We posed this question to staff and on social media: If you could describe Lincoln in only one word, what would it be, and why? Here are our answers:
What has always fascinated me about Lincoln is that he was definitely one of our smarter presidents, despite his relatively limited formal schooling. The main explanation for that is he was a Sage, in other words someone who thinks deeply about things and always is striving for more knowledge. For example, his keen understanding of constitutional law guided his actions as president regarding slavery, even when his principles dictated perhaps faster action. He also possessed a lifelong interest in learning, whether it was reading Shakespeare plays, or asking detailed questions about visitors from places like Japan and Mexico. His role as a sage informed all his decisions as president, and thus is basis for other potential words to describe him (shrew, pragmatic, humorous, etc…)
The quote that’s above the mantle in the Emancipation Room in the Cottage is one of my favorites, and speaks so perfectly about how invested and devoted, professionally, personally he was in doing a good job as President. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.” – Abraham Lincoln, January 1, 1863
Even as a young child, Abraham Lincoln was governed by a code of ethics that lasted throughout his life. For example, when he was young he stopped other young boys from putting hot coals on turtles’ shells to make them move faster. Lincoln’s empathetic heart moved him to protect a defenseless creature.
When I think of Lincoln, I think of the depth of thought he put into every decision. When I picture Lincoln constructing the Emancipation Proclamation, I picture him pacing the Cottage, asking countless questions, and weighing heavily on the balance between making a statement of our country’s collective morality and a strategic political action. Lincoln’s documented willingness to hear multiple perspectives and truly dwell in the details sets a powerful example for transformational leadership.
Without trying to sound religious or prophetic, it’s hard to imagine what the world would have been like without Abraham Lincoln. He was here when our country needed him most.
I’ve always thought that most people that have a desire to run for President aren’t the kind of people we should actually be looking for to represent our country. I genuinely believe that Lincoln was one of the few men who had all of the right intentions in place before his term, running for office, and then serving his terms as President.
Lincoln’s appearance often made him seem unassuming to others. The truth of the matter is that he possessed an uncanny ability to play the long game; a game of chess, while others were playing checkers. His shrewdness allowed him to learn from his mistakes, elevate others to the best of their abilities, and take on adversaries with a quick wit and a sharp judgment.
He was thoughtful both in the sense of ‘kind,’ and in the sense of ‘deliberative.’
He was an ordinary man dealing with extraordinary circumstances. He carried the weight of the country on his shoulders, and that’s an extraordinary task for one human to do.