Legendary Lincoln – Part I

Shomit Sengupta

Shomit Sengupta

A storyteller. A friend. A revolutionary. Lincoln was all three. But what made him stand out from the rest of the American Presidents? In the ‘Legendary Lincoln’ series, we set out to discover just that. To read more such short articles, please visit our library.

Yes, legendary. A legend of his time, and possibly of all times yet to come. Broadly considered the most popular American President, Lincoln was known primarily for his unending kindness and simplicity. He was childish, yet quick-witted; humble, yet fiercely determined; highly approachable, yet incorruptible. Built at 6 feet 4 inches, he could well have settled for a decently successful career as a basketball player. But NO. He chose politics. Rather, he was drawn towards it by his unquenching desire to etch his name in human history. And etch he did

Born on a meagre farm in Kentucky, United States to a poor farmer couple, Lincoln was not one of the upper echelons. Although young Lincoln had a strong desire to educate himself, his parents neither had the money, nor the interest. And if he did occasionally manage to smuggle a book or two into the measly shack, his father would immediately burn the books, fearing that it would distract the boy from his daily chores on the farm. His mother, on the other hand, was a very kind and generous person. She taught little Lincoln to read and write while his father was away, for she believed that great things awaited him. Unfortunately, she passed away when Lincoln was just nine, leaving him to his bitter father and his sister, whom he was fond of. She too passed away 10 years later.

The early personal losses that befell Lincoln during his developmental years no doubt shook his foundations to the core, but they strengthened his resolve incredibly. He was ever more determined to make his mark. He took to reading as a fish to water. He spent the next several years devouring books as though they were his only source of nutrition. He especially developed a liking to the works of Shakespeare and Burns. He was so fascinated by Shakespeare that he could almost recite every act of Julius Caesar by heart. Even as a teenager, Lincoln became very popular among his friends due to his story telling skills. Once he started narrating an anecdote, there was just no turning away.

In 1837, at the age of 28, he moved to Springfield, Illinois to make a career in law and politics. Slavery was a hotly contested topic among all politicians and greatly divided America – the northern states wanted slavery to be abolished while the southern states could not imagine life without it (owing to their largely agrarian economy). Thus, there were several legislations addressing the issue of slavery in a multitude of ways. One long standing statute was the Missouri compromise of 1820, which admitted Missouri as a slave state and prohibited slavery North of Missouri. The objective was to maintain the balance of power between the North and the South by clearly demarcating the ‘boundary’ between slave states and free states. However, this statute was scrapped in 1854 and replaced by the highly contentious Kansas-Nebraska Act – the piece of legislation that motivated Lincoln to stand for President. The Kansas-Nebraska act empowered the inhabitants of these 2 states to decide for themselves via popular sovereignty, whether these territories would be free states or slave states, and at the same time repealed the Missouri compromise.

This new piece of legislation was a total disaster. It basically meant that slavery could extend as far as it wanted, provided the people vote for it. The anti-slavery politicians were not happy with this and so they decided to create their own party- The Republican Party – of which Lincoln was a part. Now Lincoln wanted to win the 1856 elections more than anything. He had his task cut out crystal clear – “Eradicate Slavery at all costs”. Unfortunately, he couldn’t win the 1856 elections, but he did the 1860 elections, when his political rivals least expected him to. “Who is this lawyer from Springfield and why does he think he stands a chance?” Lincoln was greatly underestimated by all the contesting candidates. How did Lincoln do it? Well, he had but one objective, one sole resolve, and that was to eradicate slavery. He never faltered on his resolve, not one step.  


And so, he went around speaking up on the slavery issue and giving plenty of speeches on why slavery must be abolished. It was not what he said but how he said it that captivated the people. He had this unique ability to talk in the form of anecdotes, a skill that he carried forward from his younger days. Thus, whereas others would give long, boring speeches on serious affairs such as slavery, Lincoln would narrate a 15-minute story that used simple yet powerful analogies that people could instantly relate to. In one of his 5-minute speeches, he compared slavery with a venomous snake and stitched together such a fascinating tale that the masses immediately understood why the Kansas-Nebraska Act was wrong. Lincoln was a Republican by resolve BUT a storyteller at heart. Not only did his stories captivate his listeners, but they also always drove his point home.

Thus, Lincoln was the man who used stories and anecdotes to address the issues of the day. This skill of his, coupled with a highly logical way of speaking, helped him win supporters in the build up to the 1860 elections. No one saw it coming, but he was able to surpass some of the most influential names in politics, such as William H Seward – An exuberant politician who had a national following, Salmon Chase – a staunch protagonist to the anti-slavery issue. His campaigns and rallies against the slavery cause had won him a national footing, and Edward Bates – one of the most esteemed candidates for the nomination. He was considered a frontrunner in defending the ties between the North and the South.

All these Veteran politicians thought they had the election in the bag. But it is the Lawyer from Springfield who saw it through to the White House.

How did President Lincoln unite America against the issue of slavery? How did he adopt a unique style of Governance that revolutionized politics in the 1860s? Stay tuned for more on ‘Legendary Lincoln – Part 2!’   

This Post Has One Comment


    So inspiring ! Waiting for the next part.

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