Abraham Lincoln, A Man For All Time

In this outstanding biography, Abraham Lincoln is rebutting Stephen Douglas in 1854 on the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which permitted slavery in those territories. Lincoln considered the Nebraska Act simply a legal term for the perpetuation and expansion of slavery and, as such, nothing less than the possible death knell of the Union and the meaning of America. A reporter, Horace White, noted that he was hearing “one of the world’s masterpieces of argumentative power and moral grandeur. "His speaking went to the heart because it came from the heart."

As for me, Bob Jenks, the quotation below from Lincoln’s 1854 speech exemplifies the utter humanity of that great man, he whose basic moral values continue to set a leadership example for our country today. Lincoln came from very humble origins, was self-taught, neither smoke nor drank, and absolutely loved the company of friends, including business rivals. I believe the passages below from Doris Goodwin’s book give great insight into his character and have a lesson for us all. (The underlining is mine.)

Rather than upbraid slaveowners, Lincoln sought to comprehend their position through empathy. More than a decade earlier, he had employed a similar approach when he had advised temperance advocates to refrain from denouncing drinkers in “thundering tones of anathema and denunciation, “for denunciation would inevitably be met with denunciation, and anathema with anathema.” In a passage directed at abolitionists as well at temperance reformers, he had observed that it was the nature of man, when told that he should be “shunned and despised,” and condemned as the author “of all the vice and misery and crime in the land,” to “retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and to his heart.”

Though the cause be "naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel," the sanctimonious reformer could no more pierce the heart of the drinker or slaveowner than "penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw. Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him." In order to "win a man to your cause", Lincoln explained, you must first reach his heart, "the great high road to his reason." This, he concluded, was the only road to victory - to that glorious day "when there shall be neither a slave nor a drunkard on the earth."

Pages 167-168 Team of Rivals, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, Doris Kearns Goodwin