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The amazing uneducated/self-educated Abraham Lincoln!
03-12-2013, 05:56 PM
Post: #6
RE: The amazing uneducated/self-educated Abraham Lincoln!
(03-12-2013 03:46 PM)Liz Rosenthal Wrote:  
(03-12-2013 10:36 AM)LincolnMan Wrote:  He was amazing when you think about it. Lincoln had less than a year of formal education- he was mostly self-educated. Yet, as we all know, he rose to great heights in the world. Even so, could it have been a life-long concern for him that he didn't "measure-up" to others? He had to deal with politicians, ministers, and career officers-many of whom had impressive credentials and formal education. How awkward and ill-prepared he might have felt at times. How self-aware he must have been when it came to this issue.

Interesting topic! I actually don't think Lincoln had any doubts about his abilities. That is, he was certainly aware that there were subjects he wasn't educated in, particularly when it came to the "art of war," but he just studied what he needed to to be able to communicate with his commanders and (where necessary) make suggestions or give orders.

Think about how, just a couple of weeks into Lincoln's first term, Seward, who thought he was going to be running the show, essentially told Lincoln as much in a written communication in which he complained that the administration had "no policy" and that he, Seward, would set the policy. Lincoln set him straight with a long memo, letting him know who was boss. Other than Seward's behind-the-scenes shenanigans having to do with which naval vessels were going to be sent to Fort Sumter and which to Fort Pickens, Seward never again presumed to overstep his authority. Seward's "no policy" communication to Lincoln could have shaken a less confident man, but Lincoln seems to have had the ability to think clearly about each situation he was faced with and make carefully reasoned decisions, regardless of the stature, knowledge or experience of whomever he was dealing with.

Think about that letter early in Lincoln's administration that Seward drafted to the British concerning British dealings with the Confederacy. Lincoln, without any foreign policy experience or knowledge, understood that Seward's letter was written in a dangerously angry and belligerent way and rewrote parts of it to make it much less potentially offensive. He also provided directions to the U.S. ambassador to Britain to not give the British the letter but just to read certain parts of it to them. Anyway, it appears that Lincoln's editing of Seward's letter prevented a serious confrontation between the two countries. Lincoln had only been in office for a few weeks and still seemed to have a better foreign policy sense than the supposed expert, Seward.

Think about the "Trent Affair," late in 1861, in which a U.S. naval captain boarded a British vessel and detained two Confederate officials who were on their way to Europe to represent the Confederacy as an independent nation. Obviously, the British were extremely annoyed, and Northerners were itching to stand up to the British. Despite a huge amount of political pressure not to give up the Confederates, Lincoln understood enough about international law to know that the U.S. was technically in the wrong, and ordered them released. This was not a politically popular thing to do, but he could not be figuratively "bludgeoned" into doing something just because there was a great clamor for it.

In general, Lincoln was also very adept at learning about all sorts of things simply by questioning visitors or those individuals he himself was visiting. I get the impression that elected officials, members of the military, and other diverse individuals were often surprised that he never or rarely asked their "opinion" about issues or situations. It apparently never occurred to them that all the while they talked with Lincoln he was gathering information; he may not have asked them what they thought, but usually got what he needed from them, anyway.

John Hay wrote in a letter to Billy Herndon after the war that Lincoln was not a "humble man," that no "great man" is humble, that Lincoln knew that he could handle whatever came up and that it was his "arrogance," or "unconscious assumption of authority" (I'm using quotes, but this is from memory), that drove people like Salmon Chase and Charles Sumner crazy. Now I don't agree with John Hay that Lincoln was arrogant (although Hay may not have meant that in a pejorative way, since he really loved and admired Lincoln), but I agree with him that Lincoln was supremely self-confident.

Lincoln also strongly disliked the ostentatious trappings of status or high office and conducted himself in a humble way regardless of his self-regard. He was happy to stop and talk to anybody on the street (not to mention in his office) about anything. He would sit on the steps of the White House to sign an autograph for a soldier. When Lincoln and Seward were walking toward the telegraph office one day, Lincoln allowed a black woman to pass him, rather than insist that she should yield to him due to his stature as President and/or as a white person. Seward announced this little episode to the occupants of the telegraph office when they arrived, as if it were a big deal (and I suppose, given the state of race relations in those days, it was), and Lincoln explained that he'd just been trying to avoid a collision.

There is also that story about the British ambassador (I believe) unfurling a scroll in Lincoln's presence in the White House and reading a long-winded announcement about the marriage or engagement of some member of the Royal Family. Lincoln listened politely, but reportedly said, when the ambassador had finished, "Go thou and do likewise."

Wonderful reply-enjoyed reading it very much.

Bill Nash
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RE: The amazing uneducated/self-educated Abraham Lincoln! - LincolnMan - 03-12-2013 05:56 PM

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