There are two things that I bet many of my former confirmation students will never forget about me. That one of my favorite books of the Bible is the book of proverbs and that I have a thing about Abraham Lincoln.
In just two days it will be Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. In my classes and at home Lincoln’s birthday was always strictly observed each year.
There are so many reasons to admire this man. His humble beginnings, rise to the presidency with less than a year of formal education, his ability to overcome depression and huge personal losses and still function as the leader of a nation during the Civil War, and his ability to act kindly towards others when he received so little back. Lincoln is a remarkable example of empathy; self-determination, honesty, smarts and excellent leadership skills. He had an unfailing belief that representative government is the best government and was also one of history’s greatest communicators.
Lincoln’s mastery of the art of storytelling is legendary. His humorous stories and one-liners were earthy, self-deprecating communication tools used to reduce complex ideas, policies and practices to their simplest form. He could then present them to a semi-literate general public in a way that they could easily identify with and understand. Lincoln was a master at using what today would be called, “common speak.” It is no accident that many of his one-liners resemble Biblical proverbs.
When you read about Lincoln the person, it becomes very evident that from a very early age he used humor to salve a sore soul. By any standard his relationship with his father was abusive. The loss of his much loved mother at age nine was devastating. He often said that all he was and could ever be was because of his mother. In those days death was an ever ready companion in most homes, even so, think of how hard it must have been for that softhearted, sensitive, intelligent nine-year-old boy to whittle the wooden pegs for his mother’s casket.
Lincoln never made any secret of his emotional baggage. He called the place over his heart his “sore spot.” Several times in life that sore spot grew until it became clinical depression so severe that his friends feared for his safety and had to remove sharp objects from his room and guard him.
While Lincoln’s intellect may have had few equals, this brilliant man over and over again left his heart wide open to being wounded by those he loved. To survive he needed to bridge this gap between heart and head sense. His coping mechanism was humor. Lincoln often said that if he did not laugh he would die. When Lincoln’s melancholy homely face lit up and his grey eyes danced with laughter at a good story or joke, it was said that he was almost handsome. That description alone would have made the man laugh.
He often told stories that made fun of his looks. Like the one he told about when he was chopping wood and a man carrying a rifle walked up to him and demanded that Lincoln look him directly in the eye. Lincoln stopped his work and obliged the man, who continued to silently stare at him for some minutes. Finally the man told Lincoln that he “had promised himself years ago that if he ever met a man uglier than himself, he would shoot him. “Lincoln looked at the man’s rifle mischievously and said nothing. Finally Lincoln pulled open his shirt, threw out his chest, and exclaimed, ‘If I am uglier than you, go ahead and shoot—because I don’t want to live!”
Mary Todd Lincoln
Lincoln had a longstanding political and personal rivalry with Senator Stephen Douglas. In fact at one time they had both dated the future Mrs. Lincoln…Mary Todd. Once while debating the good Senator, Lincoln received a great shout of laughter from the audience when he said that, “Senator Douglas arguments were as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.”
Lincoln’s “one-liners” are notorious for being succinct, wise and humorous. They were the presidential tweets of that day and are just as relevant today.
“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”
“Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.”
“We trust, sir, that God is on our side. It is more important to know that we are on God’s side.”
“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
“Common looking people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them.”
“I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
“People are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
“If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.”
“I desire to so conduct the affairs of the administration that if, at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall have at least one friend left — and that friend shall be down inside of me.”
“I don’t know who my grandfather was; I’m much more concerned to know who his grandson will be.”
“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
“I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”
“No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.”
“I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end. “
“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”
“Those who write clearly have readers, those who write obscurely have commentators.”
“Tact: the ability to describe others as they see themselves.”
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four; calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”
“He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.”
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.
“If you would win a man to your cause first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”
“Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”
“A friend is one who has the same enemies as you have.”
“I can make more generals, but horses cost money”.
“The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves — in their separate, and individual capacities.”
“The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.”
“Force is all-conquering, but its victories are short-lived.”
“Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time.”
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”
“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.”
“There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.”
“The people — the people — are the rightful masters of both congresses, and courts — not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it.”
“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”
“Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere.”
Happy Birthday President Lincoln! You were a very wise man….just saying.