On the morning of April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln lay dying in a hall bedroom of a cheap lodging house across the street from Ford’s Theater. Lincoln‘s long body lay stretched diagonally across an old sagging bed that was too short for him. As Lincoln lay dying, Secretary of War Stanton said, “There lies the most perfect ruler of men that the world has ever seen.”
Dale Carnegie studied the life Abraham Lincoln for over ten years and took three years to compile and write the book entitled Lincoln the Unknown. He especially studied Lincoln’s method of dealing with people. Lincoln was known as a very patient man who almost never criticised anyone. Time after time, during the Civil War Lincoln installed a new General and each one – McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, Meade blundered tragically. Lincoln “with malice toward none, with charity for all”, held his peace. One of his favorite quotations was; “Judge not that ye be not judged”. Whenever he heard those around him criticize southern people he would reply; “Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances”.
At one point in the war Lincoln saw the perfect opportunity to take General Lee by surprise and capture him bringing and end the war immediately. So with high hope, Lincoln ordered General Meade to attack Lee immediately. Lincoln telegraphed his orders and sent a special messenger to Meade demanding immediate action.
General Meade did the very opposite of what Lincoln had ordered. He hesitated. He procrastinated. Finally the opportunity to capture Lee passed and he escaped over the Potomac with his forces.
Lincoln was furious. He cried to his son, Robert, “Great God! What does this mean”? We had them within our grasp, and had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours; yet nothing that I could say or do could make the army move. Under the circumstances, almost any general could have defeated Lee. If I had gone up there, I could have whipped him myself”.
In bitter disappointment Lincoln penned a letter to General Meade. As reserved as Lincoln could be his letter shows the measure to which Lincoln showed his disappointment:
My dear General,
I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within our easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connecton with our other late successes, would have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so south of the river, when you can take with you very few – no more than two-thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expet and I do not expect that you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it”. Meade never saw that letter. It was found unmailed among Lincoln’s papers after his death. Where did Lincoln’s steadfast resolve to refrain from harsh criticism come from?
As a young man in Indiana he not only criticized but he wrote letters and poems criticizing others. When he became a practicing lawyer in Illinois, he attacked opponents in letters published in newspapers. In the fall of 1842 he ridiculed a politician named James Shields. Shields was very vain. Lincoln made fun of him in an anonymous letter published in the Springfield Journal. The town thought the article very funny, but Shields who was proud boiled with indignation. He found out who wrote the letter and set out on his horse to confront Lincoln. He challenged Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln was opposed to dueling and didn’t want to fight, but felt he couldn’t get out of it and save his honor. He was given his choice of weapons. He chose cavalry broadswords because he had long arms and he took lessons in sword fighting from a West Point graduate. On the set date he and Shields met on a sandbar in the Mississippi River prepared to fight to the death. At the last minute their seconds interrupted and stopped the duel.
That was a frightening moment in Lincoln’s life and it taught him an invaluable lesson in dealing with people. Never again did he write an insulting letter. And never again did he ridicule anyone. In fact he almost never criticized anyone for anything.
The lesson here is just because we make mistakes doesn’t mean we are not destined for greatness. We can overcome our mistakes and use them to make us stronger.
For now, Earlynn’s Just Sayin’.