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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Abraham Lincoln: Part 2

  • We are told in the ads that this is a historic, game-changing election.
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  • We are told in the ads that this is a historic, game-changing election.
     
    We are selecting the best prepared candidates for public office. Historians are agreed that Abraham Lincoln has been our best president, therefore, his preparation and qualifications should provide us a standard of excellence of what to look for in candidates.
     
    Equable Temperament
     
    Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense who has worked for eight presidents, spoke at OSU this week, and in his remarks he said that there is nothing that can prepare you to be president of the U.S.
     
    “I think at the end of the day what people need to look at is character and temperament which is really important rather than specific skills or command of certain issues.” [1]
     
    The ideal temperament [L.,temperatus] is what Aristotle and the ancient Greeks referred to as the “golden mean” between the extremes e.g., equable. Jesus called it “meekness” and called it “blessed.” By meek he didn’t mean mild or weak. He meant strength under control — self-discipline. [2]
     
    Recently, I met a man going around to high schools lecturing on bullying. He was huge and got the kids’ attention by ripping apart phone books and breaking concrete blocks with this hands.
     
    He had credibility with his audiences because his strength enabled him to be a bully but his character prevented him from doing so. The stronger one is, the more self-restraint he needs.
     
    Strength
     
    “A neighbor of Lincoln said he was as strong as three men. He amazed men with his lifting power. He was often in ‘rasslin’ matches that he typically won. He once stopped a melee with his announcement, ‘I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you wants to try it, come and whet your horns.’ By 21, he was 6’ 4” tall, had 14 years of hard physical labor behind him, weighed 180 pounds, was ‘hard as nails’ and the fastest runner in Sangamon county.”
     
    His strength, however, was balanced by compassion and controlled by discipline. Challenged to fight by one he knew he could best, he said quietly, “Now, Larkin, if you don’t shut up, I’ll throw you in that water.”
     
    He refused to join school mates in torturing a live mud turtle and had written a paper arguing against cruelty to animals. At 11, he shot a prairie turkey and never again shot any game at all. [3]
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    Education
     
    Lincoln wasn’t learned, but he was learning.
     
    “The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”
     
    His favorite books were the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Aesop’s fables.
     
    “Abe Lincoln worked for me, but he was always reading and thinking.” [3]
     
    When he read, he forever distilled its contents into general principles and even normative concepts like fables. He began with “dark questions” and read, for answers and applications. Being who some regarded a genius, he did these things well.
     
    As important, he was open to experience. He read not to confirm his predispositions but to inform and challenge his fund of knowledge.
     
    He was “open to experience,” seeking opportunities to learn, “Reading the weekly Louisville-Gazette, walking about, walking around, Abe took in many things with his eyes that saw and his ears that heard and remembered.”
     
    Alone Time to Think
     
    Lincoln thought, and that required solitude and silence — both of which he had in abundance throughout his youth.
     
    “Often he worked alone, all day long with only the sound of his own ax, or his own voice speaking to himself.”
     
    He had only four months of schooling, so he did all this on his own because he wanted to.
     
    Honesty and Industriousness
     
    Many today lament the perversion and loss of the “Founder’s virtues.” Charles Murray identifies two of these as honesty and industriousness.
     
    After a woman had bought dry goods in his New Salem store, Lincoln realized he had shortchanged her $.0625 that night he walked six miles to pay her back.
     
    Discovering he had given a woman too little tea, he took a long walk to make it good. There’s a reason he was called “Honest Abe.”
     
    He is a role model of the American Dream portrayed by Horatio Alger in numerous novels of orphan boys who succeeded by their own pluck. [4]
     
    In his youth, Abe often hired out and worked away for weeks on end. At age 17, he built a boat and transported passengers from the mouth of Anderson Creek to ferry boats in the middle of the Ohio River.
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    Sued for not having a license to ferry passengers “across” the river, he consulted a lawyer and won because he had taken them only to the middle of the river. This was the beginning of his quest to become a lawyer.
     
    At 21, he prepared for his family’s trip from Indiana to Illinois by buying from Jones Store some “pins, needles, buttons, tinware, suspenders, and knickknacks” to sell along the way. He later wrote back to Jones that he doubled his money on that peddler’s stock he sold. He also earned a pair of brown jeans by splitting 400 rails for each yard of cloth. [3]
     
    Becoming a Lawyer
     
    By age 22, he had been studying law and assisting friends with legal matters. While still a storekeeper he “read for the law and from Shakespeare and burns.”
     
    A “mover” was passing through New Salem and to help him out Abe bought a barrel of unknown goods from him. At the bottom of the barrel he found a copy of “Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England,” required reading for all students of the law.
     
    He read from it, “On the flat of his back on the counter of his store or under the shade of a tree with his feet up on the side of the tree.”
     
    He also had long conversations with Bowling Green, an older friend who understood the Illinois Statutes. After election to the Illinois House.
     
    Lincoln went to Springfield in March 1837 to be certified by the Illinois Supreme Court as having good moral character’ and thereby become a lawyer.
     
    Review
     
    I have not covered his experiences in small business, as a lawyer, surveyor, postmaster, captain in the Black Hawk war, his public speaking and debates, and legislative experience in Springfield and Washington.
     
    Now go back and review his qualifications and use them as a template by which to judge today’s candidates.
     
    [1] The Oklahoman, Oct.25, 2012.
    [2] Barclay, Wm., The Gospel of Matthew, Phila.: Westminster Press, 1956, p91.
    [3] Sandburg, Carl, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. NY: Blue Ribbon Books, 1926, 27-39, 45-8, 51, 56-8.
    [4] Murray, Charles, Coming Apart, NY: Crown forum, 2012, 136. Horatio Alger, Jr., Strive and Succeed, Chicago: M.A. Donohue & Co., 1908.
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