The Greatness of
What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, our army and our navy... our defense is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men in all lands everywhere.
─ Abraham Lincoln, speech in Illinois, September 1858
Two hundred years ago Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in the
Abraham Lincoln was a self-made man who rose above the circumstances of his birth. The son of antislavery Baptists, reared in the backwoods of
He learned from all of his failures—and there were many. Dissatisfied with farm life, he left his father's home for good at age twenty-one, settling in New Salem, Illinois, a tiny village that was, like him, rough, undeveloped, and facing an uncertain future. He purchased an interest in two small general stores, but chose unreliable men for partners who left him with a staggering debt that took him years to pay. At various times he worked as a field hand, postal clerk, blacksmith, and surveyor, positions that at best brought temporary satisfaction but left him feeling unfulfilled. In 1832 he lost the first political contest he entered, for the
During most of his life
"He told jokes and stories at odd times—he needed the laughs, he said, for his survival. He often wept in public and recited maudlin poetry. As a young man he talked of suicide, and as he grew older, he said he saw the world as hard and grim, full of misery, made that way by fates."
Although he served but a single term in Congress—he took the unpopular stand of opposing the war with
As a self-made man,
He sympathized with soldiers who fought for a noble cause. He complained when his wife spent money on frivolous things for the White House when young men had no shoes to wear into battle. He loved meeting soldiers, particularly those who had been held prisoner or had endured extreme hardship, and he could often be seen sitting under the shade trees on the White House lawn, talking with the men he admired so much. He pardoned, reprieved, or extended great leniency to hundreds of soldiers who were derelict in their duties, because he believed in giving a man a second chance.
He carried this work ethic to the White House. He rose as early as 6:00 or 6:30 each morning and stayed up late, cramming as much work into the day as he could. He ate little and afforded himself few pleasures or moments of relaxation.
He was a common man who rose to uncommon heights. He had a genuine rapport with the people who elected him, and he was truly appreciative of their friendship and support. He remained true to his own convictions. He focused on his duty to serve his country as president, through turbulent times. He met the responsibility as he met every other challenge in his life: with clear purpose, patience, and compassion.
[Condensed by Mahendra Meghani form the book Abraham Lincoln]