Posted by: history591seventeen | April 1, 2009

What Made Lincoln Tick?

          Abraham Lincoln is considered the most admired man in history (232) and author Gerald J. Prokopowicz answers the questions as to how Lincoln became the man he was, in his book, Did Lincoln own Slaves? Lincoln was a man of strong principles, behavior, and moral fiber.

            Abraham Lincoln was known to be easy going, honest, and shy. He was non-confrontational except for one time when he said something that almost led to a duel. Lincoln then apologized to the offended and learned how powerful words could be and as a result of this, “his language mellowed” (64). He was self-conscious about his own lack of schooling, but he read everything he could (21). It was not that he did not want to learn, formal education just was not available to him. He made jokes about his own appearance (187), yet that may be what led to his lack of self-confidence around women (62). Lincoln would laugh at himself, for he was often the butt of his own jokes (40), and he could handle the ridicule and sarcasm of others (86).

            There is the story about honest Abe walking two miles to give a customer change that he owed them. However, a better example of what others thought of Lincoln comes from the time when his surveying equipment was repossessed to pay for a debt he owed. It was sold at auction and the person who brought it then gave it back to Lincoln so he could continue to make a living (29). Lincoln was well respected even in his youth, for he was elected, by his men, captain of his volunteer military company during the Black Hawk War (126). Certainly, Abraham Lincoln had a great personality, but what probably shaped his personality, which led to his outstanding character, was his desire to be respected by others. Lincoln said, “I have no other [ambition] so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men” (67).

            When looking at Lincoln’s character, one must see how Lincoln viewed the world. Lincoln was told that he was the descent of a Virginian aristocrat (12). This may have made Lincoln think that he could set himself apart from others, which is what he did. In a time when drinking and smoking were the norm, Lincoln chose not to drink or smoke, yet he was not preachy about his choices and thereby did not alienate himself from others (17). When Lincoln’s father was a child, Lincoln’s grandfather was killed by Indians, but many settlers also were in this time, and Lincoln held no hatred toward Native Americans for this act (11).

            There have been tales of Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas, lacking drive; however, Abe’s father was persistent but unlucky in what he attempted to accomplish (10). At the same time, Thomas Lincoln did not support slavery. For one reason, he was in direct competition with the plantations that used slaves. Therefore, one can see how environment did shape Abraham Lincoln.

            One time when Abe Lincoln was young, he was delivering supplies by a river boat, and Louisiana slaves tried to rob him (27). At one point, Lincoln stated it would be best to colonize freed slaves, and this thinking may have been partially a result of his river boat experience. He also feared that blacks would not achieve equality in the white world. After seeing the dedication of enlisted African American soldiers in 1863, Lincoln changed his mind about colonization and was later known to support black suffrage (170).

            Abraham Lincoln was a religious man, but he was careful about how he expressed his views, which made others question his spirituality (32). He thought of himself as a poor lawyer and he was at his best when he believed in his client (56). His feeling on being a lawyer was, “As a peace maker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man” (58). Therefore, he felt one needed to be ethical in his dealings with people. Through his experiences with people, Abraham Lincoln built his character and became a trusted voice of the people; this then led to his political career.

            Lincoln’s political career began as a circuit lawyer, where he was able to meet potential voters (59). He was well regarded by others in the Whig party and after being elected to the state legislature in 1836, (and re-elected in 1838), he was nominated to the office of speaker, which he did not get, because the Whig party was the minority party, but at least the party showed their support of him (69). While he was in the State Legislature, he learned “how things got done in a democracy” and he “learned the necessity of compromise and also its limits” (77).

           Lincoln also understood how to gain votes. It was important to talk to the audience, not over them and definitely, not down to them (87). Therefore, Lincoln knew how important it was for him to find his own voice (94). Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846 where he made a name for himself by opposing the Mexican-American War. Lincoln felt, “The President had created imagery reasons to go to war” in order to obtain Mexican land (71).

            Lincoln had always apposed slavery, but felt it was on its own road to extinction until Senator Stephen Douglas introduced “popular sovereignty” in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which reintroduced the slavery issue in to the expanding western territories. Lincoln felt, “Slavery is bad because of what it does to the United States as a whole” (96). He thought it was a threat to everyone’s personal freedom. This belief then fueled Lincoln to try and run against Senator Douglas for the Illinois seat in 1858, which led to seven debates between the two. Douglas was re-elected to the Senate and kept the seat, but Abraham Lincoln became a known name as a result of these debates, which then led to Lincoln’s election as president in 1860.

            When Lincoln was choosing his presidential cabinet, he wanted what was best for the nation. He selected men who were the strongest in the Republican Party regardless of their feelings or lack of support of him (106). Then over time, he proved himself to these same men.       

           Clearly, Gerald J. Prokopowicz gives many examples of how Abraham Lincoln’s personality, character and political ideas came to be formed. The author shows readers how these three traits were intertwined into developing the man, Abraham Lincoln.





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