Abraham Lincoln and The Art of Statesmanship

General Ulysses S. Grant was given hero’s welcome as he arrived in Washington on March 1864 to assume command of all the Union armies – but the President didn’t hijack his moment of glory because he believed that the “the path to ambition” was wide enough for both of them “to walk it abreast.” The legend of Abraham Lincoln shall not perish from the earth. In her latest bestselling masterpiece A Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Simon & Schuster; 944 pages), Pulitzer Prizewinning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin opens a treasure trove of insightful and illuminating inside stories on America’s 16th President, and reveals a no-holds-barred examination of his failings – and his strengths. “The decision to appoint his political enemies to his Cabinet was perhaps the most obvious example of his emotional strength,” says Goodwin. But happily for us, “there were many others, all of which highlighted a different aspect of it.” Empathy. Lincoln had the gift of intuitively understanding the feelings, motives and desires of others. Although he was an anti-slavery advocate, he never demonized the slave-owners. “If slavery did not now exist amongst them,” he said, “they would not introduce it.” “In the largest sense,” says Goodwin, “Lincoln’s empathy allowed him to absorb the sorrows and hopes of his countrymen, to sense their shifting moods so he could shape and mould their opinions with the right words and the right deeds at the right time.” Humor. Lincoln was more than meets the eye. He may have been crying on the inside, but he was laughing – and spreading good cheer – on the outside. “Though a stain of melancholy was part of his nature, Lincoln possessed a remarkable sense of humor and a gift for story-telling,” says Goodwin. Even more amazing, “his seemingly limitless stock were directly applicable to a point being argued. Many were self-deprecatory, all were hilarious.” Lincoln was a master of making okray. One of his pet anecdotes is when Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen went and Britain and saw a picture of George Washington in an outhouse – and he said it was appropriate because “there is nothing that will make an Englishman s__ so quick as the sight of Genl Washington.” Magnanimity. Lincoln’s chief rivals for the Republican nomination – William Henry Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates – all have humiliated and insulted him. They were speechless when he was chosen to be the standard-bearer; they were stunned when he won the Presidency – and they were shocked when he appointed them all to crucial posts. “We needed the strongest men of the party to the Cabinet,” the President told reporters. “I had no right to deprive the country of their service.” Generosity of spirit. The administration was scandalized when Congress exposed how middle-men had scammed the government by delivering useless army supplies – and the President publicly took the blame and declared that he himself and his entire Cabinet “were at least equally responsible.” On war tactics, Lincoln thought Grant “should go down the river” but Grant went another way – and achieved the spectacular victory in Vicksburg. The President told him later, “I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right and I was wrong.” Perspective. Lincoln had the “ability to yield lesser concerns for more important ones,” says Goodwin. The President was facing pressure because of rumors of Grant’s drinking. After investigating it himself, he said that what was more important is that “Grant’s drinking did not affect his unmatched ability to plan, execute and win battles.” Self-control. When Robert E. Lee escaped from Gen. George Meade, the President was “dejected and discouraged,” and he wrote a scathing letter to Meade: “He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely” – but he never sent it. “When angry at someone, Lincoln would occasionally write a hot letter,” according to Goodwin, “but then would invariably put it aside until he had cooled down, at which point he no longer needed to send it.” A sense of balance. Lincoln’s “ability to think creatively and retain an even keel was rooted in the constructive ways he would dispel worry and anxiety,” says Goodwin. The President’s refuge was watching stage-plays. Lincoln was watching Henry IV while an assistant was watching him and observed: “He has forgotten the war. He has forgotten Congress. He is out of politics. He is living in Prince Hal’s time.” A social conscience. Lincoln’s life was an emotional roller-coaster but he had a beautiful soul. “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition,” he said in a speech when he was 23. “I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.” Abraham Lincoln now belongs to the ages. “Nearly two centuries after his birth,” says Goodwin, “we can say with certainty that the ambition that powered Lincoln from his earliest days – the desire to establish an admirable reputation on earth so that his story could be told after he died – has been realized far beyond his fondest hopes.”

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