Lessons for Life from Our 16th President


By Debra Toppeta

Has our country ever been in such a precarious state? Yes, 149 years ago when another lawyer from Illinois was President. As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, we realize this man is just as relevant today as he was in his day. Lincoln’s name was mentioned numerous times during the Presidential campaign and Barack Obama continues to be inspired by this farmer turned politician. You don’t have to live in the White House, however, to find ways to follow Lincoln’s example. Even in our everyday lives, we can find ways to keep his memory alive through example:

1.    Educate yourself. Lincoln’s formal education lasted only about 18 months.  He was largely self-taught and was an avid reader.  (Remember all those stories we heard in school about Lincoln reading by the light of a candle and walking miles through a snowstorm to return a book?) He had a thirst for knowledge and drank deeply. Lincoln was the first of the multi-taskers, dividing his time between reading, tending a farm, splitting rails for fences, and managing a store in New Salem, Illinois. His life was living proof that you can learn a lot anywhere, anytime, if you want to.

2.    Honor the language. Lincoln said, “Writing…is the greatest invention of the world.”  Language is a powerful tool and he used it so effectively. Most of his speeches were not long—the Gettysburg Address was a mere 266 words—yet his words continue to resonate today: “that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.”

3.    Be magnanimous. Lincoln suffered several political reverses. He lost twice in his quest to be a United States Senator from Illinois.  Throughout it all, he maintained good relations with his opponents.  He was magnanimous in defeat and in victory. Later he appointed his three main opponents for the Republican Presidential nomination to his cabinet: William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates.

4.    Be deliberate in deciding; firm in decision. Lincoln never acted in haste. He took his time when making a decision, soliciting opinions and listening to other points of view. The decision, however, was his own. And once he decided—even on the toughest issues—he stuck to his guns.

5.     Never give up. During his lifetime, Lincoln suffered many tragedies. He lost people close to him, including a son who died in the White House.  He led the nation through a war that cost over half a million lives.  He was bitterly criticized and frequently underestimated.  Through it all he was steadfast. He just didn’t quit.

Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a saint. But he was a pretty good human being.  He was in many ways a common man.  And he wasn’t the only one to exhibit these qualities, but his fame makes us more aware of them.  Let’s honor him by trying to emulate him.  Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

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