismissed this gangly, uncouth-looking trial lawyer from the middle of nowhere, by how earnest and intelligent - and maybe even wise? – he actually was.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Implacable Hatred Part 1

Implacable Hatred Part 1
The following editorial appeared in The Atlanta 'Confederacy' just before the election of 1860, just before what looked like the formation of a thing called the Confederate States of America; 'let the consequences be what they may - whether the Potomac is crimsoned in human gore, and Pennsylvania Avenue is paved ten fathoms deep with mangled bodies, or whether the last vestige of liberty is swept from the face of the American continent, the South will never submit to such humiliation and degradation as the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Perspective, anyone?

Ever have one of those days? Let me tell you about mine today. I’m not the most competent person to be let loose on a simple electrical device and its attendant bag full of wires. In this case it was a Sony camcorder. Soon after I bought the thing I lost the instruction manual [my wife told me at the time that act represented a modified death wish, but that seems a little extreme]. Anyway, losing it didn’t help.

Then, although I somehow managed to charge the battery of the thing some weeks ago, naturally it ran out of juice – and now I can’t figure out how to connect any of these wires to anything like an electrical outlet and recharge it. And I need the camcorder because, as a [would-be] paid professional public speaker, I want to submit an application, which must include a video clip, for a paid speaking gig, and tomorrow’s the deadline. Well, I’ve stopped trying to charge the thing, at least for the time being: the more I try the more it seems I can’t do it. The image that springs unbidden to mind is of me dissolving my Sony HDR-PJ200 into a puddle on the floor like some unwitting Dorothy dousing the Wicket Witch of the West with a bucket of water. Yes, one of those days…

Then we got a phone call. It seems a friend of ours with rectal cancer is on what looks like the losing end of a regimen of radiation and then chemotherapy. And then her daughter learns, within the same week, that [a] she’s 5 weeks pregnant, and [b] her husband has liver cancer. Inoperable liver cancer. And I thought my camcorder problem was huge!

Somehow I’m reminded of the following incidents from Lincoln’s life. A friend once reported finding Lincoln sitting in his chair so collapsed and weary that he did not look up or speak when he addressed him. Lincoln put out his hand mechanically as if to shake hands when the friend told him he had come at Lincoln’s bidding. It was several minutes before Lincoln was roused enough to say that he 'had had a hard day.’
We all need a little perspective, don’t we?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lincoln Pilloried in the Press

Lincoln was country through and through as we will note in other blog postings, and that fact could no more be denied than a trumpet player can make a mistake that won’t be heard. Indeed, that image of the country bumpkin led to Lincoln being pilloried repeatedly in the press.

Perhaps the most searing journalistic indictment came in the form of a cartoon late in the Civil War showing two figures. One was a long-limbed disheveled figure – think Woody Woodpecker - looking confused and completely out of his depth and ig-nor-rant meant to represent Lincoln; the other a bottomless-sad but angry woman meant to represent the United States. The woman figure says, “Where are my 500,000 sons?” and the Lincoln figure, ever the jokester, says,  “I, ah, why, that reminds me of a story.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lincoln and Seward: Frm Rivals to Soul Mates!

Walter Stahr has recently authored a book entitled, “Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man.” The book, like the story, is utterly fascinating!

William Seward, the former governor of New York and New York Senator, had been the heir apparent to the Republican Presidential nomination in 1860 – until Lincoln, a little-known upstart trial lawyer from the middle of nowhere, snatched it from him.

The book deals with the relationship between Lincoln and this, his massively talented Secretary of State, a relationship that started out about as badly as one could imagine. And if Lincoln were the kind of man who bore a grudge, the relationship would have died at birth [as Leonard Swett, a close friend of many years, said, Lincoln was “a poor hater”].

In addition, Lincoln was a shrewd observer of human nature and a consummate politician; in asking Seward to take on the job of Secretary of State Lincoln pointed out, “some newspapers have said I’m going to offer you the position, but merely as a formality. Don’t believe them. I really want you as secretary of state. I think you’re the best man for the job and the country needs your services.” Naked flattery, to be sure, but [eventually] it worked.

And once Seward took the position he began to act like a kind of prime minister with Lincoln as a kind of figure-head president – until pulled up gently but firmly by his boss. For example, Lincoln rejected Seward’s advice that we go to war with England to unite a dividing country by saying, simply, “one war at a time.” Also, if a policy change of the administration must be made, Lincoln assured Seward, “I must do it.” Seward, who was, understandably, fond of the exercise of power, finally got it [even if it did take a sledge-hammer between the eyes!].

That broke the back of the thing: with time the two men came to appreciate one another, and even enjoy one another’s company. Many an evening was spent [I’m reminded of the health-inducing poker games in the Truman White House with Congressional cronies into the wee hours] with Seward in the White House, or Lincoln at Seward’s house, each man regaling the other with a string of seemingly inexhaustible but health-inducing stories and jokes.

In short, Lincoln induced a kind of optical illusion, for they were not as they started [rivals, meaning bitter rivals] but, quite simply, soul mates for life!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Edwin Stanton and the processing of death

Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's irascible Secretary of War, was as odd as two left shoes. Among other things, he had an unreasoning, morbid fear of death. In 1833 he was living in a boarding house, and when a servant girl died of cholera and was buried immediately, he dug up the girl's grave  - he couldn't believe she was actually dead since she had served him lunch that very same day.

Eight years later, when his daughter Lucy died, he had her body exhumed and kept the coffin in his room for two years. And when his first wife Mary died he dressed and redressed her in her wedding clothes.

We all, I suppose, process “death” in ways as distinctive as our DNA.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lincoln: Funny without even realizing it!

Physically Lincoln couldn't have been more awkward. For example, when walking he had a way of lifting his foot up and putting it down all of a piece as if there were an inflexible steel platform strapped to the end of each leg. In short he was funny sometimes without even realizing it.

Similarly, even with the resources of the entire government at their disposal, authorities never could find a horse tall enough for the long-legged President. One always had the naggings suspicion that if his horse ever set out to move with the purpose both horse and rider would tumble ignominiously to the ground since Lincoln’s two legs were sure to get tangled with the horse’s four.

Lincoln was COUNTRY Through and Throgh

You can take the country boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the country boy, and Lincoln was a country boy through and through.

Take his appearance. Renditions of the man, whether a photograph, a painting, a statue or a $5 bill invariably show his tie crooked and no more than 75% of his hair in place. [One is reminded that fingers were invented long, long before pocket combs.]

So also, you might have been surprised, if you had knocked on the Lincoln White House door, to have the door answered by the President himself - in his shirtsleeves. You might also have been non-plussed to see him use his own spoon in the White House sugar bowl.

And there's no telling how you'd react to the following story that may not be true but certainly has the ring of authenticity about it. One evening, they say, before going to the theater, Lincoln was standing a the foot of the stairs in the White House with some friends and explained in his breezy manner, 'Mary's still upstairs puttin' on her trottin' harness.''

Lincoln and Hatred Vast and Furious

Lincoln was President of a sad country, a profoundly sad, deeply divided country. And to appreciate the breadth and sweep of his contributions to this country we need to know that he was up against forces both vast and furious, as will be manifest in other blog postings.

There was intractability represented in the American Civil War, a kind of stubbornness that is all but deathless. Abraham Lincoln’s take on that intractability was simplicity itself, for against all that is the intractability of Lincoln himself.

Is not the following statement carved from the granite of the great American heartland? “I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsake me.”

Victory Speeches with a Difference

Victory speeches with a difference
Lincoln’s victory speeches are distinctive to say the least. Every other politician in the world, whether he’s just been elected president or dogcatcher, reacts in exactly the same way: he gives a victory speech full of references to the historic sweep of what just took place; he will now begin the process of fulfilling all those  [sweeping] promises, everything will be different now that we’ve swept the crooks out of office and the new millennium has dawned.

Lincoln sounds a far different tone. Listen to him after winning the Presidency in 1860: “I have been selected to fill an important office for a brief period, and am now, in your eyes, invested with an influence which will soon pass away; but should my administration prove to be a very wicked one, or what is more probable, a very foolish one, if you, the people are but true to yourselves and to the Constitution, there is but little harm I can do, thank God!”

And again in 1860, “In all our rejoicing let us neither express, nor cherish, any harsh feeling towards any citizen who, by his vote, has differed with us. Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling.” [One wonders, will the victor of the November, 2012 presidential election sound anything like a similar sentiment?]

And finally, ‘I am thankful to God for this approval of the people [he had just been re-elected President in 1864]. But while deeply grateful for this mark of their confidence in me if I know my heart my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one; but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people's resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity.'

Lincoln, Distinctive Even in Losing.

In 1962 Richard Nixon, having lost the presidency by a whisker two years before, lost the governorship of California – by more than a whisker. He reacted to that 1962 defeat at what he himself probably considered the final press conference of his now-defunct political career by telling the assembled journalists, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more.”

Nixon’s was one way to react to electoral defeat; Lincoln had another, and far more interesting, reaction. In 1858 he lost a hotly-contested race for the US Senate to Stephen Douglas, and when asked for his reaction said, “I felt like the boy who stubbed his toe rather badly. Hurt too much to laugh, and he was too big to cry.”

That quote sounds a note of wry detachment that points to self-pity but, unlike Nixon, doesn’t wallow in it. If I had lived in his day and that man had come up for election to some other office, I think I’d vote for a man like that!

Lincoln as 21st Century CEO: Problem 5: Knee-Jerk Reactions

Knee jerk reactions are by definition the result of emotion-based, undisciplined decision making.

Lincoln, as a young man while taking a break from farm work was often seen studying Euclidean geometry of all things. It paid off later in life. For example, he liked to ask, “how many legs does a dog have if you count the tail a leg? Four. Counting the tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

His powers of logic-based persuasion were so compelling that it was said that as a trial lawyer he would begin the process of winning his case at the very outset when he was merely summarizing what took place.

This was not a man given to knee-jerk, emotion-packed reactions; contrary to what we might expect, Lincoln once said [and always lived by] the following: ‘Passion has helped us, but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense.’ [One wonders if any of our current crop of political luminaries – or CEO’s - would agree with that emphasis on the primacy of reason over passion…]

Lincoln as 21st Century CEO: Problem 4: Employing "Yes" Men

Let’s look at arguably the most important member of Lincoln’s team: William Seward and how he built him into a most effective team member.

Up until Lincoln’s nomination in 1860 the heir apparent to the Republican Presidential nomination was New York’s Senator and former governor William Seward. Lincoln appointed him Secretary of State, but Seward took a while to figure out who was really in charge; initially he took the attitude that he was prime minister with Lincoln as a kind of figurehead president. Not only was he not a “yes” man but he gave every indication that he was going to run away with the whole concern!

In those first few weeks he even conducted secret negotiations with Confederate emissaries without his boss even knowing. He also submitted to Lincoln a most curious document blandly entitled ‘Some Thoughts for the President’s Consideration,’ a document based on the assumption that the administration had no stated policy or strategy for coping with the looming constitutional crisis that came to be the Civil War.

Lincoln, who remarked to his private secretary, ‘I can’t let Seward take the first trick,’ held a private meeting with Seward at which he politely but firmly rejected his advice [for example, Seward had suggested that a war with England would unite the country, North and South; Lincoln countered, ‘one war at a time’]. Lincoln pointed out that his policy was to hold Forts Pickins and Sumter as stated in the Inaugural Address, a document Seward himself had
read in advance, edited and approved.

Finally, if there were to be any change or modification in the administration’s policy, the president had said, ‘I must do it.’ When all the dust was settled Seward wrote his wife, ‘Executive force and vigor are rare qualities. The President is the best of us.’

That broke the back of what looked very much like Seward’s insubordination to use an analogy from a future age, this exchange at the very outset of their relationship was the baseball bat between the eyes that got Seward’s attention.

In short, Lincoln’s putting Seward in his place at the very outset of their professional relationship was the basis for Seward’s initial sense of respect – which in turn was the basis for a friendship that was to last until the day Lincoln died. Eventually each came to cherish the time they spent together, oftentimes visiting one another of an evening to swap stories and jokes by the hour.

Who would have thought such a thing possible as the presidential nomination slipped inexorably out of Seward’s grasp only a few months earlier in the middle of 1860?

Lincoln as 21st Cenury CEO: Problem 3: Ignoring the Competition

Problem 3: Ignoring the Competition
The North entered the Civil War as a fumbling bumbling giant; the South, by contrast, outnumbered 5 to 2, was far more resourceful and tenacious.

That fact was the substance behind Lincoln’s gentle admonition to a subordinate in this example: “Are you not overcautious when you say you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing?” Lincoln could, of course, have been far more forceful, but coming down heavy would probably not achieve his purpose. In fact a ham-fisted approach would more than likely destroy any usefulness that subordinate might have contributed to the Union cause.

Lincoln as 21st Century CEO: Problem 2: Lack of Team Building Skills

Problem Two: Lack of Team Building Skills

Lincoln should never have won the Presidency. He was barely known in the country outside his native Illinois, had virtually no administrative experience, or executive experience, or foreign policy experience, or military experience. Having won the Presidency, how was this prairie lawyer from the middle of nowhere to survive in the snake-pit known as Washington, DC?

The short answer is, with difficulty. He set out to build his team, one that would, presumably, help the North win a war that was all but lost on so many occasions, by choosing for his cabinet the rivals he had just beat out for the Republican nomination for president. Why? Simple: he needed all the talent he could find – even if that meant that there’d be a mini civil war at every cabinet meeting!

Each man in that cabinet was college educated, far more experienced and better known than Lincoln himself, each more familiar with the subtle, byzantine workings of Washington, and each with an ego the size of a barn. He even included members of the opposition party [his Secretary of War from January 1862 was Edwin Stanton, a Democrat who, like the others, started out utterly contemptuous of Lincoln]. Yet, when Lincoln was warned, “they will eat you up!” he quipped, “They will as likely eat each other up.” His cabinet also represented a careful balance of regions and passionately held ideologies - the few men in that cabinet were nation in miniature.

Lincoln rode herd on arguably the most talented cabinet ever assembled by any American president, before or since. In meetings he would listen patiently and, despite what often seemed the picture of chaos, would summarize at the end, attaching value to this suggestion or that as each suggestion deserved - no more and no less. And decisions, when once arrived at, invariably received the assent of all in the room.

With time the sterling quality of the man shone through. [Sterling quality always shines through with time, for those with sterling quality who are patient enough to wait it out.] For example it became clear that he was more concerned about getting answers than garnering credit.

In other words, with time the members of his cabinet team came to recognize and respect the leadership qualities of this, their most unlikely leader.

Lincoln as 21st Century CEO: Problem 1: Inability to Adapt

Isn't this an intriguing question: what would Abraham Lincoln do if he were a 21st century CEO struggling to survive in a persistently sluggish economy?

Let's consider, in this and the next four blog entries, five areas of concern for any struggling company [Inability to Adapt, Lack of Team-Building Skills, Ignoring Competition, Employing "Yes Men," and Knee-Jerk Reactions] and see how Lincoln would handle each.

Problem One: Inability to Adapt

What came to be called First Bull Run took place on a balmy Sunday in July of 1861, and, hard though it may be for us at this vantage to imagine, all of Washington took picnic baskets with them in their carriages to watch the Rebels get whipped. [The assumption, North and South, was that this was going to be a quick and easy war, each side asserting that the other was no match for them!] Unfortunately, after what looked like a quick Northern victory, it was the Yankees who got whipped. At the end of the day the roads back to Washington were clogged with an odd but profoundly sobering assortment of panicky congressmen, women in their summer finery, members of the diplomatic corps and soldiers flinging their equipment to the four winds - all in headlong flight from what looked very much like abject defeat.

Total casualties, North and South, approached 5,000 that day [by comparison, this nation lost about the same number at Pearl Harbor, and on 9/11 combined]. First Bull Run, as the battle came to be called in the North, represented a national trauma of the first order. Confident Northern boasts were destined to disappear like snow in spring. A world of tranquil certitudes was over, perhaps never to return.

Understandably, the nation howled. Editorials demanded that we just let the Rebs go [“Good riddance to bad rubbish!” “They’ve been nothing but trouble anyway,” “We don’t need them!” etc].

Lincoln disagreed, calling for renewed dedication to what this country was all about. "The dogmas of the quiet past," he said, "are inadequate for the stormy present. As our situation is new so we must think anew and act anew."

And Lincoln gently but firmly [like all great leaders, neither too gentle nor too firm] kept the nation's feet to that fire. Within a few months Lincoln was giving voice to this need to adapt, focusing the nation’s attention on the reason for all the boundless, yawning pain of this war: we were experiencing “a new birth of freedom” that would insure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth” – words, like the man himself, that were carved from the granite of the great American heartland.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The supreme irony

Abraham Lincoln once said he couldn't stand the prospect of wringing the neck of a chicken and yet ironically found himself in the intolerable position as commander in Chief of actively willing the continuance of a war that was resulting in the deaths of thousands and thousands of men.

Lincoln and detachment

In 1858 when Lincoln lost the Illinois Senatorial election to Stephen Douglas I think Lincoln was as bitterly disappointed as any candidate losing any election, more so perhaps than most given the fact that he [according to the convoluted calculations of some observers] won by 4,000 votes. Yet, when asked how he felt about that result, this is what he said: "I felt like the boy who stubbed his toe rather badly; I'm too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh."
There's steely self-discipline under that wry observation; if I lived in that time and that man came up for election again, I think I'd give him my vote!

Lincoln and the abyss of suicide

I don't know about you, but I've never seriously considered suicide. But I would guess that anyone who looks into that abyss and then chooses consciously to step back, will see what the vast majority of us never consider: a reason to go on living. According to one source, a good 20 years before he became president Lincoln told his friend Josuah Speed, referring probably to his inclination to commit suicide, "That he had done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived, and to connect his name with the events transpiring in his day and generation and so impress himself upon them as to link his name with something would redound to the interest of his fellow man was what he desired to live for." Years later Lincoln reminded Speed of this conversation at the time he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln going against the grain

We live in an age of passionate intensity, of talking [but not thinking] heads; we listen to our news outlets not for information but for ammunition. Ours is a world of bumper-sticker political discourse.
The age Lincoln lived in was even more passionate - witness 620,000 Civil War casualties in 49 months. Yet Lincoln downplayed the importance of passion. Read the following with care and see if you find reason to disagree with him: "Passion has helped us, but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason must furnish all the material for our future support and defense."

Grassroots diplomacy

If you're not sure which way to react, try following the lead of Abraham Lincoln who had a knack for not offending. "If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea please bring me some coffee."

We should be so honest

According to one associate from his law-practicing days, "All clients knew that, with 'Old Abe' as their lawyer, they would win their case - if it was fair; if not, that it was a waste of time to take it to him. After listening for some time one day to one would-be client, Lincoln said, 'Well, you have a pretty good case in technical law, but a pretty bad one in equity and jsutice. You'll have to get some other fellow to win this case for you. I couldn't do it. All the time while standing talking to that jury I'd be thinking, 'Lincoln, you're a liar,' and I believe I should forget myself and say it out loud.'"

Lincoln and Compassion

Is there a place in the imagination of the would-be leader for genuine compassion? There was for Lincoln!
The story goes that one Michael Delaney was sentenced to death for deserting his Clorady regiment in 1862. His file [like hundreds of others] was passed up to President Lincoln who reviewed death sentences from courts martial as a matter of course. This is what he wrote on Delaney's file: "Let him fight instead of being shor. A. Lincoln"

Lincoln, race relations and the 21st Century

Almost any 21st century CEO looking for a little how-to inspiration from a battle-tested leader couldn't go far wrong considering Abraham Lincoln the Great Emancipator. His handling of the mother of all ethical conundrums in American history, race relations, is, viewed from the comfort of hinesight, pure poetry in motion in that he showed himself both practical and visionary.True, freeing the slaves was an enormous gamble. For example, once the Proclamation became final the entire 109th Illinois Infantry Regiment was arrested for mutiny - they were so disgusted that now they were fighting this war not just to preserve the Union but to free the - and then they would use a two-syllable word beginning with an "N" and containing a hard "G" sound in the middle, the word used throughout the country, North as well as South, to describe African Americans. And if that weren't enough, at that same time Governor Oliver Morton of Indiana told the President that he anticipated that Indiana not only might recognize the Confederacy but might secede from the Union as well. Finally, as you might expect, bi-partisan support in Congress all but evaporated, and the Republicans were trounced in the mid-term elections of 1862.
On the other hand, according to the US Ambassador to England, the Emancipation Proclamation "is producing an almost convulsive reaction in our favor" in England - all talk of recognizing the Confederacy disappreared like snow in spring.
Like all great leaders Lincoln showed himself to be both visionary and practical in handling this thorny issue. He was visionary because, although the Emancipation Proclamation didn't actually free any slaves [only slaves in territory NOT held by Union troops!], he set in motion the 13th amendment abolishing slavery forever, and all subsequent amendments and legislation of future administrations dealing with this area of civil rights. The end result is that now we have not only a color-blind constitution but a largely color-blind society as well. In addition, Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation was practical in that he struck at the very core of the Confederacy's strength and reason for existence: in the ensuing months slaves fled to the security of Union lines by the thousands thus depriving the South of much needed man power. Another practical consequence was the enlistment, particularly during the latter part of the Civil War, of approximately 186,000 blacks to the Union cause. In short, what was the South's loss was the North's gain.
Visionary and practical: the point couldn't be better summed up than by the man himself when he said, "In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free - honorable alike in what we give, and in what we preserve."
A 21st century CEO should be so visionary and practical!