Friday, October 31, 2014

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 257

Lincoln advised a young man about becoming a lawyer that he 'resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.'

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 256

Is there wisdom in controlling one's anger?

Lincoln and Anger Management 101

Following the South’s defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee retreated back to Virginia on July 4. However, when he reached the Potomac he found it too swollen with summer rains for him to cross. His Army of Northern Virginia was dangerously short on ammunition, exhausted by three days of the most intensive combat of the war; it was mortally wounded, clogged with thousands of the infirm [the wagon train of sick and wounded was over 15 miles long]. Finally, Lee had his back to a swollen river he couldn't ford; he had neither the dexterity nor the space to maneuver. In short, for virtually the only time in his entire military career, Robert E. Lee was a sitting duck. But within a few days the waters receded and the Army of Northern Virginia crossed safely into Virginia to regroup and fight for another 22 months.

In the meantime the Northern commander, George Meade, remaining in Gettysburg, sent a dispatch to Washington DC stating proudly, ‘We have driven the invader from our soil!’ Gideon Welles the Secretary of the Navy wrote cynically in his diary, ‘Meade is watching Lee as fast as he can.’ 

Lincoln for his part was furious because in failing to pursue Lee vigorously, Meade had missed a golden opportunity to annihilate the South's most fearsome military force – and if that had happened the war would have been drastically shortened, if not ended. Lincoln wrote him a blunt letter: ‘My dear general: I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would ... have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. ... Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.’ 

We know the letter was written because it was discovered in a drawer in the White House after Lincoln's assassination. My guess is, you and I wouldn’t have behaved like that. If we had written that letter we would have sent it; if we weren’t going to send it we never would have written it. But Lincoln wrote a letter he never intended to send in order to deal effectively with his sense of rage – having put that fury onto paper he had exorcised it out of his system. Now he could think his way through to the next step.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 255

Lincoln had turned his wizardry with words into a potent political weapon. In 1858 when Stephen Douglas, the powerful leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate, ran for re-election against Lincoln – victoriously, as it turned out – he knew he was up against a formidable opponent. Here is what Douglas said about Lincoln: ‘Every one of his stories seems like a whack upon my back… Nothing else – not any of his arguments or any of his replies to my questions –disturbs me. But when he begins to tell a story, I feel that I am to be overmatched.’

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 254

Lincoln liked to tell the story of a seedy fellow asking Secretary of State Seward for a consulate in Berlin, then Paris, then Liverpool, eventually coming down to a clerkship in the State Department. Hearing these places were all filled, he said, 'well, then, can you lend me $5?'

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 253

Lincoln lost his first campaign for elected office – the Illinois state legislature - in 1832. But there was one consolation: the 23-year-old Lincoln polled 277 out of the 300 votes cast in his little village. The lesson was crystal clear: to know Lincoln was to trust Lincoln.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 252

Lincoln loved to tell this story about himself and Jefferson Davis. ‘”I think Jefferson will succeed,” said one Quaker woman. “Why does thee think so?” asked the second. “Because Jefferson is a praying man.” “And so is Abraham a praying man,” said the second. “Yes,” said the first, “but the Lord will think Abraham is joking.”'