On February 12, 2021, as I watched the on-going Senate Impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump, our 45th President, play out, I could only think of contrast in leadership styles from Abraham Lincoln, 16th President, who was born on this day.  Today, April 14, is the perfect day to reflect on the life and legacy of, in my mind, our most outstanding and best President thus far to lead our United States of America.  People know so many things about him, but there are so many things people don’t know about him.   I want to share some of the “not so well known facts” and quotes that I’ve discovered about President Lincoln.

  • Born February 12, 1809, to his farmer parents, Thomas and Nancy, Abe lived in a one-room log cabin in Nolin Creek, Kentucky. Abraham Lincoln did not have a middle name.  He grew up in a highly religious Baptist family.
  • Lincoln’s mother died when he was nine years old; his father eventually remarried Sarah Bush Johnson. Abraham Lincoln was close to his stepmother, who supported his desire to educate himself.  He only had 18 months of formal education.
  • His family moved around a lot during his youth from Kentucky to Indiana; from Indiana to Illinois.
  • As a young boy, Abraham Lincoln was kicked in the head by a horse, and they thought him near death for three days. He recovered but suffered terrible migraines and bouts of depression for the rest of his life.
  • Abraham Lincoln had a cat named “Tabby” and a dog named “Fido.” His very favorite food was fruit.
  • Abraham Lincoln overcome great odds. He was an avid reader, especially of the Bible; he taught himself law, was admitted to the bar in 1837, and was a very successful lawyer.
  • He held many different jobs on his way to the White House, including farmer, licensed bartender, lawyer and Post Master.
  • Abraham Lincoln was very tall…6’5”; he wore a Stove Pipe Hat…not to appear taller, but to store notes & letters.
  • Abraham and Mary Lincoln had four sons: Robert Todd Lincoln, Edward Baker Lincoln, William Wallace Lincoln, and Tad Lincoln, but only his first son, Robert Todd Lincoln, lived to adulthood. Eddie died at age 3, Willie died at age 11, and Tad died at age 18.
  • Abraham Lincoln loved to give speeches preferring extemporaneous ones. He thought those were the ones that reached the general public but gave that up almost entirely when he was elected President; he didn’t want his words to be taken out of context.
  • He also loved to read, especially the Bible. He grew up in a very religious Baptist family.  Even though he never joined an established church, he firmly believed in God and considered himself a very spiritual man and a Christian.
  • Abraham Lincoln also loved to write, and he wrote lots of letters that he sent not to give orders but rather to teach, grow, inspire and make suggestions to his leaders. He also wrote many letters that he didn’t send, which were his way of venting his anger and emotions and getting things off his chest, but he never sent them!  I would say he knew “words matter.”
  • Abraham Lincoln was a storyteller! He often told stories (word pictures, if you will) that served to make his point.  Stories make connections.  We remember them.
  • As President, he had many firsts: first President to have a beard; first President to have an official portrait done; first President to be born outside the original thirteen colonies; first (and only) President to be issued an official patent May 22, 1849, for the device he invented to keep ships buoyant in shallow waters and over shoals; first President to come under fire during the war; first President to be killed while in office as John Wilkes Booth assassinated him on April 14, 1865, as he attended the play, “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre; he was shot on Good Friday but died on April 15, 1865, at 7:22 a.m.
  • There had been five previous unsuccessful attempts on Abraham Lincoln’s life before John Wilkes Booth’s successful assassination.
  • Sometime in late 1864 or early 1865, John Wilkes Booth’s brother, Edwin, saved the life of Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, on a New Jersey railroad platform.
  • Abraham Lincoln was photographed with John Wilkes Booth at his second Presidential Inauguration on March 4, 1865, given at the U.S. Capitol….41 days before his assassination. That makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what Booth planned to do, given the opportunity.
  • While one Booth wanted to take a life, another Booth saved a life; Booth’s brother, Edwin, saved Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, on a New Jersey railroad platform.

When I was in the USAF, attending Air Command and Staff College, one of the books we had to study and discuss was “Lincoln On Leadership…Executive Strategies for Tough Times”, by Donald T. Phillips.  It is one of the books I refer to repeatedly and is one that all leaders should peruse.   Just the title of the book’s various chapters and how they are divided into different parts gives you an idea of what Abraham Lincoln believed in and how he led:

Part 1:  People

“Get Out of the Office and Circulate Among the Troops”

  • “Build Strong Alliances”
  • “Persuade rather than Coerce.”

 Part 2:  Character

 “Honesty and Integrity Are the Best Policies”

  • “Never Act Out of Vengeance or Spite”
  • “Have the Courage to Handle Unjust Criticism”
  • “Be a Master of Paradox”

Part 3: Endeavor

  • “Exercise a Strong Hand-Be Decisive”
  • “Lead by Being Led”
  • “Set Goals and Be Results-Oriented”
  • “Keep Searching Until You Find Your “Grant”
  • “Encourage Innovation”

Part 4:  Communication

 “Master the Art of Public Speaking”

  • Influence People Through Conversation and Storytelling”
  • “Preach a Vision and Continually Reaffirm It”

Quotes:  (found in the book, “Lincoln on Leadership”)

  • “It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong.”
  • In 1864 regarding the upcoming election: “I cannot run the political machine. I have enough on my hands without that.  It is the people’s business-the election is in their hands.  If they turn their backs to the fire and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have to sit on the blister.”

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