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Abe Lincoln: An Extraordinary Leader

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.


Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.  H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Perhaps noted as one of the greatest United States presidents of all time, Abraham Lincoln’s early life may not have reflected his potential greatness. He failed in business. He lost the election to the state legislature, Speaker of the House, nomination for Congress, the appointment of a land officer, U.S. Senate twice, and a nomination for Vice President. After those eight failures, Lincoln was elected President of the United States. How many of us would we have kept going like Lincoln did?

Problems we think of today pale compared to what happened in the late 1850s and middle 1860s. Lincoln dealt with eleven southern states that had seceded from the Union. Eleven states formed the Confederate States of America during his presidency.

Americans may think that there are divisions in our country today. There was an enormous division during the Civil War era. Americans lived on both sides of the war: North and South.

There were crucial challenges that Lincoln faced as U.S. President:

1. Lincoln was president during the American Civil War, which lasted four years

About five weeks after Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th United States President, the American Civil War began. Lincoln was president when the country was falling apart.

The division may exist between families. Unfortunately, family members may go years without talking to one another. Are family problems terrible compared to the unrest during the Civil War? Families were divided so much by the war that one son may have fought for the North while another son of the same family fought for the South.

2. The most American casualties happened during the Lincoln Administration

600,000 to 700,000 Americans died in the Civil War. The American Civil War casualties exceeded the United States’ losses in all other wars, from The American Revolution to the present.

Do any of us think that we have such an enormous responsibility? Lincoln had the impossible burden of having the most American casualties during his term as president. More Americans died from war during Lincoln’s presidency than the other American presidents combined.

3. Lincoln suffered from Depression

Lincoln, who lived in the nineteenth century, did not have access to antidepressants, such as Prozac, to take as prescription medication, nor could he go to a drug store and purchase St. John’s Wort over the counter.

Lincoln never had the luxury of having access to modern treatments. Lincoln’s job was to deal with a country divided by war. At times, your problems may seem as monumental as Lincoln’s struggles, mainly because you are the one who is currently enduring a particular situation. All of us have shared and unique problems. Can you imagine you were not so lucky and had limited access to treatments like Lincoln? Fortunately, we do have the luxury of modern medicine.

4. Lincoln was assassinated

The North, The Union, defeated the South, The Confederacy. The South surrendered to the North on April 9th, 1865. Lincoln was assassinated five days after the Civil War ended and died the morning after being shot.

Do you think you feel unappreciated by the work you have done? Lincoln united his country as president, issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery, inspired people suffering from depression, and was one e of the kindest and most good-hearted presidents our nation has ever had. What were the thanks that he got? He was killed.

At times, Lincoln was a leader. He kept America together so we could still be called The United States of America. He led by example. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln said he wanted malice toward none and to bind up the nation’s wounds. Unfortunately, Lincoln never saw any of his efforts and results implemented. The United States owes Lincoln a massive debt of gratitude.

Like Lincoln, every one of us has overcome problems and has achieved greatness in our way. You may not remember obstacles you overcame, such as when you learned to walk or talk. There are challenges you overcame that you do remember very well, such as finishing a project, winning a race, graduating from school, or setting up a career. Every one of you has the potential for greatness, like Abe Lincoln. It is up to you to find the distinction within yourself.


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