The Power of Persistence
Noted as one of the greatest United States presidents, Abraham Lincoln’s early life may not have reflected his potential greatness. He failed in business. He lost elections to the state legislature, Speaker of the House, nomination for Congress, appointment of land officer, U.S. Senate twice and nomination for Vice President. After those eight major failures, Lincoln was elected President of the United States. How many of us would have kept going like Lincoln did?
Many of the problems that we face as a nation today pale in comparison to what happened in the late 1850’s and 1860’s. Lincoln had to deal with the Civil War – Americans fighting Americans, North vs. South. Lincoln dealt with eleven southern states seceding from the Union to form the Confederate States of America during his presidency.
There were several key challenges that Lincoln faced as U.S. President:
1. Lincoln was president during the American Civil War, which lasted four years
About five weeks after Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th United States President, the American Civil War began. Lincoln was president when the country was literally falling apart.
It’s no secret that division exist in some families. We can all recount situations where family members may go years without talking to one another. While tragic, these conflicts are nothing compared to the unrest during the Civil War. Some families were so divided that fathers, sons, brothers, and cousins often fought against each other on opposing sides.
2. The most American casualties happened during the Lincoln Administration
600,000 to 700,000 Americans died in the Civil War. The American Civil War casualties exceed the United States’ losses in all of its other wars from The American Revolution to the present.
Imagine the enormous pressure he must have felt. As commander-in-chief, Lincoln was responsible for committing troops to war but also shouldered the additional weight of knowing that the enemy they confronted were their own countrymen. Lincoln could never have known the magnitude of loss but history tells us that the most American casualties happened during his term as president. More Americans died from war during Lincoln’s presidency than all of the other American presidents combined.
3. Lincoln suffered from Depression
It is widely known and documented that Lincoln suffered from clinical depression. A former law partner, William Herndon, once described Lincoln in this way: “He was a sad-looking man; his melancholy dripped from him as he walked. His apparent gloom impressed his friends, and created sympathy for him – one means of his great success. He was gloomy, abstracted, and joyous – rather humorous – by turns; but I do not think he knew what real joy was for many years… The perpetual look of sadness was his most prominent feature.”
Serious bouts of depression plagued Lincoln’s life. Not only did he suffer personal loss with the death of his young son, Willie, but the pressures of his office would weigh on him so that one minute he was jovial and engaging and the next minute he would be holed up in a corner chair, knees drawn up tight and a mask of melancholy on his face.
Lincoln was aware of his depression and knew that, over time, he would emerge from the depressed state. He even encouraged others who were suffering to hold on and not lose hope. Depressed as he was, Lincoln was able to comfort others as he wrote letters to families of fallen soldiers during the Civil War. His persistence and dedication to helping others is a lasting example of leadership.
4. Lincoln was assassinated
At the end of the Civil War, the South – the Confederacy – surrendered to the North – the Union – on April 9th, 1865. During his presidency, Lincoln re-united his country, issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery, inspired and comforted the nation all while suffering from depression, and is remembered as one of the kindest, good-hearted presidents our nation has ever had. And what was his reward?
Lincoln was assassinated five days after the Civil War ended and died the morning after he was shot.
Abraham Lincoln was a leader. He led by example. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln said that he wanted “malice toward none” and he wanted “to bind up the nation’s wounds.” Unfortunately, Lincoln never got to see the results of his efforts.
As a leader, you may not always get to see or enjoy the fruits of your labor. You may not see, in the midst of struggle or conflict, that there is a way out. But, like Lincoln, we need to persist and persevere, keep our eye on the goal, and do the things that must be done. Your employees look to you to set the example. Every one has a potential for greatness. It is up to you to find the greatness within yourself.
(Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. Photograph courtesy of My Public Domain Pictures.)