Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Purpose of Lincoln's Humor

According to Keith W. Jennison, author of "The Humorous Mr. Lincoln:" "Mr. Lincoln's use of humor changed.

“During the wilderness years he told jokes and stories without trying to prove anything at all; he told them simply because it was natural for him to do so. After he became a lawyer he found that his wit and his acute sense of the ridiculous were effective courtroom tools.

“As a politician he handed the weapon of satire as a stiletto or a broadax as the occasion demanded. During the first few months of his Presidency he used humor many times as a roundabout way of saying 'no.'

“As his responsibility grew and became almost unendurable he took to telling jokes again, trying to lessen the tensions in himself and those around him."

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Sky ISN'T Falling...

According to one source, “In the gloomiest period of the war, President Lincoln had a call from a large delegation of bank presidents.

“In the talk after business was settled, one of the big Dons asked Mr. Lincoln if his confidence in the permanency of the Union was not beginning to be shaken, whereupon the homely President told a little story.

‘When I was a young man in Illinois,’ said he, ‘I boarded for a time with a deacon of the Presbyterian church.

‘One night I was roused from my sleep by a rap at the door, and I heard the deacon's voice exclaiming, “Arise, Abraham! the day of judgment has come!”

‘I sprang from my bed and rushed to the window, and saw the stars falling in great showers; but looking back of them in the heavens I saw the grand old constellations, with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and true in their places.

‘Gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now.’"

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Like a gushing spring...

"""Ohio journalist David R. Locke, himself one of Mr. Lincoln's favorite humorists, recalled: "His flow of humor was a sparkling spring gushing out of a rock - the flashing water had a somber background which made it all the brighter.

“Whenever merriment came over that wonderful countenance it was like a gleam of sunshine upon a cloud - it illuminated, but did not dissipate."

An Indiana Congressman, George W. Julian, recalled that President Lincoln "entered into the enjoyment of his stories with all his heart, and completely lived over again the delight he had experienced in telling them on previous occasions.

When he told a particularly good story, and the time came to laugh, he would sometimes throw his left foot across his right knee, and clenching his foot with both hands and bending forward, his whole frame seemed to be convulsed with the effort to give expression to his sensations...

“I believe his anecdotes were his great solace and safeguard in seasons of severe mental depression."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Joking before the Judge

At one point a harried Abraham Lincoln interrupted his Senate campaign to file a motion before a Chancery judge.

As Mr. Lincoln strode into the court, fumbling with his hat and the papers it contained, he announced: "May it please your Honor, I am like the Irish sailor, and beg your Honor to excuse me for this hurried interruption."

When the judge asked him to explain the reference, Lincoln responded: "Well, an Irish sailor was overtaken at sea by a heavy storm and he thought he would pray but didn't know how, so he went down on his knees and offered the following prayer:

'Oh, Lord! you know as well as meself that it's seldom I bodder ye, but if ye will only hear me and save me this time, bedad it will be a long time before I bodder ye again'."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lincoln’s distinctive education

According to Charles Dana a close observer of Lincoln, the President was a most teachable man, and asked questions with a childlike simplicity, which would have been too much for the false pride of many, a man far less well informed.

His fund of knowledge was, as he himself declared, very largely made up of information obtained in conversation. If Lincoln's knowledge was 'not so well arranged and digested as if it had been the accumulation of careful and exact research, it included a vast amount of information hardly to be found in books.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Gettysburg Address got bad press?!

What came to be termed The Gettysburg Address received poor press at the time.

Here is what The Chicago Times had to say: 'The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.'

There is no accounting for taste.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tad at the Telegraph Office

The Lincolns were very indulgent parents. The story goes that one day their son Tad accompanied his father to the telegraph office in Washington. While Lincoln was busy looking over some dispatches from the front, Tad went into the other room and busied himself by drawing on a very white marble tabletop with some very black ink.

When Madison Buell, the telegraph operator, discovered what had happened he grabbed Tad by the collar and dragged him into the presence of the boy’s father. Buell was outraged and told the President that Tad had ruined the table.

Tad - he had not a deceitful bone in his body - held up his black fingers to show that he had, in fact, been up to some fun.

At that, Lincoln lifted Tad up into his arms and said, "Come, Tad; Buell is abusing you."

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Growth in the darkness

In 1849, after his lone two-year stint in the House of Representatives, Lincoln returned to the wilds of Illinois to practice the law. As he did so, Lincoln, in this self-imposed exile from politics, set out to take stock of himself, sort out his ideas, figure out where he wanted to go both personally and politically.

He was like a fertile field that was destined for a time to lay fallow, and he had, or developed, the self-discipline necessary to acquiesce in being shunted off like some unused box car into an equally unused siding.

One has the feeling that the seeds of greatness were nurtured during that time - that immense power was gathering in the shadows for a crescendo of magnificent proportions.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Power of Gratitude

Lincoln exerted an uncanny pull on those he led, and one reason was simple gratitude.

Take the military. For Lincoln gratitude was no big deal! After all, these men were interrupting their lives in a rather profound way to fight over what simple farm boys probably viewed as a relatively esoteric set of ideas, and some of them were going to die in the process.

That required, for example, that Lincoln personally visit every regiment that passed through Washington, DC in 1861 to thank them personally – and as it happened every regiment in the US Army in 1861 passed through Washington, DC.

Needless to say, the troops recognized the bed-rock sincerity of the man. As one veteran said when asked about the soldier vote in the up-coming 1864 election, “Father Abraham mustered us in and we’ll be damned if he doesn’t stay at his post until he’s mustered us out!”

Would you believe, the evidence indicates that he won reelection in 1864 largely because of the soldier vote.

So, when you hear about Lincoln's uncanny political acumen bear in mind that we're not talking "esoteric" - gratitude cuts through a lot!

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Year’s Resolution: Read “Lincoln 365” Part 2:Lincoln and Us

Greatness, they say, results when opportunity meets preparation. In Lincoln’s case the preparation had been thorough, but out of the line of sight of virtually the entire nation.

In fact, with the advent of this gangly, poorly-dressed country boy as President of the United States [was his tie EVER straight or his hair EVER combed?] everyone in the country  with half a brain agreed with the British ambassador Lord Russell’s assessment in the spring of 1861: Lincoln was “ignorant of everything except Illinois village politics.”

They didn’t know it then, but Lord Russell’s assessment was about as wrong as wrong could be for Lincoln had not only what his age needed but ours as well: a peerless sense of values, a distinctively steely self-discipline, political acumen, boundless personal courage, an abiding concern for others, a zen-like serenity and a bubbily, child-like sense of humor.

And you and me? Like Lincoln’s contemporaries
•    we today are a sad, silly people;
•    we are like sheep easily entangled in dense constricting undergrowth;
•    we can, without the least provocation, be petty, short-sighted, greedy, full of rancor;
•    we give pride of place to preconceptions the way others worship on Sundays;
•    we confront real problems that cry out for solutions yet can’t seem to muster up anything like a creative thought;
•    we listen to news sources not for information but for ammunition;
•    since we’ve settled for bumper sticker political discourse we take very little time figuring out whether the other guy is one of the good guys or not, so
•    when confronted with “there’s a little good in the worst of us, a little bad in the best of us” we respond, “Huh?”

In short, we are a rudderless people cast adrift on a trackless sea and we need a pole star that never varies. Lincoln is that pole star that never varies.

I suggest reading “Lincoln 365,” but slowly. Do it at night just before going to sleep, and just read today’s entry. And in 365 days Lincoln -  and subliminal advertising - will have worked his magic: we’ll be a little more like him then than we are now: more inclined to demand from our politicians less posturing about problems and more grappling with problems.

Posterity demands no less.

[PS, if you can’t get Lincoln 365, get on to me [, or 916-213-7463] and I’ll get a copy to you.]

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year’s Resolution: Read “Lincoln 365” Part 1: Lincoln’s 1860 context

Lincoln’s “time,” like all presidents before and since, had come the year he won the Presidency in 1860.

He won for two reasons. First, his was a moderate stand on explosive issue of slavery – let it stand in the states where it existed but keep it out of the territories. Second, because he was so little known outside his home state of Illinois at the time of his election Lincoln had virtually no enemies. And on that rather inauspicious double-negative note, Lincoln was elected.

Of course there were other problems with his 1860 election that gave thoughtful citizens cause for concern. The election that year had been a four-way race, and each of those candidates had gotten significant numbers of votes. Lincoln won, but received not a single vote in any of the soon-to-be Confederate states because he did not appear on any of their ballots.

In addition, although he garnered a fairly comfortable Electoral College total he had received only 39% of the popular vote. That meant he entered the White House with 61% of the electorate voting him a loser. In addition, he had precious little administrative or military experience, no executive experience and no foreign policy experience.

Look at the 1860 context a little differently. Consider for a moment what would have happened to the country if James Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, had been elected in 1860 instead of 1856 [Of course he had been elected when his time had come, but arguably it could as easily have come four years later, isn’t that right?] His strategy for dealing with the dissolution of the United States was three-fold: a] secession was unconstitutional, [b] there was nothing he could/would do about it; and [c] it would stop being his problem when the next man was sworn in.

That man was Lincoln. And the only thing this awe-shucks lawyer from Podunk, USA seemed to have going for him was the fact that he was a very successful trial lawyer. That is, on a regular basis he had a knack of winning over 12 men good and true. Unfortunately, now he had a much more difficult task of winning over 34 million, many of whom were neither good nor true.

Let me say that again: the nation was hemmoraghing states when the newly-elected Lincoln hardly knew where the bathrooms were in the White House.

Mybe Buchanan’s astonishing contention that he was “the last President of the United States,” was right after all!