The Leadership Style of Abraham Lincoln
Are you looking for great
quotations from President Abraham Lincoln? Here are some of his most
quotable quotes. Each of these
quotations comes from a reliable source. The primary sources for most of
the Lincoln quotations listed here can be found in
THE WORDS LINCOLN LIVED BY.
"If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me,
this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very
best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until
the end. If the end brings me out all right, what's said against me won't
amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I
was right would make no difference."
"I don't like to hear cut-and-dried
sermons. No--when I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he
were fighting bees."
"If you would win a man to your cause, first
convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey
that catches his heart, which ... when once gained, you will find but
little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause."
"I have found that when one is embarrassed,
usually the shortest way to get through with it is to quit talking about
it or thinking about it, and go at something else."
"No man [who has] resolved to make the most of
himself can spare time for personal contention."
"A man watches his pear-tree day after day,
impatient for the ripening of the fruit. Let him attempt to force the
process, and he may spoil both fruit and tree. But let him patiently wait,
and the ripe pear at length falls into his lap!"
"The true rule, in determining to embrace or
reject any thing, is not whether it has any evil in it; but whether it has
more of evil than of good. There are few things wholly evil or wholly
good. Almost every thing ... is an inseparable compound of the two; so
that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually
"You must not wait to be brought forward by the
older men....Do you suppose that I should ever have got into notice if I
had waited to be hunted up and pushed forward by older men?"
"Half finished work generally proves to be labor
"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to
succeed is more important than any other one thing."
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to
the stormy present. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act
anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Lincoln's Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862
NOT SAY OR
"Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to
(There is no record that Lincoln ever made this statement. He
suffered from severe depression himself and probably understood that
thinking happy thoughts is not a reliable cure for an illness that often
requires professional care and medical treatment.)
"Congressmen who willfully take action during wartime that damage morale
and undermine the military are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled
(This quote is the creation of J. Michael Waller
for an article that he wrote for Insight
magazine (Dec. 23, 2003) and was repeated by Diana Irey in her
unsuccessful campaign against Rep. John Murtha, a critic of the Iraq War.
The "Lincoln quote" was picked up by the media and repeated thousands of
times on the Internet. Waller, in a response to factcheck.org,
claimed that he did not intend it to be a quote at all but a copy editor
mistakenly put quotations around it. The quote does not even have
face validity; Lincoln vigorously opposed the Mexican War during his one
term as a U.S. Congressman.)
Ten Cannots That Lincoln Did Not Write:
"You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift."
"You cannot help small men by tearing down big men."
"You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong."
"You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer."
"You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich."
"You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred."
"You cannot establish security on borrowed money."
"You cannot build character and courage by taking away men's initiative
"You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and
should do for themselves."
(These "Lincoln quotes" appeared in a column by
Ann Landers and in a speech by Ronald Reagan, and have been read into the
Congressional Record. They were written by Reverend William
J.H. Boetcker in the early 20th century.)
AND COMMENTARY FROM THE PAGES OF THE ACHIEVEMENT DIGEST (TAD) LINCOLN'S
After Lincoln became a well-known
lawyer, he sometimes received inquiries from people who aspired to become
lawyers. Here’s what he told one young man: “Get books, sit yourself down
anywhere, and go to reading them yourself.”
To another he wrote: “Get the books and read and study them till you
understand them in their principal features; and that is the main
thing….It is of no consequence to be in a large town while you are
reading. I read at New Salem, which never had three hundred people living
in it. The books, and your capacity for understanding them, are just the
same in all places.” April 2004
A quaint note has survived from one of Lincoln's
civil cases in the 1850s. "If you settle I will charge nothing for what I
have done, and thank you to boot. By settling you will likely get your
money sooner, and with much less trouble and expense." (Journal of the
Abraham Lincoln Assn., Vol 16, No. 2, pp. 4, 5)
Lincoln understood that compromise is necessary in
everyday life. "Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can,"
he wrote in a lecture for lawyers. "Point out to them how the nominal
winner is often a real loser--in fees, and expenses, and waste of time."
According to one of his secretaries William O.
Stoddard, Lincoln was an exceptional listener. Stoddard, who had numerous
opportunities to observe Lincoln up close, made this observation: "He was
a most teachable man, and asked questions with a childlike simplicity
which would have been too much for the false pride of many a man far less
well informed. His fund of knowledge was, as he himself declared, very
largely made up of information obtained in conversation." Stoddard then
observed that if Lincoln's knowledge was "not so well arranged and
digested as if it had been the accumulation of careful and exact research,
it included a vast amount of information hardly to be found in books."
(From William O. Stoddard, INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE IN WAR TIMES: MEMOIRS
AND REPORTS OF LINCOLN'S SECRETARY. A new edition of this Lincoln classic
is available, edited by Michael Burlingame.) October 2004
Edward Lincoln's Tombstone: On February 7,
1850 Lincoln's second son Edward died--after a 52-day illness. Eddie would
have been 4 years old March 10th of that year.
Years ago, my heart almost stopped when I saw Eddie's tombstone for the
first time in the Lincoln museum in Springfield. The tombstone tells
exactly how long Eddie lived: 3 years, 10 months, 18 days. His parents had
counted the days!
A daguerreotype of Eddie has been found that can now be seen on the
Internet. Get ready to feel pain when you see it. A week after Eddie's
death a poem entitled "Little Eddie", which may have been written by
Abraham or Mary, was published in The Illinois State Journal. It begins
"Those midnight stars are sadly dimmed, That late so brilliantly shone,
And the crimson tinge from cheek and lip, With the heart's warm life has
To see the daguerreotype, a photograph of Eddie's gravestone, and read the
poem, go to the following remarkable webpage:
http://home.att.net/~rjnorton/Lincoln67.html November 2004
Excellence in any undertaking can be found in
details that most people barely notice, but those who know know.
For example, Lincoln was fond of grammatical inversion. In the Second
Inaugural, he did not say 'We fondly hope and fervently pray.' Instead he
said, 'Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray.'"
Lincoln also liked to use balanced antitheses.
Here is an excerpt from a speech that he gave in Peoria, Illinois--six
years before he became President: "The South, flushed with triumph and
tempted to excesses; the North betrayed, as they believe, brooding on
wrong and burning for revenge. One side will provoke; the other resent.
The one will taunt, the other defy; one aggresses, the other retaliates."
(To read more on this subject, see Gary Wills, LINCOLN AT GETTYSBURG.) At
Gettysburg.) May 2005
Diligence The care that Lincoln
consistently applied to his work can be seen even in his handwriting.
Researchers have discovered thousands of meticulously written legal
documents filed away in dusty courthouse records.
In notes that he prepared for lawyers, Lincoln recommended forming the
habit of diligence: “The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of
every calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be
done today.” Adapted for TAD from The Words Lincoln Lived By, p. 31
Tact “The sharpness of a refusal or the
edge of a rebuke may be blunted by an appropriate story, so as to save
wounding feeling and yet serve the purpose.”
That’s a verbatim quote from Lincoln. Now here is one of Lincoln’s
contemporaries—a fellow lawyer by the name of Abram Bergen--on the way
Lincoln used the concept: “His (Lincoln’s) tact was remarkable. He
carefully studied and thought out the best way of saying everything, as
well as the substance of what he should say.” For Lincoln, tact became
an indispensable habit, a priceless instrument in his political toolbox.
Words Lincoln Lived By, p. 59. December 2005
"Presidents and Kings are not apt to see flaws in
their own arguments, but fortunately for the Union, it had a President, at
this critical juncture (the Civil War), who combined a logical intellect
with an unselfish heart.” Frederick Seward (Frederick Seward, son of
William Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, served in Washington as his
father’s private secretary. His observation was written following an early
crisis during the Lincoln administration. For the full story, see Doris
Kearns Goodwin’s new book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of
Abraham Lincoln”: NY: Simon & Schuster, 2005, pp. 396—401.) March 2005
TURNING ENEMIES INTO FRIENDS
Unlike many leaders during a war, Lincoln refused to demonize the enemy.
For example, when the city of Washington received news that Robert E. Lee
had surrendered at Appomattox, a jubilant crowd gathered at the White
House and the President was asked to speak.
Here is what Lincoln said that evening: “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one
of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way
attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted that we fairly captured it. I
presented it to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion
that it is our lawful prize. I now request the band to favor me with its
performance.” The band played “Dixie,” followed by “Yankee Doodle.”
Describing the enemy as “our adversaries over the way” was typical,
magnanimous Lincoln. Here was a man who ended his second inaugural speech
“With malice toward none. With charity for all.” Everyone around Lincoln
knew that he meant it.
At his last cabinet meeting, Lincoln stated that he hoped there would be
no persecution, no bloody work after the war.
Why—how—did Lincoln behave this way when he was surrounded by powerful
individuals who thought a rebel leader should swing from every lamp post
Perhaps it was because Lincoln realized that revenge is a dangerous,
two-sided weapon. Combatants find it difficult to live together in peace
after they lay down their arms if there is too much to forget. Demonizing
is dreadfully difficult to undo.
Perhaps it was because there simply was no place for revenge in Lincoln’s
soul. He had found a better way. Lincoln was fond of saying that the best
way to destroy an enemy was to make a friend of him.
Thus Tolstoy could write: “Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was
a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world.
He was bigger than his country—bigger than all the Presidents together.”
For additional information on this aspect of Lincoln’s personality, see
The Words Lincoln Lived By, chapter six. March 2006
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Lincoln Photographs and Graphics/Gene Griessman as
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