There are a few persons in the history of politics that are real heroes. In this group, one would argue that Abraham Lincoln is among the few. He is the ideal example of a hero and he had qualities that people seek in their heroes. There are three of the qualities that make Lincoln a true hero. The first is his rise from a humble background to the position of the U.S. President, the second is his deep personal and political courage, and third IS his decisive leadership during America’s Civil War.
Lincoln’s Humble Background
Abraham Lincoln was born on the 12th February 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky. He was the son of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. Thomas was an early settler in the region. His only brother was born and died in the same year, which is 1812. His elder sister was called Sarah. He played in the woods in his childhood. He discovered how difficult running a farm was while one is in the wilderness. He helped as much as he could when he was old enough. He enjoyed planting seeds and pulling weeds.
He started school when he was six. He had to walk several miles to the closest school with his sister. He learned the basics of writing and reading there. In 1816, his family moved to Indiana after a few months and they had to leave school. His father thought it was easier to earn a living in Indiana. The boat carrying their furniture sank in the Ohio River along the way. They only made it to Indiana with belongings that could be carried by two horses (Oberle, 2002).
They lived in a shack made of mud, branches, and grass in the first year. They had to keep a fire burning day and night since it was open on one side. He became good at using an axe to cut down trees during that winter as he helped his father clear the land. The resulting logs were used to build a single-room cabin. Soon a disease swept the area, taking the life of his mother.
He sometimes assisted other farmers to clear their fields as Sarah tried to take over the indoor duties that were performed by their mother. His father married Sarah Bush Johnston after discovering that his children needed a mother.
She was not able to read and write but she ensured that Sarah and Abraham went to school. Although they did not attend classes very often, she made sure that books were always available. Abraham spent less than a single year at school during his whole life. Whenever he could, he went to school a week here, a month there and so on. Lincoln enjoyed reading from his earliest childhood. He loved to learn and read anything. He loved words and he would try to figure out the meaning of any new word he heard. He moved the new words around his mouth as if they were a piece of candy and used them whenever he could. He read the Bible, William Shakespeare’s works, and books about George Washington. He developed his public speaking gift. His funny stories became famous and he even practiced speeches for his friends (Sandburg, 1977)
Abraham grew tall and thin as a teenager. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 82 kilograms by the end of his teenage years. He had developed powerful muscles owing to cutting down trees for many years. His sister died in 1828 during childbirth.
Lincoln was a very honest person. It is said that one day after noticing that he had charged a client six cents in excess of what he was supposed to at a store he owned, he walked about 10 kilometers to the client’s house to give back the six cents. As a lawyer, he never charged a customer more than he thought the individual could pay. He once made his partner return half of a client’s fee, claiming that their services had not been worth that much money.
Lincoln’s Politic Life
Lincoln was strict moralist and became renowned for his own sincerity and honesty. He tolerated a hard political relationship without ever affecting the slightest imputation of faithlessness. He was an anti-slavery activist. He started in the 1830s from a position of unorthodoxy. He progressively enfolded his political ideas into religious themes throughout his life, appealing to a mysterious destiny whose unreadable and irresistible workings both puzzled and confronted him. An American political thinker – that is was Lincoln became as a result (Walter, 1997).
Lincoln was a people’s man. He would not keep any distance between himself and the people. He always wanted the people to know that he approached them without any fear. This made him complain about the well-intending protection. He was not a prisoner of his office. He was flexible, which was unusual for chief executives of his time. He often ignored presidential protocol and often cut short cabinet members while conducting a meeting. He sometimes summoned cabinet meetings at odd venues such as in the War Department or the Navy Yard. Abraham never waited for his cabinet to come to him on frequently planned Tuesday and Friday noon meetings. He preferred to meet with the members on a personal basis, usually in the secretary’s office. For him, informal contact with his subordinates was as crucial as formal gatherings. He preferred to interact with people when they were in a less stressful, more relaxed environment whenever possible (Starnley, 1930).
In 1865, with the ending of the war close, Abraham spent half of March and April visiting his troops in the field. He had seen before what he felt could be the last victory grasped away due to the lack of follow-up. He wanted to see for himself, take charge, and make certain the war would arrive to a rapid conclusion. This showed that he was a leader who worked on the ground. He was there when it counted, guiding, influencing, directing and teaching people. He was also learning from others. He acquired new skills from his followers through recurrent individual contact (Davis).
When the Civil War ended, Abraham was still in the field, coming back from a trip that took him to the newly-captured Confederate capital of Richmond. There he traveled around the city.
Current leaders should learn from Lincoln’s example. One of the most successful ways to achieve reception of a philosophy is to demonstrate it in one’s daily actions. In order to point one's leadership style, one should have an audience. By entering one’s subordinate’s atmosphere, by launching frequent personal contact, one builds a sense of commitment, community and collaboration. One also gets access to crucial information essential to make valuable decisions. When a personal contact is not possible, one can send stand-ins to the field to get information. Abraham gained the trust and respect of his subordinates by constructing strong associations on both professional and personal levels. He wanted to know how his people would respond in any given situation. He had a tendency to get the job done on his own.