Contents – Lincoln’s Leadership lessons.



Edited by Anthony Sloan and Chris Brown.


Michelle Magennis: Abraham Lincoln – Basic lifeline and his failures.


Chris Brown: The character of Abraham Lincoln.


Kara Humphreys: Abraham Lincoln as a people person.


Eamon McHugh: The problems Lincoln encountered and his personal anguish over the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.


Joe George: A closer look at the Emancipation Proclamation.


David Hughes: The language of leadership.


Richard Scannell: Lincoln’s Decisiveness.


Sarah McKeown: Relating it all back to the Young Leaders.



ABRAHAM LINCOLN – Basic Lifeline and his Failures



Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, 1809, in a one-room log cabin on a farm near Hodgeville, Kentucky, a state allowing slavery at the time.  When he was only nine years old, his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died.  A year later his father, Thomas Lincoln, remarried a woman named Sarah Bush, who had a tremendous influence on young Abraham Lincoln.


In order to support his family, Abraham had to work at a neighboring farm so he didn’t have the opportunity to go to school.  The total amount of formal education he received totaled less than a year.  Although his formal education ended very quickly, his self-education was just beginning.  Lincoln was an avid reader and by studying grammar he acquired knowledge and discovered the rhymes of language.  In speeches before the New Salem debating club, he honed his orator’s voice.  In law and in politics, he found the vehicles through which his passion could be engaged and in which his talent could emerge.


He lost his first job as clerk in Denton Offutt’s store, when Offutss’s business enterprise collapsed.  In 1833, Lincoln and Berry, a successor store, failed leaving the partners in debt.  Lincoln spent the next seventeen years of his life paying off the money he borrowed from friends to start his business.


In 1832, in his first campaign for the state legislature, he finished eight from thirteen candidates.  In a campaign document he stated that if he were to lose, he ‘was too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.’  In 1835 Lincoln was engaged to be married, but his sweetheart died and his heart was broken.  In 1836 he had a nervous breakdown and spent six months confined to his bed.  


The middle part of Abraham Lincoln’s life was spent in Springfield.  There he became a successful lawyer and made a brief foray into national politics.


He still faced identity issues.  He broke off his engagement to Mary Todd and, as a result experienced a profound depression.  However a year later he reconnected with Mary and he went on to marry her in November of 1842.  Lincoln and Mary had four children. 


In 1836, Lincoln won election to Congress.  After his term ended, Lincoln spent the next five years focusing on his law practice.  In 1854, he came back to the political arena and one of the first things he did was to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which threatened to extend slavery to other states. 


In 1855 Lincoln ran for the Senate but was defeated.  The next year he ran for vice President and was also defeated. 


Lincoln’s years of persistence and hard work, eventually paid off in 1860 when he was elected as the sixteenth President of the United States of America.  However, failure characterised the first two years of Lincoln’s Presidency.  The radicals pushed him to declare emancipation a war aim while conservatives tried to pull him away from making it a ‘a war about the Negro.’  His party suffered losses in the mid-term elections.


Gradually, Lincoln grew into the President who saved America.  But even in the summer of 1864, influential members of his party asked him to resign as the nominee for the November election.  In August 1864, he wrote a sealed memorandum to the cabinet stating that, in all likelihood he would be defeated.  It wasn’t until his re-election that the issue of his continuing leadership was firmly resolved. 



The character of Abraham Lincoln.



Leadership is a concept that at times can be vague and ambiguous. Consequently there are no set of defined rules for leaders to follow, there are only guidelines, perceptions and ideas. Thus to learn the art of leading we need role models, so that we can learn from their experiences and the stories that they relate.


A character analysis of Abraham Lincoln, provides us with the guidelines with which to follow if we are to be successful leaders in the 21st Century. Scrutinising his Honesty and Integrity, his influence of people through conversation and storytelling, and his ability to preach a vision and continually reaffirm it, we find that Lincoln’s character and conduct provides us with a solid basis on which to base our own leadership quests.


Lincoln practiced what he preached. Through his lifetime he was subjected to much personal tragedy and professional misfortune, hence he was fully aware of what it was to experience a downward spiral that seemed infinite. When he became President, he recalled this darkened period of his life and therefore would intentionally  ‘turn and reach down to the person behind him’ helping to 'elevate' that person. In doing so, he gained trust, honesty, and exuded integrity therefore affecting his followers with a personal touch. Evidence shows that leaders who tell their subordinates the truth, even when the news is bad, gain greater respect and support for ideas than their less virtuous counterparts.


Conversation was Lincoln’s chief form of persuasion and the single most important and effective aspect of his leadership style. One on one, Lincoln could convince anyone of just about anything.


“They say I tell a great number of stories. I reckon I do, but I have

learned from long experience that plain people, take them as they run,

are more easily influenced through the medium of a broad and

humorous illustration than in any other way.”


Carl Schurz, a Republican contemporary of a Lincoln, and later a Union General, recounted his first meeting with the future president:


“all at once, after the train had left a way station, I observed a great

commotion among my fellow passengers, many of whom jumped from

their seats and pressed eagerly around a tall man who had just entered

the car. They addressed him in the most familiar style; hello Abe! How

are you ? and so on. And he responded in the same manner: ‘Good morning

Dick, glad to see you Joe’....................He received me with an off hand

cordiality, like an old acquaintance and we sat down together. He spoke

in so simple and familiar a strain, using homely phrases absolutely free

from any semblance of self consciousness or pretension of superiority,

that I soon felt as if I had known him all my life, and had very long been

close friends. He interspersed our conversation with all sorts of quaint stories,

each of which had a witty point applicable to the subject in hand and not

seldom concluded an argument in such a manner that nothing more was t

o be said.”


As a Communicator, Lincoln liberally used stories and anecdotes, symbols and imagery in order to influence and persuade his audience. As students of Leadership we must realise that the power to motivate followers resides almost solely in the ability to communicate effectively.


During the Civil War, Lincoln through his speeches, writings and conversations 'preached a vision' of America. Lincoln provided exactly what the country needed at that precise moment in time; a clear concise statement of the direction of the nation and justification for the Union's drastic action in forcing civil war. Lincoln provided grassroots Leadership. At every opportunity, he reaffirmed every one of the basic principles upon which the nation was founded. The simple fact that he ‘over communicated’ was key to his success as a leader.


When effecting renewal, Lincoln called on the past, related it to the present and then used both of them to provide a link to the future. A prime example of Lincoln interweaving the concept of vision and renewal is illustrated in his Gettysburg Address. Renewal of America's vision by Lincoln provided energy, an energy more powerful than sending more guns and soldiers to the field. Evidence of the effectiveness can be measured in the elevation of feeling as it placed everyone on a dynamic and forceful upward spiral of action and commitment during this time. By clearly renewing his vision and then gaining acceptance and commitment, Lincoln released the ‘critical human talent’ and the energy that is necessary to insure success.


In essence, Lincoln had the ability to lift people out of their everyday selves and onto a higher level of performance. Being open, civil, tolerant, fair and maintaining a respect for the dignity of all people at all times, he obtained the extraordinary from ordinary people by ‘instilling purpose in their endeavors’.



Abraham Lincoln As A People Person.



Abraham Lincoln once said that: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power”[1].


Leadership, due to the power it confers upon you, is a delicate balancing act, with many traps into which it is all too easy to fall.  Perhaps one of the most serious of these is allowing your position as leader make you too busy, or too arrogant, to spend time with the people you have been nominated to lead.  Being accessible to others, whether it is to build close relationships with colleagues, or simply to take the time to listen to the people you represent, isn’t about being well loved – it’s about being effective in what you do.  Abraham Lincoln is renowned for his ‘open door’ Presidency, particularly as it took place in the midst of a bloody civil war, and by looking at just a few examples from his life, we will quickly see why this is skill in leadership that we would all do well to practice.


Makes others feel appreciated


For Union soldiers who enlisted towards the beginning of the Civil War, there was a high probability that they would meet the President, as he made a point of personally inspecting each and every state regiment of volunteers who passed through Washington, D.C., as all did on their way to the front in the early part of the War.  As the Civil War raged on, Lincoln visited the battlefields, coming under fire himself more than once.  He was in fact still in the field when General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on 9th April, 1865, making him one of the last people in Washington to realize that the Civil War was over!  Visiting wounded soldiers, attending those funerals he could, Lincoln was continually showing his troops how much he appreciated the effort, and sacrifices they were making for the Union.  Staying in the White House and issuing statements could never have conveyed as heartfelt a message as taking time, and, as the New York Times once reported, “hand over hand…[giving a] good honest hearty shake, as if he meant it”[2] to the soldiers he encountered.


We all like to feel as though others are noticing what we are doing, and that they appreciate us for it.  It can often take as little as a hello and a handshake to motivate somebody to keep going, or try that little bit harder.  Leaders who simply give orders without getting to know the individuals who carry them out, lose the opportunity to inspire people, and encourage them to realize their full potential.


Makes others comfortable


Abraham Lincoln is famous for his accessibility – he rarely turned anyone away. By demonstrating that nothing was more important than what these people had to say, Lincoln put his visitors at ease, which made for a more fruitful conversation.


Lincoln was not, however, one to have others always come to him.  He preferred informal encounters and one-to-one consultations with his colleagues to the pressure-filled environment of wartime cabinet meetings, and so regularly burst into cabinet members’ offices, convened meetings in a variety of Departments, and met with individual staff members outside of timetabled assemblies.  He realized that when people are in stressful situations, they are less able to give educated advice, and also that when people are in large groups it is easy to miss what certain people have to say.  By taking time, therefore, and choosing his place carefully, Lincoln was able to make his staff comfortable, and thus get the best out of them.


Making others feel comfortable is often something we do not concern ourselves with, as it requires time and energy we would rather spend elsewhere.  However, as Lincoln’s example shows, it is a worthwhile investment.


Makes sure you get more, and more honest information


“His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with.”                     (Lincoln’s reason for relieving Gen. John C. Fremont from his command in Missouri, September 9th, 1861)[3]


Lincoln was heavily reliant at a time of limited communication across a vast country on his advisers, using telegraphs and their reports to make decisions regarding battles that would affect both the lives of thousands of young men, and the future of America.  It was crucially important, therefore, that he put himself in a position where people got an opportunity to speak to him, and felt worthy and comfortable enough to do so honestly. 


The following story, told to John G. Nicolay, Lincoln’s personal secretary, by Hon. James Speed, Attorney General, and brother of Joshua Speed, one of Lincoln’s closest friends, is a clear illustration both of Lincoln’s accessibility, and the reactions he evoked.  This should be a model for us all, as Young Leaders.


“Is that all?” he asked Edward, the usher, after the usual multitude of daily visitors had entered and presented their requests, petitions or grievances.

“There is but one poor woman there yet Mr. President,” replied Edward.  “She has been here for several days, and has been crying…”

“Let her in,” said Mr. L.


The woman came in and told her story.  It was just after the battle of Gettysburg.  She had a husband and two sons in the army, and she was left alone to fight the hard battle of life.  At first her husband had regularly sent her part of his pay and she had managed to live.  But gradually…no more remittances came.  Her boys had become scattered among the various armies, and she was without help…  Would not the President discharge one of them that he might come home to her?


While the pathetic recital was going on the President stood before the fireplace, his hands crossed behind his back, and his head bent in earnest thought…

He walked across to his writing table…and taking a blank card, wrote upon it an order for the son’s discharge – and upon another paper he wrote out in great detail where she should present it…giving her such direction that she might personally follow the red tape labyrinth…

A few days later, at a similar close of the “general reception” for the day, Edward said, “That woman, Mr. President, is here again, and still crying.”

“Let her in,” said L.  “What can the matter be now?”


Once more he stood up in the same place before the fire, and for the second time heard her story.  The President’s card had been like a magic passport to her...  By its help she had found headquarters – camp – Regiment, and company”.  But instead of giving a mother’s embrace to a lost son restored, she had arrived only in time to follow him to the grave...  And now would not the President give her the next one of her boys?


…He again walked to his little writing table and took up his pen to write for a second time an order, which should give the pleading woman one of her remaining boys.  And the woman…moved after him and stood by him at the table as he wrote, and with the fond familiarity of a mother placed her hand upon the President’s head and smoothed down his wandering and tangled hair.  Human grief and sympathy had overleaped all the barriers of formality, and the ruler of a great nation was truly the servant, friend and protector of the humble woman…  The order was written and signed, the President rose and thrust it into her hand …choking “There!” and hurried from the room, followed, so long as he could hear, by the thanks and blessings of an overjoyed mother’s heart…[4]



The Problems Lincoln Encountered and His Personal Anguish Over the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.



Below is the view that one Young Leader has on the thoughts of Abraham Lincoln. The piece is meant to be read aloud and is written as if Lincoln himself was the voice.


“I am Abraham Lincoln and I am the 16th President of the United States of America. I feel my presidency has been a balancing act and the task I face is harder than anything Washington was up against. My principal opponents are the extreme abolitionists, mostly within my own party who think I do not go far enough, the opposition Democrats who think I go too far and the miscellaneous political discontents who merely want me out of the way. I have had to disarm some of my most formidable critics by appointing them to the Cabinet, including my four main rivals for the Presidency from both parties. Throughout this war, I have been in sole command. I carry an awful burden of responsibility and a tragic sense of guilt, shame and regret that inevitably oppresses the wager of war and the commander of battles. The ghosts of 100,00 soldiers haunt me and  the tears of their mothers and widows. I admit there have been times when I have wavered in my determination to win the war and I did toy with the idea of an accommodation with the South. Hints of treason and whispers of treachery have disturbed me. Defeats have exasperated me, generals have disappointed me, colleagues have conspired against me, hostile newspaper comment has depressed me and more than one of my old friends have been killed in action. It has troubled me that the North’s war aims do not include the compulsory liberation of the slaves, but I have dismissed the idea. I feel it would have been constitutionally illegal and that it would have antagonized the slave states of the border who might well be pushed into secession. However, after 2 years of war, I feel that military necessity has compelled me to change my mind. The Southern armies have the advantage in morale of fighting in a personal and heartfelt cause, whereas we, the Northerners, fight only out of duty or conventional patriotism. The Proclamation of Emancipation means that the Civil War is no longer a squabble, but a moral crusade at last. This has been a personal decision. My Cabinet was astonished when I told them what I wanted to do, and many disagreed. However, I will stick by my decision. I was ready to make the emancipation announcement long before I did, but the war was going disastrously for us at that time, and defeat seemed inevitable. On William Seward’s advice I postponed the proclamation until the news took a turn for the better. I didn’t want it to be seen as a measure of desperation. In July 1862, we at last won a moderate success at Antietam in Maryland, so on the 22nd September I presented a draft proclamation to my Ministers in the Cabinet room of the White House. I told them how I could redeem the promise which I had long before made to myself. The time for emancipation had come. From New Years Day 1863, anyone held as a slave within any state or part of a state in rebellion against the Union Government would be ‘then, thence forward and forever free.’ Although I do not know if this is the right thing, my mind is made up. I was surprised to find my Cabinet did not rush to offer amendments so after a few changes I presented a preliminary Proclamation of Emancipation to the people. I can only trust in God I have made no mistake.


You are my people but I am a man of ideals and principles and guiding our country through the bloodiest time in our nations history. I am trying to include all of your views and ideas because its not where we’re coming from but where we will stand because we must remain unified.”

Abraham Lincoln.”


EAMON McHUGH- Young Leader 2002.


A Proclamation.


Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:  


"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.


"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."


Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.


And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.


And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.


And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.


And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.


In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.


Done at the City of Washington, this first day of

January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight

hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the

United States of America the eighty-seventh.


By Abraham Lincoln President of the United States of America.



A closer look at the Emancipation proclamation.



Anchored by the first three articles of the Constitution, Congress, the Presidency and the Judiciary make up the three branches of Government in the United States of America. By distributing the essential business of Government among three separate but interdependent branches, the Constitutional Framers ensured that the principal powers of the government, legislative, executive and judicial, were not concentrated in the hands of any single branch. Allocating governmental authority among three separate branches also prevented the formation of too strong a national government capable of overpowering the individual state governments. The Separation of Powers, by which the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are to be independent and not infringe upon each other's rights and duties, is one of the basic ideas for the creation of checks and balances in the US Constitution.


Nevertheless, governmental powers and responsibilities intentionally overlap. For example, congressional authority to enact laws can be checked by an executive veto, which in turn can be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses; the President serves as commander-in-chief, but only the Congress has the authority to raise and support an army, and to declare war; the President has the power to appoint all federal judges, ambassadors, and other high government officials, but all appointments must be affirmed by the Senate; and the Supreme Court has final authority to strike down both legislative and presidential acts as unconstitutional. This balancing of power is intended to ensure that no one branch grows too powerful and dominates the national government. This system of checks and balances must be understood in order to understand (in my opinion) why the Emancipation Proclamation was such a convoluted and wordy document.


The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863


"When you are dead and in Heaven, in a thousand years that action of yours will make the Angels sing your praises."


Hannah Johnson, mother of a Northern Black soldier, writing to President Abraham Lincoln about the Emancipation Proclamation, July 31, 1863.


President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared, "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."


The emancipation proclamation was a balancing act for Lincoln. He felt the necessity for compromise within the proclamation and the need to appease and not aggravate his enemies. This is perhaps why the proclamation is so complex and varied.


Despite that expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal Border States. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory. Also I believe that the decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred v Scott in which Chief Justice Tanney stipulated that "there are no black rights which the white man legally has to respect" was lingering in the back of President Lincoln's mind in that if he went to far the Supreme Court could strike the Proclamation as unconstitutional.


Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of African Americans, and fundamentally transformed the character of the War from a War for the Union into one for freedom. Moreover, the proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union army and navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.



The Language of Leadership.





To be a truly great leader, one must take action. Making a difference means making things happen; concrete things, which truly benefit people’s everyday lives. However, language is a crucial tool in this process – yes, actions speak louder than words, but words themselves can be pivotal and can be a catalyst and lifesaver in many leadership situations.


With language, a leader can inspire, guide, impassion, and truly lead his/her followers. People such as Martin Luther King, Eamon DeValera, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt have used language to its fullest to achieve their long-term goals. In short, language holds much power in the life of a leader.





Lincoln as a Linguist.


Abraham Lincoln was fully aware of the above truths. He was no stranger to stirring and inspirational rhetoric, and much of his eventual success as a leader – and his immortal place among America’s great leaders – is a result of the powerful words he used. We, as young leaders – have many practical lessons to learn from Lincoln in this regard.


In writing a speech, Lincoln would employ many persuasive and rhetorical devices, which still prove effective today. In fact, leaders such as Martin Luther King imitated his techniques a century later.


Some of these techniques are as follows:


Using a biblical tone


This may not be useful among all audiences, but Lincoln’s audience was 19th Century America – quite a religiously puritan place. The lesson to learn is to adapt your tone and the texture of language you use to the audience before you. If you are giving a speech to a classical music society, a reference to Mozart’s childhood will be more warmly appreciated than a reference to Abba, for example.




Since listing things is pleasing to the ear and lends structure to an oration. Lincoln would often use lists. It may not be immediately evident that you are making a list – it is not always a list of shopping items. As a hypothetical example: “First we must fight for freedom, then we must strive for unity, finally we must search for peace”.


Contrast and balances


Again, this device makes it easier and more enjoyable to listen to a speakers point. It involves juxtaposing two completely contrasting notions not as a contradiction but to reinforce the point being made. For example: “Many think the system is working. I know it is failing. Many think that people are succeeding. I am certain that people are struggling.”


Language Register


Lincoln was a master at judging the level of language he should use. On one hand, he needed to convey complex and intellectually challenging messages to a nation on the brink of collapse. On the other hand, he needed to ensure that the common folk of that country comprehended his message. Essentially, he needed to appeal to the well educated and the average person simultaneously. This requires great skill in choosing a language register. As orators, it is crucial that we consider our audience when opting for words and syntactical structures.


In my opinion, by using these techniques Lincoln gave structured, logical and convincing speeches and fully utilised language as the leadership tool that it is.



Case Study: The Gettysburg Address


On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln addressed thousands of people at a dedication ceremony toward the end of the Civil War. So many had died at the famous Battle of Gettysburg, that it was decided that they should be buried in a cemetery outside the Pennsylvania town, rather than brought home to their respective states. Lincoln delivered his two-minute address at a time when US society was still torn between a desire for union and a desire for independence – at a time when brother had just fought brother because of fundamentally differing political beliefs among Americans. This division heightened the importance of Lincoln’s words – it was crucial that he speak to both commemorate those who had lost their lives, and to achieve greater unity among his people. This is his address:


Four score and seven years ago our father brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.


Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.


But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


In analyzing the address, we see many of the techniques mentioned above, as well as some hitherto unmentioned.




E.g. “we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground




e.g. “we are met to dedicate…but in a larger sense we can not dedicate



Biblical language


e.g. “Four score and seven years ago


The language of democracy (always helps to win over audiences in the USA)


e.g. “all men are created equal”, “government of the people…


Language Register


Lincoln combines profound messages such as “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract” with more basic and accessible phrases like “We are met on a great battle-field of that war”. Thus he communicated well with all sectors of his audience.




Notice that Lincoln favors the inclusive term “we” over the condescending “you” and the selfish “I”.


Powerful assumptions


Often an audience is persuaded of a viewpoint, simply if the speaker makes assumptions and refuses to entertain or consider an alternative. Examples of this in the Gettysburg address include “It is altogether fitting and proper that we do this


Removing the limelight from the orator


No audience will be endeared to a leader who sings his/her own praises; often, understating one’s role in the leadership process can enhance it. Ironically, Lincoln states “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here”. In fact, although America does remember the role played by those who gave their lives, the Gettysburg address is probably more prominent in the American psyche: in fact, millions of American school-children have learnt to recite it by heart.


All in all, the Gettysburg address is a fine example of the power that language can give a leader. When communicating with people, it is useful to keep these techniques in mind.



Lincoln’s Decisiveness.



In leadership terms, Abraham Lincoln’s most important traits were his decisiveness and determination. During the Civil War Years, there was literally no room for wavering or uncertainty. If the president had habitually showed signs of weakness or uncertainty, his position would have been compromised and he would lose credibility. But this is not only true during wartime – a leader must always be decisive if he is to gain the trust of their followers . That is not only true to say that there is no time for compromise or careful consideration of alternatives, but when it comes to action, a leader must move confidently or not at all.


Lincoln’s determination and confidence in his decision-making was already evident in his 1860 campaign for President. By this point in time, the politicians of the United States had tried a variety of different measures to somehow reach a compromise between the north and south and avoid Civil War. Nevertheless, tensions continued to grow as the south argued for greater state sovereignty in the face of Northern weakness as illustrated by the Missouri Compromise. Lincoln knew, however, that if the North continued to concede ideological and actual concessions to the South, secession would have been inevitable and unavoidable. So in 1860 Lincoln firmly expressed his opposition to the ‘peculiar institution’ that was slavery and his determination to limit the expansion of slavery westward into the new territories acquired from Mexico in 1850. Lincoln knew that the South would reject his rigid political stance but he would not and could not compromise the Northern position further. He was determined to preserve the union even if it meant War.


If Lincoln’s determination and decisiveness was evident in the build up to the Civil War ,then it was even clearer in his execution of presidential policy during the war. He literally reinvented the office of President. Lincoln Knew that if the Union were to survive, it would need a President who could act without being overly inhibited by the complexities of the American political and judicial systems. Lincoln assumed extra-legal powers over the press, virtually ignored the Supreme Court, declared martial law in areas where no military action justified it, quelled draft riots with armed soldiers, and drafted men to fight for the Union cause. No President in history had ever exerted so much executive authority, but he did so not for personal power but in order to preserve the Union. In 1864, as an example of his limited personal ambitions, Lincoln refused to call off national elections, preferring to hold the election even if he lost the vote rather than destroy the democratic basis upon which he rested his authority. With the electoral support of Union soldiers, many of whom were given short leaves to return home to vote, and due to the spectacular victory of Union troops in Sherman’s march through the heart of the South, Lincoln was decisively reelected. His policies and controversial decisions were clearly vindicated by the War’s end result. He had acted ruthlessly as it was the only way to serve the cause he so dearly believed in: freedom and liberty for all and the continued unity of the United States of America.


So what can a perspective Leader learn from Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style? First, a leader must be flexible but always principled at heart- Lincoln defended and served the union so well because he firmly believed his cause was the right one. Secondly, a leader must be steadfast in his decisions, even if one risks appearing arrogant or ruthless . Thirdly, being an able leader does not mean making popular decisions. One must only look to Neville Chamberlain for an example of how popular decision-making is not necessarily correct decision-making. Lincoln’s confidence and decisiveness thus define him as an able and successful leader to be admired and revered.




Relating it all back to the YL’s.



As young people, we are only too familiar with the language of negativity. We are told often that something “ is not possible”, or that “you couldn’t possibly do that”, so it is no surprise when we stop trying, and also when a failure constitutes an ending and never a beginning. However, this does not have to be the case, success is not the absence of failure. We, as young leaders, can learn many lessons from the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. He has long been remembered for his endurance in the face of adversity, for his ability to cope with failure and his willingness to learn from it. This is one of the lessons that Lincoln can teach us.


At each stage of his life, Lincoln knew failure and defeat. The young Abraham watched his mother die when he was eight years old, but then found encouragement in his stepmother. He failed at jobs such as being a storekeeper, and a post-master, then after the collapse of his own small business, was left with a debt, which it took him years to pay off. As far as his private life was concerned, Lincoln fell in love with Ann Rutledge, who died when she was 19. He then courted Mary Owens who turned down his proposal, and only went on to marry Mary Todd after having split with her, as her family frowned upon her association with Lincoln. Their marriage produced four boys, and Abraham watched as his sons died, with only one reaching adulthood. Due to the circumstances of his life, and of watching the death of his children, Lincoln often suffered depression, but never did he give up. Never did Lincoln allow circumstances to overcome him. Asked once to talk about his early life, he said there was nothing much to talk about, it was just ‘the simple annals of the poor’. Asked another time, he said his boyhood was ‘stinted’, by which he meant it was arid, philistine and deprived[5]. Despite the trials of Lincoln’s early life, he did not allow himself to become a failure, true success was found within his determination. We, as leaders need to learn this lesson. We, as young leaders, need to realize that one failure does not end the battle to succeed. Failure may be painful, but it can be constructive, and through learning this lesson from the outstanding example of Abraham Lincoln, we learn to become true leaders. It is only through learning from our own mistakes, from exhibiting determination and commitment, that we will become leaders.


Lincoln may have gone on to become the president, but success did not come automatically with his entry into politics. In his first campaign for the state legislature, he was placed 8th among 13 candidates. In a campaign document he had stated that if he were to lose, he ‘was too familiar with disappointment to be very much chagrined’. However, Lincoln continued to pursue a political career, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 moved him again into action. Again, Lincoln suffered defeat, for in 1855 and 1858, he experienced two bitter defeats in contests for the senate. To increase the disappointment, he had come agonizingly close to victory in the 1855 election. However, once again, Lincoln did not allow failure to stop him, and again he displayed the courage and dedication needed to continue with his political career.


Once elected as president, failure also characterized his first two years in office. On the battlefield, there were few Union victories. Support ebbed for his centrist policies. Conservatives tried to pull him away from making it a ‘war about the Negro’[6]. His party went on to suffer loss in the mid-term elections. David Donald reports ‘he told his cabinet that at times, ‘he felt almost ready to hang himself’. Jacobi comments that even in the summer of 1864, influential members of his party asked him to resign as nominee for the November election. It was not until after his re-election that the issue of his continuing leadership was firmly resolved.


It is clear that Lincoln was not always a conventional success, but yet he went on to become a president who is beloved to the American people, and is accredited with saving the Union and with freeing the slaves. Abraham Lincoln represents a true success story, and this is why he must stand as a true leadership example for the leaders of today. We must learn from him, live up to him and never give up like him. Lincoln embodies the idea that failure is often the first step towards ultimate success. Lincoln allowed himself to learn and to grow, he stood proud in the face of defeat and he maintained true leadership qualities. Abraham Lincoln is a lesson in leadership, and it is one lesson that we, as young leaders, must learn.


[2] Ibid. p19

[3] Op. cit. Phillips, p13

[4] Op. cit. Burlingame, pp80-82

[5] A Foreigner’s Quest: Lincoln, Jan Morris, at page 14.

[6] Quoted by Jan Jacobi.